Chances are, if you’ve gone out at all over the past couple of decades, you’ve been in a café where someone was ordering the spiced tea beverage called chai.
Just about every supermarket now has packaged, ready-to-drink chai for sale, while recipes abound for chai ice cream, chai doughnuts, chai granola and other chai-spiced treats.
Where did all this chai come from? Originally, the tea-producing lands of India and Ceylon — now Sri Lanka — where spices are also grown. Chai is considered the national drink of these countries, where it has been brewed and enjoyed for centuries.
Made with hot milk, black tea, sugar and a mix of spices including cinnamon, clove and ginger, chai produces a warming, soothing effect on the drinker. It’s also considered a natural digestive aid, thanks to the stomach-soothing properties of ginger.
Chai may have other health benefits as well, from the antioxidants in the tea and spices; but we drink it for the flavor and the way it always seems to brighten the day. Hot or iced, it makes a refreshing change from coffee and a rewarding treat at any hour.
There is no One Right Way to make chai: The spices vary from region to region — some even include peppercorns — and you can find many different kinds of chai masala (mix) for sale.
Chai can be made with any kind of milk, including soy, nut and seed milks, and almost any kind of tea: Green tea chai is not traditional, but we see it everywhere.
However, a rich black tea such as Assam is the best complement to chai’s spices and creamy milk.
You can also omit the sugar, but we don’t recommend it: The sweetness brings out the flavors in the spices.
Our own Chai Spice blend is made with cinnamon, ginger, black tea, cardamom, clove and nutmeg. We serve it in small cups, so if you’re having company we recommend you multiply this recipe — it’s hard to have just one!
Get the recipe: Chai Tea »»