Storyteller’s Chai

During my undergraduate years at Indiana University, my husband and I were friends with a wonderful couple who had us over many times. First in their apartment, then in their house, Sadia and I would stand by her stove as she placed a stainless steel potbelly pan over a flame. She filled it with water, then began cutting green cardamom pods in half with scissors. I watched the pods drop into the water a half at a time, their black seeds spilling out.

At my own apartment, and then my own home, I repeat the motions. Nostalgia is brought on and heightened by scents, but ritual can bring me back into the moment, the place between here and now where I have brought past forward to present. Sadia was a wonderful friend. There was a meditative quality to the manner in which she brought spices and water to a boil. I felt cared for and safe with her. This is no doubt why her chai was the best chai.

After she moved, I found I could not repeat the flavor of her friendship. Cutting cardamom pods became a ritual inclusion in my own chai recipe. I also began to add powdered ginger, then candied ginger. Sadia used whole milk. I switched to two percent, then omitted milk altogether, choosing soy milk, then almond milk, then no sugar. My chai has transformed with me, a constant reflection of the comfort I need in my life.  Today, I drink mine with unsweetened almond milk, heavy on the cardamom and without a hint of sugar. I prefer to brew it strong, with Newman’s Own Royal Tea as my black tea of choice.

What you will find below is a chai recipe from the middle of my chai-making season. I often place these ingredients dry in a ziploc bag in order to brew a fresh pot at the home of a loved one. On more than one occasion I have been known to print directions and gift this much like my mother used to gift Spice Tea to our friends and family every Christmas.

I hope this recipe will encourage you to explore chai, and that you will chime in with your individual or ethnic tailoring.


4 cups water
6-8 green cardamom pods, cut in half
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cubes sugared ginger

4-6 black tea bags (I prefer Newman’s Own Royal Tea)
1-2 cups milk, preferably whole


Place first set of ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat. Remove from heat.

Add tea bags and return to a boil. (Adding tea bags on heat can cause the pot to froth over.) Remove from heat. Turn heat to medium-low.

Stir in milk and return to medium-low heat. Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent burning the milk.

Remove from heat and taste. You will probably want another 1/4 cup sugar at this point if you like a very sweet chai. Serve hot or iced.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

0 Discussion to this post

  1. Storytellers Chai —the flavor of friendship! Looks good, I’ll try it next Saturday (Saturday is for chai at home)

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  2. […] Serve warm with a cup of Storyteller’s Chai. […]

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