January 9, 2012

Funny moment today in my classroom—I was prepping my kids for an exercise about identity, in which I was asking them to brainstorm the various labels, designators, and categories to which they belong.  Religion, ethnicity, familial relationships, hobbies, interests, etc.

We constructed a Venn diagram, with one circle labeled “How I See Myself” and the other “How Others See Me.”  I used myself as an example and we worked on the “others” section, filling in things like “teacher,” “woman,” “intelligent” (nice piece of flattery there, kids), “reader,” and “cook/baker” because they know about this blog.  They started to run out of things they know about/associate with me and I just stood there laughing at them for a few minutes.

“Guys, what’s the color of my skin?”

“Brown.  Oh!  You’re Indian!”

Yes, I am.  And, for me, my Indian-ness means certain things about me: I like to eat raw onion with my pizza, yoga is more than just a form of exercise for me, I know how to put on a sari in less than seven minutes and with only two safety pins, and—I really, really, really love tea.  Black tea.  With lots of cardamom in it.

There are many days, especially rainy ones like today has been in Houston, that all I want to do is drink cup after cup of warm, milky, and slightly sweet tea.  Usually Jill is a die-hard coffee drinker, but there are many afternoons during the winter where I’ll hear “Honey, will you make some chai?” coming from the living room couch, and we’ll drink cup after cup together.

This is my version, or really my family’s version, of authentic, Indian-style chai.  I love to serve it for a group of friends at brunch, or after a dinner party, with a tray of cookies.


This portion will serve four people all at once, or two people (like me & Jill) over the course of an afternoon.  The recipe doubles or halves easily.

Note: don’t you dare use skim milk in your chai.  You dishonor my ancestors when you use skim milk in your chai!  Okay, maybe not, but it’s really a shame to go through all of this trouble and then pour milk-flavored water into the saucepan.  Go whole milk or go home—or at least go 2%.



3 cups water
1 T fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 whole black peppercorns
1 tsp. fennel seeds
½ tsp. ground cardamom OR 5-6 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
¼ cup sugar, plus more to suit individual tastes
1-1½ cups milk
1-2 T loose-leaf black tea, preferably an Indian brand like Brooke Bond or Red Label

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Once it hits a rolling boil, toss in the ginger, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, fennel, & cardamom.  Reduce heat to medium-high, keeping the water at a healthy boil.  Allow the spices to infuse the water for 3-4 minutes before adding the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

Now add the tea.  Indians traditionally make their chai quite strong, adding lots of milk to dial the intensity back down.  If you prefer a milder version, stick to 1 or 1 ½ T.  For the full effect, go with 2 T.  Either way, crank the heat down to medium after adding the tea, or the pot will boil over.

Boil the tea-and-spice mixture for a full four minutes before turning the heat down again, this time to medium-low before adding the milk.  For best results, heat the milk separately in a small saucepan or the microwave, just until foamy.

Add as much or as little milk as you like, depending on your preference.  Warm everything through on low and don’t worry if a thin film forms on the surface of the chai—that’s actually a sign you did it right and are using good milk!  Ladle the tea into cups or a teapot, passing through a strainer to remove the tea leaves and spices.

Serve each mug with a pinch of ground cardamom and/or ginger (optional), plus extra sugar on the side for those who prefer their tea more sweet.

To go along with your chai, might I suggest:

pear bread
orange polenta cake
cardamom shortbread cookies



  1. Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you! I’ve been searching for a recipe just like this for ever. I would drink tea with you all day long.

    Comment by Cheryl Arkison — January 9, 2012 @ 8:09 pm

  2. I still remember the first time I drank chai. I was a young teen on vacation in Seattle…wanting to experience the coffee-shop culture, but not yet having acquired a taste for coffee. Chai was the perfect solution. I remember saying it tasted ‘like a gingerbread cookie in a cup’. Excited to give your recipe a try!

    Comment by Jen — January 9, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

  3. And don’t you dare say “I’d like a cup of chai tea,” because that is redundant!
    PS – you’re the brownest person I know – I love that your kids forgot this about you.

    Comment by Katherine — January 9, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

  4. Hi. I so love chai. And I always wonder if I’m making it right. Your blog is lovely and inspiring. Amazingly enough, I found it through Pinterest, like a needle in a haystack. Finding it is my favorite part of today (so far).

    Comment by Michele — February 1, 2012 @ 10:52 am

  5. HOLY SHNIKES!!!! I looked around today at all the boxes in various states of being packed and decided I was finally going to make your chai. I grabbed the handy-dandy baggie you sent me and looked up the recipe on my phone. I used fresh grated ginger and went heavy on the tea like you suggested. I’m just sitting down and the house smells incredible and the liquid heaven that is in our cups is like nothing I’ve ever had!!!! So I drink this cup of amazing, delicious, wonderful chai in honor of your friend getting married! Thank you for sharing this treasure!!! <3

    Comment by mel — May 19, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  6. It was awesome! Once we’re all settled in our new home I can see it become a Sunday afternoon staple around Chez Mel’nCor. I’ll probably have to keep a list of predominant ingredients from the Indian Market and buy in bulk when I’m hitting my doctors in Palm Beach. It’s very wonder bread where we’re going.

    Comment by Corrine — May 24, 2012 @ 12:34 am

  7. […] “already” friends! I was already touting the lovely Nishta‘s authentic brown girl chai recipe. I’m sure there will be lots of other connections made and every single one of them will […]

    Pingback by brokenpurplecrayon » Interconnected — October 7, 2012 @ 11:06 am

  8. Perhaps using skim milk will dishonor your ancestors, but for me it’s the only choice I have, due to health issues. It’s not milk-flavored water, it’s a healthier version of milk for me, and the only way I can come close to the authentic taste of chai. Whole milk, used in too many recipes, as well as in its purest form, contributed to my health problems in the first place.

    Comment by Corinne — September 17, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

  9. hi Corinne–I’m sorry if my joke came across the wrong way. I would certainly want anyone to consume something that would threaten their health; I have many friends who are lactose-intolerant and enjoy this chai with soy, almond, or other non-dairy milks. Whatever way works best for you and allows you to enjoy it!

    Comment by Blue Jean Gourmet — October 6, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  10. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe and stories. Thank you for sharing your passion about your culture. Appreciated.

    Comment by April — May 29, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

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