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For an avid chai drinker, it’s a daily ritual. Chai, Hindi for “tea,” is just half the story—the chai that readily comes to mind in the United States is actually masala chai, Hindi for “spiced tea.” With origins in British colonialists bringing tea to India, the spiced sweet cup of brisk tea may not have ancient roots in India, but its popularity there and later abroad has cemented its place in the pantheon of teas. What belongs in a chai and which blends are best is very subjective and easy fodder for arguments.
Sometimes, you want a quick steep. You may not have time to brew on the stovetop (which many swear by), though if you’ve never done it, you’ll find a great blend for your first go below. Along with our picks for stovetop chai, there are plenty of varieties to keep your masala chai mug full with everything from CTC to whole leaves to concentrates and powders.
Here are our recommendations for the best chai to try.
Best Overall: The Chai Box All Chai’d Up
The Chai Box “All Chai’d Up” loose tea makes an inviting cup that is both tea-forward but still redolent with spices of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and clove with a touch of fennel sweetness and warm buff color using the stovetop method. You'll keep coming back for more. Bonus points: The instructions offer a stovetop and by-the-cup method for infuser-brewing. It's available in 2.5-ounce to 1-pound bags of loose tea.
Best Kashmiri: VAHDAM Loose Leaf Kashmiri Kahwa Green Tea Chai
In Kashmir, India, the chai known as Kashmiri Kahwa is green, and almonds join cinnamon in the cup for a brew that is not typically served with milk. Note: If you go looking for Kashmiri chai online, you are very likely to find pink “noon chai,” which is not Kashmiri Kahwa. This blend from Vahdam Teas brews a soothing, fragrant cup, spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and almonds, made golden by the addition of saffron. It's available in a 3.5-ounce bag of loose tea.
Best Floral: Kolkata Chai Co. DIY Chai Kit - Rose Masala Chai
The DIY rose chai kit from Kolkata Chai Co. will transport you to India. A common gripe people often have with chai is how the tea gets lost from excessive spicing, but not so in this loose chai—here the Assam tea blends with green cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves, as rose petals play sidekick. The aroma is subtly floral, and while unsweetened, there is a sugar cookie note to its fragrance.
It brews an exceptional cup with a toasty tan color. Bonus points: Made on the stovetop, the instructions nudge you to grate fresh ginger (not included) into the saucepan. New to chai? A private YouTube link with instructions on how to make the perfect cup is sent out with order details. It's available in a 120-gram packet of loose tea.
Best Powdered: Tipu's Chai Now Single Serve Masala Chai Latte Powder
Don’t pass up powdered chai. If you want a bolder cup closer to stovetop style (without the stove), Tipu’s Chai Now Sweetened Masala Chai is a quick stir-and-drink antidote. First off, the tawny color of the chai is just right. A cozy ginger, cinnamon, cardamom aroma invites from the start and sweet heat envelops your mouth and throat even as a kick of heat pulsates at the finish. The already sweetened blend isn’t too sweet. And, the biggest plus? You only need hot water to make any moment tea time. Bonus points: There's an unsweetened version, too. It comes in 10 single serving packets of powdered tea.
Best Mint: Blue Lotus Mint Masala Chai
If you’re new to mint in masala chai, you’re in for a treat. Peppy peppermint combines with ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves for a refreshing aroma and festive flavor in Blue Lotus’ mint masala chai. The black tea is first brewed and then flash dried into tea powder. The ratio of 1 part hot water to 1 part milk yields a tea that pulsates with a rounded spice profile, deliciously unsweetened. It comes in a 3-ounce tin of powdered tea.
Best Bagged: MEM Tea Masala Chai Pyramids
For by-the-cup brewing, MEM Tea Imports' masala chai brews a brisk black tea, boosted with ginger that yields enough heat without overpowering the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and the surprise of rooibos with a bouquet of autumn spices. It's available in a 20-count tin or 100-count bulk bag. Bonus points: It's also available in 2-ounce to 1-pound loose tea increments with the brand's stovetop method listed on the website.
Best Spicy: Rishi Tea & Botanicals Spicy Masala Chai Organic Tea Blend
Do you brace at the idea of spicy chai? Even though the spice list is long for this spicy masala chai blend from Rishi Tea, it’s harmonious in how the tea stands up to the usual suspects of masala chai: cardamom, ginger root, cinnamon, and cloves. The black pepper heat is pumped up by the addition of organic cayenne chili flakes and essential ginger oil. If masala chai is a hug, this zippy blend is more like a bear hug. It's available in a 1-pound bag of loose tea.
