Homemade Chai Tea

Six years ago, we were new in town and in need of a strong cup of chai, the kind they served at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House where we used to frequent before moving to the Northampton area. Sure we had access to ready made to the ready made tea in our new home, but mostly we found it came from a carton in the coffee/tea shops instead of a large pot of loose simmering spices steeped in milk then tea.

So I did what I could. Instead of packing our bags and moving west, I staked out a local Asian market to supply my curry and chai spices along with coconuts, ginger, rice, and mochi. At the time, the market was housed in a wood shack-style on the edge of town, just over the bridge. Not only could you walk out with a heaving bag of basmati rice, you could also stock up on porn. It was a novel and popular business model while it lasted. It’s groceries only now.

chai tea spices

I can’t speak to their once popular porn section of the store, but I can tell you they helped me on more than one occasion tweak a recipe to perfection with the suggestion of a new tea blend or a hidden spice.

I stood in the tea section where the woman who runs the market approached me.

“What you making,” she said.

“Chai tea,” I said “but I can’t seem to find Assam or Darjeeling.”

“No, you don’t need those. You know this tea, Red Label, this is what you need. Same tea they use at India House. The owner, she shops here. Come with me.”


“You need ginger. Fresh ginger. Black Peppercorns. Cardamom pods. You have cardamom, cloves?”


She handed me each ingredient as we went down each aisle in the store.

“Oh, and last ingredient. You need, star anise.”

“Is it strong, I don’t really like the taste.”

“Trust me, try it, okay. Same tea at India House. Steep the spices with milk, water, and sugar then add the tea.”

chai spiced milk

She punched in the numbers on old cash register then handed me the receipt.

“Thanks,” I said.

I’ve changed the recipe a little since, but she was right about the star anise.

chai spiced tea

It’s a keeper.

Chai Tea

Yield 4 servings

2 1/4 cups water

2 1/4 cups organic milk (whole cow, almond, or soy)

1/4 cup organic dark brown sugar (or more to taste)

2 cinnamon sticks

16 cardamom pods (crushed; place them in a small bag and gently crush them with a rolling pin)

1 star anise clove

1 teaspoon whole cloves

2-inch piece fresh ginger (sliced thin)

1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

2 tablespoons black or green tea leaves (I like to use 2 parts Darjeeling to 1 part Assam; or try Japanese Sencha Tea)

Combine the first 9 ingredients (everything except the tea) in a 6-quart pot and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat, cover and let mixture steep for 30 minutes. Return to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the black or green tea leaves. Cover and let stand for 2 minutes.

Place a sieve over a pitcher or jar. Pour hot tea into the sieve to strain. Serve tea immediately, or let cool and serve iced.

(This recipe is inspired by “Chai” found in The Joy of Cooking).


    • Annie says

      Is it possible to keep this tea for a week or so and just reheat or will the milk be affected by reheating?

      Btw… I have been dreaming of a real cup of chai lately and so frustrated with the syrupy sweet crap – thank you!!

      • says

        Yeah .. I love the spices of chai, but the sugary sweet stuff you get normally is so sweet it actually upsets my stomach. I will have to try this.

        • ArtandLemons says

          Laura- I agree. A good way to test your sweetness level is to add small amounts of sugar at a time and taste after each addition to find your sweet/spice balance.

      • ArtandLemons says

        Annie- I have to admit that whenever I make homemade chai, it’s gone within a day, maybe two. We like our chai around here. While I haven’t tested it out, I think the tea would keep for 3-5 days in the refrigerator for cow milk and 5-7 for soy or almond milk. Slowly reheating it will be fine as well as drinking it cold. Let me know if you test this out…

        Another solution is to cut the recipe in half or make the tea according to the recipe and add warm milk to taste per serving (although the flavors will change without having steeped the spices in both water and milk).

