Thursday, October 28, 2010


By Jess Hodges

Masala Chai, commonly known as just Chai is an Indian spiced tea that is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Historically tea in India was drunk for medicinal purposes and mixtures of spice and herbs were added for the same reason. It is possible to buy Chai tea flavoured with spice recipes taken from ancient medicinal texts chosen and preserved purely for their wonderful flavour.

Tea drinking didn't really become more popular in India until the Indian Tea Association, which was owned by the British, began to promote it, encouraging employers to offer their workers tea breaks and drink tea in the English fashion. However people preferred to drink their own version made by boiling tea, milk and water with a mixture of spices and a sweetener. This wasn't popular with the Tea Association as the milk and spices added reduced the amount of tea leaves that were used meaning less profit for the British plantation owners.

The spice mixture used varies depending on taste and tradition but usually incorporates a selection of cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, peppercorn, ginger, nutmeg and fennel. The tea is usually a strong black variety such as Assam but the Kashmiri version uses green tea and is generally more subtle in flavour.

Masala Chai is available in instant form as either a liquid concentrate or as dry granules. Western 'Chai teabags' produce a beverage that is similar in character but not as intense in flavour as true Chai and western drinkers rarely add enough milk and sweetener to replicate the original.

However you make it Chai is the perfect drink for this time of year when the nights are getting colder and darker, the spice mix making it festive and warming. It's the ideal tea for battening down the hatches and dreaming of Indian summers.