Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Experiment #7: Masala Chai

So I’m back after a long, deliberate departure from writing and the virtual world. Over the past two months, I did a lot of experimenting for the blog, but haven’t done a lot of writing. I’ve just felt…uninspired. Exhausted. Bummed out. Every time I would try to write, it felt like my brain was wearing flippers and trying to pull a wagon full of bricks up a sandy bank. Nothing of meaning or value would come out. So about 6 weeks ago, I gave up trying and decided to give the brain a break.   

(Turns out I needed all that time anyway to finish Nora’s way-too-ambitious “Rapunzel” Halloween costume that I sewed completely by hand…mmhmm…)

A few weeks ago, I discovered why. I was driving out in surprisingly beautiful rural Iowa, basking in a rare moment where both girls had fallen asleep in the car, breathing in the beautiful fall smells and drinking in the vivid purples, reds, oranges, yellows, golds and greens. Out of nowhere, it hit me: For whatever reason, I’m in transition right now, trying to find my groove, my place, myself.

Then, several weeks ago, I was starting up a study with some friends from church when something clicked: I was not content where I was. Thinking back on the past month or so, I realized I had often wished I was elsewhere or that something was different. I kept trying to manipulate things to create a sense of contentment. That night I realized it wasn’t something that needed to change, it was me. My attitude. After that realization, for the first time in several months, I felt at peace.

But why was I discontented in the first place? That’s not a feeling I’m used to having; I’ve nearly always been pretty content wherever I’ve been. That’s just my personality. I wanted to figure out what changed. Just a few days ago, it hit me. I am about a month away from living in the same place for the longest time (18 months) since I graduated from high school 12 years ago. And we are going to be here for at least the next 5.5 years.

Now for many people, that might be a relief. Whew! We don’t have to move every 12 – 18 months! And on some level it is (mainly because I hate packing, moving and unpacking). But I thrive on change and the excitement that comes with it, especially change in location. I didn’t realize how much the idea of stability (at least in physical locale) terrified me. I think it was because now I have to actually work to create excitement in my life, especially staying home with little kids, which is a string of daily chaotic monotony. Hence, my desperate attempt to manipulate excitement in my life.

But this is where I am and it is where I need to be. So my location might not change, forcing excitement into my life (or stress, if you are normal). But once I let go of my idea that only major change = excitement, I saw all the little exciting things that happen every day in my life. I started to get excited. It’s crazy. When I gave up trying to manipulate my circumstances to create excitement, opportunities for excitement seemed to magically find their way into my life. This is the paradoxical nature that rules my relationships, my faith, my life; let it go and it’ll come back more perfectly and purely than I could imagine. Beautiful, glorious peace and contentment.

So, what does all this rambling have to do with chai? Nothing, really. I just like to ramble. However, to symbolize my reestablished peace and contentment, I thought creating a nice, relaxing beverage would be a good way to reenter my blogging life. I associate warm beverages, especially those that include milk and honey, with calm, peace and relaxation. When I was little and couldn’t sleep, my dad would make a warm cup of milk with honey. I can still feel myself sitting at the counter at 1am, being filled with a warm, relaxing euphoria (I also now have way more respect for how much effort that really was for my dad to get out of bed and make my beverage – Thank you, thank you, thank you, Dad).

I have been on a chai tea latte kick lately. I had gotten a free bag of some “gourmet” instant chai (not sure how “gourmet” and “instant” can be in the same sentence, but there you go), that was pretty good, but I kept thinking that I could do better.

So I finally gave it a shot.

I dug out this recipe for Masala Chai Tea I copied down from who-knows-where 9 years ago at college. I made it from scratch to impress Nick before I knew he had a healthy disdain for all warm beverages (which he wisely didn't share that evening). I’d like to give credit, but honestly have no clue where I got it.

I was very impressed with my results. I even found a Starbucks gift card with some money still on it and purchased a chai there just to compare. Let me just say that after my chai, Starbucks chai = weak sauce. So for my first blog entry post-epiphany, it seemed fitting that I toast my newfound peace by creating a relaxing beverage. Enjoy.

The Experiment

Time to Completion: 5 – 20 minutes depending on if you use whole or powdered spices. This is a great project to do with kids if your kids like to measure things like mine.

