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by Ashley Prentice

The Mysteries of Chai Revealed

Categories: 2012, FebruaryTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

History

The word Chai in Hindi means tea. What is referred to sim­ply as “chai” in Western coun­tries is what is known in India as Masala chai, lit­er­ally mean­ing “Spice tea.” In Ancient days, Masala chai was used for med­i­c­i­nal pur­poses (in Ayurvedic prac­tices), and was con­sid­ered a rem­edy for minor ill­nesses. Early on, Masala chai was pre­pared in a vari­ety of ways, served both hot and cold, and com­prised of a wide array of spices.1

Surprisingly in ear­lier days, tea was not a very pop­u­lar drink in India. It was not until the 1830’s, when the British East India Company became con­cerned about the Chinese monop­oly on tea, which sus­tained the enor­mous con­sump­tion of tea in Great Britain. British set­tlers noticed the exis­tence of the Assamese tea plants in India, and began to cul­ti­vate tea plan­ta­tions locally.

However, con­sump­tion of tea within India still remained low until an aggres­sive pro­mo­tional cam­paign by the British-owned Indian Tea Association in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury; which encour­aged fac­to­ries, mines, and tex­tile mills to pro­vide tea breaks for their workers.1

The offi­cial pro­mo­tion of tea was to be served in the English style, adding small quan­ti­ties of milk and sugar. But Masala chai remained a part of Indian cul­ture and, in its present form, firmly estab­lished itself as a pop­u­lar bev­er­age, spread­ing beyond South Asia to the rest of the world with its multi-cultural influences.

Variations

In Western coun­tries, a sweeter and creamier ver­sion Masala chai was cre­ated, such as the chai latte. The basic Masala chai is made mainly with a base of black, green, rooi­bos tea, or in some cases yerba mate, and an assort­ment of spices. In India, each recipe varies from region to region, and fam­ily to fam­ily. This con­tin­ues to be true, as dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies as well as com­pa­nies have cap­i­tal­ized on chai, cre­at­ing their own blends and sell­ing them loose, in tea-bags, pow­ders, and con­cen­trates. According to Christopher Merry, President of The Chai Company, “Companies like ours use whole leaf tea that is steeped in hot water and then steeped again with spices. This brew­ing process means that all of the good­ness in the tea and spices is cap­tured in the final prod­uct. Our chai is made with whole spices – gin­ger, car­damom, black pep­per, clove, cin­na­mon, and vanilla.”

According to Bipin Patel, President of Tipu’s Chai, “Our (Masala chai) is a third gen­er­a­tion fam­ily recipe that has been tested by my family’s migra­tions from India to Africa to England and now to the U.S. I have stayed loyal to the recipe and not cut cor­ners. It is a recipe that is bolder, spicier, and more robust than most other chai’s. It’s not bland and weak; it is invig­o­rat­ing, bold and sooth­ing too!”

In con­trast, Eva Wong from the Republic of Tea says, “Our Republic Green Chai is Green tea blended with spicy gin­ger, cin­na­mon and car­damom is fin­ished with sweet­ness of fresh almonds. Our Republic Red Chai is rooi­bos and it has been blended with a deli­cious mélange of other herbs and spices: orange, cin­na­mon, gin­ger, corian­der, car­damom, star anise, fen­nel, black pep­per, pimento and cloves. It is more sub­tle in fla­vor than our tra­di­tional Republic Chai.” Juanita Joachim from Tea Packs USA says, “What dif­fer­en­ti­ates us is not only our qual­ity of tea and spices, it is the wide selec­tion of chai blends that we offer.”
Furthermore, Bhakti Chai is the only fresh chai in the mar­ket. It con­tains no preser­v­a­tives and is made with Fair Trade and Organic tea, fresh organic gin­ger (they press 1,000 pounds of gin­ger on a weekly basis!), Organic evap­o­rated cane juice, car­damom, black pep­per, fen­nel, and clove.

Nowadays, chai is not lim­ited to only drinks. People have used the Masala chai blend to cre­ate var­i­ous dessert recipes. For instance, chai cup­cakes and cook­ies, chai rice pud­ding, pump­kin chai latte cake (Yes, I am hun­gry), chai ice cream, and I am cur­rently munch­ing on Cary’s Tea Toffee Chai, which is a milk choco­late with English tof­fee bar blended with Masala chai spices. Delicious!