Best Concentrate: Samovar Tea 411 Valencia Masala Chai Tea Concentrate
The 411 Valencia masala chai concentrate from Samovar has it all—an inviting hearty aroma and a solid trifecta of sweet, spice, and tea that is so nice. We tasted a lot of concentrates to get here: Some had too much sweetness or not enough spice. Others were all sweetness and spice with the tea as a tag-along. Samovar’s tastes like a teahouse drink at home. The brand really nailed the tea extraction, with spiced heat that lingers in this brew so well it could make you give up your coffeehouse chai habit. It comes in a single 32-ounce container or case of 12.
Best Unsweetened: One Stripe Chai Co. 32oz Unsweetened Chai Concentrate
While masala chai typically is assertive in its tea and spice, sometimes necessity means skipping the sweet. The majority of masala chai concentrates in the market are all pre-sweetened. Instead of going for pre-sweetened sugar-free versions, you can opt for One Stripe Chai Co.'s unsweetened masala chai concentrate. Its aroma yields a fresh citrusy spice bouquet for a cup of robust black tea with a sharp but not abrasive spice profile. It's available in 32-ounce glass bottles.
Best Green Tea: The Republic of Tea Bold Green Chai Certified Elephant Friendly Tea Bags
For the green tea fan and low-caffeine drinker who still wants the lively spices of a masala chai, consider the bold green chai from Republic of Tea. Made with organic Indian green tea mixed with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and clove, this tea is flavor-forward, and the spices heat up the throat and mouth. It’s a well-balanced blend, good on its own or with a splash of milk. It's available in a chai stackable trio of tins or a 36-bag pack.
Best Caffeine-Free: MEM Tea Herbal Chai
Rooibos is a wonder herb. This spindly “red bush” leaf that originates in South Africa lends a tea flavor without the caffeine. MEM Tea Imports’ herbal chai is the caffeine-free masala chai that rose to the top with its well-rounded bouquet and flavor profile, warming with spices, but subtle honeyed notes of rooibos peeking through. It's available in 2-ounce to 1-pound sizes of loose tea.
Best Pumpkin: Samovar Tea Pumpkin Chai
Samovar Tea’s pumpkin chai is a PSL revelation in tea form that’s anything but basic. A bountiful butterscotch aroma sets high expectations for a decadent autumn blend that could make the seasoned espresso drinker switch. The pumpkin and spices mingle with the tea and might remind you a bit of a honey nut oat cereal—toasty, sweet, and spiced. One note here, you get to decide how sweet to take it—follow the instructions or sweeten to taste. It's available in a 1-pound bag of loose tea.
Best Chocolate: Rishi Tea & Botanicals Chocolate Chai Organic Black Tea Blend
Chocolate and masala chai are natural bedfellows. Rishi Tea’s chocolate chai is a guilt-free indulgence that doesn’t require sweetener to be dessert. It steeps into a bold black tea, decadent on its own. But with milk, the creamy notes of the chocolate flavor of the organic cacao nibs and cocoa shells bring the spices through better at the back of the throat. Did we mention the aroma is akin to a chocolate croissant? It's available in 1/4-ounce to 1-pound increments of loose tea.
Best Fruit-Forward: The Chai Box Sweet Monsoon Loose Leaf Tea Blend
This category was added upon tasting the Chai Box Sweet Monsoon Loose Tea—it’s too good not to share. If you close your eyes, you might swear you’re in the tropics with its fruit and spice aroma and taste. Cinnamon, mango, and coconut mingle with the spices as the tea holds its own. This brewed an excellent cup of tea—without milk. Adding milk highlights the smooth mellow aspects of the tea as the fruit and spice still come forward. It's available in 2.5-ounce up to 1-pound bags of loose tea.
Best on Ice: Samovar Tea Organic Masala Chai
The stovetop method for Samovar loose organic masala chai tastes even better the next day chilled in the refrigerator. If you’re looking to skip cafe lines but have a solid cuppa sweetened-as-you-like-it milky spiced iced chai, this is it.
What to Look for in Chai
The best blend of chai is highly subjective. Some families, like food writer Leena Trivedi-Grenier’s, have their own chai masala blend, and to her, a great cup of masala chai is a blend of your preferences and your family’s traditions—one of her aunts adds fresh mint to masala chai. Cookbook author Chitra Agrawal said she keeps her masala simple with fresh ginger and cardamom for her chai. Cookbook author Tara O’Brady’s mother makes elaichi chai (cardamom tea), but O’Brady also likes chai with other spices, too. The best way to discover what you like is to sample a variety.
