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Homemade Chai Tea

Chai tea has its origins in Indian Ayurvedic medicinal practices. However, I’ve never been to India and I can’t say I’ve had true chai from a chai walla. I have traveled extensively in Eastern and Southern Africa with many Indian cultural influences throughout the parts of Tanzania and Zanzibar I’ve visited. In those travels, I’ve come to appreciate the power of fresh spices to transform flavor profiles of food into a much more enjoyable experience. Hence the birth of lemongrass chai tea.

Mason jar of iced chai tea on a marble counter with chalk writing "Iced Chai" on the glass. Glass says Established 1898.

This Lemongrass Chai Tea recipe will help you save money and makes a tasty snack hot or cold. You can alter the sweetness and spiciness to your preference. When you make it at home you’re in complete control to make your chai tea any way you please! I choose to add lemongrass to my chai tea for an extra smooth flavor.

Chai

The Indian cultural influence on Tanzanian culture is apparent in many ways, including through the Kswahili language. The word chai, meaning ‘tea’ in Hindi, also means tea in Swahili. Given there is a significant overlap between Hindi and Swahili words due to the trade along the Indian Ocean for centuries, it makes sense. 

Taking tea or having a cup of tea with snacks is a common custom in post-colonial countries. I first encountered the tasty black tea produced in Sub-Saharan Africa when I lived in Uganda in 2006. Local farmers grew black tea and coffee in the rich hills near Masaka and I was fortunate enough to drink my favorite black tea every day with breakfast. The typical reasonably pricedt able black tea comes in a green and yellow container with gold foil inside and is very good quality tea. I brought back 10 boxes the last time I visited Uganda in 2010. This is my last expired tattered box. 

Chai tea pinterest pin "make your own lemongrass chai latte at home"
Learning About Mchai-chai

When I moved to Tanzania in 2010, I discovered that I’d continue to enjoy the tradition of taking black tea . I represented the U.S. embassy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the opening of a HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment Clinic funded by PEPFAR. The clinic was located in a distant region of Tanzania near the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and Lake Victoria. 

The Mayor of the town greeted me and toured me around in his personal vehicle. Since I was representing the Embassy, he was my ambassador and wanted to make sure the visit was perfect. 

Our first stop was at a local cafe where we ordered tea before we started our drive. He wanted to start the day with an overview of his area. The pot of tea that we ordered was fantastic! I asked the mayor why the tea in that region tasted so good.  He promptly asked the woman who owned the restaurant what she did to the tea. 

She said she didn’t do anything in particular, it was just mchai-chai.  The response pleased him, but he had difficulty translating the meaning of mchai-chai. It really sounded like the lady had brewed this special “tea-tea”. Now I was asking too many questions for my limited Swahili to keep up. 

What is Mcha-chai?

The Mayor was desperately trying to explain mchai-chai to me as we left the cafe and got into his vehicle. As we went through the day, I greatly enjoyed learning about the area, the needs, and their pride in the new clinic. After the clinic opening, the mayor asked his driver to stop by the local market so we could walk around the stalls. 

He was determined to demonstrate what mchai-chai was. I have an intense love for bartering in African markets so I was totally down for the mchai-chai search. As we walked through the stalls of the market, I saw the typical things at an African market. Goods like sugar cane, rice, vegetables and fruits, poultry, other grains like sorghum and flour were easy to identify.  

Finally we found mchai-chai. It was lemongrass. I would have never guessed that except that lemongrass has long been used as a tea. So it makes some sense that lemongrass would be translated in my head as “tea-tea” and it really is tea-tea. The words “chai tea” on Western menus have a similar effect, chai meaning tea translates as “tea-tea”. 

How to Use Lemongrass in Your Black Tea

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received about tea is that boiling water matters. What your water tastes like, your tea will also taste like. If you boil tea over an open fire, your tea will taste smoky. You would assume boiling tea water with lemongrass before steeping would result in lemongrass tea. 

However, you will get a milder black tea when you boil your tea water with stalks from the lemongrass plant and then use that water to steep your black tea. Adding lemongrass to black makes your regular tea a bit less bitter without adding sweetness. 

Growing fresh lemongrass is easy, but fresh lemongrass is rarely available for sale. If you want the freshest tasting lemongrass black tea, grow your own! Harvest it from low on the stalk, and use both the stalk and leaves when boiling your tea water. Once you taste lemongrass chai tea, you won’t skip this step ever again!

Hot chai tea in black mug with ingredients: Any Chai tea, lactose free milk and raw agave.

Making the perfect Lemongrass Chai Tea

When I first discovered Shafa Blends at a local farmers market. I quickly realized that their owner, Mr. Shafa, makes one one of a kind spice blends. Mr. Shafa introduced me to Any Chai mix when I was sampling his tea blends. He explained that you can add Any Chai to literally any tea and it will taste like chai tea. 

When I moved from Maryland, I made sure to stop at Shafa Blends in Gaithersburg to pick up several jars of Any Chai spice mix. I asked Mr. Shafa how he came up with the recipe. He told me he watched a well-known chai walla on YouTube and made his recipe from what he saw. Mr. Shafa’s spices are made with unique recipes designed to taste the way you’d expect a dish to taste. 

Mr. Shafa standing proudly in front of his spices at Shafa Blends in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

In the case of Any Chai, the chai walla on YouTube inspired Mr. Shafa to blend a spice that makes the perfect chai tea. The result is a fantastic blend of spices that allows you to create your own chai tea mix at home. I’ve even added Any Chai to hot chocolate to make Chai Hot Chocolate. 

High-quality ingredients that support small businesses are the best kind to invest in. Any Chai is a wicked value with each 1 oz. jar costing only $6 each. Of course like any spice, use it in a reasonable amount of time to ensure the freshest results.

Froth Your Chai Like a Pro

One of the downfalls of homemade chai lattes is the missing milk froth. That problem is easily solved without buying an expresso machine with a milk frother.

A small milk frothing wand starts at around $8 on Amazon and will easily create a foamy chai latte. Make sure to try this trick to using a milk frother with this drink: warm the milk in a separate cup and froth, then the milk glass contents to hte warmed chai tea glass. If you are drinking a iced chai latte, froth the milk first , add ice, then add the chai tea mix.

Frother and chai tea ingredients: lactose free milk, Agave in the Raw, Any Chai Spice and a black teacup with hot chai tea in front of a teal teapot steeping black tea.

Did you like this recipe?

Try one of the other wellness recipes on WellnessGrind.com! If you’re feeling under the weather try this Tumeric Ginger Lemon tea instead of your daily chai. You can even make it an iced tea treat by refrigerating it and adding Chia seeds.