With fall in the air, we’ve been thinking about one of our favorite fall treats: masala chai! Most people think of Chai as the spicy-sweet-milky delicious drink served in cafes around the world today, but this tasty treat has changed a lot over the years.
Chai, the Hindi word for tea, is a derivative of Cha, the Chinese (Mandarin) word for tea. The spiced blend with tea is more aptly called Masala Chai, but originally Masala did not include tea at all.
Masala originated as a spice blend used in traditional Ayurveda, a three-thousand-plus-year-old whole-body wellness practice originating in India. Ayurvedic practitioners would drink a hot brew of various spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper, to promote wellness and balance in the body. Each ingredient was used for a different health benefit; cinnamon for circulation, cardamom for mood, and black pepper for digestion.
Black tea was added to the Masala mixture after 1835, when Britain brought tea to India and started tea plantations in the Assam valley. The addition of tea to Masala spread to the masses after 1900, when CTC grade teas were introduced, lowering the price enough to allow for wide distribution.
Now the tasty concoction of tea, milk, sweetener, and spices comes in varieties as numerous as the places chai can be found. Chai is no longer exclusively a black tea base and now you can find green, oolong, rooibos, and mate chai blends. You can also find fruity, coconut, vanilla, and floral versions! The particular spice blends change from country to country, region to region, and even blender to blender. Even the milk changes from cow or dairy-free varieties in western countries and sometimes buffalo milk in India.
Check out our favorite chai blends and fall in love with chai!
Originally published: October 2, 2019.