caramel chai // not without salt


caramel chai // not without salt

These days I’m living and breathing the book. I feel like it’s all I think about which most likely is driving my family crazy. This almost obsessive behavior comes from the desire to create a book that represents the best of me right now – the best recipes, photos and words I can possibly muster. In the past couple of days I’ve also come face to face with the reality of the weight of the story I’m telling behind the food. I often tell people that I feel as if I’m writing a book about marriage and cooking simultaneously. It’s one that I’m honored to tell and am eager to talk about how the simple act of sitting around the table with my husband has led us to the best season of our marriage in the 10 years since we said, “I do.”

Because I want these recipes to feel authentic and lived in we are pretty much devoting every meal to some sort of recipe testing. Apple cake for breakfast, roasted onions and brownies for lunch and an even more random potluck of dishes for dinner. On such a day a couple weeks ago, I sat at my computer adjusting 2 tablespoons to 3 and increasing the salt by just a touch when the rain pelting against the window set me shuddering. The gray skies demanded something warm and the 3 o’clock nudge for a bit of sweet hit me hard. A moment later the words caramel and chai danced around my head and suddenly I put down the demands of the book and blanketed the bottom of a sauce pan with sugar. While the sugar melted and crept into caramel I reached for cloves, cinnamon, a plump vanilla bean, peppercorns and fresh ginger. The house smelled comfortable and warm.

It should be noted that for the past two weeks this sweet and creamy blend of spices, milk and sugar has been in a jar in our fridge – replenished as soon as the previous batch runs out for the occasion when a bit of warmth and encouragement is needed in these busy days – so, pretty much everyday.

caramel chai // not without salt caramel chai // not without salt



caramel chai

I find the sweetness here is perfect for an afternoon indulgence but it’s a little too sweet for the morning. Which makes it perfect for adding a bit of strong brewed coffee to the mix to cut the sweetness and add the caffeine needed to start the day. Add more milk if you think it too sweet and don’t care to add more caffeine  All of the spices are at their best when toasted before adding to the milk. 

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups milk

1 cinnamon stick

8 cardamom pods, smashed

8 whole cloves

1 vanilla bean, split

8 peppercorns

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon loose black tea or the contents from 2 black tea bags.

pinch salt


In a wide saucepan add the 1/2 cup sugar in an even layer. Set the pan over medium high heat and allow the sugar to melt. If the edges start to caramelize carefully stir the sugar so it cooks evenly. Cook the sugar until deep amber in color and the caramel is smoking.


Remove the pan from the heat then carefully add the milk a little at a time to prevent it from boiling over. The caramel will seize but will melt once you bring the pan back to the heat.


Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, vanilla bean, peppercorns, sliced ginger and tea.


Bring the milk to a simmer, stirring to blend in the caramel. Turn off the heat and allow the spices to steep with the milk for 20 minutes.


Strain the chai then serve.


Any leftover chai can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 week.

50 Responses to “Caramel Chai”

  1. Kathryn

    Ah, the perfect way to unwind from a life full of work. Love the combination of the sweetness of the caramel and the spice of the chai.

    PS the pictures in this post are totally, totally gorgeous.

  2. sara forte

    I’m sweating in the kitchen today. Not time for warm beverages over here quite yet. It’s a matter of weeks and I think that’s just about when I’ll be ready. Oh how I would love to be sitting on your couch with a mug of this spicy goodness, chatting about the glorious book you’re making.

  3. Brenda

    I’ve been into the chai tea the past few days and I ain’t stopping…you’re right – it seems to be the perfect afternoon drink. This recipe looks wonderful! Can’t wait for your book to come out – and for you to sign my copy!

  4. Leah

    This is a lovely idea for a chai tea! Tomorrow I have the day at home, so I think I will make myself an afternoon batch as a reward, if I manage to get my work done. Your photos are also beautiful. I do believe I have the same white tea cups. I bought them second hand many years ago and still think they’re lovely.

  5. Renee {The Way to My Family's Heart}

    I am completely transformed by this recipe! It’s totally fall here in Germany and the closest Starbucks takes both a brave soul and a drive into the city to reach. After missing my morning chai since moving here and especially since the cool weather has settled in, this chai has once again made me a happy girl. It’s lucious and earthy and spicy all at the same time. Even after I walked away from the stove and came to the very edge of burning the caramel, it was perfect. Thank you Ashley!

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Renee – I can think of very little that is more satisfying than having a reader come back to the site with rave reviews of the recipe. Thanks for taking the time to come back and gush. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it as much as I did and do. PS The edge of burning caramel is my favorite. It’s there where caramel extends beyond sweet and has more interesting flavors.

