In this Beginners Guide to Chai tea read about this tea’s growing in popularity in Western countries, but did you know it has been a staple in India for more than 5000 years? Legend has it that originally chai tea didn’t actually contain any tea, milk, or sugar. Instead, it was an Ayurvedic mixture of hot water and spices. Ayurveda is an ancient all-natural Indian healing practice.
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The Chinese discovered black tea leaves in the 1600s and then began exporting them to the
British who were infatuated with all things tea. India was ruled by the British so they soon had Indian plantations growing black tea leaves for export. This is when chai tea began to have strong black tea included in the drink along with a mixture of strong, flavorful spices. In India, chai tea was often called masala chai because masala is the Hindi word for spiced. Hence, Masala chai in Hindi means spiced tea.
Chai is the Hindi word for tea, so when you ask for chai tea, you are actually requesting tea. Today’s chai tea is a mixture of black tea, with a combination of spices that usually include cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorn, cloves, and ginger. Chai tea has a very strong flavor so it is often sweetened with honey or sugar, and mixed with milk to make it more appealing.
What are the spices in Chai Tea?
The spices in chai tea will vary from blend to blend, but here are the spices that are commonly included.
Cardamom – Cardamom is made from the seeds of a plant that resembles ginger. The flavor of cardamom includes spicy, minty, and citrus notes.
Cinnamon– Cinnamon is a key ingredient of chai tea, and one of the reasons it has so many health benefits. Cinnamon gives the tea a warm and slightly spicy flavor.
Ginger– Ginger has a sweet and spicy flavor to it that is very warming, a perfect spice for chai tea.
Cloves– Cloves have a strong aromatic flavor that intensifies the flavors of other spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Cloves are also very warming.
Peppercorns– It might be odd to think of peppercorns in tea, but they are a key ingredient when it comes to chai tea. The peppercorns give the tea a spicy and warm flavor that complements the other flavors in the tea.
Fennel seed– Fennel seed gives the tea a subtly sweet flavor with just a hint of licorice flavoring.
Star Anise– For those looking for more licorice types of flavors in their chai tea, star anise is a darker and stronger alternative to the fennel seeds.
How to Make Chai Tea
Black tea is the base of chai tea because it has a strong full-bodied flavor that can stand up to the spices that will be added to the tea. You can use tea bags or loose-leaf tea. Choose your spices and crush them or run them through a spice grinder. Add boiling water to your tea and spices and allow it to steep for about ten minutes.
Strain your tea into mugs and add milk if you would like. You can use any kind of milk including dairy-free milk such as coconut or almond milk to your tea. Add sugar or honey to taste for sweetness.
Traditionally, in India chai tea is sweetened with Jaggery, which is made by evaporating the water from sugar cane or palm sap, but that may be a bit difficult to find, in which case honey or sugar will work just fine.
Health Benefits of Chai Tea
Chai tea has many health benefits, precisely because it contains so many amazing spices. Remember chai tea was first used as an Ayurvedic health treatment to heal and restore both the body and the mind.
Helps Lower Cholesterol
Drinking black tea, the base of chai tea, has been proven to lower cholesterol in scientific studies. The cinnamon, black pepper, and ginger in chai have also been shown to help keep bad cholesterol levels lower.
Inflammation is a side effect of many chronic diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. Chai tea helps to reduce the inflammation in the body which can lead to a greater range of movement and decreased or lessened episodes of these diseases. Black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger have all been proven to help relieve inflammation in the body.
Improves Heart Health
Several of the spices in chai tea have been proven to increase circulation, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. These spices include cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper.
Boosts the Immune System
Chai tea is an excellent warming drink to enjoy during cold and flu season because not only does it taste amazing, it has been used for centuries to help boost immune function in the body. Many of the spices used in chai tea have antibacterial and antiviral properties.
These are just a few of the many health benefits of drinking chai tea, and as scientists continue their studies they are sure to find more.