      • says

        Hey- I’ve tried keeping chai in the fridge for more than a day and it always seems to come out weird with a reheat. Almost like it reduced in the fridge. I can’t really explain it. Maybe its the way I make it…. This recipe might turn out ok after a couple days in the fridge. Trust me, I’d love to be able to make a big batch and just reheat throughout the week but its almost like trying to keep coffee refrigerated for a few days. It just doesn’t work.

        This recipe sounds incredible! I’m always on the hunt for a great chai recipe. Thanks for adding this!

        • ArtandLemons says

          Lindsey—Have you tried your recipe iced as well? When you say it comes out weird with a reheat do you mean the taste? If you haven’t already, you may want to make the tea and spice part of the chai, refrigerate it, then reheat the amount you’ll drink over medium-low heat together with the milk. Keep me posted…and thanks for your comment!

      • Coralee says

        Hi was wondering if you knew how long tea could last if you didn’t reheat it.. I do iced chai in the summer I am hoping the span could be week any comments..

  1. says

    I’ve been trying to perfect a chai recipe for years. Still not quite there. The store concentrates are way to sweet for me. I’ll give yours a try. My favorite was a homemade brew by Durango Coffee Company in Durango Colorado. They won’t give me the recipe (I’ve tried) but when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, they did sell me a bag of the spice mix (ground, unfortunately, so I could not ID what is in it). They also gave me their method for brewing, which I find quite convenient for making a large batch. Brew tea and water (double strength b/c it will be diluted later by the milk) for 3-4 minutes. Remove tea. Add ground spice mix and stir. Let cool to room temperature. Strain out spice, and add sweetener/vanilla if using. Store concentrate. When brewing, mix 1/2 concentrate and 1/2 milk and heat in pan or microwave. Cheers.

    • ArtandLemons says

      Jennifer T-C- No, it won’t ruin the proportions and it’s a great suggestion! For the dried spices, I would pre-mix everything but the sugar, fresh ginger, and tea.

  2. says

    I am so happy to see this post! The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse was the inspiration for my homemade chai as well. In college I had a friend who worked there and would bring home cups of soy chai every day. I was hooked. He never did give out the recipe but just last year I decided I couldn’t afford my coffee shop habit anymore and started perfecting my own brew. I’ve been brewing a big batch once a week for the last year and couldn’t be happier with my new habit! The chai is my center on crazy days with the kids. I love reading about other friends who love the chai as much as I do.

    • ArtandLemons says

      Oh, the Teahouse. What a small world. It got me through my college (graduate) years as well. Nice that you had the daily hook-up!

  3. Kate says

    Any suggestions on which tea to use to make this decaf? I’ve heard that Earl Grey is a bad choice, and a decaf assam doesn’t seem to exist (I couldn’t find any).

  4. says

    Thank you, Thank you! I actually import my chai from…Starbucks! I love the flavour (the bags, not the sick sweetened stuff). Think of the savings in postage!

    Francesca Maggi
    Burnt by the Tuscan Sun

  5. says

    hey in a pinch in Brattleboro have you tried Adivasi tea at mocha joes or Chai wallah at the farm market? They are very good! We are spoiled on chai, I notice when we go away and it is never as good! :)

  6. pen* says

    hi nik, i just made homemade chai a bit ago. i will try your recipe, soon. just moved. have to find cardamom pods, somewhere. also, just watched you, me, and everyone we know. miranda july is phenomenal. best, pen*

  7. spunkygal says

    Hi I was just wondering, what specific type of Cardamom pods are we supposed to use. I found that the local store carries 3 types, green, black, white, and I was wondering what would be the best one to use.

    • ArtandLemons says

      I use green cardamom pods. They are the best of the three as they have a delicate citrus and floral note and are used in curries, rice, and chai. White cardamom is simply sun-bleached green pods and there is no difference in flavor between the two. Black cardamom has a strong camphor-like odor and intense smoky flavor and is best used in small amounts with slow cooked stews.

  8. Kaushik says

    Boiling milk with ginger can sometimes cause the milk to spilt if the milk is a few days old. I usually boil the spices in the water and add hot milk at the end.


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