The art of chai or Dear white people that stuff you think is chai, isn’t


I hate to burst your bubble, but that stuff you buy in paper cups that is sold as chai, isn’t chai. Chai is already perfect, you don’t turn it into a latte, or serve it iced and pour it into paper cups. Only a chai lover will truly understand the pain this causes to see chai that is not chai, advertised as chai.

Chai is an art, with a history of 5000 years. Made through a time-honored process that needs no further innovation, it should be served in vessels made of something more substantial than cheap waxy paper. It is too royal for that, legend has it that chai was invented by some ancient Indian king. So you are welcome dear white people, from all us brown people, for both coffee (walla habibi!) and chai.

There are of course different types of (authentic) chai.  Masala chai, dhoodh pathi chai, Kashmiri chai and just the basic dhum ki wi chai (steeped chai) which is my favorite. Now allow me to enlighten you all.

Basic Chai


This is the stuff we use. However…

Tapal 2

…this also works.

First of all you need really good tea leaves. I am sorry Tetley you just don’t have what it takes.  A lot of desi people will swear by Lipton. I honestly feel sorry for those poor lost souls. You have not had tea until you have had Tapal. Brooke Bond is the only one I trust if I can’t find Tapal. You should be able to find Tapal Tea at the local Indian/Pakistani grocery store. And if they don’t have it, ask them why the hell not.  When we were in Karachi, we used to buy a brand called Flying Horse. It was excellent, but after we had Tapal we never looked back.

1 tsp Tapal tea leaves per cup (I never use tea bags)

Water-cups per people you want to indulge

Sugar to taste

Cream to taste (I use 10%)

Tea pot (very important!)

Tea strainer (also very important)

Boil your water, and do not let it boil away if you are using a saucepan. Over boiling the water spoils the taste. I am serious, it makes a huge difference. I use an electric kettle, so the water is never over boiled.

Pour some hot water into the tea pot to warm it up, swirl it around and throw away the water.

Add your tea leaves to the warm tea pot, pour in your boiling water. Cover the tea pot (very important!) Let it steep for at least five minutes. Do not pour the tea out before this! Tea is an art, it has to be done properly people!

Take a quarter teaspoon of sugar and stir it in the tea pot. Strain out your tea into cups, add your cream and sugar and enjoy the best cup of tea you will ever have. People come to my house and ask me to make them this tea, it is that good.  I have been told by countless people I make the best tea ever. I brag not. Well actually yes I do, because it is really that good. What can I say?

You might be thinking cream? Not with my diet or whatever, the fact is if you use milk, the tea tastes a little too watery. And it’s not like you drink ten cups a day. Unless of course, you do drink ten cups a day. In which case I suggest you cut down and settle for very well made morning and evening tea rather than ten cups of watery stuff.

Dhoodh Pathi Chai

It is just basic chai without using any water at all. So whatever number of cups of milk with an equal amount of teaspoons of tea, on medium heat in a saucepan. Stir occasionally and cook till you get the color (strength) you want, add sugar and strain out into cups. Some people will use a ratio of half water and milk. But I follow Nigella’s philosophy (“I don’t believe in low fat cooking”) and use cream and milk. Damn it is so good.

Masala Chai

Masala chai is just dhoodh pathi with some spices cooked with it. I personally don’t like this chai at all. But it is very popular with most desi people. It is a specialty of dhabbas (roadside restaurants and truck stops). You can add any or all of these:

Cinnamon (1 inch piece should be good for 1 to 2 cups)

Green Cardamom (about 1 per cup)

Ginger (few thin slices per cup)

Black pepper (ground- 2 or 3 per cup)

Cloves (I’d say 1 per cup- it gives a really strong taste)

Nutmeg (to taste)

I’ve given the minimum amounts as I feel these are really to overpowering and spoil the taste, but people seem to like it, so it really depends on your taste. The common dhabba recipe usually just uses cardamoms and cloves.

Kashmiri Chai

This tea takes a little patience, but it is oh so heavenly. And it is pink, the most perfect pink ever.

4 cups milk

4 cups cold water

2 tbsps heaped kashmiri tea leaves

½ tsp Baking soda

¼ tsp Salt

5 to 6 Cardamoms

1 star anise

3 inch piece of cinnamon

Sugar to taste

Finely sliced almonds and pistachios to garnish

In a saucepan add your cold water and all the dried ingredients (except sugar and nuts) and boil. Once it starts to boil, let it simmer for about half an hour till the water is reduced to about half a cup. Turn off the stove and add a glass of cold water. Pour this mixture back and forth between two saucepans to cause it to froth. Do this about 15 to 20 times (pouring from one to the other). Return the saucepan to heat and add the milk and sugar. Boil then simmer covered for about five minutes, leave the lid open a little so the milk doesn’t boil out. Strain out into cups and garnish with nuts.

Don’t forget to read this post on chai, on one of my favorite blogs: Communicating Across Boundaries.




15 thoughts on “The art of chai or Dear white people that stuff you think is chai, isn’t

  1. I love chai, the green tea specially and I love everything about this post. I have missed reading your words and this made me super happy.
    Sending love and big hugs.
    P.S: Is it chaye or chai? Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am mostly white in middle america. When Chai first came on the scene here, what, 15 or so years ago, it was refreshing and tasty. It has since become a foamy, chemical abomination as different businesses rushed to maximize profits. In the autumn you can order something called “Pumkin Chai Latte” in most coffee shops. It is pretty gruesome.

    I bookmarked your recipe and the recipe on your link. Every once in awhile I try to make chai. I have to admit I tend toward favoring the spicy..I like it when it..I don’t know how to describe it..the flavor reaches all the spots of my tongue enlivening even the back part of the tongue. Chai is a joy. Thanks for writing in depth about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hehehe, I would gag on chai latte! 🙂 Hubby and I, after our decade long stint on tea plantations, are rather picky about our tea and prefer it brewed the English way, although I relished the chai from roadside stall across North India. Great read Khaula.

    Liked by 1 person

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