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Loaf – Thanks for the kind words. To me it feels like time is zooming past. I can’t believe how quickly the time to write the book has come and is now almost gone. But I imagine the moment I turn it in I’ll be itching to see it in real life.

  6. alexandra @ sweet betweens [blog]

    I love to make a chai syrup to add to my daily coffee and this mix of spices looks like it brings the exact right amount of heat + flavor I’m looking for. Cannot wait till my current jar in the fridge empties out and I can whip up a new batch with this recipe!

  7. Kasey

    I am so freaking excited for your book – it’s going to be a masterpiece. If the recipes you share here are any indication 🙂 It’s just starting to feel like Fall around here (though our Indian Summer comes and goes). I cannot wait to try this! xo

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      Kasey – Thanks for being such a great cheerleader. Your encouraging words mean so much to me. Oh I do love an Indian Summer. We had a couple days of that and then suddenly I’m wearing flannel and turning up the heat. Also, now I’m drinking a Spiced Cider Toddy so really there’s not much to complain about with fall.

  8. ali

    This looks divine! I love your intense close up shots. It’s not chilly enough where I live, but the second we get a cool morning, I’m going to try this.

  9. Laura

    waaaaah. this is sooooo yummy looking. this would be all you need sometimes to curb that little 4pm craving. I can’t wait to try this.

  10. sarah

    Such gorgeous photographs! Caramel chai sounds amazing. I might have to make this and sneak some coffee in it, for the mornings. 😉

    And, your book! I’m so excited for this beautiful book. I am confident it’s going to be wonderful. xo

  11. molly

    i am very particular about my chai (barely sweet, seriously spicy). i am also head over heels for caramel. i cannot say i’ve ever envisioned the two together, but i dare say you are onto something.

    of course you are. you are ashley. brilliant!

    keep up the good work (and keep the chai a’coming!)


  12. Jenny

    My baby girl woke up a bit on the early side this morning for a feed (it’s Saturday, darn it!), and while I fed her and listened to the rain, I read this and knew I must make it! Just made a batch and am enjoying it now as she naps. May her nap be a long one so I can enjoy a second cup. Thank you for this little escape from my day!

  13. Megan Gordon

    Well if there was ever a day for a caramel chai … gorgeous photos, Ash. I’ve been doing a Chai-Spiced Apple Granola in the kitchen and have found that the (liberal) use of black pepper is key, and I see you do the same here. Can’t wait to try! Hope you’re enjoying the cozy rain today.

  14. Nevena

    Hi Ashley,

    just wanted to let you know that you inspired me to make caramel milk. Since I like chai less sweet, I made smaller dosage and use only to pour few drops in my every day chai.
    Thank you, I love it!. And not only me, some of my friends already made their own versions:)

    Greetings from Serbia!

  15. Morgan

    I made this last night after a hard week, and it was delicious! The carmel was just beautiful, and everything came together so nicely. Thanks for the recipe! Now that I know where all my spices are, I’ll certainly be making more soon!

  16. Sophia

    Love love love the sound of this. It is my first autumn of living in Rome and the weather refuses to get really cold enough for hot drinks, rather stubbornly I think. Still, the mornings are just about starting to feel crisp so I have enjoyed my first few cups of chai, spicy and a bit sweet – I like my coffee without any sugar, but chai has to be sweet. I love everything caramel but had never thought to combine the two – might just give that a try next time – you make it sound s delicious and intriguing. And the photos, especially the first two, are total stunners!

  17. Mary Johnson

    I do love a good chai, and I am quite obsessed with caramel ( confession: I could not stop making your spiced caramels last December). This is totally happening in my kitchen this week. Your blog is so beautiful and inspiring, and I try to incorporate a “dating my husband” night once a month (I have 5 kids, ages 6 and under, so once a month is about all I can muster at the moment!) Thank you for prioritizing your man and feeding each other’s souls as well as bodies. P.S. Seattle is wonderful. 🙂

  18. Kristin

    Hi Ashley,
    Chai is one of my favorites! I usually order it with a drizzle of caramel on top. Genus idea to incorporate the caramel right into the drink. I have this seeping on the stovetop right now. Counting down the minutes until its done and I can try it. It smells devine! 🙂 Thank you for a lovely recipe!

  19. Shabnam Mahmood

    Ashley, you are a welcome addiction. I’m melting into this cup. I cannot wait to try all your recipes. Good luck with your book.I’m anxiously awaiting it.

  20. Abhay

    Hi, I am an Indian and never thought of a caramel chai thanks for this recipe. I want to become a blogger and I am really inspired by you. Thank you once again….


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