Cookbook author Tara O'Brady sums it up: “Masala chai must be balanced.” And, this is where the fun begins with your search. Sometimes the tea taste is obliterated by a punch of spice or one spice dominates all the others. It’s not just the flavor profile either that needs balance, but the aroma, too—if we are what we eat, then what we smell is where drinking begins. There is artistry involved in making a masala chai where the whole is greater than the parts. Obviously, the perfect balance in a cup of masala chai is subjective.
When it comes to chai, you have some options. Our list includes everything from stovetop tea to CTC, whole leaves, concentrates, and powders. The tea cut called CTC (cut-tear-curl), also known as mamri tea, comes from pellets that boil with milk, sugar, and spices. CTC tea brews in boiling water on the stovetop for a robust cup of black tea, something recipe developer Amisha Gurbani said is essential in a good cup of chai. Cookbook author Hetal Vasavada said CTC is essential for imparting the tannins necessary to get that chai flavor. Cookbook author Archana Mundhe goes one step further and says the double boil of brewing in water and then in milk is key to a good chai. However, there are also plenty of options for quicker steeps. Your time constraints and personal preference will ultimately dictate the best brewing method and variety for you.
What is chai tea?
"Chai" is Hindi for "tea," so "chai tea" literally means "tea tea." What many of us in the United States and abroad think of as chai is actually masala chai, Hindi for "spiced tea." Chai as we know it was introduced in India by British colonialists, but Indians made it their own. It is now a much-beloved drink and daily staple.
You can find chai in bags or loose with Assam whole leaf black tea or smaller cuts of tea leaves, or other teas used instead to impart their flavor and character. It’s hard to pinpoint a definitive masala chai as some families and tea companies have their own proprietary spice blends, giving it their particular twist. Often though, you will find masala chai includes cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and black pepper. The beauty of blending is all in the decisions: Are the spices whole? Are they ground? Do the instructions indicate scraping in fresh ginger to stir into the tea as it steeps? You might find star anise swept into the spice mix or even orange zest, vanilla, rose, or mint.
Does chai tea have caffeine?
What we think of as chai is masala chai, which is typically a blend of highly caffeinated black tea and spices. Kashmiri-style Kahwa chai is made with lightly caffeinated green tea and cardamom with almonds. For a caffeine-free option, a good pick would be a rooibos masala chai, as this “red tea” herb that originates in South Africa tastes the most like black tea but without the caffeine. Keep in mind if visiting a café or coffee shop, the chai on the menu is probably a highly caffeinated black tea blend or concentrate. Teahouses should have a wider selection that might include a variety of caffeine levels.
How do I make chai?
This depends. A good rule of thumb is to follow the instructions on your container of masala chai, since tea blenders precisely portion out the spices and tea for the amount of water, milk, and steeping time they recommend.
Quickly steep loose or bagged masala chai without a stovetop, using this quick method: For masala chai made with black tea: steep 1 teaspoon of loose tea or 1 tea bag in 1 cup of near-boiling water for 4 minutes. Strain out the loose tea or discard the teabag. Then sweeten to taste if desired and stir in milk. For green tea, steep 1 teaspoon of green masala chai in 1 cup of water that is around 170 degrees Fahrenheit (cooler than black tea so the tea doesn’t over-extract) for 3 minutes. Strain out the loose tea or discard the teabag. Sweeten to taste and stir in milk.
If you have access to a stovetop, make masala chai in a saucepan. Here’s a simple ratio to remember: 1:1:1 on water, milk, and loose masala chai. You can add more tea if you prefer and as you perfect your own house chai. Bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon masala chai (and if you have some on-hand, stir in fresh ginger using a microplane—this adds a kick of spicy heat, so use less or more as desired). Boil for 3 minutes. Pour in the milk. Bring to a boil once more and then turn off the heat. Strain out the loose tea and then sweeten it to taste.
Making an iced chai? Bring the strained sweetened tea (using either the quick steeping or stovetop method) to room temperature before adding ice cubes—if you add ice while it’s still hot, they will melt and dilute your chai. Or, if you happen to make a double batch of chai, chill part of it, once at room temperature overnight, no ice needed.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
The Spruce Eats writer Annelies Zijderveld has worked in the tea industry for over a decade, traveling across the United States, where she has poured tea at food and wine festivals and connected with tea drinkers at tradeshows and beyond. During that time, she cupped a dizzying array of teas and believes there is a tea out there for every person. She wrote a cookbook about cooking with tea, inspired by the ease chefs she encountered brought to tea as an ingredient, thinking home cooks would love getting in on that idea, too. She cupped 49 masala chai blends to bring you the recommendations on this list. Keeping with the theme of this guide, it might be fun to know she also has a cat named Chai.