Brrrr, London is flippin freezing; warm yourself with an Indian masala chai

Working in a North Indian restaurant in Edinburgh during my student days, I battled the infamous Scottish wind and rain to get to work, to be welcomed with a cup of sweet masala tea…

Masala chai

…and it soon became one of my favourite non-alcoholic drinks of all time; I thought it was much nicer than plain old Yorkshire tea (much to my Mum’s disappointment).

In 2010 I went to India and was in sweet-masala-tea *h*e*a*v*e*n. Chai wallahs were  everywhere (much like Starbucks here) − street corners, public transport, on the beach, halfway up a mountainside, on a houseboat in the middle of the Keralan backwaters − with an urn of tea in tow. The pleasure at hearing the echoing of “chaiii chaiiii chaiii chaiii” throughout the corridors on the train is a memory I will never forget (see post 33 Hours on the Coimbatore Express). The job of a chai wallah is an important one: they keep India running at circa 5 rupees (6p) a pop.

The chai (which simply means “tea”) is made by boiling tea in water and milk, with a combination of fresh and ground spices, and of course sugar. There is no fixed formula; families have their own recipes and Indian markets sell made-up blends. There are so many possible variations of masala tea that it is considered to be a class of tea, rather than a specific type.

Historically, tea was considered to have medicinal properties, and was not really drunk as a recreational beverage. The spice blends used today in masala chai are those found in ancient Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medical texts.

I have been lucky enough obtain the recipe from my chai-supplying ex-colleague Mr Bimal Basnet, now Head Chef at Namaste Kathmandu, a fabulous restaurant in Edinburgh boasting “unique, royal Nepalese and Indian cuisine.”

Masala chai and spices

Masala chai in a traditional, urrm, Turkish cup. It was the best I could do. Spot the other deliberate mistake.


Makes two cups

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 tea bag

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

4 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed

2 black cardamom pods, slightly crushed

Teaspoon fennel seeds

Sugar to taste


  1. Place a cup of hot water and a cup of milk into a pan.
  2. Add the spices.
  3. Put over a heat and bring to the boil; add the tea bag and turn it down to a low-to-medium heat; let it brew for 15 minutes.
  4. Add sugar to taste.
  5. Strain and drink.

For more information about chai, including more recipes, see; these guys are crazy about chai!

Mr Bimal Basnet, head chef at Namaste Kathmandu, Edinburgh

Tea plantation in the Blue Mountains (also known as Nilgiri Hills)

Tea factory  in the hills around the town on Ooty

Being shown how it’s done



Filed under India, Recipes, tried and tasted

9 Responses to Brrrr, London is flippin freezing; warm yourself with an Indian masala chai

  1. I miss tea. The good English stuff though. Why has PG Tips never conquered South America? They don’t even have Lipton here!

  2. I discovered Indian chai in India and then drank it there every day. I love the cultural aspect of hanging out and sipping. Now, where I temporarily reside in the middle east there are tons of Indian restaurants. I often stop in just for a cup of chai but can’t do it every day as the liquid sugar, a necessary ingredient, isn’t healthy. Still, I think it’s the yummiest tea concoction on earth.

    • BeccaHills

      Thanks for your message Mike – and I agree it is the yummiest tea concoction! I have just got back from Argentina where they drink “mate” – it is quite bitter, a bit like green tea. Watch this space for a post on this coming shortly!

  3. Great post, I absolutely love Masala Chai. It’s such the perfect winter warmer :)

    • BeccaHills

      It really is!
      The other day I tried some chai that had a hint of ginger, so next time I am going to add a touch of that!

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