Finally! A Ready-to-Brew Chai That Tastes Just Like the Tea I Grew Up Drinking in India

updated Oct 26, 2020
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Credit: Cathy Pyle

Growing up in India, there were two sacrosanct topics that we never argued about in public: the most recent performance of the Indian cricket team (especially, if it was disappointing) and the virtues of a cup of chai over coffee. Ask any Indian, and they’ll you that chai is the fuel that keeps the country going. It’s brewed at all hours of the day in most homes, sold at almost every corner shop, and there are even cafés with extensive menus dedicated to this deliciously milky concoction.

I hate to break it to you, but the chai tea you find at coffee shops across the United States is just an okay replacement for the real deal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad … it’s just not chai. Brewing Indian chai can be a laborious and time-consuming affair, which is one of the main reasons that I gave it up for coffee once I moved to New York. Until recently, that is. I just discovered Vahdam Teas’ Original Masala Chai Tea, and believe me, it captures the flavors of a traditional cup of chai and even offers the mess-free convenience of a mesh bag.

You’re probably wondering, How much effort can it really take to brew a solid cup of chai? Well, most folks in India set aside a day each month just to grind the chai masala (the blend of various spices) into a coarse powder. No electric spice grinders are allowed, and every spice is individually crushed using a mortar and pestle before being mixed together in a strainer and stored in airtight jars. More freshly crushed ingredients, like ginger, fennel, and cardamom, are later added to the boiling brew.

Choosing the tea leaves is also a rather thoughtful process. If they’re too strong, you’ll get a bitter brew, while a weak batch of tea leaves will lack depth of flavor. When you finally brew the chai, it’s all about timing every step to get the flavors to bloom at the right time. (Did I mention it’s exhausting?)

Thankfully, Vahdam has done the work to grind the spices, pick the perfect long-leaf tea, and seal the enchanting scents and fresh flavors in a teabag. When I first got my hands on Vahdam’s tea, I did a little test: I cut open the tea bag to assess the authenticity of the spices. Let me tell you, it’s the real deal! You can see bits of cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper mixed with aromatic tea leaves. After that, all I had to do was drop a (new) bag into a cup, pour in hot water, add a splash of milk and some sugar, and sip. The taste is profoundly — almost absurdly — similar to a cup of homemade chai. It has just the right kick of spices and a sweet finish that makes you thirsty for more. If you’re a purist and enjoying brewing your tea on the stovetop, Vahdam also sells a loose-leaf option.

Vadham stocks a lineup of other tea blends as well, including an exhaustive variety of turmeric teas, as well as more conventional options like oolong, green, and iced teas. But with the weather getting colder, there’s nothing quite as perfect as cozying up to the O.G Masala chai. It’s spicy, warm, and filled with aromas that remind me of home. Now if only they made a ready-to-eat samosa to go with it …