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Tea Ceremony 茶文化

Tea Ceremony

Take a tour through some of the world's various tea ceremonies and forms of celebration:

English Afternoon Tea

english-tea.jpgTea is usually black served with milk (never cream) and sometimes with sugar. Strong tea served with lots of milk and often two teaspoons of sugar, usually in a mug, is commonly referred to as "builder's tea". Much of the time in the United Kingdom, tea drinking is not the delicate, refined cultural expression that the rest of the world imagines-a cup (or commonly a mug) of tea is something drunk often, with some people drinking as much as 6 cups of tea a day. This is not to say that the British do not have a more formal tea ceremony, but for the working class of the United Kingdom, tea breaks are an essential part of any day. Employers generally allow breaks for tea and sometimes biscuits to be served.

  • As for the typical semi-formal British tea ritual the host usually performs all the following actions:
  • The kettle is boiled and water is poured into a tea pot
  • Water is swirled around the pot to warm it and then poured out
  • Loose tealeaves (usually black) are then added to the pot while the kettle is re-boiled
  • Freshly boiled water is poured over the tealeaves and the tea is brewed for several minutes while a tea cozy is placed on the pot to keep the tea warm
  • A tea strainer is placed over the top of the cup and the tea poured in
  • The straight black tea is then given to guests and they are allowed to add milk and sugar to their taste
  • Whether to put milk into the cup before or after the tea is, and has been since at least the late 20th century, a matter of some debate with claims that adding milk at the different times alters the flavor of the tea.

There is also a proper manner in which to drink tea when using a cup and saucer. If one is seated at a table, the proper manner to drink tea is to raise the teacup only, placing it back into the saucer in between sips. When standing or sitting in a chair without a table, one holds the tea saucer with the left hand and the teacup in the right hand. When not in use, the teacup is placed back in the tea saucer and held in one's lap or at waist height. In either event, the teacup should never be held or waved in the air. Drinking tea from the saucer (poured from the cup in order to cool it) was not uncommon at one time but is now almost universally considered a breach of etiquette.


Moroccan Tea Culture
moroccan-tea.jpgMorocco is one of the biggest tea importers of the world, and its tea culture is considered an art form. It is believed that tea was first introduced to Morocco in the 18th century, and began spreading throughout the country in the mid-1800s at the time when trade was flourishing between North Africa and Europe.

Considered to be the largest importer of Chinese green tea worldwide, Morocco imported more than $56 million worth of Chinese Tea during the first half of 2006, according to the Moroccan trade industry.

Touareg tea (Mint Tea) is a flavored tea that is central to social life in Maghreb countries and its offering can take a ceremonial form, especially when prepared for a guest. The preparation of Atai or Touareg Tea is a rather complex and long procedure, where green tea (usually strong Chinese tea, e.g. gunpowder, chun mee, or zhu cha) is mixed with fresh mint leaves in large quantity and a lot of sugar (approximately five teaspoons of sugar for one teaspoon of tea). The tea is first put in the teapot and "cleaned" by adding a small quantity of boiling water, which is poured out after one minute (this operation lessens the bitterness of the tea). Mint and sugar are then added, and freshly boiled water is then poured in the pot. After three to five minutes, a glass is served and then poured back in the pot two to three times, in order to mix the tea. Tea is then tasted (sugar if needed may be added) until the infusion is fully developed. Using a traditional curved teapot spout allows the tea to be poured into tiny glasses from a height of approximately half a meter to form a foamy head and swirl loose tealeaves to the bottom of the glass. It is then returned once or twice to the teapot for a good mix. Several alternative preparation procedures exist, each with different brewing times for tea and for mint. Touareg is sometimes sold as a ready-to-cook mixture of tea and dried mint, which is easier to store and to prepare, but carries a flatter taste.


Tea Customs of China

Tea Customs of ChinaA sign of respect
In Chinese society, the younger generation always shows its respect to the older generation by offering a cup of tea. Inviting and paying for their elders to go to restaurants for tea is a traditional activity on holidays. In the past, people of lower rank served tea to higher-ranking people. Today, as Chinese society becomes more liberal, sometimes parents may pour a cup of tea for their children at home, or a boss may even pour tea for subordinates at restaurants. The lower-ranking person should not expect the higher-ranking person to serve him or her tea in formal occasions, however.

Family gatherings
Going to restaurants and drinking tea is an important activity for family gatherings. Every Sunday, Chinese restaurants are crowded, especially when people celebrate festivals. This phenomenon reflects deep communal Chinese family values.

