The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Chai Tea - The Popular Sweet, Spicy
Specialty Tea From India
If you love tea and warm, soothing spices like cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon,
then India's sweet and spicy Chai or Masala Chai is your cup of tea.
The traditional form of chai
was created in the early
1900s in what was then
British ruled
India.  In an eff-
ort to encourage more tea usage among
their workers, the British owned Indian Tea
Association encouraged all factories, mines,
and textile mills to provide tea breaks, going
so far as to support independent chai
wallahs (or chaiwalas) to sell tea on board
the growing railway system.

Officially the tea was to be served English
style with a small amount of milk and sugar
added to strong
black tea.  But instead the
independent vendors increased the propor-
tions of milk and sugar and added spices to
the milk, reducing the usage (and consequently the purchase) of more tea.

                                              Although the Indian Tea Association strongly disapproved it was
                                              too late.  Masala chai had become the popular choice over plain
                                              tea and before long it spread beyond India and South Asia to
                                              the rest of the world, gaining loyal followers along the way.

                                              The original recipe and traditional preparation of Masala chai is
                                              to combine milk, water, loose leaf tea, and spices, bringing the
mixture to a boil or a constant simmer, and straining off the solid tea and spice residue before
serving.

Although the ingredients vary from one
location to the next, the traditional, orig-
inal chai was made with a half cup each
of water and milk, cardamom powder,
cinnamon powder, ground cloves, ginger
powder, powdered pepper, and one
teaspoon of loose black tea.

Because of the large number of possible
variations, Masala chai can be considered
a class of tea rather than a
specific type,
such as black tea or green tea.  That
said, there are always four basic compon-
ents of Masala chai.  These are:

          
Tea base - this is usually a strong
          black tea such as India's Assam, so that the sweeteners and spices don't overpower the
          flavor of the tea.  A specific inexpensive type of
Assam tea called mamri is most often
          used in India.  Mamri is processed in a way that creates granules, rather than leaf tea.
          Although most chai tea in India is brewed with strong black tea, Kashmiri chai is brewed
          using green gunpowder tea.

                                                          
Sweetener - along with plain white cane sugar, Demerara
                                                          sugar, other brown sugars, palm or coconut sugars, or
                                                          honey is used as the sweetener. Condensed milk is also
                                                          used, serving as a dual purpose sweetener and milk
                                                          addition.

                                                          
Milk - generally whole milk is used because it's rich.  Also,
          as noted above, condensed milk can be used as both the milk and sweetener.

          
Spices - traditional Masala chai was designed to be strong and spicy, brewed with what
          are considered to be "warm spices."  The basic spices include fresh ginger, green card-
          amom pods, cinnamon, fennel seeds, peppercorn or black pepper, and cloves. Tradition-
          ally cardamom was the dominant  flavor.

          In Western India fennel and black pepper are deleted, and in Bhopal
          a pinch of salt is added.  A Kashmiri version of chai uses green tea
          rather than black and incorporates more subtle flavors with almonds,
          cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and sometimes saffron.

          Other spices and flavorings include nutmeg, rose petals (boiled with
          the tea), and licorice root.

          The popular, spicy Masala chai has made its way around the world
          with each country adapting it to the local and regional tastes. It can
          be found in many variations in the U.S., of course, with every cafe, restaurant, and coffee
          house swearing by their own unique version.

                                                            Supermarkets in the West carry prepackaged single
                                                            serve
tea bags, as well as bottles of chai spice. American
                                                            mixes usually contain powdered spices with cinnamon
                                                            and sugar many times the dominant flavors.

                                                            If you would rather your chai be cold, Starbucks offers
                                                            a chai frappuccino blended creme which consists of a
          slushy spiced tea, ice, and milk, blended and topped with whipped cream.  Or It's a Grind
          Coffee House offers a similar blended chai latte.
Some other U.S. coffee houses offer a concoction of Masala chai with espresso, calling it by many different names,
including java chai, red eye chai, chai charger, tough guy chai, and dirty chai, just to name a few.

Visit our
Hot Tea Drinks Recipes page for a Masala Chai Recipe, and to learn how to make your
own flavored or blend- ed teas, visit our
Blended-Fillable Tea Bags page and make your own
Masala chai tea bags.

You can also find great classic chai blends from                       like Masala and Mayan Chocolate
Truffle, and organic blends like Organic Kashmiri and Organic Masala Chai.  Chai tea is soooo good
and soothing and there's nothing like a hot, sweet and spicy cup after a long hectic day.  Mighty
Leaf's Chai selections are all good--the only problem is deciding which to try first :-)  Click their link
above.

Whether you design your own recipe or buy it pre-blended, I have to warn you, once you try chai tea, you'll be
hooked for life.  
Enjoy.
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