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“i heart chai” written on masala chai with cinnamon

Masala Chai: Origin, Benefits, and Where To Get It

Posted on May 24 2023, By: Chai Up

“i heart chai” written on masala chai with cinnamon

Masala chai is a popular drink that has deep roots in India and predates the British colonial era. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Ayurvedic texts that recommended specific herbs and spices to use for medicinal purposes. “Chai” which means tea in Hindi, and Masala which is a blend of spices and herbs is a huge part of Indian culture. Today it is now a well-loved beverage all over the world more commonly known as “chai tea” and can be bought in almost any cafe. 

Chai tea with added star anise and cinnamon


The Masala Chai Origin

Masala is a mixture of spices and is used in a variety of ways that isn’t just limited to tea. Some other examples of masala are tikka masala and garam masala which are used in savory dishes in India. A blend of masala spices are usually toasted on a pan without oil before it can be used in meals, drinks, or for medicinal purposes. The literal meaning of masala chai is spiced tea which is exactly what it is. When drunk, spiced chai tea gives a warm sensation that separates it from any other warm drink. 

While the British did introduce tea cultivation in India during the colonial period, masala chai had been part of Indian culture for centuries prior. Britain had originally sourced their tea from China but in the 1800s, trade was limited to them which led them to start cultivating tea in Assam, India. Tea became increasingly popular in India as a result and today it is one of the largest producers of tea in the world. 

In its earlier stages though, the cultivation of tea in the Assam region produced bitter batches of tea. According to Shreya Srinath in her article on the Medium, The British didn’t want the initial poor-quality batches of tea, which led the Indian Tea Association to launch a campaign that would get the local population encouraged to drink and sell tea. The street vendors made the tea much more desirable to drink and fitted it with their culture by including the Assam tea in chai-flavored beverages. Eventually, to cover sales costs and create a better-tasting drink, vendors would add milk, sugar, and spices. It was the first prototype of the much-loved chai tea everyone all over the world, not just in India, enjoys today.

Tablespoons of spices that make the masala mix 

Masala Chai Ingredients

Most beverages like coffee and other types of tea are more straightforward than masala chai. Chai tea ingredients have many components to it. The first and most important component to making tea masala is black Assam tea which is the base of the drink. The next two components are important but also up to your preference which is milk and sugar. Today, there are many alternatives to dairy milk that can also be used in your masala chai recipe like almond milk, soy milk, and even oat milk. You can also choose from various sweeteners like good old sugar or honey. 

It’s the masala chai spices that really set this drink apart and has a variety of herbs and spices that have many holistic benefits. These spices include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, black pepper, fennel seeds, star anise, and nutmeg. It’s important to note though that depending on which region in India, these spices can vary. For example, North India uses the ingredients mentioned above but the tea is simmered for a longer period of time for maximum flavor extraction. In Mumbai and parts of West India, additional ingredients such as lemongrass or mint leaves are added. It can also be brewed using jaggery or unrefined sugar cane instead of the usual white sugar. And in Southern India, added ingredients are coriander and cumin and the tea is brewed with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk. 

Powdered masala mix in a jar


Masala Chai Benefits

The blend of black tea, herbs, and spices that make up tea masala has a wide range of health benefits that make it the perfect drink. Not only is the aromatic and flavorful beverage warm and comforting to drink, but its ingredients can reduce your blood sugar levels, it's filled with antioxidants, and can even help a multitude of illnesses. According to India TV News, here are some benefits of drinking chai and more.

1. Reduced blood sugar levels

 Because masala chai is a combination of spices that each have their own holistic benefits, altogether they make a healthy concoction that can improve many different types of illnesses. One of the many health benefits of masala chai is correlated to the ingredients ginger and cinnamon which helps reduce blood sugar levels. Healthline even recommends preparing the tea yourself to maximize the benefits. This is due to the fact that most cafes that offer chai tea are loaded with sugar and can offset the blood-sugar-level-reducing benefits of cinnamon and ginger. 

2. Better digestion

Other ingredients in a chai masala recipe that have healing properties are cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and cardamom. These four ingredients have antibacterial properties that can help prevent gut or digestive issues that are commonly caused by bacterial infections. Another great thing about black pepper is that it increases the amount of digestive enzymes which help break down food better for optimal digestion. 

3. Aids in weight loss

Another benefit of tea masala is it can prevent weight gain and aid in weight loss. Masala chai is commonly prepared with either cow’s milk or soy milk which are both great sources of the nutrient protein. A higher intake of protein can reduce and satiate hunger. It also keeps you feeling full for longer. Black tea also has compounds that promote fat breakdown and can reduce the amount of calories that is absorbed by the body. It’s important to note though that if your goal is to lose weight while drinking chai, you should also lessen the amount of sugar added. 

4. Reduced stress

Not only does black tea help promote easier fat breakdown but it also contains L-theanine. It’s an amino acid that promotes relaxation and can reduce stress levels. It can also improve your sleep quality because of its relaxing effects. Black tea can also reduce high levels of cortisol. 

