Grind the spices (optional): Place cardamom pods, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and cinnamon stick in a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved for spices. Grind spices into a coarse powder, or simply crush them a little with the pestle. This step is optional. You can also use the spices in their whole form, or even spice powders if this is all you have.
Make the chai: Add water, cardamom, peppercorns, fennel, cinnamon, and fresh ginger to a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, add the black tea leaves, and give it a stir. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the milk of your choice and heat just up to the boiling point. Turn off the heat, strain, and serve.
To serve: Masala chai is usually served sweetened with raw sugar. You could also use honey, agave, or any other sugar you have on hand.
Whole milk is traditional for masala chai. The spices make the milk more digestible, but if you cannot tolerate milk, substitute with a plant-based milk of your choice. The reason for adding the black tea leaves after the water boils is because the tea leaves tend to dance on the top of the bubbles and stick to the sides of the pot, which can get kind of messy. If you don’t have loose tea leaves, use two black tea bags. If you would prefer a simpler recipe, here is a recipe for a basic masala chai. Follow the same instructions as above. In this case, for the first step all you need to do is crush the cardamom pods.