Just add boiling water!
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I was a late adopter when it came to chai. As a tea lover, I tend keep my choices simple. I like English Breakfast in the morning, a cup of Earl Grey or Lady Grey mid-afternoon, and something herbal like mint, verbena, or chamomile in the evening. Maybe some green tea if I am feeling in need of a new flavor profile. I never really loved the more complicated flavored teas, finding that often the fruit or spices included just made my cuppa taste like a Yankee Candle.

Spicewalla Chai Tea
Credit: Spicewalla

My gateway chai: Spicewalla Chai Masala

But when a pal made me some homemade chai one blustery winter afternoon, I started to understand the appeal. A well-made cup of chai is a thing of beauty; the blend of warming spice, the creaminess of milk, and the sugar rounding everything out. I was suddenly a fan. It felt as special as a decadent cup of hot chocolate, but with a lot more sophistication. I immediately bought some Spicewalla Chai Masala and Chai Pani Ginger Chai Blend and put homemade chai into my cold-weather rotation.

Homemade chai is great, especially when you have time to make it properly. But to be honest, I quickly did relegate it to weekends, because as much as I would love to have an afternoon chai on a weekday, I just don't have the bandwidth in the middle of work to take that kind of time and care.

And then the universe sent me a small miracle. 

Chai Latte
Credit: Getty / REDA&CO / Contributor

I was at the home of a dear friend and extraordinary chef, and he offered me a cup of chai as we were visiting. I asked if he would show me his technique, since I like to learn from the best, and he winked and said I couldn't watch, but if I loved it, he would share his recipe. I dutifully returned to his living room and awaited my cup. I was shocked how quickly it appeared, it seemed like barely a minute had passed, and wondered how he did it, since my chai-making was always such a production. It was terrific. I told him how much I liked it, and asked if he would share his magic secret. 

And he handed me a packet of Wagh Bakri Instant Chai mix.

Wagh Chai
Credit: Courtesy Amazon

The best instant chai: Wagh Bakri Instant Chai Mix

Yeah. The chai version of an instant hot cocoa packet. All the tea, milk, sugar, and seasonings: Just add hot water. 

We laughed, and he said that while he does of course make chai from scratch when the occasion warrants, he really loves this brand of instant, and keeps it stocked for everyday chai. It comes in cardamom, masala, and ginger flavors, and is really a wonderful and easy hot drink for the coldest of winter days. I didn't even get home before I ordered a bunch to keep on hand.

I love the cardamom best, but experiment with their other flavors as well.

To buy: Wagh Bakri Instant Cardamom Chai ($9.95), amazon.com 

If you want to try the real deal, you can't get a better blend than this chai masala from Spicewalla.

To buy: Spicewalla Chai Masala ($10.99), spicewallabrand.com