Chai tea has become popular in the west in the last few decades. The term ‘chai’ itself simply means ‘tea’ in several languages. What the western world refers to as chai is actually Masala chai tea. This is a beverage with a black tea base, and blended with various spices, such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and even black pepper. It’s usually made with steamed milk. This creates a sweet, creamy latte style drink. Chai tea encompasses many different varieties.
One of the biggest differences between green tea, black tea, and chai tea is the method in which it’s brewed. With other types of tea you typically steep the leaves or bag in water after it’s been boiled. The tea is created as the water cools. Chai is added to water as it boils, not after. This allows the spices to integrate in to the water more evenly and strongly. To brew a cup of chai in the traditional manner, you should boil the water with the spices added, and then add the tea leaves toward the end. The mixture is taken off the heat, and the whole mix is allowed to steep for about 10 minutes. Many people will still make it the other way, but it’s much tastier if you do it properly. Others will choose a grounded chai tea powder. This dissolves in to the water, much like hot chocolate or other hot drink mixes.
Chai Tea Ingredients
It’s hard to pin down the exact ingredients needed to make chai tea. Traditional chai tea is made with a mixture of varying spices. In most cases chai will contain 4 elements. The first element is the base. The base is a tea with a strong flavor, such as black tea or gunpowder tea. The tea leaves need to create a dark enough flavor so that the spices don’t overpower it. The second element is the milk. Whole milk produces the creaminess and richness that chai is known for. However, it can be made with lower fat milks as well. Those who want a very sweet chai tea latte can use condensed milk. It’s usually made with a mix of ¼ to ½ parts milk with water, but for condensed milk it should be lessened. The third component is a sweetener. Most households and coffee houses will use a white sugar, but brown sugar, coconut sugar, and honey can be used as well. A large amount of sweetener is needed to help enhance the flavor of the spices. Some recipes call for both white sugar and milk. The fourth element is the spice. In most recipes the cardamom is used heavily and as the base for the spice mix. Ginger, cloves, and black pepper or peppercorns are also used. Nutmeg, licorice root, and rose are also sometimes used. A milder blend of chai can be made with almonds, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron.
As the popularity of chai tea hit the states, many variations started to pop up. These are just as good, and often times easier to make. You can buy prepackaged liquid chai tea that is in concentrated forms. These don’t usually have all the same components, but are just as flavorful. One of the most popular brand in the US for this is the Oregon Chai Tea mix. Already blended teabags are also easy to find. When you get them in bag form you’ll still need to add milk or cream, and some sweetener. The bags are just the tea and spice blends. You can also find many flavor variations. Vanilla chai, chocolate chai tea, Dutch apple chai, and caramel chai are all popular in coffee houses. Many coffee houses will also create a chai/coffee mix drink that combines a shot of espresso with the chai tea.