Want to know a tea that is sinfully delicious, spicy, and sweetly fragranced but still retains its health benefits? Meet Chai tea and its various amazing types.
Table of Contents
So what is Chai tea?
Chai means ‘tea’ in Hindi, so erroneously, we are actually saying ‘tea tea’ because it became well known as that. However in India where it’s originally from, it’s well known as ‘masala tea’, which means ‘spiced tea’. Over the years, it became popularly known as Chai tea and Chai latte in America and the rest of the world, and the name just stuck. And for the purpose of this article, we will use the popular name ‘Chai tea’.
Chai tea is said to date back to thousands of years ago in a royal court in India. The tea was originally hot water mixed with just spices like ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and other well-known herbs and spices Indians are famous for. The spices were medicinal. Ginger, for instance, is well known to clear sinuses while cinnamon helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol level. Over the years, the Chai tea recipe has evolved.
During the period of the British rule in India, they introduced the infusion of black tea, milk, and sugar into the tea mixture. This seemed to stick for a while until the cost of black tea became too expensive for the Indian tea masters, so they greatly reduced the ration of black tea added to the tea mixture and increased the whole or cow/buffalo milk ratio and as with almost all Indian cuisines, they started infusing their traditional spices into the tea. And that is the story of Chai tea as we know it today.
Chai tea is a black tea that has been mixed and simmered with milk, sugar or honey and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, fennel seeds, ginger, black pepper, and cloves. The degree to which these spices are added and which to include or omit is entirely up to the tea master and the flavor and taste he wants to create.
When making traditional Chai tea, loose black tea leaves are often preferred to tea bags because loose leaves still have their complete health benefits and the flavor is released fully into the tea whereas tea bags are dried up, broken down particles of the leaves and leave dust that may have lost half of its health benefits and flavor. However, a decent cup of Chai tea can still be made with a teabag without loose tea leaves.
The true tea plant leaves can be used (Camellia sinensis), but strong black tea leaves from the Darjeeling or Assam plants are the traditional options to choose from. Traditionally, Indians love their whole milk but other tea masters around the world have adapted to consumer preferences. Soy milk, almond milk, or even oat milk can be used, just like some tea drinkers prefer using honey instead of sugar as their sweeteners. Typically, fresh spices are used for more traditional Chai tea but for commercial and global purposes, there are ground and powdered spices that also get the job done.
Health Benefits of Chai Tea…
As I mentioned before, Chai tea improves heart conditions by helping to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol level and the active ingredients in the tea responsible for this is the Cinnamon and black tea. It can also help in reducing blood sugar level, a task carried out by the spices, ginger, and cinnamon. Ginger is also well known to help remove nausea, clear sinuses, and cloves, as well as preventing bacterial infections. It is also known to aid digestion.
The caffeine content of Chai tea varies from one tea master to the next, mainly because the black tea leaves are what essentially determines the caffeine amount. And while some tea masters prefer a little number of black tea leaves in their Chai tea, others prefer more than a little, but the range of caffeine in Chai tea is estimated to be from 25% – 70%. It’s a healthier alternative to coffee if you still need caffeine but in a lower dosage.
The most common method of preparing Chai tea is through decoction; actively boiling or simmering a mixture of water, loose tea leaves, milk, sweeteners like sugar or honey, and whole spices. The procedures and measurements vary from consumer to consumer. The solid tea leaves and spices are strained from the Chai mixture before serving.
Chai tea can be served hot or cold, the cold Chia and Chai latte are more popular in the West. Chai tea is also popular in East Africa, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and several other places in the world.
TYPES OF CHAI TEA
This type of Chai tea is also known as Adrak Chai. It is a hot beverage tea. Its main ingredients are water, milk, sugar or honey, black tea leaves, and squashed or grated ginger added to the brewing pot of tea. Ginger is the main spice added to the ginger chai but some consumers may be inclined to also infuse one or two other spices like cardamom. Ginger Chai is a sweetly flavored tea, if it’s intended for medicinal purposes then you might want to omit milk from the recipe.
Even though masala chai is the traditional name for Chai tea in India, it’s still just one of the types of chai teas to many other countries. Masala chai is a chai tea with milk, sweetener, and sprinkles of spices like cloves, black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon. There are other ingredients by other tea masters but these are the major ones.
Tulsi Chai is also known as Holy Basil, it’s an ancient Ayurvedic herb. It’s a classic and traditional Indian drink. The tulsi leaves are blended with chai spices like ginger, cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon to give a spicy-sweet drink. Tulsi is one of the few Chai drinks that have a special history and origin, one of its legends claims that the plant is a physical manifestation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and principle consort of the well known Hindu god Vishnu. Another legend calls the tulsi plant the meeting point between heaven and earth. And yet another legend claims it’s the churning of the cosmic ocean by the gods and demons also known as the Samudra Manthana. It was used by Indians as a healing, spiritual and religious herb for thousands of years.
Tulsi is known to have an astringent, slightly bitter taste. It also has hints of a floral and peppery flavor. Sweeteners and milk can be added to give a sweet, floral flavored tea. However, some tea masters absolutely frown upon adding milk to the tea mixture, they claim that in order to reap the full health benefits of the tulsi tea, milk must not be added, but you can infuse ginger and cloves while brewing the black tea leaves with the tulsi leaves.
But like any traditional chai tea, Tulsi chai can be enjoyed with milk and sweetener, because like every other Chai tea with spices, it requires a sweetener, otherwise the spices would be lost with the blend of the black tea leaves and the tea would come out bland. This often comes as a surprise to lots of people because chai is looked upon as a healthy drink but then it also requires a sweetener. Tulsi chai may help with preventing certain respiratory illnesses like asthma, cold, cough, and bronchitis.
Irani Chai is a sweet and creamy tea. This type of Chai is unique because of the addition of mawa to the brewing black tea. Mawa is also known as Khoya. The end result is really creamy and delicious tea. Mawa is evaporated dried milk solids. Milk is slowly simmered or boiled in a pan for a long while until all the liquid evaporates, leaving behind yellowish milk solids. Spices like cinnamon and cardamom can also be added if the tea master so desires. This tea also has its health benefits depending on the spices added to it.
Cardamom has two types of seeds or pods; there is the green cardamom and the black cardamom. Green cardamom is sweeter and what is mostly used as the cardamom spice for all the chai tea. For the cardamom chai, green cardamom pods or seeds are required.
Green cardamoms are little green pods that are peeled off to harvest the seeds inside. The seeds are sweet and they have a fresh aromatic smell when crushed and infused into a brewing chai tea. This is why tea masters prefer to buy fresh pods to already harvested cardamom seeds, because the already harvested seeds may have lost some of its sweet aromatic smell. Ginger can be added as another spice to this sweet aromatic tea. Cardamom chai boosts energy metabolism and supports weight loss.
Sulaimani tea is also popularly known as lemon tea. Sulaimani is a black lemon tea drink and its originally from the Malabar of Kerala. The name is of Arabic origin and it means ‘man of peace’. This drink prevents constipation and aids digestion. It is mostly brewed plainly; black leaves, fresh lemon or lemon juice, and a dash of mint or mint leaves. Some tea masters use the lemon juice as a sweetener while some add sugar or honey.