My Obsession: Chai Tea

adaptable chai tea

I often thought (and still do sometimes) that I didn’t have an obsession. Some people are obsessed with sports teams, others with Sharpies, and still others with things like selfies (does anyone else out there not have a cell phone capable of this?!). I always thought to myself, “Not me . . . I’m so adaptable. I can give up anything and be fine.”

And then I moved to China. And everything normal was stripped away.

Our first year, I was desperate to find something normal to put into my mouth. I ate cereal for breakfast my entire life. Gone. The bread is sweet here. No lunch meat for a simple sandwich. I could find peanut butter..sometimes. And dinners, if you remember from my first post, were utterly disastrous.

Before we moved here, I had become, ahem, quite acquainted with chai tea. Not the tea bags. Sorry, not much of a tea girl besides the bliss of a carton of  Oregon. Mix it with milk, and oh baby. Heaven in a cup. I didn’t have it every single day, but pretty darn close!

I know most people turn to coffee for their daily dose of comfort or energy, and don’t get me wrong, this former barista loves a good latte. But good coffee is hard to come by here. It doesn’t help that my all-time favorite is from a local coffee shop in Kansas City. They definitely don’t have the “made in China” stamp on the back, so no chance of finding it here. Plus, since I was a barista, I became a bit of a snob. Brewed coffee just doesn’t cut it anymore. Foamed milk, espresso, sugary syrups…now we’re talking. Or not. Because lattes are hard to come by without breaking the bank, if at all.

So I went back to my first love. I had to figure out a way to make it at home. I’ve made at least a dozen different recipes for chai over the past few years. This is a combination of some of those. It’s no replica of Oregon (oh, the day I figure that one out!), but my body yearns for it every afternoon while my kids give me an hour of peace. You may have to hunt for or ask for an ingredient or two, but if you long for a warm cup of spicy goodness to refresh you, you’ll make it happen!


The line-up (minus the brown sugar): black tea, vanilla bean, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom.


Bring the water to a boil, dump everything in, and steep for 20 minutes. Extra bonus to drinking this deliciousness: it makes your home smell wonderful for hours!


Strain. Not the prettiest set-up, but whatev. Gets the job done! After you strain, add the brown sugar.


Grab a mug. Lately, I’ve found that I love a little dollop of sweetened condensed milk added. What can I say? I love my chai tea sweet!


To make a latte, pour into a mug 1/2 concentrate, 1/2 milk. Pour this mixture into a small pot to warm up. If you whisk extra fast, you can even get a little froth! You can, of course, do this all in the microwave, but I’ll tell you it doesn’t taste as good.


Do your best to keep it away from little hands. Is it bad that my 4 year-old likes chai as much as I do?

Chai Tea Concentrate

Makes enough for about 5-6 lattes

4.5 cups water

1” knob of ginger, peeled and cubed

6-10 whole cloves or ½ tsp ground cloves*

2 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp ground cinnamon*

1 tsp ground cardamom or 3-4 cardamom pods**

1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp vanilla extract***

6 black tea bags

1/2-2/3 c brown sugar (or honey)

*The more ground ingredients you use, the more you’ll have at the bottom of your cup. If this bothers you, you can strain the finished chai through a cheese cloth.

**I bought my ground cardamom in the States, but have since learned it’s widely available in China, but in the pods. Hooray! Also, I bought my whole cloves in my normal, local grocery store. A bag that lasts me all year cost about 50 cents. Cinnamon sticks are also bought locally for about 20 cents for 5.

***I usually use vanilla beans (found on Taobao) because I couldn’t stand to use all my extract. I figured their flavor isn’t all extracted after one use, so I’ll reuse them 2 or 3 more times.

Bring water to a boil. Add all ingredients and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out all ingredients. (Use cheese cloth if you want all the spice granules out.) Stir in sugar/honey while it’s still hot.

This recipe is extremely flexible! Add more or less of the flavors you like most.

To drink: In a mug, add ½ chai concentrate, ½ milk. Reheat.

Store in the refrigerator. This batch lasts me about a week, but would be good up to 2 weeks.

What drinks refresh you?


Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash


  1. Karen Huber January 31, 2018

    Now I’m dying to know where your favourite KC coffee shop is! 🙂 I love this, and I love how you put the effort into keeping a taste from home. For us, it’s chili and BBQ. We probably put way too much time and effort into it (Matt even finagled two old Guinness kegs into a smoker!), but the effort is almost always worth it to make Dublin that much more like home.

    1. Ashley February 3, 2018

      Well I think I originally wrote this post about 4 years ago, so back then it was probably Roasterie! And WOW, y’all really do BBQ! That’s awesome! I don’t even try tackling that one because, one, my hubby is the KC native, not me, so we have our differences, (He prefers Gates, I prefer KC Joe’s) and two, I’d have to find some quality meat first. HA! Love our KC connection! 🙂

  2. Ruth January 31, 2018

    It is chai for me, too! I figured out a similar recipe. I am in the U.S. right now and drinking so.many. chai lattes.

    1. Ashley February 3, 2018

      Yum! Made-for-me chai lattes somehow taste so much better! In my hometown, we have a dairy that makes flavored milk. Some of the cafes around town use it, and one time I discovered a chai latte made with root beer flavored milk. Sounds weird at first, but the flavors melded sooo well together! So good!

