Cardamom Tea: Pakistani Chai

Chai Tea

If you were friendly with one of the House Prefects, you were always guaranteed a thick stack of those buttery, crumbly biscuits for dipping into your milky tea.

At 10am, as the bell rang, all of us would push past the Assembly Hall’s heavy doors and greedily reach for the blue and orange rectangular biscuit tins.

The Prefects had control over the tins and if you weren’t on good terms with them, you’d have to ask your mates to share some of their goodies with you, which they always did, but rather reluctantly.

It was all about survival of the fittest in that Assembly Hall. No one really wanted to share their elevenses with you.

Not even your best friend.

Everyone huddled together, with their plastic teacup of fragrant Kenyan tea in their hand, dipping the thin sliver of a biscuit with the frilled edges into the hot liquid till it turned just a tad bit soggy and melted in your mouth with each bite.

Or so I am told.

Chai Tea

You see, I wasn’t a born tea drinker like all my classmates in Nairobi.

I just stood there with them, committing social suicide by sipping on my cloyingly sweet Tree Top orange squash, injected with all those fascinating preservatives and neon colors.

It was the only drink the school had to offer us non-tea-drinkers.

It wasn’t a very posh drink.

I suspect what saved me from total social embarrassment during elevenses was my smart navy blue uniform skirt, which our housekeeper, Anna, had lovingly hemmed for me so it reached just above my knee- just like all the other fashion-conscious-thirteen-year-olds at Hillcrest Secondary.

Chai Tea

It wasn’t until years later, when my family and I left Nairobi that I started drinking tea with my Ami.

Till today, she always warms my teacup with hot water before pouring tea into it, and then adds just a few drops of milk into the earthy, mahogany tea till it turns a creamy caramel color.

Then she pops in a cardamom pod for fragrance.

I love having this tea with a sugar almond-studded biscuit; a ritual I wasn’t able to share with my mates back in secondary school.

Well, at least we all shared the butter biscuits with the ruffled edges back in school.

No matter where I have these now, they just don’t taste the same as they did in that Assembly Hall back in Secondary School with all my mates.

Chai Tea
Cardamom Chai
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Cardamom Tea: Pakistani Chai

Author: Shayma Saadat


  • Take some of your favourite loose leaf tea and cardamom pod (one per person) and place it in your treasured vintage teapot.
  • Add boiling water and cover with a teacosy.
  • Let it steep for 10 minutes or until the colour deepens and intensifies.
  • The tea should smell fragrant when you lift the teapot lid.
  • Warm your teacup with hot water  as my Ami does for me- and serve with full-cream milk and a plate of  Kenyan House of Manji butter biscuits.

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  1. Wow .. This is a treat for a tea lover. I rarely pour my milky tea out of a teapot anymore but this post almost made me taste the elaichi chai. Lovely.
    Sipping Darjeeling tea right now, poured out of a teapot 🙂

  2. beautiful Shayma. As always your writing transported me to your secondary school in Kenya 🙂 P.S. – I adore your tea set and I know you have many of such treasures because you are classy after all 🙂

  3. being such a chai person myself this was a treat to read and look at, love the tea cups and saucers :))

  4. Shayma, you always manage me transport me to a beautiful destination with your wonderful writing! I’m a chai person especially with elaichi, so comforting! Tea cups are adorable! x

  5. You are right, the tea does not taste the same as it used to earlier. I can so connect with you. During our university days our group of 5 friends used to have ilaichi tea together during the break between our classes and we all asked one of our friends “R” to get tea for all of us because some how she used to convince the “cafe wala” to fill the cups more, heat it more and let it be a little more stronger than the others would get! Those were some beautiful times. Now when we all are busy with our lives and dont go to university anymore, ilaichi tea will never taste the same again!

  6. @Sangeeta Thank you so much- I find having tea out of a teapot is still one of life’s little pleasures. I have a wee teapot I bought from a store in London called ‘Muji‘- it holds just enough tea for one person- my colleague knit me a teacosy to go with it. That makes tea drinking a lovely experience. Like you, I also love Darjeeling. x s

    @Kulsum Thanks so much, dear K. I tried my hand at this style of dark photography for the first time- am in awe of your unique style, as you know. I love vintage china, though Mr Spoon has forbidden me from buying any more as there will soon be no more space to store any of it tee hee x s

    @Tanya Thank you- hope we can get together soon and share a few cups together. x s

    @Sara Thank you so much, as always. x s

    @Zee Thank you, Zee. I loved your story about having tea with your friends during uni days, especially the part about getting ‘special treatment’ from the chai wallah. wonderful.

  7. Isn’t tea a wonderful thing, whether carefully brewed sencha poured into a small porcelain bowl, amber assam doled out from a steel teapot or a cuppa made with a bag and some milk, strong a reassuring. It’s safe to say I’m an addict. Despite never drinking a drop till I was about 14 (Darjeeling, black with a spoon of brown sugar).

    Now, the ritual of making tea of any variety, the brewing time, the pouring, the cooling and the drinking is an oasis of calm in a busy day and never fails to calm me down. A bit like popping the cork on a good bottle of wine really…

  8. You take beautiful photos! You make me want tea so badly, I must now make some! I am happy to have chai but no cardamon. Be sure my next trip to the grocery store will remedy my lack of cardamon. Thanks for such a lovely post. 🙂

  9. What a lovely post! And a lovely tea set too! As I write this comment,I’m looking at the tea cup that’s sitting on my table, steeping with tea, and infusing with cardamom. Thank you for reminding me to take time for myself and enjoy a cup of tea.

  10. Lovely memories of Nairobi. I have never made elaichi chai the way you described. After reading your post,I am absolutely tempted to grab my teapot & steep few cardamoms & tea.

