Chai is something that most of us Pakistani folks love with our very souls. It is our national beverage – we can have chai literally all the time.
From chai first thing in the morning, to a strong brew for curing a headache – there’s a cup of chai for nearly every facet of Pakistani life, be it a mundane part of daily life, a glittering social event, a sad occasion or a happy instance.
There’s a popular quote about coffee that I’ve seen on Instagram and Facebook which says “Coffee Doesn’t Ask Silly Questions. Coffee Understands.”
Replace coffee with chai in that quote and you’ll get an idea of how most Pakistanis feel about tea. And by tea I mean traditional South Asian style Pakistani chai – medium to strong in strength, with milk and with or without sugar.
And because it is the country’s 70th Independence Day today, I am sharing a chai recipe that I am extremely fond of – Karrak Masala Chai!
A combination of two of my favourite types of chai, Masala Chai and Karrak Chai, the strong aromatic fragrance that engulfs the entire kitchen as this chai brews is nothing short of amazing!
My earliest memories of drinking chai are of summer vacations in Lahore while I was growing up. We would travel from Daharki to stay with my paternal grandmother in Lahore most summers when school would be off from June to August.
Both of my Dad’s brothers were in Lahore as were members of his considerably large family consisting of his aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews so staying in Lahore also brought with it plenty of happy socialising with his loving and lively relatives.
June was mostly dry and hot and then July would bring with it monsoon rains and some much needed respite from the heat.
Neither my brother nor I really drank tea until we’d finished high school and started college, but these rainy days during our Lahore holidays would be the exception for me and the only times I would have chai.
The family room of my paternal grandparents’ house has doors that open onto an airy balcony from where foliage in the form of trees and some of old Lahore’s original red brick buildings are visible.
I would sit in one of my Grandmother’s easy chairs (which we still have) right in one of those doorways, sip on a cup of sweet milky chai and watch the summer rain bathe and hydrate the potted plants in the balcony to a vibrant green.
I can still smell the blissful fragrance of wet soil as it rained, the sweet earthy aroma of rainfall that is peculiar to that particular house in New Anarkali.
Certain fond memories of childhood can make one ramble on and on at times just like I seem to be doing right now!
So let’s get back to the present in general and to Karrak Masala Chai in particular.
The first time I came to know of masala chai was sometime back in the ’90s when my maternal grandmother brought back, along with the mandatory chocolate and cheeses, a packet of Indian chai masala from a trip to the US.
And there I go again, delving back into the past, haha!
That chai masala was lovely and I found the idea of masala chai so fascinating that I even made an exception to my “I-only-have-chai-when-it-rains-in-Lahore-during-summer-vacation” rule just so I could have masala chai.
Obviously it was too strong for my kiddie tastebuds so fast forward to the present and this Karrak Masala Chai is one of my most enjoyable ways to indulge in strong, fragrant milky chai.
I’m happy to see proper chai make a comeback on many of our local restaurant and cafe menus.
It is heartening to see a lot of dhaaba style eateries and desi truck stop style tea shops spring up all over the major cities in the country lately.
Many of these places offer a quite a decent variety of chai – everything from teabag style mildish tea to strong doodh patti.
After decades of a plethora of coffee shops and the ubiquitous cafe culture, we are reclaiming the chai, the chai khaana and the chai wala in all their desi glory.
This recipe makes, as its name suggests, a strong Karrak Masala Chai because that is how I like it. Which is why in the recipe I’ve specified when to reduce certain ingredients if one requires a milder chai.
If you’re making this for the first time I would recommend erring on the side of caution and trying the milder version of Karrak Masala Chai.
Adding a bit of evaporated milk gives the chai a welcome richness which I feel is necessary to balance out the strong masala. You can replace it with regular milk if wished.
Ginger powder can be replaced with a 1/4 inch piece of sliced fresh ginger. I have not tried Karrak Masala Chai with fresh ginger. I believe dry ginger powder gives a deep warmth while fresh ginger provides a zingier sprightliness. So choose the kind of flavour profile that appeals more.
My Karrak Masala Chai has been adapted from this lovely recipe.
Here’s wishing Pakistan and all Pakistanis everywhere a very happy 70th Independence Day – let’s drink chai and be merry!
Karrak Masala Chai
Recipe Type: Drinks Author: Alice In Eatland
Prep Time: 5 Minutes Cook Time: 5 Minutes Total Time: 10 Minutes
Strong, milky and fragrant with aromatic spices, Karrak Masala Chai is just what you need when nothing but a deliciously satisfying cup of tea will do!
INGREDIENTS FOR CHAI MASALA
- 1/2 inch stick cinnamon
- 4 whole black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves
- 4 whole green cardamoms
- 1/8 teaspoon ginger powder
- Place all the spices in a pestle and mortar and pound until coarsely ground.
- Or put all the spices into a small coffee grinder and grind to a coarse powder.
INGREDIENTS FOR KARRAK MASALA CHAI
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons evaporated milk (or regular milk)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons loose black tea leaves or granules (any Pakistani, Indian or Sri Lankan brand)
- Chai Masala (recipe above)
- Bring water to the boil, add 1/2 the chai masala for mild tea or all of it for stronger tasting tea.
- Let boil 1 minute.
- Add 1 teaspoon loose tea leaves or granules and sugar and boil 1 minute.
- Pour in milk and evaporated milk (or regular milk). Increase heat and bring to the boil. When it reaches the boil, reduce heat and boil gently for 1 – 2 minutes.
- If you have used evaporated milk, add 1 teaspoon tea leaves or granules. In case you have used regular milk instead of evaporated milk, add just 1/2 a teaspoon of the tea leaves or granules. Boil 1 minute.
- Strain chai into teacups and serve immediately with extra sugar for those who want a sweeter chai.