Masala chai (commonly and somewhat falsley abbreviated to just “chai”) literally means “spice mix tea” – and this is what this review is about. I got myself a selection of Vahdam’s masala chais and kept notes of each one I tried. Some came in the Chai Tea Sampler and others I either already bought before or were a free sample that came with some other order.
Classical CTC BOP
CTC BOP is usually cheaper than more delicately processed whole leaves. Although the common perception is that it is of lower quality than e.g. FTGFOP or even just FOP or OP for that matter, the fact is that they simply a different method with a different outcome. You can get away with breaking cheaper leaves, though, than whole.
Also bare in mind that while BOP is the most common broken leaf grade, there are several more.
It makes for a stronger brew and a more robust flavour– ideal for breakfast teas. The down-side is that it can coat your tongue. But if you want to recycle it, the second steep will be much lighter.
The quintessential masala chai – the strength of the CTC BOP, paired with the classic mix of spices. A great daily driver and a true classic, but for my personal taste a tiny bit too light on the spice.
Ingredients: CTC BOP black tea, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper
Same as India’s Original Masala Chai above, but with a bigger amount of spice. Of the two I definitely prefer this one.
Ingredients: CTC BOP black tea, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper
Due to the fennel, the overall taste reminds me a lot of Slovenian cinnamon-honey cookies[^medenjaki], which we traditionally bake for Christmas. The odd bit is the cookies do not include the fennel at all, but most of the other spices in a classic masala chai (minus pepper). I suppose the fennel sways it a bit to the sweet honey-like side.
In short, I really liked the fennel variation – could become firm winter favourite of mine.
Ingredients: CTC BOP black tea, fennel, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper
[^medenjaki]: The Slovenian name is “medenjaki” and the closest thing the English cuisine has to offer is probably gingerbread.
When I saw the package I thought that saffron was more of a marketing gimmick and I would only find a strand or two in the whole 10g package. But no! The saffron’s pungence punches you in the face – in a good way. It felt somewhat weird to put sugar and milk into it, so strong is the aroma.
Personally, I really like it and it does present an interesting savoury twist. It is a taste that some might love and others might hate though.
Ingredients: CTC BOP black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, saffron, almonds
I am (almost) always game for a nice spin on an Earl Grey. In this case, the standard masala complements the bergamot surprisingly well and in a way where none of the two particularly stand out too much.
The combination works so well that it would feel wrong to call it a spiced-up Earl Grey or a earl-grey’d masala chai. It is a pleasantly lightly spiced, somewhat citrusy and fresh blend that goes well with or without milk.
Ingredients: CTC BOP black tea, bergamot, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, black pepper
Now, this one is interesting because it only has two ingredients – black tea and cardamom. While not as complex in aroma as most others, it is interesting how much freshness and sweetness a quality cardamom pod can carry.
I found it equally enjoyable with milk and sugar or without any of the two.
Ingredients: CTC BOP Assam black tea, cardamom
Similar to their Cardamom Chai, it is a masala chai with very few ingredients. The cinnamon and cardamom get allong very well and while it lacks the complexity of a full masala/spice mix, it is a very enjoyable blend.
Recommended especially if you like your masala chai not too spicy, but sweet.
Ingredients: CTC BOP Assam black tea, cardamom, cinnamon
What is described with “orthodox” usually means a whole leaf grade, starting with OP. These are much weaker than CTC, but therefore bring out the more delicate flavours. It is a bigger challenge therefore to make sure spices do not push the flavour of the tea too much into the back-seat.
Because the leaves are whole, as a rule you can get more steeps out of them than of broken leaves.
The more refined spin on the classic masala chai – with whole leaves of a quality Assam, it brings a smoothness and mellowness that the CTC cannot achieve. Because of that the spices are a bit more pronounced, which in my opinion is not bad at all. The quality of the leaf also results in a much better second steep compared to the CTC.
Most definitely a favourite for me.
Ingredients: FTGFOP1 Assam black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, black pepper
I have not had the pleasure of trying tulsi[^basil] and regarding masala chais, this is a very peculiar blend. The taste of the Assam is quite well hidden behind the huge bunch of herbs. In fact, for some reason it reminds me more of the Slovenian Mountain Tea than of of a masala chai.
In the end, the combination is quite pleasant and uplifting.
What I found fascinating is that it tastes very similar both with milk and sugar, and without any of the two.
Ingredients: organic Assam black tea, tulsi basil, cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom, black pepper, long pepper, bay leaves, nutmeg
[^basil]: For more about tulsi – or holy basil, as they call it in some places – see its Wikipedia entry.
As expected, the Darjeeling version is much lighter and works well also without milk, or even sugar. Still, a tiny cloud of milk does give it that extra smoothness and mellowness. It is not over-spiced, and the balance is quite well. The taste of cloves (and perhaps pepper) are just slightly more pronounced, but as a change that is quite fun. It goes very well with the muscatel of the Darjeeling.
Ingredients: SFTGFOP1 Darjeeling black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, black pepper
Despite the fancy abbreviation, IMHO the oolong tea itself in this blend is not one you would pay high prices as a stand-alone tea. Still, I found the combination interesting. If nothing else, it is interesting to have a masala chai that can be drank just as well without milk and sugar as with them.
Personally, I found the spice a bit to strong in this blend for the subtle tea it was combined with. I actually found the second steep much more enjoyable.
Ingredients: SFTGFOP1 Oolong tea, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, black pepper
A very enjoyable and refreshing blend, which I enjoyed without milk or sugar. The saffron is not as heavy as in the Saffron Premium Masala Chai, but goes really well with the almonds and the rest of the spices.
When I first heard of Kashmiri Kahwa, I saw a recipe that included rose buds, so in the future I might try adding a few.
Ingredients: FTGFOP1 green tea, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, almonds
As is to be expected, the green variety of the Darjeeling masala chai is even lighter than its black Darjeeling counterpart. The spice is well-balanced, with cinnamon and cloves perhaps being just a bit more accentuated. This effect is increased when adding milk.
It goes pretty well without milk or sugar and can be steeped multiple times. Adding either or both works fine as well though.
Quite an enjoyable tea, but personally, in this direction, I prefer either the Kashmiri Kahwa or the “normal” Darjeeling Spice masala chais.
Ingredients: FTGFOP1 darjeeling green tea, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, black pepper
- BOP]: Broken Orange Pekoe
- FOP: Flowery Orange Pekoe
- OP: Orange Pekoe
- CTC: Crush, Tear, Curl
- FTGFOP: Finest Tippy Golder Flowery Orange Pekoe
- FTGFOP1: Finest Tippy Golder Flowery Orange Pekoe (1st grade)
- SFTGFOP1: Superior Finest Tippy Golder Flowery Orange Pekoe (1st grade)