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Steaming Elaichi Wala Chaa – Cardamom Tea


When I was a teenager, this was the one thing that I noticed most girls would get asked to make but they either didn’t know how to or had forgotten. As soon as anyone steps into an Indian or British Asian household, there are immediately cries of ‘chaa banaa!’ meaning ‘make tea!’, such is the love for our infamous, sweet, milky, fragrant, spiced brew.

So the following scene was very familiar for girls in the 1990’s…

You’re at a relative’s house and your mum has popped to the shops with some distant twice-removed Massiji (aunt) to pick up some coriander from the Indian grocers next to the gold shop – they’ll be at least four hours. You’re left minding what you think of as all the snotty-nosed little brat children and suddenly an elderly Auntyji turns to you, pulls your left cheek and with a toothless grin asks you to make her some Indian tea like a good little girl.

You have been spending more time listening to garage than being in the kitchen, despite your mother’s desperate pleas. You have often thought that to spend a Saturday afternoon in a kitchen being taught how to make Aloo Gobi is a pastime only reserved for the truly socially hopeless pindhus. You have friends to meet, essays to complete, clothes to buy, hair to highlight, ring-tones to dowload and texting techniques to be perfected. Exasperated as your parents may be, you are happy with a life that is filled with bhangra not bhajis, daytimers not dhal, Moschino not mooli and diamante tikkas not chicken tikkas.

Yet here you are, stuck in this semi-detached in Bradford on a Sunday evening confronted by a slightly cross-eyed creature in a pale green floral Indian suit and brown cardigan with tennis socks poking from leather toe-thing sandals asking for Elaichi Wala Chaa, and there’s nowhere to run.

You are going to have to somehow make this damn tea and your mum has left her mobile in her bag tucked beside the sofa. You also know fully well that if you fail, not only will your Mummyji give you a front and backhanded slap when she returns but the Auntyji will wail to the entire Indian community (India and Canada along with the UK) that you are an absolute disgrace of an Indian girl and a shame to your mother.

So I thought I’d write down and put in my book how to make it.

It’s quite simple really.

So here’s how to make it just as traditionally liked, but please of course adjust the sugar to taste.

You can also add a tablespoon of fennel seeds, a handful of green sultanas or a couple of teaspoons of ground ginger if you like.


Serves 4 – 6


3 green cardamom pods

2 brown/black cardamom pods

2 teabags

4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste


Put about 7 cups of fresh cold water in a large saucepan.

Lightly smash the cardamoms in a pestle and mortar. Add to the water.

Bring to the boil.

When boiling, add the teabags and sugar. Let it boil for a few minutes.

Add enough milk to turn it a pale beige colour, paler than you would like the end result to be.

Bring to the boil again and, just as it is rising to the top of the pan, about 2 – 3 minutes later, switch the heat right down low and let it continue to gently bubble away, partly covered, for a few minutes until you are happy with the strength then switch off the heat.

Pour through a strainer and serve.



7 thoughts on “Steaming Elaichi Wala Chaa – Cardamom Tea

  1. Loved it! The North Indian/Punjabi growing up stories are so similar! I boil only green cardamom along with a dash of ginger and use a good strong yet flavorful mamri (also from Assam) tea and follow exactly the same process for a great cup of chai. When you are in LA, I’ll make a special Kashmiri tea called “Kehwa” that traces its origin to the Mughal Empire!

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