Everyone has their own ideal masala chai. It is one tea where people rarely see eye to eye, and that’s even before the black vs. milk and sugar difference that can make a harsh chai awesome or a balanced one weak. My local tea store while having a good selection of what I’m sure are good quality masalas just seemed to lack what I was looking for. In my mind masala chai has lots of cardamom and little or no allspice. This is rarely the case as cardamom is usually the most expensive spice in the mix. As for allspice I imagine it must either be cheap or a lazy way of trying to get a well rounded flavor (maybe both). I like the spice itself but it’s presence in chai usually puts me off.
So in order to find my own personal “just right” chai I’ve started to blend my own. It’s actually rather easy if you have access to a strong black Crush Tear Curl tea such as the loose leaf Lipton sold in Indian groceries (not the American one!). As well as access to a spice store or Indian grocery that sells whole spices. I cook a lot so I actually already had everything I needed in my pantry first time around. I’m just now getting to the end of my third batch and I’m ready to make another. I make it starting with 8oz of “Kilimanjaro” a CTC Tanzanian tea from Gong Fu tea then roast and crush spices including cinnamon (both true and cassia), cloves, black pepper, fennel, star anise, the nibs from ground down whole nutmeg, and yes even sometimes small amounts of allspice. To the final blend goes ginger (either dried or candied) and sometimes bay leaves.
Tonight’s cup I made with an almond/coconut milk blend and sweetened with some Mexican cone sugar (a close approximation to Indian jaggery). I like the extra molasses flavor the sugar brings but wished I had used whole milk. I also simmered the tea in water and added the almond milk after which I think makes for a less creamy and aromatic cup than simmering it spin straight milk. Despite this it was warm and sweet and slightly spicy. Perfect for a late winter Sunday and best yet almost exactly tasting how I imagined it should.