What is Masala Chai? A Comprehensive Tea Profile
Chai is a popular Indian beverage and it is estimated that over 900,000 tons of Chai are consumed in the country every year. Specifically, the term “Chai” is Hindi for “tea” which originates from the Chinese word, “cha”.
Cha refers to traditional tea which is produced from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant; most notably, white, green and black tea. In the west, the term “chai” is commonly associated with masala chai.
Masala means a ‘mix of spices’ and masala chai (i.e. spiced tea) can be produced with a number of ingredients. The variation of ingredients can differ from cultures, towns, generations and families.
In particular, Masala Chai may include: black tea, milk, cardamon pods, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, cloves, saffron and fennel. Nevertheless, other ingredients could consist of chocolate, cocoa and vanilla. Thus, it is no surprise that chai is enjoyed from all corners of life and can be relished in the morning, afternoon and evening.
History of Masala Chai
It has been suggested that masala chai dates back more than 5,000 years, whilst others believe masala chai’s history spans more than 9,000 years. Some stories note that masala chai was invented by a royal king in the ancient courts of India.
Allegedly it was created as a healing spice to consume during Ayurveda - a traditional healing ceremony for Hindus. At this date, chai was simply enjoyed as a beverage with a number of different herbs and natural sources, and most notably, did not contain any spices or tea leaves from the camellia sinensis plant.
Interestingly, this early form of chai, known as Kadha, would contain herbs, leaves and flowers; and could be consumed hot or cold. Whereas the chai we know of today, would include herbs, spices and can be enjoyed warm.
Eventually, this healing beverage made its way into mass Indian culture where the recipe would evolve and alternate, as households would fine tune the spice ingredients to their personal preference.
As the popularity of masala chai grew so did the culture of tea, which spread from Asia to Western Europe in the 1700s. Around the 1830s, the British began cultivating their own tea plants in India due to the primary fear of the Chinese monopolization on tea. Plus, with the growing British demand of tea and previous opium wars with China, Indian tea plantations were an essential asset incase of a potential depletion of future supplies.
For instance, by 1870, tea was heavily in demand to the British public and around 90% of tea imports within Great Britain originated from China. By 1900, this figure reduced to as low as 10% due to the tea being predominately sourced from the British Crown Colonies in Ceylon and India.
Chai Walla (tea vender) India's national drink can be enjoyed for the sum total of 10p at a chai stand along with a newspaper and cigarette ~ I've had no choice but to swap early grey for chai since arriving in India and I think I've become an addict #chai #chaiwalla #teastall #teavender #chaichaichai #street #everydaymumbai #mumbai #masalachai #tea #addict #somuchsugar #walla #india #travelindia #travel #portrait #everydayindia
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Even though Black tea was popular in Britain, it wasn’t hugely popular in India, especially as it was deemed expensive by the locals. Because Black tea was expensive, street vendors would substitute Black tea for spices with milk and sugar to keep the costs at a minimum.
In order to increase sales of tea, mass campaigns were initiated by the British-owned Indian Tea Association to promote the consumption of tea throughout India. In doing this, The Indian Tea Association advocated the allowance of ‘tea breaks’ for local workers to increase tea sales.
It was boasted that the benefits of a tea break and a cup of tea resulted in improved work efficiency and concentration. The trend eventually began to take heed and the consumption of tea within India grew rapidly.
In the 1960s, tea leaves began to more commonly make their way into what we know as masala chai. This was because Black tea became more affordable and popular in India due to William McKercher’s invention of the crush-tear-curl (i.e., CTC) production method of making tea.
The crush-tear-curl method substitutes the rolling stage of orthodox tea production. This method has been adopted as a way of producing greater quantities of black tea using more mature, larger leaves which, when prepared with milk and sugar could appeal to a broader market (Srivastava, 2011).
It has been noted that CTC blends in India provide a deep and flavorsome aroma which complement the creamy and spicy notes from the masala chai. Thus, the quality of masala chai can fluctuate considerably, depending on the leaves, buds and granules used in the CTC process.
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As the popularity of tea sales increased in India so did the number of “chai wallahs” offering this delicious and spicy, warm, milk brew - Masala Chai. Chai wallahs (i.e., tea persons) commonly operate on street stalls and can be found around key social points in India; whether it’s market places, train stations or a bus station. Typically, chai wallahs brew their masala chai over charcoal fires in large pans. The chai can be traditionally served in clay cups, known as kullarhs.
