Masala chai is a flavorful combination of aromatic spices, black tea, ginger, and milk. Try making this vegan version for an equally rich, warming, and delicious drink.
What is masala chai?
Every Indian family has its own spice mixture (or chai masala), for making masala chai! This hot drink is enjoyed all year round, even during the sweltering summers.
There are countless variations of chai recipes throughout India and other South Asian countries. Some include milk or sugar while others don't. However, the recipe that has gained the most prestige (even outside of India) is masala chai.
There are many reasons why this spiced Indian tea is revered all around the world. The rich flavor and warmth of masala chai are comforting during winter, yet oddly refreshing in the summer.
Is all chai the same?
Since chai simply translates to ‘tea,’ there are countless variations of this drink. Other preparations include adrak (ginger) chai, elaichi (cardamom) chai, Kashmiri pink chai, or Bombay chai.
Even masala chai will turn out differently depending on who is making it and the ingredients they use.
Before the 19th century, masala chai wasn't very popular amongst the masses. It didn’t even contain black tea!
But according to legend, masala chai was created thousands of years ago by royalty as a restorative, Ayurvedic drink. After the British began cultivating tea in India around in the 1830s, traditional chai slowly morphed into the worldwide sensation we know today.
Is masala chai vegan?
Despite its many variations, masala chai boils down to four essential ingredients: black tea, spice blend (chai masala), milk, and sweetener.
Although there are some versions of masala chai in India that are vegan, most recipes are not. This is because chai requires a creamy texture, which most plant-based milks lack. For this reason, whole milk is typically the first choice.
In my experience, soy milk and Chobani's Extra Creamy Oatmilk offer a similar richness but do not curdle like other plant-based milks. Also, soy milk is best for boiling because it's stable at high temperatures.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Plant-based milk: Remember to opt for soy milk if you can. If you don’t have access to any, oat barista or Chobani Extra Creamy Oatmilk are your next best options.
- Fresh ginger: I prefer the flavor of fresh ginger in my masala chai, but ground ginger also works.
- Cinnamon: Use a cinnamon stick for the freshest taste. If you don’t have whole cinnamon sticks, use ground cinnamon instead.
- Additional spices: For the other spices in my masala chai, I use whole star anise and cardamom pods. You can add or replace these with peppercorns, cloves, nutmeg, or fennel. Play around with the spice blend to see what you prefer!
- Black tea: Opt for loose tea leaves for the strongest flavor. But, you can also use black tea bags.
- Sweetener: For a healthier chai, I use a mixture of sugar and monk fruit (powdered or liquid). I find the flavor to be just as satisfying and balanced without so many calories.
- Step 1: In a saucepan, bring the water to a simmer and add the spices. Bring the water to a boil for 2 minutes to release the flavor from the spices.
- Step 2: Add the black tea leaves, and continue boiling for another 2 minutes on medium heat. Reduce the heat and pour in the soy milk.
- Step 3: Bring the chai to a simmer again. Once the liquid starts bubbling from the sides of the pot, remove the pot from the stove.
- Step 4: Add the sugar and monk fruit sweetener, stirring with a spoon until it dissolves.
- Step 5: Using a sieve, strain the chai into cups, mugs, glasses, or a teapot.
How to serve masala chai
Masala chai is typically served hot, even in the summers. The tea is poured into a glass or mug, leaving room at the top to hold it. It pairs well with South Asian treats like biscuits and cake rusk.
However, if a hot drink on a muggy day is not your thing, you can make a cold version instead. To serve iced masala chai, let the tea cool, then chill it in the fridge before adding milk and ice.
Some people like to cold brew their black tea for chai, but this process can take a long time. It’s all personal preference though!
Storage & Reheating
Keep the following tips in mind for any leftover masala chai:
- Fridge: Although chai is best served immediately, it can last in the fridge for up to a week. Just make sure to store it in airtight containers so there is no flavor leeching.
- Freezer: Try freezing leftovers in ice cube trays to add to your next iced masala chai.
- Different spices: Switch up the flavors by using various combinations of cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, mace, or tulsi.
- Change the consistency: For a creamier chai, use a higher ratio of milk to water. For a stronger flavor, reduce the amount of milk.
- Test different sweeteners. While granulated sugar is the most common sweetener, maple syrup, agave, stevia, and turbinado sugar all work well too.
- Don’t over boil. Boiling the tea for too long will cause your chai to turn bitter. If it does taste bitter, adding more sweetener and milk should help.
- Adjust the strength. If the color of your tea appears too light or weak, add more black tea leaves and simmer it for a few minutes longer.
- Use whole spices. The flavor of fresh, whole spices is unmatched by ground spices or pre-made blends. Use whole spices whenever possible!
Why did my masala chai curdle?
Milk curdles when it turns too acidic, either from heat or certain substances. Try to stay away from acidic plant-based milks like regular oat milk or coconut milk.
Does masala chai have caffeine?
Yes, masala chai is made with black tea, which contains caffeine.
How do I tell when chai is done?
The best way to tell if chai is done is to watch the color of the tea. It should turn to a rich, brown color. If it’s pale, add more tea leaves and cook it a few minutes longer.
If you enjoyed this chai recipe, be sure to check out some other drinks like these:
- ½ cup of plant-based milk (soy milk, oat barista, or Chobani Extra Creamy Oat Milk)
- 1 ½ cup of water
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger grated
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 pieces star anise
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds whole
- 2 tablespoon black tea leaves
- 4 drops liquid monk fruit (powder is fine too) optional
- 2 tablespoon sugar or per taste
- In a saucepan, bring water to a simmer and add all the spices. Bring the water to a boil for 2 minutes to release flavor from the spices.
- Add the black tea leaves, and boil for 2 minutes on medium heat.
- Reduce heat and pour in the soy milk or oat barista.
- Bring the chai to a simmer. Once the liquid starts bubbling from the sides of the pot, then remove from heat.
- Add the sugar and monk fruit sweetener. Stir with a spoon till it dissolves.
- Strain the chai with a sieve into cups/mugs, glasses, or a teapot.
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