Whether you’re a tea novice or an herbal infusions connoisseur, most tea drinkers have at least heard the word chai. You can get a chai latté at the local coffeeshop, order a rooibos chai at a restaurant, and even buy chai incense. But what exactly is chai?
“Chai” is the word for “tea” is different languages across the globe: Russian, Slovak, Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and Hindi. When we talk about chai in the states, however, we’re referring to any of a variety of Indian spice mixtures. The most common chai spices are probably ginger and cardamom, both native to India, but many spices that have been naturalized in South Asia (i.e. cinnamon, fennel, anise, clove, and peppercorn) help to make up the mélange of flavors that creates chai tea.
Ginger, cardamom, and star anise have enjoyed a long history of use in traditional Asian medicine as cures for nausea, stomach pain, digestion issues, and gallstones. Cinnamon has been documented to have special antiviral properties (and it’s been suggested by nutritionists that regular cinnamon intake can curb the risk factors for people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), and clove is often used as a home remedy for numbing nerve pain.
As far as taste goes, cinnamon and ginger lay a spicy, autumnal foundation, while clove and star anise add sweet notes of licorice to the tea in which they’re brewed. When green cardamom pods sit in water, the seeds they expel give off a minty aroma, reminiscent of pine. Combining these spices will provide your drink with plenty of fall flavor!
The Green Teahouse carries several varieties of chai tea, ranging from spicy to sweet:
For a more traditional spicy beverage, this author recommends Masala Chai, a classic Indian black tea with ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and black pepper. The smooth richness of the black tea makes for a perfect base on which the spices rest. Milk is sometimes added to give the tea more body. A similar (but perhaps more advanced) tea would be the Golden Autumn Chai, which contains the same masala spices, with the added ingredients of Taiwanese, honey-roasted black tea and vanilla extract. And if you need an energy boost, try Chocolate Chai, a South American maté (high-caffeine herbal tea) with organic black and pu-erh tea mixed in for smoothness. Vanilla bean, coconut flakes, and cocoa nibs are added to mask the astringency of the caffeine.
If you like a sweeter tea, you can’t go wrong with Caramel Cider Chai, a black & rooibos blend with masala spices, orange peel, and caramel bits. The citrus peels ensure a deliciously fruity/spicy cup of tea. If you’re looking for more autumnal aromas, however, Sweet Apple Chai is your drink. It has more black tea than herbal rooibos per volume, so you’re getting a darker cup complimented with a heaping portion of apple bits to give you a real taste of fall in New England. If you want a completely caffeine-free chai, however, go with the Vanilla Cream Chai– it possesses the familiar ginger, cinnamon, clove, citrus pieces, and vanilla that are used in the other chais, without any black tea whatsoever.
Whether your tastes are subtle, spicy, or sweet, The Green Teahouse has a chai for you!