In Chinese culture, people make serious apologies to others by pouring tea for them. For example, children serve tea to their parents as a sign of regret and submission.

The Wedding day
In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, both the bride and groom kneel in front of their parents and serve them tea to express their gratitude. It is a common practice for the married couple to say a few words of thanks and appreciation, after which the parents will usually drink a small portion of the tea and offer a red envelope, symbolizing good luck. Another variance is for the new daughter-in-law to-be to serve tea to her new parents-in-law to-be, symbolizing that she is to become a part of the latter's family. The tea ceremony during weddings also serves as a means for both parties in the wedding to meet with members of the other family. As Chinese families can be rather extended beyond a hundred people, it is entirely possible during a courtship to have not been introduced to someone. This was particularly true in older generations where the patriarch may have had more than one wife and not all family members were always on good terms. As such, during the tea ceremony, the couple would serve tea to all family members and call them by their official title. Drinking the tea symbolized acceptance into the family. Refusal to drink would symbolize opposition to the wedding and is quite unheard of since it would result in a "loss of face". Older relations so introduced would give a red envelope to the matrimonial couple while the couple would be expected to give a red envelope to younger, unmarried relations.

Passing on the tradition
Friends and family routinely get together to drink Gongfu cha and chat. During such occasions, tradition and culture are passed on to the younger generation.

Daily necessity
Tea is traditionally regarded as one of the seven daily necessities, the others being firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar.

Expressing gratitude
After a person's cup is filled, that person may knock their bent index and middle fingers on the table to express gratitude to the person who served the tea. Although this custom is common in southern Chinese culture such as the Cantonese, in other parts of China it is only acceptable if for some reason you cannot actually express thanks at that moment (for example if you are in the middle of talking with someone else at the table).

This custom is said to have originated in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qian Long would travel in disguise through the empire. Servants were told not to reveal their master's identity. One day in a restaurant, the emperor, after pouring himself a cup of tea, filled a servant's cup as well. To that servant it was a huge honor to have the emperor pour him a cup of tea. Out of reflex he wanted to kneel and express his thanks. He could not kneel and kowtow to the emperor since that would reveal the emperor's identity so he knocked his fingers on the table to express his gratitude and respect to the emperor.


Tibetan Butter Tea
Tibetan TeaButter tea, also known as po cha, is a drink of the Tibetans and Chinese minorities in southwestern China. It is also consumed in Bhutan. It is made of tealeaves, yak butter, and salt.

The tea that is used comes from Chinese brick-tea or pu-erh tea. The leaves are boiled for several hours, after which the infusion is poured into a section of hollow bamboo, where it is churned up with a plunger, together with a handful of salt, a pinch of soda, and a lump of yak butter.

In some areas baked barley flour is occasionally added to this mix. Dried apricots, sweets, and biscuits are sometimes offered alongside the tea.

Drinking butter tea is a regular part of Tibetan life. Before work, a Tibetan will typically consume several bowlfuls of this tangy beverage, and it is always served to guests. Nomads are said to often drink up to 40 cups of it a day. Since butter is the main ingredient and is very warming, it provides lots of energy and is particularly suited to high altitudes. The butter also helps to prevent chapped lips. Butter tea is also used for eating tsampa (roasted barley flour).

According to the Tibetan custom, butter tea is drunk in separate sips, and after each sip the host refills the bowl to the brim. Thus, the guest never drains his bowl; rather, it is constantly topped up. If the visitor does not wish to drink, the best thing to do is leave the tea untouched until the time comes to leave and then drain the bowl. In this way etiquette is observed and the host will not be offended.





Tea in Russia

In Russia, it is customary to drink tea brewed separately in a teapot and diluted with freshly boiled water. Traditionally, the tea is very strong, its strength often indicating the hosts' degree of hospitality. The traditional implement for boiling water for tea is the Russian samovar, which has become a symbol of hospitality and comfort. Using a Russian tea glass-holder, known as a "podstakannik" is the traditional way of serving and drinking tea in Russia, with the more expensive varieties constructed from silver.

Tea is a family event, and is usually served after each meal with sugar (one to three teaspoonfuls per cup) and lemon (but without milk), and an assortment of jams, pastries and confections. Apparently, it is considered poor taste to leave the spoon inside the cup after stirring. Black tea is commonly used, with green tea gaining popularity as a healthy alternative. Teabags are not used in the traditional Russian tea ceremony; only loose, large-leaf black tea.



