Looseleaf Chai

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I drink vats of tea. I buy looseleaf tea in a glass jar I take to the store and once home, brew the tea in either my small pot with a built-in strainer or in my daughter’s TARDIS infuser. I toss the spent leaves into my compost bucket rather than tea bags and packaging into a trash can.

Lately, I’ve been drinking chai tea and I’m nearly out. Upon closer examination of the few teaspoons remaining, I discovered an awful lot of orange peel, probably 10 percent at least by volume (I had thought all those bits were dried ginger!). And I call myself frugal.

I have been paying $30 a pound for dried orange peel!

That did it. I’ll make my own chai. I have looseleaf black tea, lots of whole spices and organic oranges on hand. (I eat organic peels only.)

Since recently making delicious candied citrus peels, I’ve begun to hoard orange peels. My younger daughter ate several oranges yesterday and I simply minced these up and set them on a cookie sheet along with some ginger to dry overnight in my oven (it has a pilot light…inefficient I know…landlord’s choice).

dried peels and ginger

Did you know you can peel ginger quickly with a spoon? Why did I not learn about this until now? This 44-second video shows you how.


I combined the following spices for my blend:

  • 1 part cinnamon sticks
  • 1 part cloves
  • 1 part cardamom pods
  • 1 part star anise
  • 1 part coriander seeds
  • 1 part black peppercorns
  • 1 part ginger
  • 2 parts orange peel

I ground the first six spices up a bit in my mortar and pestle and combined everything with the looseleaf black tea.

chai comparison
Store-bought chai on the left; my blend on the right

The result tastes pretty good. When I polish this off, I’ll make another batch with more orange peel (I have so much!), ginger and cloves. I don’t know if I need so much star anise. The scent of it overtakes the others somewhat.

Often when I run out of an ingredient and feel the urge to make a trip to the store, what I truly need is a bit of creativity—and the realization that I have all I need.

Chai Tea


  • Looseleaf black tea (preferably Assam or Darjeeling)
  • Minced, dried organic orange peel

Spices such as:

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Whole cloves
  • Cardamom pods
  • Whole star anise
  • Coriander seeds
  • Black peppercorns
  • Dried ginger


Combine tea, orange peel and desired spices. Brew tea as usual.

26 Replies to “Looseleaf Chai”

  1. I’m not a fan of chai but I thoroughly applaud your approach of making it yourself rather than buying it. Like you, I’m systematically working out what ‘processed’ comestibles I can make. After you setting me off on making aioli, I’ve tried my hand at mayonnaise too. We eat it so rarely and the shop stuff is so tasteless that I know prefer the limited effort of making a small tasty batch that we eat in 2-3 days. I’m tackling mustard next. I’m looking forward to your dairy fermentation webinar. I’m eager to master buttermilk – only really required for baking but impossible to find here – as well as yoghurt. Once I’ve mastered the latter, I’ll be able to make kefir and virtually eliminate my use of the über-expensive cheese counter.

    1. Thank you! Every time I think I have reduced my shopping list to the bare minimum, I find I can go even further. Homemade mayonnaise tastes so different from (and better than) store-bought. The two are barely related. I’ve never made mustard but would love to try. I hope you’ll write a post about it.

      I’m also looking forward to the webinar and to (virtually) meeting you in person! With milk and one or two other ingredients, you can make so many different dairy staples yourself. Can you not buy buttermilk anywhere at all? You need a bit of cultured buttermilk to get a culture going. You can also buy cultures to get started or buy raw milk and let it sour but I’m not sure you can culture raw buttermilk perpetually. I will look that up.

      1. For baking I add lemon juice or vinegar to milk to make buttermilk.

      2. Someone also said that you can treat whey as clear buttermilk – so try using it to make buttermilk chicken ^_^

  2. I blend my own chai too, and love how I can customize it just to my liking. I love loads of cardamom 🙂 Speaking of — what I do is make the blend, put it in my tin, then just before I brew a pot, get the portion I’m brewing and put that in a mortar and just gently crack open the cardamom pods, break the clove buds and peppercorns, etc. Then put into your brew filter, teapot, tardis 🙂 and make like usual. I found it makes a dramatic difference in the fresh taste of the spices.

    1. That’s brilliant, cracking it all open right before brewing. Thank you! I’m doing that with my next batch. Another thing I like about making my own chai is that my spices will always be fresh—I’ll actually use and replenish them frequently. I’ve had some of the spices in the pic for quite a while. Fresh ones will make a huge difference.

