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What is Chai Tea?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chai tea is rather a misnomer, as "chai" itself means tea in Hindi. This spicy milk tea is sometimes called masala chai. Traditionally, the Indian tea takes a long time to brew from freshly ground ingredients simmered over flames. Spices, milk, black tea, and sugar make up the key ingredients.

To make this tea using a traditional recipe, gather fresh spices from an Asian or Indian market. Take cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole black or white pepper corns, a cardamom pod, and grind them together into a powder. With chopped ginger root, add this mixture to a liquid of two parts half-and-half to three parts water. Use a strong, black tea from Asia such as Darjeeling, Ceylon, or Assam blends, instead of a green tea. Black tea has been oxidized, and has more tannins and a higher pungency. This mixture brews over a low, simmering heat for up to an hour, unlike steeped tea that takes mere minutes. Strain out the spices and stir in a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the spiciness without overly sweetening. Your cup of chai is ready to ease your nerves and warm your soul.

Due to the increasing popularity of this Eastern tea in the West, products now make chai more convenient to serve. Dry mixes, similar to instant hot chocolate, blend with warm milk, for a quick brew. Pre-brewed and packaged chai is also sold like a carton of milk to be enjoyed hot or iced. Connoisseurs can even prepare a concentrated mixture of spices and tea, with no milk and less water, to store in the refrigerator. When ready to mix just heat this on the stove with milk and sugar or honey to the desired strength.

New concoctions with a chai base create new tastes and varieties. As chai becomes a staple on the menus of coffee shops and tea rooms, people add vanilla, nutmeg, chocolate, coriander, soanp, or fennel seed. Experiment with different proportions of spice, or other milk products like ice cream, to create your individual blend.

For chai tea recipes simply enter "chai tea recipes" in your favorite search engine.

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Discussion Comments

By anon333638 — On May 07, 2013

Chai is tea, but all these powdered varieties aren't chai. They should come under powdered drinks not tea. I once had someone ask me why how they could make chai without sugar when they were using powder. I had to laugh. Tea has a small amount of caffeine compared to coffee.

By anon120928 — On Oct 22, 2010

Chai generally uses black tea leaves so unless you have bought decaf black tea, then yes it does.

By anon76446 — On Apr 10, 2010

My Indian friend introduced me to Chai, after a delicious Indian meal consisting of Alu matar and naan. I had a problem with the pepper, so yogurt was added to the Alu matar to tone it down. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

So I decided to do my own Chai with suggestions from her, and some recipes I found online. I started with the 1 cup measurement.

I have a lactose problem, but did not want to use soy. So I tried evaporated milk. (Don't know yet if it will bother me.) Here is my blend:

3/4 cup water

2 small Cloves

1/2 Cinnamon stick

2 cracked Cardamom pods

1/2 tsp 'Caribbean Dreams' (sweetened) Instant Ginger

Simmer for a few minutes to blend the spices and release the aroma. Then turn the heat off and add two bags of black tea, and let steep for five minutes.

Remove the tea bags, and strain out the spices. Add 1/4 cup of evaporated milk and brown sugar to taste. Add more water, or milk, depending on how creamy you like it. Reheat and remove from the fire just before it boils.

No doubt I can perfect my skills, and blends. But I must say it was delicious!

By anon38865 — On Jul 28, 2009

How do you strain out a powder? Why not simmer whole spices for an hour to release the flavor in a "sachet." It would be easier to remove. I love chai, and yes, it does have caffeine but I make mine with Lipton water process decaf. It's delish.

By anon34264 — On Jun 19, 2009

Hey, just stopped by. The recipe given above looks pretty good except you don't want to steep the tea for that long. It should be added about 10 min before serving and not boiled with the spices. This prevents it from becoming bitter.

By anon13108 — On May 19, 2008

does this have caffeine in it? i drink it a lot.

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