My most treasured times are sitting on the kitchen floor in my family’s home in Southern India watching my grandmother, or paati, draped in her colorful silk sari, shuffle around making her special masala chai tea. She grinds spices and we laugh and gossip as the room becomes fragrant with fennel and star anise. After she pours the tea, we watch the morning come alive as clouds move over the mountains and peacocks begin to talk. Back at home in my modern kitchen, I make this chai concentrate trying to replicate paati’s effortlessness, and when I add hot milk and sit down to drink it, I imagine her doing the same on the other side of the world.
My Paati's Masala Chai Recipe
Place 12 green cardamom pods, 1 tsp. whole cloves, 2 tsp. allspice, 1⁄2 tsp. peppercorns, and 1⁄4 tsp. fennel seeds in a mortar; press with a pestle until cardamom pods crack and spices are somewhat crushed. Place in a heavy-bottom saucepan with 5 cinnamon sticks (cut in half), a 4-inch piece of dried ginger, and 1 whole nutmeg, and toast for 2 minutes over low-medium heat. Add 3 cups water; bring to a boil over high heat then remove from stove. Halve a vanilla bean and scrape seeds into mixture. Add the empty bean, 2 star anise, and 1⁄4 cup sugar. Cover, steep for 20 to 30 minutes, and taste. (For a spicier blend, steep another 10 minutes.) Once satisfied, bring water back to a boil then remove from heat again. Add two bags of black tea (I use the brand Wagh Bakri), cover, and steep 5 to 10 minutes more. Strain mixture into a clean jar and use as desired. I use equal parts concentrate and milk—I prefer hot, but it’s delicious iced, too.
Photo by Kamal Preet Kaur on Unsplash
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!