  3. Patty January 31, 2018

    A good English Breakfast tea. I had bought about 50 tea bags with me when I moved to Panama. Thought this will be my comfort drink/food for a month.Then one day in a store there was a box. So of course I had to buy it. Now when ever a box appears I grab it. Hummus also has been a go to. Hard to find here. I guess I need to learn how to make it.

    1. Ashley February 3, 2018

      So glad you bought it! I learned early on from a veteran in my country of service to always carry around a little extra cash tucked away JUST for those moments when you see something that you rarely see, because ya just never know when you’ll see it again! It’s been true so many times.

  4. Nomad Mom February 1, 2018

    I developed my obsession with chai when we lived in Northwest China. The chai sellers will create the most wonderful mixes for you. They view it as medicine. Rich with all the traditional chai spices, I am still trying to create it here in the States. The American version is just weak on the spices and heavy on sugar and milk. Yes, chai is still my obsession! If you get out to the Northwest, check out the chai bazaars!

    1. Ashley February 3, 2018

      I would LOVE to have access to legit chai! Maybe someday it’ll make it across the desert to our side of the country. 😉 I know the American versions are super sweet and milky–but I still like them both! I think it’s the blend of spices that gets me. Warm, a little spicy, and of course sweet. Yum! Maybe you’ll just have to befriend someone at your local Indian or Middle Eastern restaurant to teach you how to make it!

  5. Angela February 1, 2018

    Twinings vanilla chai has become a favorite and we still have a box left from our Pastors in the states. This recipe will come in handy for when tea time needs a familiar face again!

    1. Ashley February 3, 2018

      Great! I hope you enjoy!

  6. Michele February 3, 2018

    I have to admit that living in the land of chai (or chiya, as it’s called in Nepal), it’s funny to see an American recipe for it here! I”m surprised no other readers in South Asia have commented. Come on over and I’ll make you a cup of the real deal! 🙂 And super sweet and milky is definitely the way they do it here. I don’t take sugar in black tea or coffee, but my chai/chiya has to be sweet because that’s how it was originally served to me and it’s just not right without a little too much sugar!

  7. Ashley February 6, 2018

    How I would LOVE to have access to the real deal! Actually, this recipe is funny/embarrassing in some ways because one, I wrote this post 3 years ago and have since learned that it’s just called CHAI and that saying tea afterwards is redundant. Fumbling American here. I would love to know how they make it in Nepal! Please share a recipe! Or maybe you don’t even make it your own because it’s easier to go to the stand on the corner? If that’s the case, well, I’ll continue to be a little jealous. 😉 I am, however, thankful that Starbucks in Thailand (where I am for a few weeks now) has picked up on the deliciousness and will make me a chai latte. Not cheap, but oh so worth it!

  8. Rachael February 10, 2018

    Thank you for this! I’m in Eastern Europe and while there is a lot of tea here (and the word for tea actually is chai), I haven’t come across these flavors in awhile and have really missed chai lattes. I am now steeping my second batch of the week! The first was just with cinnamon, vanilla, ground ginger, and ground cloves (from when I made a spice cake at Thanksgiving and had to grind the cloves by hand – so fun, haha). I was really thankful that I could find cardamom in the store yesterday – I knew the other ingredients were available (and had a vanilla bean and whole cinnamon sticks on hand from when I found them and immediately bought them), but had to figure out what cardamom was in the language here. At the very end of the spice aisle, right before I was about to give up, I found it! I’d already planned a trip to Ikea next week when I’m in the capital city to get one of those little battery-powered frothers for the milk, so my lattes will be even more exciting! 🙂
    It’s funny how tea has become such a homey thing for me. I always loved it in the States, but now that I am in and out of my home so often here, I drink a lot more of it, and often give tea to friends I’m hosting. For Christmas, one family on my team gave me a teapot and another gave me two boxes of tea. And I discovered a tea house in town where I can get all kinds of loose teas, and have made friends with the proprietors and often take my friends there. I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I figure one obsession at a time is enough. 😉

  9. Lisa July 23, 2018

    As I was reading this article I turned to my hubby and said, “Sweetie, someone finally GETS ME!” haha. I am one of the rare ones that don’t like anything having to do with coffee, I just never got into it- but tea on the other hand, specifically Chai, is my complete obsession as well.

    The best chai I’ve ever had and what got me completely booked is Kenyan chai. Thankfully I bought about 3 years worth the last time I was there- because it is near impossible to find the right masala in the states (you can get it for 13 BUCKS on Amazon, reg. $1 in Kenya! Although I can’t seem to find it on there right now).

    The way they make it is unique as well. You take a pot, fill it with enough milk for however many cups of tea you want (technically they do half mill half water, but I like all milk), then put 1 tsp. Of loose leaf black tea right in the pot, along with 1/4-1/2 tsp. Of what they simply call “tea masala”, aka heaven on Earth.

    You bring that to a boil, so it steeps as it heats up. As soon as it comes to a boil, you pour it over a small strainer into your cup! Some people like to strain it a few times first, but I just don’t drink the last sip in the cup 🙂 add your sugar (Kenyans like it SWEET) And you’re golden!

    It is the best cup of tea I’ve ever had and it takes me to my happy place 🙂

    If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend getting a cup of Kenyan chai, or find a friend who has the stuff to make it :)!!!

    1. Ashley Felder August 1, 2018

      Sounds delicious!!! Never knew Kenya had their own version! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it. 🙂

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