  11. You’ve just described my weekend morning ritual. I have a clear glass teapot and it’s usually Darjeeling or Assam. Love watching the colour slowly turn to the exact shade of golden brown that I like. Lovely post xx

  12. Love the way you write! You transported me to that assembly hall and you took me to my teenage when the skirt was more important than homework 🙂
    I start my day with some ginger tea although hubby prefers elaichi chai more!

  13. such a sweet story. my mom also warms the teacup like that 🙂

    love your pics – very saxxxyyy and sultry 😉

  14. I’m not a huge tea drinker, but am such a fan of cardamom that I will absolutely give this treat a try. I love the concept of elevenses, though around here we call it second breakfast!

  15. Tea is such a beautiful ritual. This lovely tea in particular is one of my all-time favorites. So comforting and fragrant. And yes, nothing quite like a porcelain tea set!

  16. Your writing is so warm Shayma, I’m a huge fan. I always make cardamon tea whenever I’m entertaining, but I have to say I haven’t served tea in a pot for a really long while. Your pictures make me yearn for a lovely tea party with my girlfriends.

  17. Hi,
    As I was browsing the internet, I came across ur blog & all the lovely recipes. This one particularly caught my eye & then I had a real hankering for some elaichi chai. My dad used to make masala chai, very creamy and rich with spices including cardamom. So as it was about time for my afternoon cuppa, I decided to make myself an elaichi chai which btw I am sipping right now as I am writing this. I am having it with a vanilla muffin which my 13yr old daughter baked, the other day. But reading this recipe really brought back memories of my father whom I dearly miss 🙁 (RIP)
    Keep up the good work. Btw what a wonderful heritage u have. I’m an Indian, born in Kuwait & married to a Brit, we live in Australia. I love Iranian food & music!

  18. What a good idea to add a cardamom pod, I’m definitely going to try this at the weekend when I have time to make a proper pot of tea (woeful bag in mug dunking all I have time for in the week) x

  19. Tea is such a wonderful little ritual and your writing is beautiful as it always is! Your writing always manages to remind me of little details and long forgotten memories of my own childhood ….I now rember my nani used to heat tea cups with warm water before pouring tea into the cup…I wonder if anyone still does that?

    Ofcourse I dint ever get to have any of nani’s tea as I was too young and maybe also because of the Indian myth that consuming tea darkens your skin :)) and my nani with 8 grand daughters was pretty focused to do everything in her means to make sure we looked like pretty eligible marriage material :))

    She was so sweet and naive all at once ….just how nani’s should be . Unfortunatley I never did get into the tea habbit I do have a “no -tea” tea for days when I have a scratchy throat (

    But after reading your post I wish I was a tea drinker its such a wonderful moment of solace in the middle of the crazy work day !

    Today I am making myself some elaichi tea and looking at pictures of nani.

    Thank you, Shayma.

  20. Lovely post! 🙂
    You have totally taken me back to my days in Kenya as a child. Tea time was such a ritual at my grandparents house. I loved the hot, sweet, stove boiled tea with farm fresh milk and the elachi. I think my grandmother would put some saunf in too (punjabi thing maybe? ) And her home made elachi biscuits and jeera mathia…so delicious! I’d be there in British summer time so it was not always warm there. Was so cosy being inside drinking tea and playing cards while it rained outside. I was drinking tea from about the age of 4, and to make sure I didn’t burn myself, my grandmother would cool it in the saucer for me. I need to go visit my grandparents soon!!

  21. Hello,

    This was a delight to read, I actually was transported to your school in Kenya and almost could smell the fragrant tea.
    And I really enjoy my tea, though I always have it black, but after reading your article I want to try it your way. 🙂

    Thank you, Shayma!

  22. So good to read of someone else who is so particular about tea! We are tea drinkers in this house and make pots of it every day! I love the idea of the cardamom pod… will be giving this a try!

    Thank you!

  23. Lovely trip down memory lane S.!I am actually a tea lover and I think that’breaktime ritual’ started it…

  24. Lovely photographs !! I do not like masala chai or with any spice in it. If I ever have tea, it is usually the darjeeling tea made the english way.. not sure if you were there during the tweeter convo we had. But what a delight post this is.. I just walk with you as your write and visualize every bit of it. I dunk Marie biscuits in tea and in mid way writing a post about it:D …

  25. Had heard about tea being made in different ways, and this is one of them I suppose. Must try this out and “feel” that aroma 🙂

  26. Wow. Your photos are gorgeous, not to mention your writing. Can’t wait to read more of your work…and to try out your recipe.

  27. Shayma, I remember the rush to the hall and the mob that would attack the biscuits and teapots! You explained it so well! What a great memory… Thank you!

  28. How lovely, yes, you took me there and I can almost taste the tea and warmth and aroma in the pretty cup. The joy of sharing tea with family, a friend or alone is a sacred and wonderful space for me too. Thank you for this enjoyment! I wonder have you tried or do you also make Kashmiri Pink Tea? This link below is a version I have not tried yet. But I have made it a few times another way in the past…so silky smooth and tasty…also who doesn’t love the pink color! 🙂 Blessings to you and your family.

    1. @Marcy Hello – thank you so much. Yes, I adore Kashmiri Chai; I hope to blog about it soon. I am a new mum and taking a bit of time off from blogging, but I know I need to get back into it soon, as I am missing it. Thank you for sharing this vimeo link with me. x s

  29. Do you like playing video games all day? Wouldn’t it be your dream job to get paid to stay home and test new video games? Salary video game tester jobs are in high demand at the moment and with the proper training you could be getting paid to do your dream job.

  30. Well if you like this post then you will surely like Kashmiri Tea . I made this yesterday and I turn out super awesome. Whoever is handling this website, I must say that you are doing a great job because I can never stop myself from reading such interesting posts.

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