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Holiday Chai

When the English colonized India, they brought their milk and sugar with them. Masala chai, a combination of black tea, Indian spices, milk, and sugar or honey, is the cultural melding of Indian tea plant-use (traditionally for medicinal purposes only), and the British fancy for recreational tea drinking. Spices used in Indian cooking made their way into chai, producing a flavor-specific tea beverage that has gained international popularity.

Initially a favorite amongst the New Age yogi crowd, Masala chai can now be found in just about every commercial and independent coffee and tea purveyor in the country—from Starbucks to your local coffee shop. Most of the chais you taste out there, however, are noxiously sweet, powder-based imposters. Others are just black tea bags masquerading with the vague scent of Indian spices. We’re sharing this recipe for those who are interested in concocting the real deal.

Viscous, spice-full, and deeply satisfying, holiday chai is a non-alcoholic alternative to ye olde egg nog and cloyingly sweet mulled cider. Well worth the extra ten minutes it takes to crush spices with a mortar and pestle, the tea base can be made in advance and then heated with milk when ready to serve. Have it on hand for friends and family who are stopping through. Garnish with cinnamon sticks just to make sure everyone is paying attention.

Use good, flavorful whole milk for optimal results. We prefer farm milk, such as Strauss Family Creamery.

Serves 2-3 people


1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

1½ tablespoons cardamom seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

⅛ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 cloves

1 tablespoon Assam tea

3 cups of water

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup of milk


Using a mortal and pestle, crush the cardamom seeds, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns until they are broken down into very small pieces.


Pour 3 cups of water into a saucepan. Add the crushed spices, the grated ginger, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves into the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. Boil the water and spice mixture for 10 minutes – the water will reduce about ⅓ and will have a greater viscosity. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add in the tea and brown sugar, continuing to cook the mixture for 3-5 minutes. Pour in the 1 cup of milk and heat just until the milk is hot (remove from heat at the first sign of bubbles).

Strain the chai and serve immediately.

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