Modern "Bubble Tea"



A form of tea ceremony for the modern youth, the many manifestations of bubble tea have garnered quite an enthusiasm across the globe. The distinctive characteristic of bubble tea is the presence of chewy translucent balls of large pearl tapioca (that sit at the bottom of the glass). The pearls are prepared by boiling for 25 minutes, until they are cooked thoroughly but have not lost pliancy, then cooled for 25 minutes. Bubble teas are generally of two distinct types: fruit-flavored teas, and milk teas. However, some shops offer a hybrid "fruit milk tea."

Today one can find shops all over America, Europe, and Asia entirely devoted to bubble tea, resembling the juice bars of the early 1990s. The original bubble tea consisted of a hot Taiwanese black tea, brown large pearl tapioca, condensed milk, and honey. As this drink became more popular, both hot and iced versions soon appeared, with jasmine, green tea, oolong, and fruit flavorings being only a few of the many options. In some variations, the tea is removed entirely in favor of real fruits, and occasionally the pearls are colored to match whatever fruit juice is used.

Tapioca balls of big and small sizes are of course the prevailing chewy tid-bit in bubble tea, but a wide range of other options can add equally tantalizing texture to the drink. Green pearls have a small hint of green tea flavor, and are chewier than the traditional tapioca balls. Jelly, in small cube or rectangular strips, comes in many sweet fruit flavors and has a pliant, almost crispy consistency. Red beans or mung bean mush are also typical toppings for Taiwanese shaved ice, and give the drink an added subtle flavor as well as texture. Aloe, egg pudding, sago, and taro balls can also be found in most teahouses to complete the perfect cup of tea.

Drinking the pearls through a large diameter straw is common, as it accommodates the particular size of the pearls. A common error for non-experienced drinkers is to empty the container of fluid before all of the pearls are consumed, thus making it difficult or impossible to collect the pearls with sufficient vacuum using a straw.

There are two shops that claim to be the first creator of bubble tea. One is Liu Han Chie who worked in Chun Shui Tang teahouse Taichung City, Taiwan in the early 1980's, and experimented with cold milk tea by adding fruit, syrup, candied yams, and tapioca balls. Although the drink was not popular at first, a Japanese television show generated interest among businessmen. The drink became well-known in most parts of East and Southeast Asia during the 1990s.

An alternative origin is the Hanlin Teahouse in Tainan City, Taiwan, owned by Tu Tsong He Hanlin. Bubble tea is made by adding traditional white fenyuan, which have an appearance of pearls, supposedly resulting in the so-called "pearl tea." Shortly after, Hanlin changed the white fenyuan to the black, as it is today.


Tea in the Korean Tradition

korean-tea.jpgThough there do exist specific tea ceremonies within Korean religious and popular culture, the central approach to the Korean tea ceremony is an easy and natural coherence, with fewer formal rituals, fewer absolutes, greater freedom for relaxation, and more creativity in enjoying a wider variety of teas, services, and conversation. Overall, there exist a wider variance of teahouse design, tea garden entries and gardens, different use and styles of teawares, and regional variations in choice of tea, choice of cakes and biscuits and snacks, seasonal and temporal variations, and the acoustic and visual ambiance of Korean teahouses.

Korean tea ceremonies do tend to follow the seasons, however, and the ceramics and metal-ware that are used tend to vary accordingly, celadon being particularly prized.

Tea storage containers are often large - being made of clay coils, finished on potter's wheels, and 3/4 glazed from within the kiln itself as wood burned. Natural green ash glazes are typical. A wooden scoop with a long handle often is used to retrieve the tea.

Generally the best local water is used to make the tea, and at times some of the best Korean teahouses traditionally had their own small springs. Water is brought to boil above a wood fire, poured into a teapot and brought immediately to service. Tea is poured initially by a tea hostess into warmed cups at a height above the first cup in order to create a controlled flow of tea with attractive bubbles. This is performed for good luck.

Tea ceremonies have always been used for important occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and the remembrance of old friends, and are increasingly a way to rediscover the joys of meditation.

One of the modern variations of the Korean tea ceremony involves a low tea table around which the guests and master sit. The tea master or host will sit on one side and will heat, pour, and clean the tea ware as part of the whole ceremony, from start to finish.