Cost Comparison:

  • One 8 – 12 oz chai tea from coffee chain: $3.00 - $4.00
  • One 8 oz cup of homemade chai: $0.78 - $1.11 (see calculations below)

**A NOTE OF WARNING: I used mainly whole spices and measured the powder after I ground each spice. I have not tried with pre-ground spices**

  • Spice Grinder (if you use whole spices)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Container for keeping powder after

Spices (you can use whole or powdered – I prefer whole):
  • 3 whole Star Anise (use the seeds inside) or  ½ tsp ground- $2.50 for .5 oz bottle ($0.25 per batch)
  • ½ tsp Whole Peppercorns (1/2 tsp ground)- $2 for 7oz container ($0.02 per batch)
  • 8 Green Cardamom Pods (use the seeds), that’s 1/2 tsp seeds or ½ tsp ground - $2.50 for .6 oz container ($0.10 per batch)

  • ¼ tsp Whole Cloves (1/4 tsp ground) - $2 for .4 oz container ($0.10 per batch)
  • 3 ½ tsp Ground Cinnamon - $1.70 for 3.2 oz container ($0.17 per batch)
  • ¼ of aWhole Nutmeg (1 tsp ground) - $6 for 1.9 oz container ($0.16 per batch)
  • ½ tsp Ground Ginger - $4 for 1.75 oz container ($0.11 per batch) 
SPICE MIX TOTAL: $0.91 - One batch of chai powder makes approx 9 tsp (or 12 – 20 8oz cups of chai depending on the strength), so one 8 oz cup costs $0.05 - $0.08.

  • Milk - $4 for 1 gallon container ($0.25 per 8 oz cup) – You can also do half milk and half water.
  • Tea (optional) - $3.50 for one 20 count box of English Breakfast (or other black) Tea ($0.18 per bag)
  • Honey (to taste)- $10 per pint of good quality (like Owen’s!) honey ($0.30 - $0.60 per cup as I use 1 – 2 tbsp)

Grate ¼ of a whole nutmeg and put the powder into a spice grinder. Measure and dump all your spices into a spice grinder and let ‘er rip. Make sure the powder is very fine. If you are using all pre-ground spices, just measure, dump and mix by hand. I use ½ tsp of chai powder per 8 oz of liquid.
To make the actual chai, you have several options:
  1. Put your chai powder into your cup, add milk and heat in microwave. Add tea if using and allow to steep. Add honey after. This is the way I usually do it - it makes a stronger flavor, but you also get spice grounds at the bottom because it doesn’t all dissolve.
  2. Put the chai powder into a tea bag. Heat milk and put chai (and tea if using) in to steep. Then add honey. The flavor is less intense this way (unless you let it steep for a long time) but you don’t get the grounds.
  3. Put heated milk, chai powder and tea (if using) into a French press. Let steep for desired length of time (I did for about 5 minutes) then pour into your cup and add honey.
  4. If you want to make it completely “instant,” you can use powdered milk (we were out of milk so I tried it today – not too bad). Use 1/3 c powder to 8 oz water. 


Be careful not to add too much clove – it will give the chai a bitter taste if it steeps for too long.


  1. Great post! Being interview season, my mind has been on my greatest weaknesses lately. I think my #1 is inertia--that an object in motion stays in motion, but an object at rest stays at rest....I'm afraid to rest, because then I might stop altogether! Good for you for finding your way through; an inspiration for sure.

  2. Welcome back to blogging!
    'Masala Chai' brought back memories of India. I cannot wait to try this recipe (and I love that you costed it out for me:) ) I am on a total chai tea latte kick as well. Our local coffee shop makes the best ones, but of course, does not have drive it's a rare treat now!

  3. Where do you find your whole spices? (Or where in MN can I find them, rather?) Also, do you think the drink would still be good w/o any honey?

  4. MMM, I'll have to try this, G and I love Chai, but it's so freaking expensive, even the decent mixes. This sounds like a good alternative.

  5. Thanks all - a couple notes:
    First, whole spices can be found at most big grocery stores or online. They tend to be in bulk more often at places like Whole Foods or at neighborhood co-ops.

    Second, I started add a bit of vanilla to my individual cups of chai and it tastes INFINITELY better! Amazingly better! Awesome! So try it. :-)