This great post from kitchn takes you through the basic spices to make your own mix for making masala chai, or “chai tea” which is actually a failed translation. It really just means tea and more tea and doesn’t mention the spices at all. This spice mix doesn’t actually use any tea, so that you can use it for baking or to add to bagged or loose tea for making masala chai.
For my Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe, or for a cup of homebrewed chai, you can use a pre-made, storebought blend if you prefer. However, I absolutely love the intensity that comes from grinding your own spices. Green cardamom is the basic spice that forms the backbone of this mix (there are none in my photo, but just use your imagination.) The basic spices you need are:
- green cardamom pods
- cinnamon stick
- whole cloves
- black peppercorn
- If you use fresh ginger, great. If not, ground will do
My personal preferences are more elaborate. Some people absolutely HATE anything even faintly tasting of liquorice, and won’t touch fennel. I love it, so I keep it and add star anise as well. I also hand grate both the cinnamon bark and nutmeg into the spice blend before pulsing all the spices together in a dedicated coffee grinder. This is my ideal spice blend, both for masala chai and the cheesecake.
- green cardamom
- whole cloves
- freshly grated cinnamon
- black peppercorns
- coriander seeds
- fennel seed
- star anise
- plus fresh ginger
Make your own blend to suit your own tastes, but for the Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe, you do need even just a hint of clove. Bananas and cloves both contain eugenol, which means that even just a small amount of clove enhances the banana flavour. The nutmeg is a less common addition which makes it more like a masala-speculoos hybrid. To each their own.
Chai spice blend
Put your preferred whole spices (except for the fresh ginger) in a pan and toast 5 minutes until slightly browned and smelly toasty. Put the cardamom pods, the cloves, peppercorns, and any other dried spices into a dedicated coffee grinder. Pulse until you’ve got a fine powder with only a few bits of shell from the cardamom pods. Hand grate the cinnamon and nutmeg, and add it to the grinder. Blitz a couple of times, smelling and tasting your way to your perfect mix. Sift out any bits of shells, and you’re good to go.
To make tea, add a mixture of milk and water, or just all milk, to a pan with a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and teaspoon of the spice blend per two cups of liquid, along with two bags of black tea. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2-5 minutes. Sweeten to taste.
You can use any sweetener you like, but I find anything other than white sugar competes with the spices and muddies the flavour profile. Honey or agave syrup can be used but maple syrup adds a strange and incongruous taste.