Sensationally spiced, the tea that we have come to know as ‘chai’ is the cuppa to wrap your fingers around as you while away winter.
Although this aromatic concoction is commonly referred to as chai tea, chai is in fact the Hindi word for ‘tea’, thus making ‘chai tea’ a redundant term. Technically, the appropriate name is masala chai as masala means ‘mixture of spices’. But we needn’t get too finicky with something already so ingrained in tea culture.
For centuries, spices have played a crucial element in Ayurvedic therapies for improving overall wellbeing. In India, different recipes with varying combinations of spices were used for medicinal purposes to treat certain minor ailments. Only during the 1830s did black tea start being added to these spice mixtures when the Imperial tea gardens were established in Assam. However, due to the high cost of tea, the drink lacked popularity. It wasn’t until the 1900s when the campaign for tea breaks for workers and the introduction of more affordable, stronger, processed teas did the drink really take off. The British tradition of taking tea with milk and sugar also influenced how the spiced beverage was enjoyed. Over centuries, the richly aromatic, sweet and milky chai we have come to know and love has evolved from being a teatime staple, peddled by tea vendors – or chai wallahs in India to being a warming indulgence enjoyed in western tea houses and cafes.
As mentioned, the Ayurvedic properties of different spices can be a tasty remedy or just an excellent way of supplementing your diet. The Tea Centre’s own range of spiced chais contains a number of aromatic ingredients that are both savoury and healthful.
Anise: distantly related to star anise and similar in flavour, anise is a popular for its sweetness and breath freshening properties. Other health benefits include its high levels of vitamins A and C as well its source of various minerals that are conducive to heart and brain function. The use of anise can also be an excellent remedy for helping with asthma, bronchitis, and digestive disorders like flatulence, bloating, nausea, and indigestion.
Cardamom: Yet another palate freshener, cardamom is a popular spice used in curries and, in some cultures, even used to flavour coffee. As a relative to ginger, this ingredient is also very good for treating digestive issues and detoxifying. Just like anise, in Ayurvedic medicine cardamom is prescribed for colds, coughs, bronchitis, and asthma.
Cinnamon: Everyone’s favourite dessert spice, cinnamon is gorgeously aromatic and fantastically beneficial. Containing a load of powerful antioxidants, this spice is good for fighting infections and repairing damaged tissues and has been linked to cutting the risk of heart disease. On an Ayurvedic level, it is prescribed for stomach and liver conditions and is yet another ideal remedy for treating the common cold and flu.
Cloves: A deliciously sharp, yet sweet spice, cloves are a beautiful addition to many dessert and savoury recipes. Besides offering the usual help for stomach upsets, cloves offer a number of medicinal properties including acting as an excellent boost to the immune system. Furthermore, it works as an antibacterial and mild anaesthetic as well as protecting organs, especially the liver, from the effects of free radicals. .
Fennel: As with most Ayurvedic plants, fennel offers the standard relief from indigestion and flatulence. However, it is also helpful with iron absorption, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, and reducing blood pressure. High levels of potassium also make it conducive in increasing brain function and cognitive abilities. .
Ginger: This popular and delicious spice is highly regarded for its use in settling upset stomachs including being an effective preventative for motion sickness. Invigorating and versatile, ginger is especially known for its warming properties by acting as a circulatory stimulant, which also helps in aiding respiratory conditions and general lack of energy. Of course, its use as a cold and flu remedy is nothing to sniff at either.
Black peppercorns: Pungent and spicy, the sharpness of pepper is the perfect little kick to many recipes. In Ayurvedic practices, pepper is added to tonics for colds and coughs to break up and expel mucus and phlegm. While working well on the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems, it is also known to be good for reducing memory impairment and cognitive malfunction. The skin of peppercorns also helps in breaking down fat cells and can thus be conducive in weight loss.
Green peppercorns, though not as peppery in flavour, also share similar health benefits as those of black peppercorns. Whether you enjoy your spiced chai as a honey-sweetened latte, or just with a dash of milk and sugar, or simply as a straightforward tea infusion, there’s no denying the rich, delicious qualities of these aromatic spices. And with the added benefit of Ayurvedic remedial properties that these ingredients contain, drinking chai could be just the thing to spice up a healthy diet.
For brewing instructions on how to make a traditional Chai Latte please click here.