Organic Masala Chai (Spiced Black Tea), Loose-leaf, from Wegmans in album tea

In Albums: tea

loose-leaf masala chai, showing black tea leaf, cardamom pods, clove, and other spices

Feb 27th, 2013, by Alex Zorach

This photo shows loose-leaf organic masala chai, spiced black tea, purchased from Wegmans supermarket for the very reasonable price of $30 a pound, a great price for small quantities of loose-leaf tea of this quality. Masala chai, often shortened to just "chai", just means "spiced tea", and is a common way of preparing tea that originated in India.

The ingredient list for this chai blend (useful if you want to make your own recipe) is, in order, black tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and natural flavors. I'm not crazy about the fact that they use "natural flavorings" (which basically means extracts and essential oils) in this tea, rather than exclusively using whole spices, but I do appreciate that there are generous quantities of whole spices in this blend. One of the reasons I prefer whole spices is that the flavor of whole spices tends to infuse slowly, at a similar rate to which the flavor is extracted from the large pieces of orthodox tea leaf in this blend. Natural flavors tend to infuse into the cup quickly, and thus are mostly gone if you resteep your tea to make a second or third cup.

A commentary on the particular recipe or blend of spices used here: I would never put cinnamon as the first ingredient, and I strongly prefer to make masala tea without using any cinnamon. I would put cardamom as the first ingredient (I wrote about how cardamom is my favorite spice for tea), and I would also be sparing in my use of clove: although I like clove, I find it easily overpowers the other ingredients. Ginger is one of those take-it-or-leave-it ingredients, but I do enjoy it. I often include a pinch of allspice and mace (I prefer mace slightly to nutmeg in tea, although they're similar). I also like including mild peppercorns, like pink or green peppercorns.

Thankfully, when actually brewing this, the cinnamon is not overpowering. You cannot always assess the impact of each spice on the flavor and aroma, from its proportions in the dried leaf or order in the ingredients list. This is because some spices are much stronger-flavored than others, relative to their weight or volume. Cinnamon is considerably weaker, per unit weight, than cardamom and clove.