Real Chai Made to Order


Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

One Good Dish

By David Tanis

Published 2013

  • About

A friend who had spent a lot of time in India made “real” chai from scratch for me many years ago. This was long before America went chai crazy, applying the name to a bewildering range of drinks. In the traditional preparation, fragrant toasted spices are pounded by hand, then steeped with hot milk and black tea. The extraordinary flavor is well worth the small effort of making it at home.


  • ½ teaspoon fennel or anise seeds
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • A 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon black tea leaves, preferably Assam or Ceylon
  • raw sugar or brown sugar


    Lightly toast the fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a small dry pan over medium-high heat just until fragrant, about 1 minute.

    Crush the spices a bit in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle, then transfer to a stainless steel saucepan. Add the ginger and pour in the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tea leaves, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let steep for at least 5 minutes.

    Strain the chai into warmed cups and sweeten to taste.