Health Benefits

The Masala Blend was orig­i­nated because of the indi­vid­ual heal­ing prop­er­ties of the spices. In addi­tion, tea in itself has var­i­ous health ben­e­fits and antiox­i­dant prop­er­ties. According to Dawn Lewis, President of Chaikhana Chai “Flavonoids and polyphe­nols are nat­u­rally occur­ring com­pounds in pre­mium black and green tea. They func­tion in the body as antiox­i­dants and help neu­tral­ize the free rad­i­cals known to dam­age cells which can lead to dis­eases such as Cancer and heart dis­ease. Also, by inhibit­ing the absorp­tion of cho­les­terol in the diges­tive tract, tea helps pre­vent the form­ing of blood clots, which may cause a heart attack or stroke. Studies have also shown that black tea relaxes and expands your arter­ies, increas­ing blood flow to the heart, while improv­ing the func­tion­ing of the blood ves­sels and low­er­ing blood pressure.”

While chai could have a ben­e­fi­cial effect on adults, is it safe for chil­dren? Lewis says “Absolutely! Decaffeinated chai is usu­ally an option and it is a great alter­na­tive to hot choco­late. Honey is ener­giz­ing and good for the immune sys­tem, spices are good for tum­mies, and milk is full of pro­tein, vit­a­min D and cal­cium.” Furthermore, Bipin from Tipu’s Chai adds, “I can only speak from per­sonal expe­ri­ence. I grew up drink­ing chai and I think I was about 5 or 6 when I had my grandmother’s chai for the first time. I don’t think it did any per­ma­nent damage…except per­haps my addic­tion to chai!”

A Social Mission

Beyond their prof­itabil­ity goals, many busi­nesses in today’s world have adopted a phil­an­thropic and social aware­ness phi­los­o­phy. This is the case with Brook Eddy, Founder of Bhakti Chai (Bhakti mean­ing devo­tion through social action). She believes in a “triple-bottom-line busi­ness,” based on prof­itabil­ity, and eco­log­i­cal and social respon­si­bil­ity. Her com­pany phi­los­o­phy is based on the Swadhyay move­ment orig­i­nated in India; where a main motto is “com­pelling indi­vid­u­als to serve their com­mu­nity by donat­ing two days a month for the good of their com­mu­nity.” Besides the fact, that her chai is Organic and Fair Trade, through her busi­ness, she donates 10% to Non-profits that invest in women, girls, and the envi­ron­ment (See their story at www.bhaktichai.com).

Growing Demand

Masala chai has spread around the world, and its pop­u­lar­ity is increas­ing as peo­ple try it and become informed. “As con­sumers become more aware of chai as a bev­er­age option, it sim­ply offers them another choice when cof­fee may not be what they are look­ing for, but they still want a hot drink. The health prop­er­ties of tea and spices are becom­ing more of a news topic as well, which inspires those who have yet to expe­ri­ence chai to give it a try.” Says the President of Chaikhana Chai.

Marketing is always an essen­tial part of sell­ing any type of prod­uct. In the same way, every retailer should pro­mote chai. Christopher Merry, from The Chai Company sug­gests “Specialty tea is a rapidly grow­ing mar­ket and cafes can do a much bet­ter job in cap­tur­ing some of this growth by offer­ing a higher qual­ity range of pre­mium teas. A pre­mium authen­tic chai should be a big part of that. A cof­fee shop that prides itself on hand­crafted qual­ity cof­fee should have the same men­tal­ity with all of their allied prod­ucts. Promote it with posters; cre­ate drinks with it – like Chai-nog or Chider. Offer more types – reg­u­lar, spicy, caf­feine free, unsweet­ened – and give peo­ple sam­ples.” Exotic and trendy bev­er­ages such as chai are a great addi­tion to your spe­cialty tea menu. Especially since it is not only fla­vor­ful, but also heal­ing. Find fun and fla­vor­ful blends; pro­mote them; make a profit.

Cinnamon
–
Is thought to increase cir­cu­la­tion and open breath­ing. In addi­tion, it is used as a diges­tive stim­u­lant and to treat joint pain.

Cardamom–
Is said to ben­e­fit the lungs, kid­neys, and heart.

Cloves–
Have pain-relieving and anti­sep­tic attributes.

Black Pepper–
Widely used to sup­port cir­cu­la­tion and metabolism.

Nutmeg–
Used for cen­turies to ease sci­at­ica and pro­mote the diges­tion of heavy foods. Ancient Arab physi­cians also used it to treat kid­ney and lymph problems.

Ginger–
Mainly known for its diges­tive prop­er­ties; also used as a stim­u­lant for the cir­cu­la­tory and immune systems.

Fennel–
Widely used to treat both kid­ney and ocu­lar prob­lems, as well as laryngitis.2

1. Masala chai. (2009, February 24). New World Encyclopedia. 
www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Masala_chai?oldid=935168.
2. Chai Tea Health Benefits. www.chai-tea.org/benefits.html