The host or master will often keep all the tea ware on the tea table all year, and will cover it with a cloth while not using it. The collection is often made up of several different teapots and teacups, often with many different colors and shapes. The ceremony begins with all the guests sitting around the table and as the water heats the host will begin the conversation, usually with informal or casual questions, such as asking about the guest's family. The host will start the official ceremony by first heating the pot, cups and decanting bowl with hot water, then after this is complete, will pour the tealeaves - usually green tea - into the pot. Then the host pours hot water over the leaves and will then pour out the water very quickly, thereby rinsing the leaves of any dust and opening them up slightly. Then, the host will pour the hot water into the decanting bowl and allow it to cool to the correct temperature for the tea they are using. This depends on when the tea is picked; tea picked earlier in the season, such as the first buds picked in early April, will be steeped at a lower temperature (60-65°C/140-150°F) than tealeaves picked in June (70-75°C/160-170°F). Once the water is at the right temperature, the host will pour the water into the pot and steep it for anywhere from 20 seconds to two to three minutes, depending on the tea. After steeping is complete, the host pours the tea into the decanting bowl, which serves to get the water off the leaves in the pot and also to give the tea an even mixture. Then it is poured into the cups. The guests will wait until the host or master picks up his or her cup first, and then will pick up theirs. This is repeated until they are finished, which sometimes can be several hours later. The whole ceremony is very relaxing and is a wonderful way to get to know someone or to ease into a business transaction.


Gongfu Chinese Tea Ceremony

new-tea-picture.jpgThe first known treatise on the subject of Gongfu tea was first mentioned in Lu Yu's The Classic of Tea (8th century) and has been popular since the Qing Dynasty. Gongfu tea literally means "tea brewed with great skill", and its emphasis is on creating tea with exceptional taste. Despite its core traditional procedure, the various Asian tea-consuming cultures have added local styles and equipment, thus adding to the richness of Asian tea culture.

In essence, what is desired in Gongfu Cha (Gongfu tea) is a brew that tastes great and is satisfying to the soul. Tea masters in China and other Asian tea cultures will study for years perfecting this method in order to do so. However, method alone will not determine whether a great cup of tea will be produced. It has been suggested that the chemistry and physics behind Gongfu Cha is what makes this method far more superior than any other when brewing Chinese teas. Essentially, two things have to be taken into consideration: chemistry and temperature.


Water should be given careful consideration when conducting Gongfu Cha. Water that tastes and/or smells bad will adversely affect the brew, as tea is 99.99% water. However, distilled or extremely soft water should never be utilized as they are deficient in crucial minerals and so can result in a "flat" tasting liquor. For these reasons, most tea masters will use a good clean local source of spring water. If this natural spring water is not available, bottled spring water will suffice. Hard water should be avoided at all cost, even after it has been filtered.


During the process of brewing Gongfu Cha, the tea master will first determine what is the appropriate temperature for the tea being used in order to extract the essential oils of the tea. An optimal temperature must be reached and maintained.


  • A small Yixing clay teapot, around 150 ml in volume (maximum) called a cha hu or "tea vessel"
  • Three cups, each 30 ml, called cha bei or "tea cup"
  • Fresh water (tap water should be filtered; hard water should be avoided)
  • A kettle (preferably made of clay or glass)
  • A stove, to boil water
  • A pail or container to dispense water, called a cha gang
  • A water dispensing tray or a bowl for teapot during water pouring, called a cha pan
  • Table
  • Seats for guests
  • A clean cotton cloth to wipe off any excess water on the table
  • In the Taiwan-style Gongfu tea ceremony, there are several extra utensils required: a wooden tea spoon (cha chi) to measure the amount of tealeaves required, a tea pitcher, a tea strainer (lou dou), an aroma pitcher, and a pair of tweezers (giab)

Boiling water

The boiling water temperature depends on the type of tea used. 195°C or 205°F for Oolong 100°C (boiling) or 212°F for compressed teas, such as Pu-erh Tea Green tea is usually not used for a Gongfu tea ceremony The temperature of the water can be determined by timing, as well as the size and the sizzling sound of the air bubbles.


A suitable space must be provided. A table large enough to hold the tea-making utensils, the drip tray, and the water is the minimum necessary. Ideally the surroundings should be peaceful and conducive to relaxation and socialization. Incense, flowers, and low, soft, traditional music will all add to the ambience, as will songbirds.


