Chai is one of the most classic non-coffee drinks available at almost every coffee shop around the world.
But what exactly is it, and where did it come from?
Chai tea is a spiced black tea. It is typically made by adding spices like cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and other spices to steeped black tea. But there are many types of chai, some of which don’t have any black tea and are simply made with spices. And there are many variations of chai teas, like a chai tea latte.
In this article, let’s break down the classic drink! Let me walk you through all the history and variations you might come across at your local shop.
Let’s dive straight in!
Table of Contents
Where Does Chai Tea Come From?
Chai has been around for a long time.
But what we call chai tea today isn’t quite what it used to be.
The history of chai tea can be traced back to ancient India, where a mixture of spices and herbs was commonly used to make a medicinal drink called "kadha."
This drink was believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments.
Over time, the recipe for kadha evolved to include black tea, which was introduced to India by the British in the 18th century.
Adding black tea to the traditional mixture of spices and herbs eventually gave rise to the modern version of chai that we know today.
In the early days, chai tea was traditionally brewed by street vendors. It was consumed mostly by working-class people as an energizing and warming drink.
In recent years, chai tea has become popular around the world. I’m sure we’re all aware of the chai latte phenomenon.
These days, chai tea can be found in many cafes and restaurants.
But more than that, it has transcended just the drink. It has also become a popular flavor for various food products, including tea bags, syrups, and even ice cream.
It is important to note that the history and recipe of chai tea may vary depending on the region and culture, with different variations and local names.
This is mostly the history of what we know today as chai tea.
What Is In Chai Tea?
With so many versions of chai tea out there, it’s hard to pin down exactly what goes into each one.
But there are some typical ingredients that pop up again and again. Chai typically contains a combination of the following ingredients:
- Black tea: This is the base of chai tea and is usually made from Assam, Ceylon, or Darjeeling tea leaves.
- Milk: Any type of milk can be used with chai. Almond, soy, oat, or dairy milk are all tasty additions.
- Spices: The exact spices used in chai tea can vary depending on the recipe, but common ingredients include ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper.
- Sweetener: Chai tea is often sweetened with sugar or honey, although other types of sweeteners can also be used.
- Water: Of course, water is also an ingredient in chai tea, as it is used to brew the tea and infuse the spices.
Some variations can also include other ingredients like nuts or vanilla.
But don’t forget that different chai teas can have different ingredients. It depends on who makes your drink and what spices they include.
What Does Chai Tea Taste Like?
I’ll be honest; it’s pretty hard to describe the taste of chai tea. It is a unique experience, and the best way to understand what it tastes like is to try it.
But I’ll take a shot at explaining it. Chai tea has a unique and complex flavor that is a combination of sweet, spicy, and slightly bitter notes. The base flavor of chai tea is black tea, which provides a strong and robust taste.
The black tea and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper give the tea its distinctive spicy, and warming flavor. The sweetness of chai tea comes from the addition of sweeteners such as sugar, honey, or maple syrup. (My personal favorite is maple syrup.)
The exact flavor of chai tea can vary depending on the specific blend of spices and sweeteners used, as well as the ratio of tea to spices. Some chai teas may have a stronger black tea flavor, while others may have a stronger spice flavor. Some chai teas may also have a more pronounced sweetness or bitterness.
Chai tea is often served with milk, which helps to balance out the strong flavors of the tea and spices and gives the tea a creamy texture. Some people also describe the taste of chai tea as having a warming and comforting flavor, making it a perfect choice for a cold day.
Does Chai Tea Have Caffeine?
Yes, chai tea contains caffeine because it is traditionally made with black tea, a natural caffeine source. The amount of caffeine in chai tea can vary depending on a few factors, such as the type and blend of black tea used, the brewing time, and the ratio of tea to spices.
In general, chai tea contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee. A typical 8-ounce cup of chai tea can have around 30-50 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of coffee can have about 95 milligrams of caffeine.
That makes chai tea a good choice for someone looking to cut back slightly on caffeine intake.
But not all chai has caffeine. It's worth noting that some herbal chai tea is caffeine-free; they are made with a blend of herbs and spices and don't contain black tea.
Also, some commercial chai tea concentrates or syrups may not contain caffeine; it's important to check the ingredient list or to ask the vendor if you are sensitive to caffeine or trying to avoid it.
Chai Tea Vs. Chai Tea Latte
Chai tea and chai tea latte are both made with a blend of spices and black tea. However, there is a key difference in the preparation and ingredients.
First of all, chai tea is traditionally made by brewing a mixture of black tea leaves, spices, milk, sweetener, and water. The spices used in chai tea can vary depending on the recipe, but common ingredients include ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper.
But a chai latte takes traditional chai tea a step further. A chai tea latte is made by steeping a chai tea bag or concentrate in steamed milk and is often served with a dollop of foam on top.
Chai tea latte usually contains a larger proportion of milk compared to chai tea and is sweetened with syrup or honey.
Traditional chai tea is a blend of black tea, spices, milk, sweetener, and water. Meanwhile, a chai tea latte is the latte version of chai tea made with steamed milk and chai tea concentrate or tea bag and sweetened with syrup.
What Is A Dirty Chai?
Dirty chai is a combination of a traditional chai latte and a shot of espresso.
The "dirty" in the name refers to the addition of espresso, which gives the drink a slightly "dirty" or darker color.
Your barista will pull a shot of espresso and steam up a chai latte while the espresso finishes. Then they will add that espresso to the regular chai latte.
A good barista can make latte art in a dirty chai latte because of the espresso. Latte art is impossible in regular chai lattes.
The espresso provides an additional caffeine boost and a slightly bitter taste that complements chai tea's sweet and spicy flavors.
Dirty chai is usually served in a larger size than traditional chai tea. It can also be made with different types of milk, such as soy, almond, or oat milk.
It is becoming increasingly popular in coffee shops, especially in western countries where it is an alternative to traditional chai tea.
Dirty chai is a great choice as either a hot or cold drink.
Different Types Of Chai Tea
Chai is a pretty broad category. There isn’t one set definition of the number of spices that go into chai tea. There isn’t even a set definition for which spices are included.
Each type of chai tea has its unique blend of spices and ingredients. Some of the most common types include:
- Masala chai: This traditional version of chai tea originated in India. They make it with a blend of black tea, milk, sweetener, and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper.
- Spiced chai: This type of chai is similar to masala chai but with a more pronounced spice flavor. The tea is brewed with more spices than regular masala chai.
- Iced chai: This refreshing version of chai tea is made with cold milk and served over ice. But you can make it with or without espresso.
- Chai latte: This is a latte version of chai tea using steamed milk and chai tea concentrate or tea bag and sweetened with syrup.
- Herbal chai: This is a caffeine-free version of chai tea made with a blend of spices and herbs such as rooibos or honeybush tea, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and other ingredients.
- Dirty chai: As previously mentioned, it combines traditional chai tea and a shot of espresso.
It is important to note that the types and recipes of chai can vary depending on the region and culture. On top of that, new variations are always being created.
How To Make Chai Tea At Home
- 2 cups of water
- 2 black tea bags or 2 tsp of loose-leaf black tea
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 2-3 green cardamom pods
- 2-3 thin slices of fresh ginger root
- 2-3 black peppercorns
- ¼ cup of milk
- 1-2 tsp of honey or sugar or to taste
- In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil.
- Once the water is boiling, add the tea bags or loose-leaf black tea, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, ginger, and black peppercorns.
- Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
- Add milk, honey, or sugar, and stir until the sweetener is dissolved.
- Strain the tea into a mug and discard the spices.
- Enjoy your homemade chai tea!