5. Reduced Inflammation

The black tea incorporated with masala is packed with antioxidants that are great for supporting cardiovascular health. The health claims include lowered cholesterol and stimulation of the circulatory system. The spice ginger is responsible for combating inflammation. As an antioxidant, it can also suppress gastrointestinal distress, fight infection, and even alleviate pain caused by arthritis. 

Freshly made masala tea being poured in a clay cup


Frequently Asked Questions About Masala Tea

Are you new to drinking chai and want to learn more about it? Maybe you want to know the right recipes or the right combination of spices to use to get started on your new journey to being a tea lover. Read more below to find the answers to some of the most common questions about the loved masala tea beverage. 

1. How To Brew Masala Chai?

While brewing masala entails a little more than just dipping a tea bag into warm water in a cup, it’s definitely worth all the steps and the process can even be therapeutic. Here are some of the basic ingredients to create the beverage and the steps to brewing it. The best thing about making this tea-based drink is that it's fully customizable to your liking. Whether you like it less or more spicy or sweet, you can definitely adjust it to your preferences. 

Ingredients To Prepare:

  1. Two cups of water
  2. Two cups of your choice of milk
  3. Two tablespoons of loose-leaf tea / 4 bags of black tea
  4. Two to three cinnamon sticks
  5. Four or five crushed green cardamoms
  6. An inch piece of fresh garlic 
  7. Four or five cloves
  8. Sugar or honey

The Brewing Process

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. 
  2. Place the cinnamon sticks, cardamom, ginger, and cloves in the saucepan and let the water simmer for 5 minutes or until the spices become fragrant.
  3. Add your tea in and simmer for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. To sweeten, add sugar or honey depending on your taste preference. 
  5. Reduce the heat and let the chai simmer for a few more minutes and stir the mixture occasionally. 
  6. Strain the spices and herbs, add your milk of choice, and serve hot.

2. Do You Put Milk In Chai Tea?

Milk is a common ingredient in chai and while it makes the drink better, it’s not a necessity. Contrary to popular belief, some people actually enjoy chai without milk. This version served without milk is called “black tea chai” or just “spiced chai”. When milk is added to chai, the flavor is more balanced but definitely a lot milder. Besides the health benefits of the herbs and spices added to make chai, milk is also said to help soothe the stomach and aid in digestion which is probably the reason why it's added and not just for flavor. Some people also omit milk as an ingredient in chai because they are lactose intolerant. However, cow milk is not the only type of milk you can use. Western cafes that serve chai drinks can opt to use non-dairy milk like soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk. In other parts of India, chai is served with coconut milk. Ultimately, chai can be enjoyed with or without milk.

A different type of chai without milk


3. What are the different types of chai?

  1. Masala Chai

The most common and well-known type of Chai that comes from India. Its most notable ingredients are the blend of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. It is made by combining spices, black tea, milk, and sugar. 

  1. Kashmiri Chai

Kashmiri Chai is also known as “noon chai” and is the traditional tea that comes from the Kashmir region in India. It is made with green tea and baking soda which gives the drink a pink hue. It is commonly flavored with salt, cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon. 

  1. Karak Chai

Karak chai is a popular drink in the Middle East which is very similar to masala chai. It is also made with black tea, milk, sugar, and spices like cardamom, cloves, and ginger. It is best served with sweets or dates that grow also in the Middle East. 

  1. Thai Iced Tea

Popularized in Thailand, Thai iced tea is a combination of black tea, sweetened condensed milk, star anise, vanilla, and tamarind. It’s sweet, creamy, and best served with ice.

  1. Rooibos Chai

Rooibos chai is the caffeine-free version of chai that is made with rooibos instead of black tea. Rooibos is a type of herbal tea from the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant that is native to South Africa. Its flavors are sweet and nutty. Rooibos chai is flavored with the same spices that make masala chai which are ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom. 

  1. Ginger Chai

Ginger or Adrak chai is best served hot and especially enjoyed during the winter time. To make it, grated ginger is added to a teapot while the tea is being brewed. It is a great elixir for colds and sinus infections because of the ginger. 

  1. Elaichi or Cardamom Chai

Another tea best served hot is elaichi or cardamom chai. It can be made using freshly ground or powdered cardamom. It is great with added cinnamon whether grated or in powdered form.

  1. Bombay Cutting Chai

The tea famously hails from Mumbai or Bombay and is called “cutting chai” because of its very strong flavors. The flavors are so strong that it is only served by the half-glass. It is actually a modified version of masala chai served in small “cutting glasses”  instead of regular-sized cups. 

  1. Sulaimani Chai

A form of black tea from South India, Sulaimani Chai is also known as “Ghava” or “Kattan Chaya”. It is basically black tea with lemon and is best drunk after a meal to aid in digestion. 

  1. Tulsi Chai

Tulsi Chai is one of the more health-beneficial teas because of its use of India’s most sacred herb which is holy basil. Tulsi leaves are added to the brewing tea and can strengthen the immune system and relieve stress. It is best drunk in the morning and can be served with or without milk. 

  1. Lembu Chai

Lembu Chai is a desi lemon tea that is enjoyed by people from West Bengal.