How to Make Masala Chai
The best method to create a delicious cup of masala chai is to purchase a quality loose leaf tea with your preferred spices from a trusted tea seller. Interestingly, and unsurprisingly, there are a number of variations of masala chai.
For instance, Indian masala chai can be sweetened with cane sugar called Jaggery; whereas in the USA, honey is popularly used to sweeten masala chai. Nevertheless, white sugar, brown sugar, demerara, turbinado or coconut may also be used as a chai sweetener.
Alongside this, black tea from Assam or Darjeeling is the preferred tea of choice whilst making Indian inspired masala chai; whereas in Kashmir, Gunpowder Green Tea is traditionally used instead. If that’s not enough, in the USA, loose leaf black tea is used over Indian’s preferred crush-tear-curl (CTC) black tea. It is also not unusual to prefer a caffeine-free Rooibos to be used as the tea base for a masala chai mix.
The milk used to create masala chai varies from region to region and the recipe can also fluctuate based on the water to milk ratio. For instance, a number of recipes require you to brew chai in water and dilute with milk. And other masala chai recipes may prefer to brew the spices in a milk and water or mixture, or simply use all milk.
Alongside this, buffalo milk is typically used in India. However, in Pushkar, camel milk is typically used to brew masala chai. In more westernised countries, soya milk, hazelnut milk; and low fat, skimmed milk has been used to create masala chai recipes in the past.
In particular, True Tea Club offer a number of masala chai options which taste great with just a regular semi-skimmed milk. But nonetheless, you can simply opt for a traditional cup of masala chai. You should expect to aim to for a creamy texture combined with black tea and a number of essential spices: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, peppercorns.
In terms of a sweetener, brown sugar is fine enough to bring out the aromatic spice flavour. It is imperative to include a sweetener otherwise the spices can get lost in the mix and you won’t experience the true robustness of the spices in a masala chai.
You can also read the ingredients on our tea packets to try and make your own from scratch. Although, all of our teas come with the freshest ingredients nonetheless.
True Tea Club's Masala Chai Collection
A rich blend of morning spiced masala chai. To awaken your senses, ginger bits and cinnamon rebound from pepper, cardamom and cloves. This blend of spices and Grassy Sencha leaves is made even more rejuvenating with Jasmine and zesty lemon-grass.
China Sencha Green Tea, Jasmine, fennel, aniseed whole, lemon grass, cinnamon, nettle leaves, ginger bits, cloves, pepper, cardamom
Due to the green tea leaves, we recommend to brew without milk as there will be no tanginess from the black tea leaves to overpower the mix.
2. Masala Chai Black Tea (Organic)
Our Masala Chai Black tea offers a traditional blend of black tea with a concoction of whole and ground spices including: ginger, fennel, aniseed, cloves and cinnamon.
Black Tea, Cinnamon, Ginger Bits, Fennel, Aniseed Whole, Cloves.
Enjoy the most out of this traditional masala chai black tea by simmering in milk. This masala chai is commonly brewed with boiling water and can be served black, or with the milk and sugar of your preference.
How to Store Masala Chai
It is important to make sure your masala chai stays as fresh as possible. This can be achieved by using an airtight storage container which would also block out light, such as a tea caddy. For instance, the tea in our subscription boxes comes in air sealed brown bags which prevent air from escaping and the tea being subject to any light.
If you receive tea in clear sealed bags, make sure they are stored away from light in a storage cupboard. Other negative factors to bear in mind is condensation, humidity and cold temperatures.
It is generally advised not to keep your tea more than 6 months, primarily so you can enjoy the optimum freshness. But tea can be consumed 2 years after purchase.
If you're interested in discovering more about masala chai, then you can receive a selection of four various teas to your door through our monthly tea club.
We have a huge selection of loose tea available. With new and exciting teas and infusions for all tea lovers.
We have Black, White teas, Oolong, Rooibos selections, fruit Infusions and specialist teas. Whether it be delicate and aromatic, rich and fruity, or light and refreshing, there’s something for everyone.
Visit our Monthly Tea Subscription page to find out more.
Masala Chai Subscription
Receive your favorite loose leaf tea every month through our loose leaf tea subscription plan.
Choose your favourite tea and we’ll ship it out on the same day every month.
You’ll never need to worry about running out of tea again.
Free UK delivery. International delivery: £3.50.