Making Chai You Will Love – Steeping or Simmering, Which is Better?

Making chai at home

Making is an art worth mastering. Being able to enjoy the best tasting cup anytime you want is possible by using the right method.

Is it steeping or simmering? Which method is going to give you the best chai? 2 methods compared in a parallel tasting, cup next to cup, steeped using the same ingredients, the same ratios of water and , and the same brewing time.

So, which one is better?

Ingredients for making chai tea

While there are many types of chai out there, the most common one is masala chai, made with leaves, spices, water, milk and sugar. Chai is usually lightly spiced, with texture and depth being a very important aspect of this drink. Ingredients will vary from recipe to recipe, and there really is no right ratio to make the perfect cup.

Both drinks in this test contain exactly the same ingredients, and the same ratios:  

  • 2 cardamom pods, a few black peppercorns, star anise, some cinnamon and a clove, crushed using pestle and mortar
  • 200 ml of water
  • 100 ml of whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons of broken leaf Assam black tea

The ingredients were the same, as well as the preparation time. The only thing that was different was the process. One was simmered, the other one was steeped, both for 10 minutes.

Learn how to make masala chai from a scratch at home.

Making chai 2 different ways
© All That Tea

Steeping method

As chai was gaining in popularity, steeping became a go-to method for making it at home. The idea behind steeping chai is simple. Pre-made chai blends already contain all spices and black tea leaves, and all you need to do is steep a teaspoon of tea in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. In the end, you could also add some milk. Some pre-made chai blends contain very small tea leaves and broken spices, and some have whole spices and longer leaves. Each blend will be different in appearance, intensity and flavour.

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Tea was steeped in freshly boiled water for 10 minutes together with crushed spices,  covered. Then it was strained into a mug, sweetened with the same amount of sugar, stirred and topped with hot milk.

Simmering method

Simmering is different from steeping. It means adding all ingredients into a saucepan and simmering it over low heat until tea and spices release their flavour. You can use a simmering method to make other teas too, but because it will cause a stronger brew, it's best for making milk teas. To make chai this way, you first add water and spices, bring it to a boil, add tea leaves, simmer, then add milk and sugar and bring it to a boil again and simmer for a few more minutes. Once you strain the tea, you pour it from one cup into another several times, preferably from a height. Simmering requires more patience and looking over a saucepan, unlike steeping, where you can simply add tea leaves into a teapot or an infuser and let it steep.

2 cups of chai tea
© All That Tea

So, what kind of tea will you get using these 2 methods?

Simmered chai

The first noticeable difference is that even though you start with the same ratios, brew them for the same time, volume will reduce significantly. Simmering reduced the total volume by almost 50%. It will also influence the flavour and texture. Simmered chai is frothy, with a complex silky flavour. It's sweet, with a lot of depth, and feels luxurious, almost as it was made with a milk that has over 10% of fat. And, it has a deeper colour too.

And what about steeped chai?

Steeped chai

To make it as close as possible, tea was covered while steeping, and milk was heated. The steeping is a very different method than simmering. Steeping will reduce the total volume by 20 ml, but that's not nearly as close to simmering. Even though the spices were crushed, the flavour is lighter. While still delicious, compared to the simmered tea, it feels watery. It also feels much sweeter. Because ingredients released less flavour, sugar stands out more, while in the simmered method, it balances the astringent notes. Steeped tea has a slightly lighter colour and is less foamy than the simmered chai.

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Difference between two brewing methods
© All That Tea

So which way should you use at home?

If you want a rich, decadent, creamy tea, use the simmering method. It may require a bit more patience, but it will be well worth it. You can use pure loose leaf black tea or even tea bags and add fresh crushed spices or use a pre-made chai blend. If you'd rather steep the tea, aromatic pre-made blends will likely give a better flavour as they are properly balanced for steeping. And lastly, heat the milk – it will give a nicer texture.

Read more: Chai tea vs Chai latte

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