4. How to make masala chai tea from scratch?

Making masala tea is doable and easy no matter where you are in the world. All you have to do is gather up all the ingredients that make the masala blend and follow the steps we enumerated above. Other additional ingredients you can add to make your chai better are basil, ajwain, fennel seeds, cinnamon, oregano, and licorice plant. 

Authentic masala tea being served in India


5. Where did chai tea originate from?

The popular drink that originates in India has been around for what legend has it, almost 5000 years ago. Chai has been around for so long that the original version of masala chai didn’t even contain Camellia sinensis tea leaves because tea drinking was brought in by the British during their occupation of India. 

According to legend, a king in what is now known as India ordered a beverage that was spiced and had healing properties to be created for Ayurvedic purposes. The ingredients ginger, black pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and star anise were used to stimulate digestion, relieve pain, elevate moods, and support circulation and respiratory functions. 

Other versions of the legend say that Indian emperors used to drink a concoction of spices similar to the ingredients of masala chai in order to stay alert during royal court affairs. 

Only during the British Colonial Era, after their monopoly on Chinese tea ended, they started cultivating black tea in the Assam region that black tea was incorporated with chai. Today, masala is consumed by billions worldwide and is a staple in Indian culture, so much so that no region in India enjoys the same type of chai. The variations of chai not only exist in India but have made their way to popular Western cafe chains like Starbucks that offer a chai latte drink. 

Where to get masala powder to buy


Looking for a masala chai spice mix to buy?

If you’re a first-time chai drinker and don’t want to risk brewing it wrong, we have the perfect solution. Chai Up offers an authentic masala mixture so you are saved from the hassle of having to procure all the spice and herb ingredients. Chai Up is a fool-proof way to enjoy authentic Indian masala chai wherever you are in the world. If you’re looking for the best tea recipe, look no further because Chai Up ensures each cup is brewed to perfection. 

To enjoy the chai powder mix, simply bring some water to a boil in a small pot, add your black tea (loose leaf or packet), and then let it brew with the Chai Up powder mix. If you’re using loose-leaf tea, strain it and enjoy it hot with milk and sugar! Also don’t forget to throw the tea packet away before consuming!  

Chai Up Powder Mix Ingredients

The founders of Chai Up wanted to share their own family recipe with the world and want to bring comfort and coziness one cup at a time. Using all-natural and premium ingredients, Chai Up aims to only bring the best to their customers which these ingredients:

  1. Cloves

Cloves are abundant in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling in the body. It’s also great for digestive health as it can relieve symptoms of bloating, gas, and indigestion. Cloves are not just great for baking, cooking, and drinking, clove oil is also often used in dental products because it contains eugenol which is an antiseptic and fights off bacteria and promotes oral health. 

  1. Green cardamom seeds

Green cardamom is another ingredient rich in antioxidants that protects the body from oxidative damage and helps prevent chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Green cardamom also has warming effects that are great for soothing respiratory issues like congestion, colds, and colds. 

  1. Basil

Basil can actually be great for mental health as it has calming effects on the mind and can reduce stress levels and anxiety. It also has antiviral and ant-bacterial properties that can fight off infections. 

  1. Ajwain

Ajwain also known as ajowan caraway, omam, thymol seeds, bishop’s weed, and carom also have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains active enzymes that aid in indigestion, bloating, and gas. Ajwain is also helpful for pain relief and has been used to alleviate menstrual cramps and headaches. 

  1. Fennel seeds

Fennel seeds are commonly found in Indian cuisine because they aid in digestion and are used for refreshment purposes. The anethole that is present in fennel seeds actually helps lactating mothers because it can mimic the actions of the estrogen hormone. The estrogen-like properties in fennel seeds can also help regulate menstrual cycles and relieve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. 

  1. Ginger powder

A bioactive compound found in raw ginger called gingerol can boost immunity because of its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Ginger is said to help improve cold-like symptoms like coughing, fever, and even fights off infections and relieves headaches. Because of its antioxidants that protect the skin from UV rays and slow down the breaking down of collagen, ginger helps improve your skin’s health.

  1. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is great for regulating blood sugar levels because it increases the body’s resistance to insulin. Cinnamon is also linked to reducing the risk of heart disease according to studies that suggest cinnamon reduces levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. Triglycerides are fats from food that are carried in the blood, too much of which can cause blocked arteries. Cinnamon is also said to improve brain function and can help protect the brain from age-related cognitive decline. 

  1. Oregano

There are two compounds in oregano called carvacrol, and thymol that help reduce viral infection. Oregano is also rich in antioxidants that can help fight the damage caused by free radicals, too many of which are linked to chronic diseases like heart disease and even cancer. Oregano also contains compounds that have antimicrobial properties that help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi.

  1. Licorice plant

Licorice plant has long been used in Chinese medicine to treat many ailments that include gastrointestinal problems, malaria, and insomnia. Licorice contains an active chemical compound called Glycyrrhizin, which has been proven to be able to reduce body fat, heal stomach ulcers, and even fight infections. 

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