chai tea in a white teacup and saucer with masala spices

What is Chai Tea and Why Is It So Delicious?

Whether you’re waking up from a long winter nap or returning home on a cool fall day, chai tea is the perfect way to wake up or unwind. In the U.S. and other western countries, chai tea is a special kind of tea that is made with black tea and sweet to the taste, a unique delicacy. 

Chai tea is actually a blend of black tea along with spices. While the specific blend can differ with recipes, the classic chai consists of this mix of spices:

  • Cardamom
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Peppercorns

If you’re interested in all things chai tea, this article is for you. Chai tea can vary, because it’s a blend of the ingredients listed above. Keep reading for more on what exactly chai tea is, and how you can make chai tea to suit your own personal taste. 

What is Chai Tea?

What separates chai tea from the rest of the tea family? Here are some of the key components of chai tea that are standard in every recipe. There are of course variations, as each person’s chai preferences differ, but these are the classic ingredients.

Black Tea

Black tea is the standard base for most kinds of chai tea. Black tea has a power to it that truly accentuates whatever other ingredient is added that spices up or sweetens up the taste. 

However, there have been some types of chai tea that have been made with green tea. Using green tea as a base, however, is far less common because the taste of green tea isn’t as strong tasting as black tea.

Milk

Milk is usually the second most common ingredient included in chai tea. Usually, whole milk from cows is the way to go in western societies, but other kinds of milk like goat, almond, soy, and cashew milks are fair game.  So, even if you’d like a steaming cup of vegan chai tea, you can totally customize the recipes.  Some recipes use water instead of milk, or a water and milk mixture.

Sweeteners and Spices

The original name for chai tea was “masala chai” in India because masala means spiced in Hindi. Without the sweeteners and spices, chai tea would be missing the very things that separate it from a bland combination of black tea and milk. 

The traditional sweetener used in India is called Jaggery, which is unrefined cane sugar that’s incredibly sweet. 

In the west, other popular spices and sweeteners used on chai tea are

  • White and brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Cinnamon
  • Peppercorns
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg

Open that spice cabinet and improvise! 

The Origins of Chai

Believe it or not, when people say chai tea, what they are saying is “tea tea.” Yes, the word chai translates to tea in Hindi and is a word on loan from the Mandarin Chinese 茶, pronounced as “cha.” It is a pretty funny trivia fact in case you want to impress your friends over a steaming cup of chai one day.

During the British rule in India in the 19th century, the Chinese were the big tea players in the world. This frustrated the East India Company, who grew tired of the Chinese monopoly on tea and wanted to fight the Chinese at their own game. 

And what better way to fight the Chinese than using the new spice-basket of the British Empire, India. 

The British cultivated various tea plantations in Assam, India, after discovering Assamese tea plants. These tea plantations would turn out black tea in high quantities, giving the British the edge they needed for tea dominance.

In the early 20th century, the British labor organization, the Indian Tea Association, fought to give factory, textile, and mill workers tea breaks to promote their brand of tea. 

Independent vendors, however, decided to add their own spices and sweeteners to the tea to make it taste better and hold down costs since black tea was an expensive luxury at the time. 

One can say that the Indian people’s own culture and spice choices led to masala chai, or spiced tea in Hindi, becoming an immensely popular beverage among the poorer classes in India. As we know in the latter half of the 20th century, chai tea became a popular beverage around the world, adored for its sweet spicy power. 

What is the Difference Between Chai, Tea, and Chai Tea?

Chai, like normal tea, comes from tea leaves from the plant Camellia sinensis. Camellia sinensis is the base plant of all tea, with the exception of herbal teas. The difference is how long the tea leaves are processed. 

Green tea leaves are hardly processed at all, and as a result, they are not as oxidized as black tea, which is the base of chai. Black tea undergoes the most oxidation and is the most heavily processed. 

As chai made its way to the west, different names became common to express what was originally called masala chai in India. 

Chai became a descriptive word for a flavor in the west, which is different from the word for tea in Hindi. It became a type of tea that has as its base black tea and has lots of spices and sweeteners mixed in. 

Starbucks started serving its own brand of chai called “chai tea” in the late 90s, eventually popularizing the term and making it a common tea beverage in the United States. 

