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Tuesday, March 09, 2021

The Back Burner: Basic chai masala

With its sweet and spicy notes, this masala will make your morning cuppa more fragrant and delicious

Written by Pooja Pillai | New Delhi |
Updated: February 13, 2021 5:39:56 pm
chai masalaJust adding a pinch of masala to the chai should be enough. (Photo credit: Pooja Pillai)

In this land of chai-drinkers, the only thing we can all fully agree upon is that no hot beverage can match the restorative, calming powers of a well-made cup of chai. We can argue and fight over almost everything else: the best way to make chai, the proportion of water vs milk, which kind of tea to use and which flavouring agents to add. I’ve tried a lot of different flavours in chai over the years and honestly, I’m not sure which one I like best: when the weather is hot, I love the taste of lemongrass or mint leaves in my chai and when it’s wet or cold, I must have lots of fresh ginger for a teekha chai. I also love the unique flavour of tulsi leaves in chai. Last year, someone gifted a box of “Punjabi” chai masala, which included carom seeds (ajwain): an ingredient which I never suspected could elevate the flavour and warming ability of chai to the astonishing level that it did. Quite frankly, I fell in love.

I’m still looking for the best way to replicate that particular masala at home, since the proportions need to be fine-tuned. In the meantime, here’s a basic chai masala that is also very, very good: it includes the usual suspects like cardamom and cinnamon, as well as the unusual but definitely welcome flavour of nutmeg. The proportions here are suited to my taste, so feel free to adjust as you like. It’s a little high on heat, so you can reduce the quantity of cloves and/or peppercorns, and maybe increase the quantity of fennel seeds and cinnamon, for slightly sweeter notes.


Cloves/laung – 3 tbsp
Green cardamom/elaichi – ¼ cup
Black peppercorn/kalimirch – 1 & ½ tbsp
Cinnamon/dalchini (2-inch stick) – 2
Dried ginger powder/saunth – ¼ cup
Nutmeg/jaiphal (grated) – 1 tsp
Fennel seeds/saunf – ¼ tsp
Saffron strands (optional) – 7-8


*On a low flame, dry roast the following in order: cloves, green cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon and fennel seeds. Allow to get fragrant, but be very careful not to burn or even allow the colour to deepen too much.

*Once the spices have cooled, grind them with the nutmeg, dried ginger powder and saffron. You can powder it as fine as you like, but it’s best to keep it a little coarse, so that it doesn’t pass through the strainer when you pour out your chai.

*Just a pinch of the masala to your chai should be enough.

chai masala You can powder the masala as fine as you like, but it’s best to keep it a little coarse, so that it doesn’t pass through the strainer when you pour out your chai. (Photo credit: Pooja Pillai)


Saffron, as indicated, is an optional ingredient. But I do recommend adding it if you can. Not only does it add another flavour note to this complex masala, but it also helps deepen the colour of the chai, so that beverage has a beautiful, rich hue, besides being fragrant.

[The Back Burner is a blog that will talk about all things food (with recipes, of course)]

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