This is a recipe for a creamy cup of decaf masala chai that does not compromise on the strong black tea flavor or aromatic Indian spices but lacks caffeine to allow you to enjoy chai at any time of day.
Chai is an Indian creamy black tea made with a special blend of spices called a chai masala. I've taught plenty of chai classes in the late afternoon where my students didn't want to be hyped up on caffeine before I sent them home. So I developed a decaf masala chai recipe that is still strong in tea flavor without giving you those caffeine jitters.
Regular chai caffeine content
Chai is traditionally made with black CTC tea. Typically, the caffeine content in a cup of black tea will be between 50 and 90mg of caffeine per cup compared to 80 to 100mg for a cup of coffee. The total amount of caffeine will increase depending on how much loose leaf tea that you add and how long the tea is steeped.
If you are avoiding caffeine while pregnant, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) recommended range for caffeine consumption for pregnant women is <200mg per day so 1 cup of chai should be within that range. But as with any health consideration, always consult your doctor.
Decaf vs. caffeine free tea
When a tea is marked as decaf it means that the caffeine was removed from the tea whereas when a tea is labeled as caffeine free it means that the the tea never had caffeine to begin with.
Teas that are decaf may have 1-2% of the original caffeine still present. If you want to ensure that there is 0% caffeine in your chai, then choose a tea variety like rooibos which is naturally caffeine free. However, for a more traditional chai taste, I prefer a decaf black tea.
How is black tea decaffeinated?
Decaf black tea is black tea that has had most of the caffeine removed via one of these decaffeination processes:
- Methylene Chloride - This method involves soaking the tea leaves in the methylene chloride and water solution to remove the caffeine and then rehydrating the tea leaves with plain water.
- "Naturally Decaffeinated" with Ethyl Acetate - This method is similar to the methylene chloride. However, ethyl acetate is a chemical found naturally in tea so teas that are decaffeinated with this method are labeled as "naturally decaffeinated".
- Carbon Dioxide Method - This method involves pressure cooking the tea leaves with carbon dioxide (CO2) until the CO2 molecules attract the caffeine particles to themselves, leaving the tea leaves without caffeine. This method is deemed to result in a decaf tea that doesn't use chemicals and yields the best tasting tea.
- Water Processing Decaffeination - Tea is soaked in hot water and then passed through a carbon filter which removes the caffeine. The tea water is then returned back to the tea so it can re-absorb the flavors.
Why is decaf tea so weak?
Decaf tea tends to taste so weak and dull because it goes through the decaffeination process which tends to remove some of the essential oils and flavors found in tea.
What is the best decaf tea for chai?
Decaf black tea bags is best for customizing your chai
When it comes to decaf tea for chai, decaf black tea bags are best if you want to customize the spices in your chai with your own chai masala spice blend.
Loose leaf black CTC tea is best for regular chai as it yields a strong enough tea to stand up to the spices and milk in chai. However, most loose leaf decaf teas on the market are orthodox and not CTC. You can learn more about why CTC tea is best for chai in this blog post.
So for decaf tea, it is best to use tea bags which consist of a combo of small tea middlings as well as CTC tea which results in faster brew times and a stronger cup of chai.
Loose leaf decaf tea mixes are an easy alternative
Loose leaf decaf chai mixes on the other hand are a combination of loose leaf decaf CTC tea along with crushed spices within the bag. Since the spices are already mixed in, it's harder to customize the chai to your liking. I recommend a South Asian-owned brand called Kolkota Chai Co for a well-balanced and traditional decaf masala chai mix.
How to make any chai decaf
Although this blog post is for a decaf masala chai recipe, you can make any of the other chai recipes on the blog including rose chai, cardamom chai, kesar chai, or ginger chai by using my rule of thumb conversion formula.
The rule of thumb is that 1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea = 2 tablespoons of decaf loose leaf black tea (steep for x2 the time if going this route) = 8 decaf black tea bags. For example, if the ginger chai recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of loose leaf black tea to be steeped for 5 minutes total and if you have loose leaf decaf black tea, simply use 2 tablespoons of black tea and steep the tea for 10 minutes total, and if you have decaf black tea bags then steep 8 tea bags for 5 minutes.
What is Chai Masala?
This recipe is for masala chai which is a chai made with chai masala or a chai spice blend. I want folks to be empowered to make chai masala to fit their taste buds; however, you can use my recipe as a starting point. It uses fresh whole spices like cardamom for sweetness, cinnamon for warmth, cloves for bitterness, and black peppercorn for heat. Those whole spices are toasted to release their essential oils and then ground into a powder to form a flavorful chai masala.
Frequently Asked Questions
Chai inherently is a creamy drink that is brewed with milk and spices. If you avoid milk because you are lactose intolerant, you can substitute lactose-free milk. Other alternative milks that are great in chai are oat milk and almond milk!
You can use decaf black tea bags for a decaf chai that tastes similar regular chai but for a truly caffeine free chai you can use a caffeine free tea.
The rule of thumb is that 1 tablespoon loose leaf black tea = 2 tablespoons of decaf loose leaf black tea (steep for x2 the time if going this route) = 8 decaf black tea bags.
Follow the recipe below for chai but slightly reduce the amount of water to account for the ice that will dilute the chai later. Chai can be made up to a week in advance, filtered, and stored in the fridge until ready to be consumed. You can learn more details on making iced chai in this detailed blog post along with a recipe.
You can simply drink chai without sugar for a sugar-free chai. Alternatively, you can use unrefined sugar like jaggery or honey to sweeten chai.