The Best Vegan Masala Chai

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Few drinks are as comforting as a cup of masala chai (chai latte to those of you across the pond); it’s my go-to hot beverage of choice in any weather. And speaking of weather, masala chai is perfect for banishing autumn and winter chills.

Traditionally, along with black tea, sugar, and a blend of warming spices, it’s made with milk from water buffalo but my chai uses oat milk, which gives a rich and creamy cuppa!

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I first discovered masala chai, not, as you might suppose, when I was living in India but in 2010 in Northampton, UK. I’d been invited to join this addictive new thing called Pinterest, and after spending far too many hours like the proverbial dog with four lamp posts, discovering and Pinning all the things, I came across a recipe for a chai latte (masala chai) concentrate.

Chai latte concentrate

The idea was that you made up a strong batch of spiced chai, minus the milk, stored it in a jar in the fridge, then just added some to a cup of hot milk as and when needed. I’m assuming this came about because at the time several coffee chains had recently added masala chai to their repertoire, so it was very en vogue at the time.

Anyway, knowing how much she loves tea, and particularly spiced tea, I rang my friend, Chrissy, who came over for a bit of culinary experimentation.

Now, here’s the funny bit – you know the expression, “It’s not exactly rocket science”? Well, Chrissy is an astrophysicist, and I am in no way lacking in the cranial area, yet despite following the instructions to the letter, what we we actually made was Polyjuice Potion. Without the benefit of being able to transform ourselves into the likeness of others. It was truly vile!

At the time, I had never read a food blog, and therefore had no idea that – to continue the analogy – like wizards, not all food bloggers are good.

It wasn’t until years later, having lived in India, I revisited that ‘recipe’, and saw exactly how wrong it was. Whoever wrote it had clearly never had real masala chai in their life, and even more clearly, had zero experience or know-how with spices!

Chai in India

Fast-forward several years to a houseboat silently gliding along Kerala’s backwaters. Amato mio and I, while living in Fort Kochi, celebrated our 10th anniversary, and decided to get away from it all by hiring an eco-houseboat. We spent a day nature-watching, with glimpses of rural South Indian life, and a night on the water. It was bliss!

In the afternoon, we were served cups of masala chai and banana fritters. As we sat there on the boat, sipping our tea, I remembered that morning in my kitchen, and knew I had to tell Chrissy that real Indian tea is truly epic!

After that first cup on the boat, I actively sought out Masala chai wherever I could, and whenever I found some I loved, I asked the person who made it about the karha (masala recipe) they used. Without exception, everyone gladly shared their recipes with me. I suspect they were happy I was interested and wanted to learn.

Theworst masala chai!

One restaurant we visited a couple of times, just around the corner to our apartment, was on the flat roof of a small shop which was sandwiched between two taller ones. To get in, we had to go through the shop next door, up a narrow flight of stairs, and then climb through a small window onto the roof, which had been turned into a dining area!

Their masala chai was hit and miss, depending on whether the person making it was stoned off his face or not. After one evening when I burned my mouth, due to the phenomenal amount of pepper in my tea, I learned to make it at home in our apartment!

Café Terazza

Street chai

Travel through India, and you’ll come across chai wallahs selling masala chai on almost every street and roadside. Some serve their chai in glasses or china cups but for the best experience, IMO, you’ll want to get it in a clay cup, called a kulhar (aka kullar or kulhad).

A cup of masala chai costs just a couple of rupees ($1 = c.70 rupees / £1 = c.90 rupees), and is a great excuse to just stop what you’re doing, and chill out while sipping – and savouring – the delicious tea.

By the way, chai is the Hindi-Urdu word for tea, not the spice blend. It’s a corruption of the Chinese word, cha, so there’s no need to double up on its name by calling it chai tea. Chai tea makes as much sense as saying naan bread, or Sahara (or Gobi) desert!

Kulhar range in size from about 50 ml to a very respectable 200 ml or so. After use, you discard your cup into a big pot or bucket, where it can be recycled or disposed of. Or you could, y’know, just keep it as a souvenir. 😉

Whichspices are used for masala chai?

That’sa bit like asking how long is a piece of string! Everyone I have ever spoken toon the subject gives me a different answer. Or rather, they all use cinnamon,star anise, ginger, and cardamom – in varying quantities, I may add – but someadd pepper, some don’t. Some use fennel, while others have been almosthorrified at the very suggestion! Cloves, basil, and nutmeg are all acceptableadditions.

Allspice, BTW, is a Western addition, and hails from southern and central America.

Please note that star Anise (Illicium verum) is not the same as aniseed – they come from two very different plants. If you can only get aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), then use about ¼ teaspoon in the masala recipe.

The masala for my chai is the result of several years of experimentation with different spice blends, and is, I believe perfect!

