Do you want to improve your health by drinking a beverage steeped in history? If so, try chai tea. The origin of this tea dates back over 5,000 years ago. A king in what is now India ordered the creation of a healing spiced beverage to be used in Ayurveda, a traditional medicinal practice using herbs and spices for healing.
What exactly is chai tea? How is it prepared? What, if any,health benefits are associated with it? Today, we share the answers to these questions and more.
What Is Chai Tea?
Chai is the Hindi word for "tea" derived from "cha", the Chinese word for "tea". It is not defined by one recipe as it can vary from town to town and family to family. Originally made upon the decree of royalty as a healing beverage, it is now enjoyed multiple times per day by families across India. Star anise was added to freshen breath. Cloves were used for their antiseptic properties to help relieve pain. Cardamom was used as a mood elevator and the heat from ginger and black pepper was thought to stimulate digestion. While there is no one recipe, the beverage typically consists of tea, milk, sweetener, and spices.
Black teas Assam Darjeeling native to India are the most popular bases for chai. Other bases include various green tea types, the South African herb red rooibos and the South American herby yerba mate.
In India, chai is frequently made with buffalo milk. Westerners usually use cow's milk or dairy-free substitutes such as rice, soy, almond or coconut milk. Elsewhere around the globe, you can find chai tea made with goat or yak milk. Different recipes call for you to steep a strong chai in water and dilute with warm milk, steep in all milk or simmer the chai spices in a mixture of milk and water.
The spices, or "masala", comprising chai vary by climate, region and cultural preference. Traditional chai teas predominantly include spices such as black peppercorns, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and cardamom. All of these are readily available in India. Other spices used include fennel, star anise, nutmeg, vanilla, and mace. In the West, spices used in these teas include bay leaf, saffron, allspice, and cacao. In some places, you can also find cumin and coriander.
An unrefined cane sugar, jaggery, is a popular sweetener in certain parts of India. In other places, you can find chai tea sweetened with honey, brown sugar, and white sugar. Occasionally you will find recipes which call for coconut, turbinado sugar or demerara.
Does Chai Tea Have Health Benefits?
Whether you buy chai lattes from a popular coffee chain, loose leaf teas from your local tea shop or health store or concentrates, chai certainly has health benefits. If you are sensitive to caffeine, do not consume an excess of chai in an attempt to gain health benefits. Don't worry. A cup of chai tea has around 25 mg of caffeine and most adults can consume 400 mg of caffeine per day or 200 mg per day for pregnant women. You would have to drink over a gallon of this tea to come close to bad side effects such as poor sleep or migraines. Remember to listen to your body.
In the West, chai tea is typically prepared with cow's or soy milk, both of which are good sources of protein. Protein is known to promote feelings of fullness and help reduce hunger. If you do not feel hungry, you are less likely to overeat later in the day. Try replacing this drink with a snack if you feel peckish as you may just be dehydrated.
Drinking three cups of black tea each day may prevent the gain of belly fat or weight gain. It promotes fat breakdown and helps to reduce the number of calories your body absorbs from foods.
If you make your own chai tea or latte at home, you are looking at around 60 to 80 calories depending on the type and quantity of sweeteners and milk, if any, you use. In comparison, the same latte at a local cafe can clock in at up to 180 calories. If you are trying to lose weight, try to watch the sweeteners added to your beverage.
Improve Heart Health
One of the main ingredients in chai tea, cinnamon, may lower blood pressure. Drinking four or more cups of tea a day may reduce blood pressure as well. Black tea and cinnamon lower blood cholesterol levels including the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Drinking three or more cups of black tea each day is linked to an 11% lower risk of heart disease and doses as little as 120 mg per day of cinnamon may be enough to offer heart-healthy effects.
Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
Both ginger and cinnamon have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels. Cinnamon can reduce fasting blood sugar levels by 10-29% and reduce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance refers to how hard it is for insulin to transport sugar out of your blood and into your cells. Two grams of ginger powder per day can lower your blood sugar by up to 12%.
To get the most out of your cup of chai tea, prepare it at home. You can control how much cinnamon or ginger goes into your beverage and even a 12-ounce nonfat milk chai latte from Starbucks contains over 24 grams of added sugar. This negates any health benefits you could get. Furthermore, the American Heart Association recommends women limit their added sugar intake to 25 grams per day and men to 38 grams per day.
Reduce Nausea And Improve Digestion
Ginger, found in chai tea, in doses of 1.1 to 1.5 grams, significantly reduces nausea in pregnant women. You can find this in one cup of chai. Other ingredients good for your digestive health include cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom which have antibacterial properties that help to prevent digestive problems caused by bacterial infections. Black pepper, also found in chai tea, appears to have similar antibacterial properties. Research is being done to study the effects of black pepper on digestive enzymes needed to properly break food down and support optimal digestion.
How Do You Prepare Chai Tea?
Chai tea can be steeped in water alone, milk alone or in a mixture of water and milk, depending on your preference. Remember not to truly boil your milk or it could scald or burn, resulting in a less than favorable flavor. Do not over steep chai blends that contain tea as it may release astringency or bitterness from the tea leaves. Taste it after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you want to let it steep a little longer. Follow any specific instructions for brewing your chai as different tea bases have varying ideal steeping times and brewing temperatures.
Always start with pure, fresh, cold filtered water when brewing tea, preferably spring water. Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel. If your blend does not come with specific recommendations or you cannot ask your vendor, use a ratio of about 2 grams of loose leaf chai blend per 8 ounces of water, milk or both. Steep your chai blend in boiled water for up to five minutes for chai with black or green tea leaves or up to 15 minutes for an herbal chai. If desired, heat milk and stir in with any sweetener to the water-steeped chai mixture. Strain and enjoy.
Chai containing black tea is best brewed between 200 and 212 degrees for three to five minutes. Chai with a green tea base should be steeped at around 170 to 190 degrees for three to five minutes. If you do not have an electric kettle with temperature control, remember that at sea level water boils at 212 degrees and simmers at 190 degrees. These temperatures decrease by about a degree for every 1,000 feet in elevation increase.
Buying And Storing Chai
Chai blends, like any other tea blends, do not go "bad" but they can get stale.
Here are storage tips to keep your blends fresh for up to a year:
Chai tea is a beverage steeped in history. It dates back thousands of years and included spices local to India with healing properties. It is prepared similarly to other teas. You can steep it in hot water, warm milk or warm milk and hot water. It typically consists of milk, tea, spices and a sweetener. Research studies show it has many benefits including aiding weight loss, improving digestion, reducing nausea and blood sugar levels and promoting heart health. To get the most out of its weight loss and insulin resistance properties, make your own tea at home and avoid an excess of calories from added sugars.