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Masala Chai Vs Chai: Everything You Need To Know

By Annie J. Kuykendall |

We’ve all heard of chai tea and cardamom tea due to their popularity in mass media. However, where do these well-known beverages fit into Indian culture? Masala chai vs chai; what is the difference? The major distinction between these two eerily similar drinks is the ‘masala’ part. This Indian term translates to spices and refers to the presence of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, or other assorted spices in tea. This article explores everything you can know about masala chai vs chai, including their similarities, differences, and recipes. So keep reading!

Chai vs masala chai: Are they similar?

Chai and masala chai are both different varieties of tea. So one of the main ingredients is tea leaves. They also have milk which gives the drinks their dense and somewhat thick texture.

The masala chai vs chai comparison lies in the ingredients added after this point. 

The two drinks taste quite different but share a name given their similar origin. Both chai and tea are words derived from the Chinese term 茶 (cha). Countries that traded tea leaves with China via land ended up calling the drink ‘chai’ while those who did so via sea ended up calling it ‘tea.’ 

Since chai and masala chai is made with these leaves, they share a name. 

What is the difference between masala chai and chai?

The crucial difference between chai and masala chai is the ingredient list. One contains spices while the other doesn’t. 

Masala chai vs chai; here is everything you need to know. 

Chai is a strong black tea simmered with milk

The term ‘chai,’ in the context of Indian cuisine and culture, refers to a strong black tea that is simmered with either milk or honey at medium to high temperatures for a few minutes. 

Here’s how this kind of tea is made. 

Water is boiled at a ¾ cup of water per cup of chai ratio. Once it starts bubbling, anywhere between a quarter to one teaspoon of patti (powdered tea leaves) and ⅙th to ¼th cup of milk are added to the hot water. Some people use honey instead of milk, but the purpose is the same: to give the tea a dense texture and to add some sweetness. 

The mixture is left to boil for a couple of minutes before it is poured out into a cup through a filter. 

Sugar can be added according to personal preference. 

As you can see, this is essentially just a strong black tea cooked with milk. 

Masala chai is the Indian term for tea with spices

Tea blends like clove, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, etc., are known as masala chai in South Asian countries like India and Pakistan. 

The term ‘masala’ means spices and is typically used to refer to spice blends. 

The amount of spices used depends on how many cups of chai you plan on making.

There is no one recipe for masala chai

Despite there being a lot of variation in the way chai is made across South Asia, there is one overarching recipe. Unlike traditional chai, there isn’t one recipe for masala chai.  

“Masala chai’ is a catch-all term for several different types of tea. 

As such, there are several very different types of masala chai, each with its own recipe and ingredient list. 

Masala chai can be made with several bold spices

Masala chai recipes often have several spices that have rich flavors. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Cinnamon 
  • Fresh ginger 
  • Cardamom
  • Clove
  • Black pepper
  • Black tea
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Watch this video for a quick guide on making a delicious cup of masala chai. It uses cinnamon, ginger, green cardamom pods, and cloves. The sugar is added directly to the simmering water, and the cook gives verbal directions for everything she’s doing which makes her instructions easy to follow. 

Masala chai is sometimes called chai tea latte in cafes

You may see masala chai listed on menus as:

  • chai tea latte
  • chai latte

The addition of ‘tea’ and ‘latte’ is solely for marketing reasons. A lot of people don’t know that chai is the Indian term for tea, so it is easier to just use the word that they are familiar with. 

As for latte, it implies that the ‘tea’ isn’t regular tea. It isn’t an accurate representation of how the tea is made since latte machines are brewing machines for coffee, but it gets the restaurant’s point across to the customer. 

So if you see chai tea latte or chai latte on a menu somewhere, you can assume that you’re getting masala chai. 

Does masala chai have caffeine?

Yes, we can find caffeine in masala chai as it is made with black tea leaves. On average, tea leaves have 3.5% caffeine. Most of it isn’t extracted from the leaves because the water isn’t hot enough. 

Coffee beans have around 2% caffeine and yet coffee drinks have more caffeine than chai does. The former uses steam in most brewing methods, while chai only uses water near the boiling point.  

How to make Indian masala chai?

Here are the 5 steps to making a typical traditional cup of homemade masala chai:

  1. Boil your water in a stovetop pan on medium heat
  2. Add a bit of whichever spices you’d like in your tea
  3. Bring the water to a boil again 
  4. Lower the heat and allow your spices to soak in the pot for several minutes
  5. Drain out the tea with a sieve and remove the whole spices

Or, if you don’t feel like cooking, you can just order your masala chai from any Indian food delivery service.

What spices are in chai masala?

Common spices used in chai masala tea concentrate include:

  1. Black pepper
  2. Cardamom
  3. Cinnamon
  4. Clove
  5. Ginger

These spices can be found in any Indian grocery store online.

Is masala chai spicy?

No, masala chai is not spicy. While it calls for the addition of masalas, which is the Indian term for spices, it is not spicy. The spices referenced in this context are things like cardamom or cinnamon, which usually have a slightly sweet but bold flavor profile. 

Moreover, many people add sugar to their masala chai which makes it sweet. 

How long to steep masala chai?

Steep for 3 to 5 minutes on low heat. Note that you should add your spices to the water and let it come to a boil at medium to high heat. Only then should you reduce the flame and steep your masala chai. 

Where to get tea bags or loose leaf for masala chai?

Vahdam tea is an Indian company selling Oolong tea grown at high altitudes in India. It has an excellent masala chai mix with black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves. It is reasonably priced and ships globally. The blend of spices is 100% natural and has no preservatives. 

It’s a beautiful blend with a nutty character which helps it stand out among competitors.  

If you’re interested in Indian cuisine and want to learn more, read our article on curry vs masala to explore another side of this wonderful culture. 

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Written by

Annie J. Kuykendall

Annie J. Kuykendall

Hey there! My name is Annie J. Kuykendall and I'm a 41-year-old Scorpio with a passion for globetrotting and whipping up delicious meals. When I'm not busy being a certified world traveler and master chef, you can find me indulging in my other passions: Netflix binges and procrastinating on household chores. In my former life, I was a civil engineer, but let's be real, that was just a cover for my true calling as a wannabe stand-up comedian. So if you're in need of a good laugh or some tasty recipe inspiration, you've come to the right place.

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