Chai is comfort in a mug! Whether you need a boost of energy in the morning, a little digestive help after a meal or a wind me down cup in the afternoon, chai does it all! No wonder chai is India’s national drink!
I think that I must have been Indian in a past life considering how much I love this drink. I make a cup almost every day. As a result, I must have tasted dozens of chai lattes products over the years. From the weak tea bags to the overly sweet drink you get from using a sugary spicy powder, to liquid premade chai, to Starbuck or Peet’s version… My search for the best chai tea ended when an Indian friend showed me how she made it. It turns out that they were a few things I was doing wrong! You don’t boil water then add the tea and the dry spices at the end. It is best to use freshly grated ginger (that alone made a huge difference in the result), and freshly ground spices. Nothing beats fresh spices. It may take a minute more but it is worth it. Plus making tea from scratch is like a ceremony, you can’t rush it! Using the right black tea is also key is resulting in a strong cup of chai. My friend Pri ya insisted to start with cold water, add the spices, milk, black tea and sweetener, then bring it a rolling boil and simmer for a few minutes. It worked! But I am sure that this beloved beverage has many recipes depending where in India it is made very much like salsa in Mexico!
A little background on chai
Chai means tea so saying chai tea is a bit redundant! If you have ever bought chai spices, you will most likely have bought Masala chai. Masala means spices and chai means tea. Mystery solved! It is hard to trace its exact origin. We know that drinking tea may have originated during the Shang Dynasty in China around 5000 years ago but some say that King Harshvardhana of the Gupta Empire could have invented chai.
What kind of tea to use
Even though most tea is made from the same camelia sinensis plant, its tastes varies greatly depending where it is grown and what process has been used. You may have heard of Darjeeling, Assam, lapsang souchong, green and even white tea. Assam tea is the best choice for making chai. In terms of brands, I have tried several types of black tea. If I can shop at a local Indian grocery store I prefer loose leaves to tea bags to produce a strong but not bitter chai. But I have also found really good black tea in tea bags
Some of my favorites are: PG tips, and Tetley and both can be found in most grocery stores.
Masala chai spices
What makes chai tea so good is the use of fresh spices and good black tea.
The basic set of spices always includes:
Cardamom (rich in phytochemicals, has anti bacterial properties, increases metabolic rate, helps with digestion and weight loss)
Cloves (natural expectorant, good for gum issues, respiratory ailments, germicidal, improves sleep).
Fresh ginger (improves digestion, balances blood sugar levels, natural anti-inflammatory).
Cinnamon (anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, lowers blood sugar).
Black peppercorns (antioxidant, antibacterial, stimulate digestion, helps with weight loss).
But sometimes nutmeg, basil, fresh mint, rose petals and star anise can be added too. The beauty, as always, when you are making it from scratch is that you can experiment with these healing spices and find new flavors. You can also control how strong or sweet your chai is.
Health benefits of drinking chai
The tannins in the black tea calms and revitalizes the body. Black tea has less caffeine than coffee so it is a better option if you have coffee jitters.
The combination of spices produce a powerful anti-inflammatory beverage loaded with antioxidants.
It is an immunity booster so drink it whenever you feel under the weather!
Favorite brand of chai spices
There are many good premade chai spice mixes on the market but one of our absolute favorites is Blue Lotus Chai.
It is one of our favorite for the following reasons:
1. All you have to do is add hot water (no need to steep or filter anything, great for traveling)
2. The mix of spices is spot on.
3. Only use a tiny spoon for a large cup.
4. It comes in other variations like: Rooibos (decaf), golden (turmeric), mandarin, mint, star anise. All are exquisite.
Chai can be served iced too. And if you really like black tea, you can also skip the milk.
Enjoy a cup of black tea with a few cardamom pods for a smooth digestion. It is so nice and leaves a delicate cardamom flavor in your mouth.
Chai spices can be incorporated into baked goods too. So why stop at tea right?
Best Dairy-free Chai
- microplane grater or fine zester
- Mortar and pestle or coffee grinder
- 2 tbsp black tea leaves
- 3 cups filtered water
- 1 cup plain non-dairy milk (almond, soy, coconut)
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
- 2-4 cloves
- 4 black peppercorns
- 2 tsp sweetener (agave, sugar, maple)
- Pound the 4 cardamom pods, the 4 cloves and 4 peppercorns in the mortar or use a coffee grinder to release the oils and deepen the flavors.
- Bring the water and milk to a boil then lower to medium heat.
- Grate the fresh ginger with the microplane grater over the hot water (be careful with your fingers!)
- Add the spices, cinnamon and sugar.
- Stir and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover for another minute.
- Strain and serve.