  3. It’s shocking sometimes to see how expensive and wasteful things can be and so gratifying when we do it ourselves! I make this too. If you ever want a chai tea that tastes great and has no caffeine, Rooibos can be switched for the black and is delicious with these spices

    1. Oooh, thank you. That sounds delicious. I look forward to lots of experimenting. I drink so much tea, I can’t believe I hadn’t done this before now, such a simple thing and as you point out, so gratifying. Old consumer habits are hard to shake 🙂

  4. Chai tea is my favorite morning sip. Thanks for this great inspiration to make my own!

    1. Thank you, Karen. I love chai too and this was so easy to mix together.

  5. Great—but we call it Masala Chai . Chai is Tea, and Masala is spices. Good in winters.

    1. Thank you for the clarification, Jasmin! I was going to ask you on Twitter if I had it right 🙂 What spices do you put in yours?

  6. you are so clever about those orange peels lady! I saved mine once to make that vinegar cleaner solution from them, but never thought about edible uses before they go in the compost. Chai….your mix looks much more tea-ey, YUMMM.DO you usually do milk i your chai once it is brewed? I’m pinning this to my “milk cow” board to future use!

    1. Thank you! I’ve just recently found many uses for them in my quest to use up everything. You can toss the peels into roasted vegetables or stuff a chicken with them too. I read they make good fire starters but I tried to set some them on fire and it didn’t work. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, at least I didn’t burn the place down 🙂 How did your cleaner turn out? I have orange peel vinegar cleaner steeping right now. I used my homemade scrap vinegar and I’ll be SO happy if it works. It certainly smells good.

      I always add milk to my chai, but not straight from the cow :p I love tea with milk. I can do without many things but would have a hard time giving that up. Thanks for pinning!

  7. First of all, love your new look on the blog! Second, you are a genius!! What a brilliant idea!

    1. Thank you so much! I am pretty happy I figured out I can make my own chai tea. It was so simple to do.

  8. Ah! I have got to try spooning my ginger! I had marvelous timing reading this post, I’m making ginger ale today and wanted to slice it instead of mince it to try that candied ginger Alton Brown recipe you showed me. I’ve never really liked Chai, but I bet that if I made my own, I could adapt it to my tastes more easily. I’ll keep that in mind when I’m looking for flavors for sodas and smoothies. I might like the same seasonings there when I don’t like it in tea… Odd though, I love orange peel and allspice in my tea.

    1. And I have to try your ginger ale recipe. The Alton Brown recipe is delicious. I was so happy to find this video about the ginger. When I buy ginger, I go into denial, thinking I can find a piece that’s easy to peel, so I hover over the bin for ages turning over piece after piece in search of the perfect one. No more! The spoon works so well. So this tip will also save me time at the grocery store :p I bet you would like your own blend of chai. Enjoy making and drinking your ginger ale and have a great weekend 🙂

  9. lovely isnt it to mix and match.
    we are a tea leaf family and recently went camping taking four teapots of differing sizes ( with cosies of course) so everyone could have their select brew. black green herbal etc.
    I used to make chai years back but havent done so for a long time.
    You have inspired me to mix up a few spices and brew a cuppa. thanks

    1. That’s the way to camp Sandra! I’m going to look up a tea cosy pattern right now and I will try to remember to bring that and my teapot when I go camping this summer. I’m glad I inspired you to brew up some chai. I had always stuck with black tea but after my sister and I ate at a fantastic Indian restaurant last year and the waiter brought us very small cups of delicious chai, I was instantly hooked. Enjoy your cuppa 🙂

  10. […] was also really inspired by Zero Waste Chef drying orange peel for her homemade Chai blend, though I may try drying and grinding and see if I get a powder that […]

  11. Sounds great – though not sure I often see organic oranges here, especially unpackaged – is that part important?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Well, the problem with non-organic oranges is they may have pesticide residue on them. Sometimes they are treated with wax too. So I prefer to put organic ones in my tea.

  12. This sounds so lovely and perfect! I can’t wait to try making a regular and then no caffeine version. Can you tell me more about the peels! Is it just the orange part on top or slices of the peel including the white part? I worry about making the tea too bitter if I use the wrong part. Please advise. Thanks so much for the continuous inspiration!

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