Why a quarter of the world’s population drinks masala tea (it’s also called masala chai)? What is so special about this hot beverage? Why in India from elite five-star hotels to the modest homes, one thing is common in the menu and that is “chai”? What are the secrets and why you have to belong to this one quarter of the world population?
Let’s start from the beginning.
A little bit of masala chai history
Black tea from China was loved by English people, but it was too expensive. But when the British owned India, in 1788, the British East India Company began uprooting seedlings of tea from China. They started making and promoting tea for Indian people. The use of milk, sugar and spices was a commercial trick to cut the costs of black tea.
The early name for masala chai was “Kadha” that means medicine in Hindi. It was considered a magical drink that could cure communicable diseases like sore throat, cold, headache and fever.
Today, India’s production of tea in the world is the second highest (after China) and 70% of tea is consumed within the country.
The most precious tea is grown in Darjeeling, West Bengal. It is considered to be the best tea in the world. Its growing techniques were borrowed by the East India Company from China in the 1800s. It is one of the most expensive teas and is only produced in single batches.
Basic components of masala chai
The traditional Indian masala chai is a spiced hot beverage brewed with black tea, milk, sweetener and warming spices in different proportions. There are seven basic components of masala chai: water, tea leaves, milk, sugar, cardamom, black pepper, and ginger. Masala chai is made by mixing one part of cow milk with two to four parts of water and heating with tea leaves and spices to near boiling (or even full boiling). The tea leaves steep in the hot liquid long enough to extract intense flavour, ideally without releasing the bitter tannins. For those who prefer to drink chai without milk, the portion is replaced with water.
Sugar intensifies the flavor
Masala chai traditionally requires a bit of sweetness and is always made with sugar because sugar enhances the flavour of the spices. Brown sugars, palm or coconut sugars, syrup, or honey are usually used as sweeteners. Honey not only elevates the flavors but also adds a bit of its own. Some people like to use condensed milk in their masala chai to encrease the sweetness. Without a bit of sweetener, the spices fade into the tea making your cup slightly disappointing.
You cannot find two identical masala teas
Cardamom and ginger are the dominant notes in masala chai, however, a variety of spices are usually added to masala chai including cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom seeds, ginger root, honey, vanilla, and other spices. In the Western world, using allspice, to either replace or complement the cinnamon and clove, is also common.
Although masala chai has seven basic components, you cannot find two identical masala teas. Even in one family its every member has their own recipe. Masala chai varies greatly. Some like cinnamon, fennel, and cumin in their masala, while others may prefer a sweeter version made with nutmeg, rose petals, and clove.
Spices used in masala chai have all sorts of health benefits
- Ginger helps settle a sour stomach, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is known to be high in antioxidants.
- Cardamom works as a diuretic, detoxifier, and can even lower blood pressure.
- Cinnamon lowers blood sugar and risk of type-2 diabetes; has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties; supports gut health; prevents your brain from aging.
- Cloves are very rich in antioxidants that help reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
- Anise health benefits include relieving digestion problems, cough, asthma, and sore throats, boosting immunity, stimulating the appetite, and soothing inflammatory conditions.
- Black pepper is a good source of manganese, a mineral that can help with bone health, wound healing, and metabolism.
Masala chai recipe
In India, spices were always ground by hand in a mortar. Of course, you can buy a ready-made mix but it’s better to grind the spices yourself – there’s nothing complicated about it.
The recipe for masala chai is not fixed; there are endless versions of the tea and here is just one of them.
- 1 cup of water
- 1 cup of milk (it could be cow, almond, oat, soy, cashew or hemp milk)
- 1–2 tbsp of loose leaf black tea
- 5–7 green cardamom pods
- 3–4 whole cloves
- 1–2 star anise
- 5–7 peppercorns
- 2–3 slices ginger (or more! skins ok)
- A half of cinnamon stick
- 2–3 tsp of brown sugar, honey, maple syrup or other sweetener
- Crush cardamom pods, whole cloves, star anise and peppercorns in a wooden or stone mortar
- Place the spices in a small pot with 1 cup of water.
- Add ginger, cinnamon and black tea.
- Bring to a boil, turn the heat off and let it steep at least 10 minutes. The longer, the more flavor! You can use good old English wool warmer for tea.
- Add milk and bring to a simmer once more, then turn off the heat.
- Add sugar.
- Strain into a glass or mug.
If you drink masala chai regularly for a while, you’ll find a significant improvement in your digestion, blood sugar levels, weight loss and overall health. Masala tea also makes your immune system stronger keeping you free of common diseases and infections.
Masala tea warms and comforts you and at the same time sends you into fantasies and dreams.