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What Is Chai Tea?

Chai tea is an aromatic beverage that blends black tea with various herbs and spices. The most common spices used in chai are cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove, black pepper, and star anise. Specialized variations of chai tea can include ingredients like ashwagandha or mushrooms. Modern baristas also serve chai lattes by adding steamed or iced milk to steeped chai tea.

The name "chai" is the Hindi language word for "tea." This Hindi word derives from the Chinese language term for tea known as chá (茶). As a term used primarily in the Indian subcontinent, the word "chai" is also popular in other Hindi-speaking communities located in Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Nepal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In fact, when you order a chai tea, what you’re really saying is “tea tea,” so in India, it’s referred to as masala chai. Masala chai is the tea drink we’re generally referring to when we order a chai tea as it traditionally includes milk and sweetener.

History of Chai 

The history of chai is an intriguing blend of tradition, exploration, mythology, and legend. According to legend, chai originated over 5,000 years ago as a beverage that upheld the holistic principles of Ayurveda. In South Asia, Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing practice that uses herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes.

By the 1600s, Indian chai makers began using Chinese black tea leaves known as Camellia Sinensis Assamica to create chai tea. In 1835, the British arrived in India and began to establish tea plantations throughout the country. These plantations standardized the types of black tea used to make chai. From then on, the black tea used to create chai was typically Assam and Darjeeling tea from India or Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka. British culture helped spread the popularity of tea worldwide and chai soon became a favorite beverage across the globe.

Chai Tea Today

The popularity of chai has only increased during the 21st century. Nutritionists believe that chai tea is a great source of antioxidants, and the various spices used to make chai may provide health benefits as well. Research has found that cinnamon may help lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health. In addition, cardamom may help reduce inflammation, and ginger may encourage efficient digestion along with its antiviral benefits. Along with the potential health benefits, experts like Dr. Sanjay Gupta believe that making chai tea at home is the perfect bonding experience for families.

Chai Tea Types & Variations

Chai consists of black tea blended with spices. In India, the name of this spice mixture is karha. The three most common ingredients in the spice mixture are cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger.

In addition to the black tea and spices, many people commonly add milk and sweetener to create a chai latte. You can enjoy whole milk, soy milk, or your choice of milk, and types of sweeteners include brown sugar, honey, or a sugar substitute.

Chai Tea

Chai tea is the traditional variation made of organic black tea and spices. The standard spice blend contains cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Cinnamon adds warm and sweet notes, cardamom contains earthy or smokey tones, and ginger brings zest to the tea. In addition to the standard flavors, other chai blends can include any range of spices, including nutmeg, cloves, star anise, black peppercorn, coriander, or fennel.

Masala Chai

Masala chai is a Hindi phrase that means "spiced tea." It refers to the process of blending black tea with a traditional blend of herbs and spices. The traditional method of making masala chai consisted of simmering a mixture of milk and water with tea leaves, sweeteners, and whole spices like cinnamon sticks and cloves. Today, you can purchase a masala chai blend to achieve the same fresh taste at home.

Chai Latte

Chai latte is an alternative to cafe latte, but instead of using coffee, it uses chai as its base. A chai latte combines tea with steamed milk, and some versions use milk alternatives like soy milk or almond milk. In addition to the hot beverage, you can also create an iced chai latte as a delicious summer treat.

Chai Tea Tips & Preparation

It is best to steep chai tea in hot water that is at least 206° F. For best results, you should steep chai for at least three to five minutes. While it is fine to step chai in water alone and then drink it plain or with sweetener, you can also add your choice of milk and steep the tea for an additional minute. Finally, you can easily make your own chai latte at home and then top with ground nutmeg and whipped cream.

Chai Tea Caffeine Content

The base of chai is organic black tea. A cup of black tea typically contains about half the amount of caffeine found in a cup of black coffee. The actual amount of caffeine in your cup will depend upon how long you steep the tea. In other words, the longer the steep time, the higher the caffeine content in each serving.

Chai Tea Recommendations

You can now obtain chai tea in pouches as well as artisan tea tins.

Ginger Spice Chai

Ginger Spice Chai, awarded Best New Specialty Non-Coffee Beverage by Specialty Coffee Association, blends equal notes of sweetness and spice. Use this tea to create a warm, frothy cup on cold days or an iced chai latte during hotter months.

Tali’s Masala Chai

Tali's Masala Chai combines organic black tea with traditional spices like cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger. The result is an invigorating, aromatic blend perfect for starting your morning or curing any cold-weather blues.

Chaga Chai

Chaga Chai enhances modern chai tea with traditional elements from Ayurveda. It combines Indian Assam tea, ashwagandha, and mushroom for a robust cup each time.

The Bottom Line

Chai tea offers a great way to incorporate tradition into your lifestyle. Whether you prefer hot tea or iced lattes, the possibilities are endless when it comes to enjoying this timeless beverage.


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