In North America, we know chai as a black tea mixed with a variety of Indian spices. It is a rich, warming flavour that has become one of the most popular tea varieties across the continent. At Jolene’s Tea House, we have a variety of different chai flavours – from herbal blends like Yoga Chai made entirely of caffeine-free herbs and spices, to chai made with green tea and mint. So you may be wondering, what makes a tea chai, and where did it come from? In this blog post, we explore chai from many angles, from the origin of the word chai, to the health benefits of the various spices, and whether or not chai contains caffeine. We’ve also included our favourite simple Chai Latte recipe at the end.
What is chai?
In India, chai means tea. In fact, across the globe there are two basic words for tea, all variations of “tee” or “cha”. The word each country to describe the beverage dates back to the trade routes of tea from China, where tea was first popularised. At the origin of the Silk Road in China, where tea was exported over land, including to India, the word in Chinese for tea was “cha.” If you go to any country in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, they all have their own words for it. For example, along the coast of China, where tea was exported by ship, the word for tea was te. So anywhere that received tea by ship, including Britain and Europe, all have words for tea that are variations on this theme.
So how did we come to think of chai in North America as a spiced tea instead of just Indian black tea?
In Southern India, spices grow abundantly in the tropical climate. Over the past couple hundred years, various combinations of spices and tea have become well known in India, and spread across the globe. The combination of spices have their own names, and get added to added to tea create an alteration in the title of “chai”.
When ginger is added, it’s Adrak Chai (ginger tea). Saunf Wali Chai is milk tea flavoured with fennel seeds. And Masala Chai (spice tea) is a tea with milk and a hint of spices. The Indian word for spice is masala. The five most common spices in chai are ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and black peppercorns. In North America we commonly accept that chai means “Spiced Tea” and have therefore shortened the name to just call it “chai”.
Why drink chai?
Chai tea is a powerful blend of tea, herbs, and spices that has been used for centuries to improve health and enhance peace of mind. Chai aids in digestion, is excellent for the immune system, and balances blood sugar levels. Other important benefits of chai spices include:
Ginger stimulates digestion, lowers blood pressure, and helps with nausea. It reduces inflammation, has antibacterial properties, and is a blood sugar regulator. It positively effects cholesterol levels and helps with menstrual pains.
Cinnamon has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Its probiotic properties may improve gut health. It contains antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects. It reduces blood pressure and lowers blood sugar and risk of type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon relieves digestive discomfort.
Cardamon is a mood booster and anti-depressant. It has an inflammatory effect and aids in digestive problems. It helps with bad breath and prevents cavities, antibacterial, and lowers blood sugar level.
Cloves contain important nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. High in antioxidants, kills bacteria, improves liver health, regulates blood sugar,
Black Peppercorns also are high in antioxidants, have anti-inflammatory properties, have demonstrated potential benefits for symptoms related to degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Pepper improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Which chai should I try?
The spices in a chai tea can be made in many ways, they are wonderful with white, green, or black tea leaves. We’ve added Chai to a full bodied Indian black Assam tea to create a traditional Masala Chai which is wonderful with milk. The black tea makes this a caffeinated option. This one is also available in teabags so you can take it with you on the go. We’ve also made our Vanilla Mint Chai with a fermented black tea, the full gamut of spices, whole vanilla bean, and spearmint. This one is also caffeinated, and the fresh flavours of spearmint make this a wonderful tea after a meal.One of our favourite and most popular chai blends is our Yoga Chai, which is caffeine-free. The blend of spice is used with a based of herbs and flowers. This is aesthetically pleasing to just look at, but at the same time a calming, warming blend for the body enhancing circulation and digestion. Yoga chai is ideal after heavier meals in the evening and pairs especially well with deserts.
How Chai is steeped and enjoyed is a personal preference – some prefer it with a little milk while others may choose to add lemon or sweeten with honey or sugar. With the good quality organic herbs and spices, chai is a flavourful tea to enjoy all on its own.
Easy Chai Latté
Jolene's Easy Chai Latté
- 1 cup milk of choice
- 2 tsp looseleaf chai tea or one tea bag
- 1 tsp sweetener of choice
- ground cinnamon to garnish
- Add Chai Tea bag or Looseleaf in infuser to cup.
- Fill half cup full with boiling water and steep for 10 minutes- the longer you steep, the sweeter the spices will be
- While tea steeps, use milk frother or heat milk in pot on the stove to whisk and froth up.
- Remove tea and add warm frothy milk.
- Sweeten to taste and add a dash of cinnamon on top.