Chai comes from the Hindi word meaning “tea”. The term chai comes from the Chinese word for tea, cha. Chai (tea) is India’s most popular drink — the country consumes 2.2 billion pounds of tea a year.
Although the word chai in western countries indicates a spiced drink, in fact in India chai means tea with milk. In India, the spiced version is actually called Masala Chai.
Chai tea comes from the Assam region of India. Tea plants were originally used medicinally, rather than as a social beverage, and this healing concoction included spices and herbs.
Today, Masala Chai tea (or, in the US, simply “Chai”) is a blend of teas, spices and herbs. While the blend can vary there are certain traditional ingredients that are always used. These include cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, and peppercorn. Other spices that may be used include fennel, nutmeg, coriander, star anise, licorice, and cardamom. At our former tea company, Brew Lab, we experimented with Coconut Chai, Chocolate Chai, and Spices-Only Chais.
Traditionally in India, water buffalo milk is made to use chai. In the US, chai tea is often mixed with whole milk.
Chai spices have powerful medicinal properties. These include being antioxidant-rich, ant-inflammatory, and antibacterial. Studies have shown that consumption of Chai tea may contribute to blood sugar control (due to cinnamon and ginger) and stave off nausea. Cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and black pepper all possess antibacterial properties. Additionally, consuming anti-inflammatory chai tea can play a part in preventing degenerative diseases (such as Alzheimers).