Assam tea and masala chai

Somewhere or other I tasted some pure Assam tea, and finally remembered to order some off of Amazon. It came yesterday and I already had a cup of it with a little agave nectar - excellent tea, malty and strong. It came from an upscale Indian company.

Then I thought to look at youtube to see what I could discover about Assam tea. I found plenty of videos of Indian cooks showing you how to make “masala chai”, which I’ve seen but have never tried. The recipes looked easy so I thought I’d give it a go.

One scant cup each of water and milk went into a saucepan, and to it was added two teaspoons each of sugar and Assam tea. I also put in two green cardamom pods, which were optional. Bring it all to a boil, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for two or three minutes. Strain it through a strainer into a mug, and pour it back and forth between two mugs (striving for height during the pour) so that a nice milk foam is raised.

Lordy, this stuff is good. I’ve already had a cup of coffee and a cup of plain Assam tea this morning, so I’m trying to restrain myself from drinking the whole huge mug of masala chai because I want to get some sleep tonight. I think the cardamom pods are what elevates it from a mug of good milky sweet tea to a heavenly brew.

Give those cardamom pods a bit of a pounding before you add them. Releases the flavor nicely. You can also add a small piece of cinnamon and even some fresh peeled smashed ginger

My cardamom pods are a bit old, so they need some help to give up their essence. They’ll get smashed a bit in the mortar and pestle the next time I make it - which will be tomorrow morning.

I know that “chai” is literally just “tea”. Isn’t “masala” literally just “spiced”? So if you mixed tea and milk and worked up a good foam on it, but didn’t add the cardamon that the recipe called “optional”, that’d still be chai, but it wouldn’t be masala chai.

You’re right. The first video I watched and copied when making my tea was just “chai”, but masala chai was then discussed when he added some cardamom pods. I’m still learning what’s what. And feeling pretty buzzed. I drank a lot more of that giant mug o’ chai than was wise.

That would be “Meter” chai :). From the south Indian state of Kerala where the tea is poured from a mug into a cup separated by a meter!

My usual chai spices are green cardamom, cinnamon stick, a slice of ginger, two whole cloves and three or four black peppercorns. I also microwave the milk and shake it up in a jam jar to get it frothy.

There’s a local coffee house where the chai contains some spice that I can’t identify, but which I’ve also tasted in dill pickles. Not what I expected the first time I ordered it, but actually pretty good.

“Masala” is literally powder or mixture. It’s often used as a synonym for spiced, but strictly speaking the word means powder.