Often referred to as Chai, it comes in many forms, simply because chai is a word for tea in numerous languages, derived from Mandarin Chinese chá. What many of us think of as chai, is actually masala chai. The word masala is an indian term for a mix of spices. So we have masala chai, aka spiced tea. Once masala chai made its way across various oceans, it dropped its first name and become lovingly referred to as just chai.
Going back to the early 20th century, although India was a big producer of tea, consumption of black tea within India remained low, until various campaigns by the Indian Tea Association to promote tea. The official promotion of tea was as served in the English mode, with small added amounts of milk and sugar. People in India added the spices, that we now associate with masala chai. The staple players being cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom, fennel and pepper; we have them to thank for that.
And exactly for that reason, there is no one recipe for masala chai. For as many various regions as there are in India, there are just as many ways to make this spiced beverage. And, of course, it has now evolved. Guidelines will still include some spice but not always the black tea; spiced chai can now be with rooibos, green or white tea as a base.
At the end of the day it really doesn't matter what you call it as long as the spice comes through and that it tastes amazing. It's one of those taste sensations so good it makes you feel good, and you wonder how you have survived without it.
I really think that there is something a little magical about making spiced chai. It should be a wonderfully rich, complex and aromatic brew, most importantly, with layers of flavours. Brew it up and the kitchen, if not the whole house, should smell fabulous. Indulge youself in "ME" time. Relax while holding the hot chai in your hands, breathing in the spicy aromas and sipping the sweet savoury flavours. - best enjoyed in peace and quiet, anytime you need to unwind.
I like to make a masala chai on the hob, usually just with milk and a touch of brown sugar.
Try a teaspoon of masala chai, a big mug of milk, add some sugar and simmer, perhaps for about ten minutes then strain into a mug. Tasting as it simmers, maybe a bit more chai, a bit sweeter? Add some more sugar to taste. It's your mug of chai after all :) Simple and delicious.