Masala chai is a tea beverage made by boiling black tea in milk and water with a mixture of aromatic herbs and spices. Originating in India, the beverage has gained worldwide popularity, becoming a feature in many coffee and tea houses. The traditional masala chai is a spiced beverage brewed with different proportions of warming spices. The spice mixture, called karha, uses a base of ground ginger and green cardamom pods. Other spices are usually added to this karha including one or more of cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom seeds, ginger root, honey, vanilla, and other spices. In the Western world, using allspice, to either replace or complement the cinnamon and clove, is also common.
Traditionally, cardamom and ginger are the dominant notes, supplemented by other spices such as cloves, or black pepper. The latter two add a heat to the flavor and the utilization of cloves is more typical and popular throughout India. The traditional composition of spices often differs by climate and region in Southern and Southwestern Asia.
The simplest traditional method of preparing masala chai is through decoction, by actively simmering or boiling a mixture of milk and water with loose-leaf tea, sweeteners, and whole spices. Indian markets all over the world sell various brands of chai masala. The solid tea and spice residues are strained off from masala chai before serving.
The method may vary according to taste or local custom; for example, some households may combine all of the ingredients at the start, bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately strain and serve. Others may leave the mixture simmering for a longer time, or begin by bringing the tea leaves to a boil and only add the spices toward the end or vice versa.