I used to grind up my spices as and when I needed them, or just bruise whole spices but I drink so much masala chai that now I just make a batch at a time, and keep it in an airtight container. It’s never around long enough to lose its flavour, and it means I can have chai whenever I want, without having to get my spice grinder out every time I fancy a cuppa!

I also use my masala chai mix in some of my cakes, especially my tea loaf, and sometimes in masala dosa. It works so well.

Ayurvedic spices

According to many people I’ve spoken to, masala chai is deemed an ayurvedic beverage, and is therefore beneficial to health because it balances the doshas. Whetheror not this is true, I really couldn’t say but I can tell you that happiness isgood for you, and drinking masala chai makes me very happy, so if only for thatreason, then yep, masala chai has a positive effect upon my health!

This is a brief list as to what, according to ayurvedic medicine, each of the spices I use in the recipe is good for (aside from adding flavour, of course):

  • Black pepper – increases the bioavailability of the other spices and herbs. Enhances digestion and stimulates appetite.
  • Nutmeg – stimulates appetite and digestion. Can also be used as a sleep aid.
  • Cinnamon – balances digestion, and helps stomach upsets. When used with black pepper and ginger, it’s good for soothing colds.
  • Ginger – digestive aid, enhances appetite, soothes stomach upsets, and quells nausea.
  • Clove – aids digestion and soothes stomach upsets. Reduces bloating, gas, and nausea. Can have a numbing effect on toothache.
  • Star anise – digestive aid and appetite stimulant. Also said to help relieve stomach upset, gas, nausea, and headaches.
  • Green cardamom – reduces bloating and gas, aids digestion, sweetens the breath.
  • Black cardamom – reduces bad breath, and soothes nausea and vomiting.
  • Rama tulsi (green holy basil) – helps to stimulate and enhance digestive health, and soothe stomach upsets. Also a sleep aid.

What’s the best plant milk to use?

The trouble with a lot of plant milks is that they tend to separate or curdle when heated. In addition, some have a bit of an aftertaste, or just lack ‘body’, and are rather thin-tasting. Some are overly sweetened or contain vanilla. Neither of these are a huge issue but you probably want to control the amount of sweetness in your masala chai, and you may not want it to have a hint of vanilla.

Soy milk is one of the creamier-tasting plant milks, and it’s come a long way since the days of Plamil being the only brand you could buy! Alpro for Professionals works well in hot drinks but for me, the best plant milk (for everything!) is Oatly. I’ve tried other brands of oat milk (e.g. Minor Figures and Rude Health), and even my own home-made (which is great for cold use, such as on muesli and for shakes and smoothies) but they just don’t cut it for hot drinks.

Home made cashew milk does work for hot drinks, though, and adds a nice creaminess to but to be honest, I don’t always want to have to blend up cashews in order to make a cuppa. Even though in my Evolve and VAC2 it’s super-easy and takes only a minute. Plus, I’d have to wash it up afterwards! CBA, much? Ha ha!

I have never bought commercial cashew or almond milk, ditto coconut milk drink (not the stuff you cook with!). They may work but I can’t say for certain.

Yes, that is a Moroccan tea glass. It’s a Moroccan tea pot too!

Which Oatly should I use?

Oatly Barista (foamable) in the grey carton is excellent, as is Oatly Whole (darker blue carton). To be perfectly honest, there’s really not much difference between the two, so I tend to grab whichever one is most readily available (sometimes demand for Barista outstrips production – Oatly is still a small company, after all – which creates a dearth).

Since masala chai doesn’t require the milk to be frothed, it really makes no difference which of these two Oatly variants you use. Don’t use Organic, Semi, or Skinny though (pale blue, white, andbrown cartons); the resulting chai tends to be thin and somewhatinsipid-tasting.

Ingredients for masala chai

  • Black tea leaves (I prefer either plain assam or an assam-darjeeling blend)
  • Water
  • Chai masala (spice mix)
  • Sugar (I prefer coconut palm sugar)
  • Milk
  • Optional: root ginger

How to make vegan masala chai

  • Put the water, tea, chai masala, and crushed ginger into a saucepan over a medium heat, and gently bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 3 mins.
  • Add the milk and sugar, bring the boil again, then reduce the heat, and simmer for 2 mins.
  • Remove from the heat, strain, and serve immediately.
  • Leftovers can be strained and kept in the fridge in an airtight container for a day or so, then reheated. It’s not suitable for freezing.

Click the pics for more vegan Indian recipes!

You’ll love the best vegan masala chai

Because it’s…

  • warming
  • spicy
  • sweet
  • creamy
  • comforting
  • good for you
  • ridiculously delicious!

Serve with your favourite snack (I love it with samosas, burfi, or tea loaf, for example), or on its own. Either way, put your feet up, and have a lovely cup of chai… you’ve earned it!

Ruchiyode bhakshanam aaswadikkan kazhiyatte!
(That’s bon appétit in Malayalam!)

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