•Lay the serving cups on the table. Warm and sterilize the cups with hot water. Pour away excess water.
•Fill up the teapot with tea. For the 150 ml teapot, you will need at least 15 grams of tealeaves.
•Put the teapot into a water tray or a bowl.
•Boil the water to preferable temperature as described above in the Boiling water section.
•Fill up the teapot with water until it overflows.
•Scoop away any bubbles or debris floating on top of the teapot and close the lid.
•Pour and drain the water from the teapot as soon as possible into all the serving cups.
•Pour away the water from the cups. You may use wooden tweezers instead of your bare hands. Brewing Fill up the teapot again with boiling water until it covers the top. Replace the teapot lid. Pour hot water, or use the water from the serving cups from the preparation process, over the surface of the teapot. Serving
•Wait 20 to 50 seconds, depending on the type and quantity of the tea used. Boiling water should be poured into the teapot until it is overflowing, and then the lid is used to remove the froth. Replace the lid on the pot and pour boiling water over the teapot.
•Pour the tea in the serving cups in a circulating form evenly. (For a Taiwan-style ceremony, pour all the liquid into the pitcher before serving)
•Serve the guests.
•The second brewing yields the most delicious tea. It should have a beautiful scent / aroma and a wonderful bittersweet taste.
•A quality oolong tea is good for anywhere from 4 to 8 brewings. Each subsequent pot follows the same procedure, but requires a slightly longer infusion time.
•In Taiwan-style serving, a tall slender cup is sometimes used as the aroma cup. The tea is poured into this vessel and then poured into the shorter, wider drinking vessel. The drinker can then smell the aroma of the tea by bringing the aroma cup up to the nose and not risk spilling any tea. The tea is then drunk from the smaller, wider vessel.

•End of ceremony

Put the used tealeaves in a clean bowl for your guests to appreciate the tea you have used. After smelling the tealeaves, the guests may compliment on the choice of excellent tea.

Cleaning up

Cleaning up is an important step in the ritual. Brewed tea and tealeaves should not remain in the teapot after the ritual. The teapot must be cleaned up thoroughly and rinsed with hot tea. Utensils must be sterilized with boiling water. The teapot should be rinsed with hot tea and the outside of the pot should be rubbed / polished with a good linen cloth; never rinsed with water. The teapot is then allowed to dry naturally. Let the utensils and serving cups air-dry on a tea tray.


Japanese Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony finds its pinnacle of expression in Japan. At its most basic, the Japanese tea ceremony, known as chanoyu, involves the preparation and serving of a bowl of matcha to a guest.

Because of its base in Japanese traditional culture, the host -- male or female -- almost always wears a kimono. Proper attire for guests is a kimono or subdued formal wear. Chanoyu functions generally take place indoors, traditionally in an independent structure designed for this purpose, or a traditional-style Japanese room; in either case, the room has a tatami floor covering.

Tea ceremonies may also take place outdoors, in which case they are referred to as nodate ("tea-making out in the field"), or in just about any other type of space. In other words, chanoyu can be conducted nearly anywhere, and where it is held will depend on the occasion, circumstances, and ingenuity of the host.

If the tea is to be served in a separate teahouse rather than a tearoom, the guests will wait in a garden shelter until summoned by the host. They ritually purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths with water from a small stone basin, and proceed through a simple garden along a roji, or "dewy path," to the teahouse. Guests remove their shoes and enter the teahouse through a small door, and proceed to the tokonoma (scroll alcove), after which they are then seated seiza-style on the tatami in order of prestige. The host may then build a charcoal fire in the presence of the guests, in order to heat the water for making the tea.

Calligraphy, mainly in the form of hanging scrolls, plays a central role in the tea ceremony. Scrolls, often written by famous calligraphers or Buddhist monks, are hung in the tokonoma section of the tearoom. They are selected for their appropriateness for the season, time of day, or theme of the particular ceremony. Calligraphic scrolls may feature well-known sayings, particularly those associated with Buddhism, poems, descriptions of famous places, or words or phrases associated with the tea ceremony. Scrolls are sometimes placed in the waiting room as well.

Flowers may also be designed for the occasion. Chabana is the simple style of flower arrangement used in the tea ceremony. At its most basic, chabana is a simple arrangement of seasonal flowers placed in a container made of natural materials and typically comprise few items. The arrangements are so simple that frequently no more than a single blossom is used, and will invariably lean towards or face the guests.

Guests may first be served a light, simple meal called a "tenshin", or a special kind of full-course meal called "kaiseki" or "chakaiseki", which is usually served with sake, Japanese rice wine. They will then return to the waiting shelter until summoned again by the host.

If no meal is served, the host will proceed directly to the serving of small sweets. Sweets are eaten from a special paper called kaishi, which each guest carries, often in a decorative wallet or tucked into the breast of the kimono.