Chai Tea has its Own Unique Set of Health Benefits

Chai tea, or rather, the ingredients and spices you can add into your chai tea, have health benefits that can’t be ignored. Here are some of the health benefits of common chai tea spices. 

Ginger and Cinnamon

Ginger and cinnamon are some of the most common spices put into chai tea. Sometimes the chai tea you get at the store already is blended in with a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, and other spices to make it taste even better.

Ginger and cinnamon have all kinds of different health benefits, including the potential to lower blood sugar levels, which can help people with diabetes. 

Cinnamon has the potential to reduce insulin resistance. Ginger is well known as an anti-nausea food which has proven to be effective in treating nausea in pregnant women. 

Black Tea 

A study has shown that black tea has the potential to modify women’s DNA to balance their hormones, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the immune system. 

The study had a low sample size for men, so take it with a grain of salt if you’re a man, but according to the study  true black tea has incredible benefits for women. 

Cloves

Some believe that cloves have the potential to inhibit tumor growth. This would make cloves one of my main spices for chai tea.

When or When Not to Have Chai Tea?

Chai tea may not be for those who are feeling overheated. The spices put into chai tea, like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and others are either spicy or powerful. 

Cool wintery evenings when the thing you want the most is some warmth is the best time to have chai tea in my opinion, though people are known to have it year-round. 

Some of the ingredients, like ginger and cinnamon, make chai tea great to have during inflammatory episodes like heartburn or menstrual cramps. 

If you are trying to cool down and need a nice healthy tea to do so, I would recommend the calming power of green tea, especially when served over ice..

Variations of Chai Tea

As chai tea made its way around the world, many different variations of this special spicy tea were created in different cultures. Here are some of the variations of chai tea.

Masala Chai

As mentioned before, masala chai tea is probably the first of what we would consider chai tea here in the west. What made masala chai different from other teas was the spices and sweeteners put into it. 

Some common spices that are put into masala chai are nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and black peppers. Masala chai is more of a mixture of all the good spices compared to other variations of chai tea. 

Adrak/Ginger Chai

Adrak tea is created by grating ginger into the teapot while the chai tea is brewing. What separates adrak chai from normal ginger tea is the combination of milk with water rather than just water. This gives the tea an extra punch to it to balance out the flavors.

Elaichi Chai

Elaichi Tea, like adrak tea, is also very specialized. Elaichi uses cardamom as its main spice, though some recipes include cinnamon and sugar for added taste.

Bombay Cutting Chai

Called the cutting chai because the flavor caused by the spices is so strong it can only be served by half-glass. It’s a Bombay specialized version of masala chai served in small cups.

Kashmiri Kahwa

Kashmiri Kahwa originates from Kashmir and is one of the rare green chai teas. Saffron strands are what give Kashmiri kahwa its original flavor along with other spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves that you would normally put in masala chai.

Tulsi Chai

Another famous chai tea in India. This chai uses tulsi, or the holy basil, one of India’s most sacred herbs as it was mentioned in some of the Ayurvedic epic poems. Tulsi chai is thought to help the immune system and eliminate stress. 

Chai Tea Latte

Made famous by Starbucks, chai tea lattes are common tea beverages sold in coffee shops around the world. Usually, these lattes are made using special tea bags sold in stores, or by liquid concentrate used for convenience in restaurants. 

These tea bags contain some of the added spices found in masala chai, and usually, sweeteners like honey or sugar are added to give a stronger chai taste to the tea.

As you can probably imagine, these lattes are not something you’d want to drink every day, but if you’re looking for a sweet and delicious dessert, maybe a chai tea latte is what you are looking for.

How to Make Masala Chai Tea from Scratch

If you’re feeling adventurous, or tired of having Starbucks’ same ole chai tea, have you ever thought about making your own? Word on the street is that homemade chai tea is the best kind, so why not give it a try? 

Chai tea is relatively simple to make. What you need are the spices you know you’ll like: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, whatever you think would taste delicious in a liquid form. Black tea, water, and milk are also essentials to make chai.

Just like there are many variations of chai tea, there are also many ways to make chai tea. It all depends on when you decide to add the ingredients. Some of the recipes online call for adding the spices to the water before boiling the water. Others say to boil the water first and then add the spices and milk. Some more leave out the milk altogether and just have water with the tea. 

