In our house, we say the Gujarati word “chaa“, not the Hindi word, “chai“.  In Chinese, the word for tea is “Tsa”, coincidentally rhyming with “chaa”, so therefore I’ve decided “chaa” is the more global way to say it.  I’ll alert the UN right away. 

I like the word chaa for one reason:  If you go to India, someone in Gujarati might ask “Would you like some tea?” “Chaa joye che?” while someone might ask the same thing in Hindi “Chai chaahiye?”  See how redundant that sounds?  And plus, there’s joy in the way we ask.

Some chaa Masala ingredients: Ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel seed, and black peppercorns

Chaa is very simple to make but you need the staple ingredient first – chaa masala.  Chaa masala is a wonderfully aromatic ground spice mix which you can make in your own home. 

So I need to discuss something first.  Do you ever wonder about food origins and food discovery?  I mean seriously, just look at the photo here.  What made anyone think that they should try ingesting any form of these ingredients?  If I saw a peppercorn, I would not say “Hmm, let me try swapping some of my tooth enamel for one of these babies!” or if I saw a clove, I would not think “i have so many uses for mini tree trunks!”  And have you ever peeled a cardamom pod and seen the inside?  Come on…what does it look like?  Just say it.  It looks like a bug took a poo. A very constipated poo.

So now I bet you’re really in the mood for chaa, huh?

I’ve tried making chaa/chai masala from raw ingredients (like the photo shows) but I don’t have an effective spice grinder.  The larger particles end up settling at the bottom of the liquid instead of infusing flavor.  I have better results using pre-ground ingredients.  You can customize and adjust each spice to your liking (more cinnamon, more ginger, omit fennel, etc)

The Perfect Cup of Masala Chaa
(makes 1 cup)

There are hundreds of ways to make chaa.  More milk, less milk, etc.  Sweetners and teas also vary.  At our family reunion, everyone was criticizing the next person on how they make it.  One becomes very territorial about chaa. Once you decide what you like…that’s it.  You have to own it and you better be ready to defend it.


1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp Chaa Masala Spice Blend (recipe follows)
1/2 Tablespoon of Assam Tea (loose tea – I use Wagh Bakri brand)
sugar to taste


1. Heat water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add sugar, chaa masala, and loose tea.  Allow it to come to a rolling boil.
2. Add milk.  Allow it to come to a rolling boil again.
3. Strain and serve in a mug or teacup.
*Tip: During cold weather seasons and/or to soothe a cough/cold, add 2 Teaspoons freshly grated ginger.

Chaa Masala Spice Blend
I’ve been very pleased with storebought chaa masala, but here’s how to make your own.
Yield: approx 1/2 cup
2 Tablespoons ground cardamom

2 Tablespoons ground ginger
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 Tablespoons ground cloves (1/4 tsp allspice works as a substitute)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix ingredients and store for 6-8 months in an airtight spice jar.