Each utensil - including the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop - is then ritually cleaned in the presence of the guests in a precise order, using prescribed motions. The utensils are placed in an exact arrangement according to the particular style of tea-making procedure (temae) being performed. When the ritual cleaning and preparation of the utensils is complete, the host will place a measured amount of matcha green tea powder in the bowl and add the appropriate amount of hot water. The tea is then whisked until frothy and creamy, or to whatever texture is desired or appropriate for the matcha at hand. When the tea is ready, the host places it out and, depending on the circumstances, an assistant takes it to the guest or the guest comes to receive it.

Bows are exchanged between the host and guest of honor. The guest of honor then bows to the second guest, and raises the bowl in a gesture of respect to the host. The guest rotates the bowl to avoid drinking from its front, takes a sip, murmurs a prescribed phrase, and takes two or three more sips before wiping the rim and rotating the bowl to its original position. It is then passed to the next guest with a bow. The procedure is repeated until all guests have taken tea from the same bowl, and the bowl is returned to the host. In some ceremonies, each guest will drink from an individual bowl, but the order of serving and drinking is the same.

If thick tea (koicha) has been served, the host will then prepare thin tea, or usucha, which is served in the same manner, but in a more relaxed atmosphere. For example, during the thick tea serving, guests are not expected to have conversation except a ceremonial one between the first guest and the master. In the thin tea serving, after a similar ritual conversation, the guests are expected to switch to more casual and occasional conversation and a smoking occasion is offered.

After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleans the utensils in preparation for putting them away. The guest of honor will request that the host allow the guests to examine some of the utensils, and each guest in turn examines each item, including the tea caddy and the tea scoop. The items are treated with extreme care and reverence as they may be priceless, irreplaceable, handmade antiques, and guests often use a special brocaded cloth to handle them.

The host then collects the utensils, and the guests leave the teahouse. The host bows from the door, and the ceremony is over. Overall, the tea ceremony can last up to four hours, depending on the type of ceremony performed, the number of guests, and the types of meal and tea served.


Indian Masala Chai

Tea plants have grown wild in the Assam region since antiquity, but historically, South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than a recreational beverage. It was due to the English influence in India that black tea eventually became so popular. Today, masala chai is an extraordinarily popular beverage of choice throughout India, incorporating traditional Indian spices with milk tea. In fact, some of the masala chai spice mixtures in current use are still derived from Ayurvedic medical texts.


The simplest traditional method of preparing masala chai (spice tea) is to actively simmer or boil a mixture of milk and water with loose-leaf Indian black tea, sweeteners, and whole spices. The solid tea and spice residues are strained off from masala chai before serving. The method can be varied according to taste or local custom: for example, some households may combine all of the ingredients together at the start, bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately strain and serve; others may leave the mixture simmering for a longer amount of time, or begin by bringing the tealeaves to a boil and only add the spices toward the end (or vice-versa).

There is no fixed recipe or preparation method for masala chai and many families have their own special versions of the tea. The tealeaves are left steeping in the hot water long enough to get the flavor of the tea but not so long that the bitter tannins in the tealeaves are released. Because of the large range of possible variations, masala chai can be considered a class of tea rather than a specific kind. However, all masala chai has the following four basic components:


The base tea is usually a strong black such as Assam, so that the various spices and sweeteners do not overpower it. However, a wide variety of teas are used to make chai, and though most chai in India is brewed with strong black tea, Kashmiri chai in North India is brewed with gunpowder green tea.


Plain white sugar is sufficient, although individual tastes may favor the caramelized notes from brown sugar or the more complex slight acidity of honey. A surprisingly large quantity of sugar may be required to bring out the flavor of the spices; one recipe uses three tablespoons of sugar in 3.5 cups of chai.


Usually, whole milk is used for its richness, but any milk-fat concentration or non-dairy milk (soy, rice, etc) will do. Generally, masala chai is made by having 1/4 to 1/2 parts milk mixed with water and then heated close to or at boiling temperature.


The traditional masala chai is a bracing, strongly spiced beverage brewed with so-called "warm" spices. Most masala chai incorporates one or more of the following: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, peppercorn, and cloves.

Cardamom is a dominant note in traditional masala chai. Fresh ginger, black pepper, and cloves are considered important as they give chai a slightly spicy flavor.

There are variations throughout India, such as in Western India, where mint leaves are added while star anise, black pepper and cinnamon are avoided. The Northern Indian Kashmiris sometimes brew their chai with green tea instead of black tea and use more subtle flavorings such as almonds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and occasionally saffron.