Here are some great recipes to try out!

Kashmir Kahwa

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp of Kashmiri green tea powder
  • 10 to 12 strands of saffron
  • 2 inches of cinnamon stick (Recommended to use actual cinnamon and not cassia) 
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 green cardamom
  • 2 cloves

Directions

  1. Take the cinnamon stick, green cardamoms, and cloves and crush them lightly using a mortar and pestle. 
  2. Take two cups of water and pour it into your saucepan. Put the saucepan on your stove and turn on medium heat.
  3. Add the crushed spices and two tablespoons of sugar into the pan. Let the water come to a boil. 
  4. Turn off the heat and bring the saucepan to the kitchen countertop. Add the green tea powder to the pan.
  5. Cover the pan and steep the powder into the pan for 5 minutes.
  6. After 5 minutes, pour tea into your cup and enjoy it.

Masala Chai

Ingredients

  • 5-7 green cardamom
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 5-7 peppercorns
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2-3 slices of ginger
  • 1-2 teabags of black tea
  • 1 cup of your favorite milk
  • 2-3 teaspoons of any sweetener 
  • ½ cinnamon stick

Directions

  1. Crush your cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns using a mortar and pestle.
  2. Pour the cup of water into your saucepan and turn your heat on high, bringing the water to a boil.
  3. Add your lightly crushed spices into the boiling water. Then add cinnamon, black tea, and ginger into the boiling water as well. Mix everything well.
  4. After mixing well, turn the water off and let the tea steep for 10 minutes. 
  5. Add your choice of milk to your mixture and bring the tea to a simmer once more.
  6. Stir in your choice of sweetener.
  7. Pour into your mug and enjoy!

Chai Tea Latte

Ingredients

  • 2 black tea bags
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon of ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon of ground allspice
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of your choice of milk
  • ¼ cup of packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of vanilla creamer

Directions

  1. Mix the cinnamon, ginger, and allspice along with water. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Add tea bags and steep for 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the milk, brown sugar, and creamer into a saucepan. Cook them in medium heat until the sugar is fully dissolved into the mix.
  3. Pour the milk mixture into your mugs and add the brewed tea into the mix. Enjoy!

Chai as A Flavor

Indeed, it is. Chai does not exist solely as a type of tea anymore. Previously, we talked about chai becoming a flavor of tea as it became popular around the world but nowadays chai has become something even larger. It has become its own different flavor for other delicacies. 

In the fall, you can even whip up a pumpkin spice chai latte to help usher in the cooler weather.

Chai cake, chai cookies, chai brownies, chai everything. If you look it up, the internet has it. The way chai has spread around goes to show just how crazy we all have gotten for our spiced desserts. 

It is also a testament to the power of cultural diffusion. After all, chai tea did start as masala chai, which was a blend of the black tea that is popular with the English and spices Indian independent vendors thought would be delicious on tea. 

If this dessert talk has got you thinking about your sweet tooth, here is a delicious vanilla chai milkshake recipe for those milkshake lovers out there.

Vanilla Chai Milkshake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 4 black chai tea bags
  • ¼ inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of vanilla ice cream

Directions

  1. Pour milk in the saucepan at medium heat and add in the cayenne peppers and ginger. Stir them in. 
  2. Add the tea bags and cinnamon stick to the mixture, dunking them to submerge them into the mix.
  3. Stir the tea occasionally until it begins to simmer. Then turn off the heat and let the tea steep for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the tea bags and stir the vanilla extract into the mix. 
  5. Let it cool until it reaches room temperature. 
  6. Add the ice cream and the tea mix into a blender. Blend the milkshake until it is smooth. 
  7. Serve it and enjoy!

Chai Tea Latte Mix

If you’re short on time, whip up a batch of this easy but delicious chai tea latte mix. It makes great gifts for the holidays too!

Final Thoughts

Chai tea is so unique, thanks to its blend of ingredients. Black tea and milk are the two main ingredients, along with a combo of sweeteners and spices. One of the best parts of Chai is that you can customize the blend of spices to fit your taste buds and your mood. 

If you love tea as much as I do, pin this to your favorite tea-loving Pinterest board and pass it on for others to enjoy! Pinkies up!