Some people will tell you there is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims
Chai means "tea" in Hindi and is derived from "cha", the Chinese word for "tea". Chai is simply a way of life in India. Almost everywhere you see people enjoying the sweet, spicy, milky drink. In the Western world, Chai is experienced as something exclusive and exotic. in India it is simply the standard way of preparing tea.
The base of chai is black tea. There are many variations of black tea, but Assam is most common in chai because of its strong, full-bodied flavour.
Chai can contain a number of different spices. Cardamom is the most common ingredient, followed by a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, star anise and cloves. Pepper, cilantro, nutmeg, and fennel are also used, but these are slightly less common.
Chai almost always contains milk, and that milk is usually whole. Plain white sugar is the most common sweetener for chai. Chai usually contains a good amount of sweetener.
As mentioned, the base of chai is traditionally a black tea. Over time, however, variations on the Chai theme have emerged. Today it is quite common to combine the chai herbs with other types of tea, such as green tea or rooibos.
Tea shop The Smallest House has many loose chai blends in stock. Ready to spice up your tea time?
Chai culture in India developed out of British colonisation. During this time, the British East India Company was thriving, with tea from Assam, India being one of its biggest commodities. Tea consumption in India grew, and eventually, the British preparation of tea became the standard—black with milk and sugar—and the people from India put their own spin on it, with the addition of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
The spices, or "masala," used in chai vary by region, climate, and cultural preference. Traditionally, cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and black peppercorns have been dominant chai spices, and all readily available in India. Vanilla, nutmeg, mace, star anise, or fennel are also featured in some traditional recipes. As chai moved west, bay leaf, allspice, cocoa, or saffron became popular additions. Coriander and cumin can also be in some recipes.
The Assam and Darjeeling black teas from India are the most popular to use as a chai base. The province of Assam is located in the northeast of India and has a tropical monsoon-like climate. This climate contributes to the characteristic malty taste of Assam. The province of Darjeeling is also located in the northeast of India. Darjeeling is often referred to as the "Champagne of tea," with musk-sweet flavours resembling muscat wine. But it can also have delicate vegetable, mossy, fruity and citrus flavours
The huge variety of chai recipes means that the drink can take many different flavors depending on the ingredients used. It is great fun to experiment with this to discover your own favorite chai flavour.