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Chai Ya Mdalasini (Cinnamon) Mix

February 20, 2018

I recently read an article that was shared by a friend that was titled “Tea if by sea, cha if by land: Why the world only has two words for tea”. The article outlines how both these terms originate from China and how the spread of the words depicts how globalization worked before the term “globalization” was a term.

In Swahili, the term chai is used. I grew up drinking chai in Mombasa. I find myself drinking chai now as a way to soothe myself after a long day. Chai is something that I took very much for granted in my childhood, I now approach it with more mindfulness. 

Anyway, there are two ways of drinking chai in Mombasa; either you can drink chai wa rangi (translating literally to chai of colour) which is a blend of fresh crushed ginger, chai spices, black tea leaves and nothing else. The second way is known as chai ya maziwa(chai with milk what is a so-called chai latte here in Europe). Chai is drunk in various ways in Mombasa as there are some recipes that lean more on the Indian influence and use more cinnamon, other recipes use more crushed ginger (chai ya tangawizi). Every household has their own way of preparing chai. I remember that as a child when we would visit my mother’s village in Embu a common breakfast would be margarine spread white toast bread stacks that would be cut diagonally into right triangles, that would be dunked into the chai. I loved this breakfast as I am a sucker for dunking all kinds of things in my tea! This type of breakfast is a staple for a lot of people across Kenya.

In Mombasa, people do also drink their chai with margarine spread toast bread. Yet there is also the traditional Swahili breakfast which is chai na mahamri ( mahamri is a cardamom-spiced doughnut that is not in the shape of a circle but in the shape of a triangle). Sometimes the mahamris are filled with mbaazi wa nasi (which is pigeon peas in coconut milk stew). So delicious!

People in Mombasa add sugar to their chai which in some cases has had not so good health effects on the people. I find that by adding maybe more fennel or more cinnamon, chai can be enjoyed without adding sugar.  Therefore here is my Chai ya mdalasini (chai with cinnamon) mix.  I made a video that shows the whole process:


One small disclaimer this is not your Nyanya’s way of making chai. This is my way which is very much inspired by how I am feeling, where I am, what I see, read and taste. If you want your Nyanya’s Chai mix then please just ask her.


Chai ya Mdalasini
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Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
10 min
  1. 3/4 cup of cardamom pods
  2. 2 cinnamon sticks (crushed) (add more if you prefer)
  3. 2 cinnamon bark stiks (crushed) (add more if you prefer)
  4. 1 handful of black peppercorns
  5. 1 tbsp of cloves
  6. 1 tbsp of fennel
For the chai preparation
  1. chopped or crushed fresh ginger
  2. black tea leaves (or black tea bag)
  3. plantbased milk ( i used oat milk)
  1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius ( if you want to heat anything else that you are cooking save energy and place it in the oven)
  2. On a chopping board slice the cardamom seeds open. The aim of this is to make a small opening in the pods so that when you toast them the fragrance is intensified.
  3. Add all the other spices and place on a baking tray.
  4. Toast in the oven till fragrant around 10 mins. Stay around and check regularly as the risk of the spices burning is very high. After the first 5 mins toss the spices so that they get toasted evenly.
  5. Once the spices are toasted, crush them using a motar and pestle (see video). Or use a spice grinder.
  6. Place spice mix in jar (this makes a great gift as well)
Preparing the chai
  1. Place water (amount depends on how much chai you want to make) with fresh ginger and chai spice mix in a pot and bring to boil (see video).
  2. Add in the black tea and reduce the heat. How long you simmer the black tea is upto you. You can also omit the black tea completely.
  3. Add in your milk of preference and let it simmer for 2 minutes.
  4. Use a sieve to pour the chai into a cup and enjoy!



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