What is Chai?

Posted: 02/12/2016

What is Chai?

Chai is a popular Indian tea that is made with black tea, milk, spices and sweetener. The term “chai” is actually the shortened version of the word “masala chai” which translates to “spiced tea” in Hindi. Spices used in chai tea can vary from one region to the next but typically consist of cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger and peppercorns.

Overview of Chai

“Chai” is a Hindi word that means “tea,” and is derived from the Mandarin word for tea, “cha.” In India, “chai” is used to refer to any variety of tea…so why then, in North America, do we associate the term specifically with the spicy, milky beverage that is popular in many coffee houses and tea shops?

In India, this special style of tea is actually known as “masala chai,” which means “spiced tea” in Hindi. The phrase was shortened to simply “chai” as the beverage was adapted by tea drinkers around the world.

Masala chai has a warm, rich, spicy-sweet flavor and creamy consistency that tea enthusiasts across the globe have come to love. The exact ingredients used to make masala chai can vary by region (or even by family), but typically include the following categories:

  • Chai TeaChai usually contains a strong black tea, such as Darjeeling or Assam. However, green teas and red teas may also be used to make chai.
  • Spices: In India, chai is commonly made using spices such as cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and peppercorns. Star anise, fennel, nutmeg, vanilla, and other imperial spices are also popular ingredients.
  • Milk: In India, chai is often made using buffalo milk. Cow milk is most common in North America, along with dairy alternatives like almond milk and soy milk.
  • Sweetener: Honey and sugar are typically used to sweeten masala chai in India, but you may use any sweetener of your choice.

Because there is no specific recipe for chai, this flavorful beverage may be tweaked and adapted to suit your individual preferences. Chai may be full-bodied and heavily spiced, smooth and sweet, or earthy and savory…it is all in the preparation!

History of Chai

Chai tea is thought to have been created 5,000 years ago as an herbal remedy in the practice of Ayurvedic alternative medicine. Originally made with just spices and no tea leaves, Indian chai tea was used to stimulate digestion, relieve pain and improve circulation.

When the British colonized India in the 1800s, they began to cultivate the Camellia sinensis tree locally to produce black tea. It was the British who added black tea leaves, milk and sugar to the traditional chai, which is how it is popularly consumed worldwide today.

In India, the act of drinking chai is heavily integrated with daily life. Throughout the country, you can find street vendors known as “chai wallahs” selling freshly brewed masala chai in almost any public area – even on trains and buses! Chai is also commonly consumed at home, usually with breakfast.

Due to the potential health benefits and distinct taste, chai tea has seen an increase in popularity over the past several years. In addition to traditional black tea chai, you can now find different versions of chai, including green tea chai, and rooibos chai. Chai tea can also be found in full-leaftea bags or as a chai concentrate.

Caffeine Content of Chai

Chai is typically created with black tea, which has less than half the amount of caffeine per cup of a similarly sized cup of coffee. On average, a six-ounce cup of black tea has about 50 milligrams of caffeine, which is less than half the amount in a cup of brewed coffee.

However, chai may also be made using green tea (which contains less than a quarter the amount of caffeine found in a similarly sized cup of coffee) or rooibos, which is naturally caffeine-free. If you are especially sensitive to the effects of caffeine, it is recommended to opt for one of these lower caffeine-content options.

Health Benefits of Chai

The health benefits of chai tea are dependent on the type of tea and spices that are used. If you look at traditional black tea chai, which usually contains cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger and black pepper; these ingredients may reduce inflammation, support digestion, help balance blood sugar and improve cardiovascular health.*

How to Steep Chai

Steeping is easy. Simply heat fresh, filtered water to a rolling boil, then pour the water over the tea and steep for 3-5 minutes. Remove the tea bag or infuser, add milk and your sweetener of choice (such as honey or agave), and enjoy sip by sip.

Alternatively, you may prepare chai by steeping the tea in a combination of water and milk, or even in milk alone. However, be careful not to scald the milk.

Chai Recipes

Chai tea can be used to impart a delightful and distinct spiced flavor to a variety of recipes including smoothies, cookies, oatmeal, ice cream and poached fruit. Typically, masala chai is first steeped into a strong brew, which is then incorporated into various recipes.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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