Posted by: ben | March 26, 2009


masala-header(title with apologies to Grandaddy, and to anyone with a sense of dignity)

Ben: The cat’s out of the bag now. To most of my friends and family, I am ‘that tea guy.’ This is a bit unfair (I also tend to get called ‘that archive guy’ or ‘that music guy’) but it does mean that I can attempt to get people to at least try something other than PG Tips. That’s how this review has come about – my dear ole mum loves the little tins Adagio send their loose leaf samples out in so I encouraged her to pick one out and try it with me. After much lid-rattling and wrinkling of noses, we settled on Adagio’s Masala Chai tea.

Firstly, a reiteration of a very crucial point. I started this blog with Dan in order to try new teas because I was drinking the same old thing time and time again. I am not a tea expert by any means – heck, reading the teafolk on Twitter, I feel positively amateur! It doesn’t help that a great deal of tea sites online are American and I’m only very faintly versed in UK terminology.

Ooh! It's like Christmas!

Ooh! It's like Christmas!

I think I might have seen ‘chai’ on a Starbucks menu at some point but the word, to me, means ‘tea’. A university friend from Sheffield always referred to tea as cha as a derivative from the same word. In most of the world, chai is tea. Hence my confusion here – this is some weirdy blend of things, not straight tea at all! A read of Adagio’s website and a bit of Wikipedia reveals the answer – chai, in America, generally refers to this mix of tea leaves and spices. Elsewhere, the same blend is referred to as ‘masala chai’.

It looks very peculiar. The entire brewing process from opening the can to pouring the brew evokes the process of making mulled wine. The principal ingredients of the mix – cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and cloves – are exactly the same as the ones I use to make mulled wine every December.

‘Oh!’ said my mum as she opened the can. ‘It smells like Christmas!’

The instructions from Adagio are frustrating by their near omission. The tin states ‘212 degrees 5 mins’. I assume this means adding boiling water and brewing for five minutes, though boiling water to me is 100 degrees. There’s some metric/imperial confusion here. There’s no indication of the amount of leaves to use per person either. I guessed at a spoonful each plus one for the pot, which seemed to work.

‘Oh!’ said my mum as the tea brewed. ‘It smells like Christmas!’

Ooh! It's like Christmas!

Ooh! It's like Christmas!

The brew itself is slightly lighter than a normal black tea. One assumes this is largely due to the relative lack of tea compared to the abundance of spices. The smell is much as before, though with a light creaminess.

Being a masala chai newbie, I tried it pure – no milk, no sugar. Wikipedia suggests that you can add such accoutrements if need be, which I probably would do in later brewings.

Because, you see, it’s weird. The aroma is so overwhelming but the taste of the drink itself is so subdued. Unlike a nice Ceylon or Golden Monkey, the taste is pretty even and without any particularly great depth. It has a slight floral note to it but is largely just a wash over the tongue with a slight – slight – hint of really dark black tea to it. The aroma stays on the nostrils and palate for a few minutes after tasting and almost makes you feel cheated – I want that taste on my tongue, damnit!

But wait, do I?

I am genuinely stumped by masala chai. You see, the smell is nice but overwhelming and the taste is not especially flavoursome, both of which convince me that I shouldn’t like this at all. Looking at my notepad, aside from the ‘Christmas!!!’ scribbles, I’ve written nothing but negative things. Despite that, I think I might like it.

Ooh! It's like Christmas!

Ooh! It's like Christmas!

I shouldn’t like it and, weirdly, I’m not sure right now if I do or not.

Regular readers will be aware that I am struggling to drink black teas sans milk and sugar. Masala chai is, essentially, a black tea, and though I’m not overly fond of it, I am not dismissing it out of hand. On the contrary, I’ve nearly finished an entire cup of it without any sort of additive. Maybe I do like it – maybe I’d like it more with milk and sugar.

I am left scratching my head. I will definitely try it again at some point. I’d welcome any comments from people who drink masala chai as to the best way to have it.

Oh, and my mother? She says it’s ‘nice’. Probably not the ringing endorsement Adagio are after. Sorry about that.

Ben (and his mum) were drinking Adagio’s Masala Chai tea, available exclusively through their American site from $2 for a sample tin.

Ben: Oh, and a pointer! It’s worth watching Adagio’s Twitter feed as they regularly have $10 coupons posted. I managed to nab one tonight and ordered some Golden Monkey!



  1. Hey Ben, you’ll want to try the Masala Chai both steeped in water, and as a rich treat, steeped in hot milk with sugar- the latter is usually better. The traditional way I’ve been taught (my best friend is south asian) is to throw the leaves and spices in hot milk in a saucepan, heat that sucker up and let it foam up a couple of time, add sugar, cool to drinking temperature and enjoy. It’s a bit of a mess, but I find it more palatabe that way.

    • Wow, that’s complicated! Seems similar to mulled wine – I guess heating the liquid along with the spices helps release the flavour?

      Thanks for the help! I’ll have a bit of a play with milk and pans next week and see what I can do.

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