Masala chai or chai tea has a history as rich and flavorful as the tea itself. What North Americans commonly refer to as chai is actually referred to in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet as masala chai. Masala chai is a sweetened milky tea enhanced with a variety of spices.
The history of this creamy beverage dates back five thousand years to the ancient courts of India. It is believed that masala chai was a beverage used for Ayurvedic purposes by a royal Indian king for its natural healing properties. The tea was believed to be a cleansing system for various illnesses and ailments and was consumed on a regular basis for robust health and well being. As a result, masala chai grew in popularity throughout India eventually becoming a staple beverage served across the country on a daily basis.
Masala chai was considered a natural remedy for a variety of medical conditions and depending upon the seasonal and regional availability of various spices and sweeteners the preparation of masala chai would frequently change and vary across the countryside. In fact, masala chai was consumed hot or cold, milky and sweet with a variety of unique and flavorful spice mixtures.
Traditional spices added to the milky tea include peppermint, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, peppercorn and cloves. Other spices that are often used in western chai drinks include cocoa, almonds, licorice and vanilla.
There also a variety of sweeteners that can be used including honey, cane sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar and molasses. The various sugar and spice mixtures create unique robust flavors and add a subtle golden hue to the milky masala chai.
In 1885, during British colonization, several tea plantations were erected in Assam, India to grow, cultivate and produce fine black tea. The resulting Assam tea quickly became the main tea type used in masala chai recipes and is still used in masala chai and chai tea recipes around the globe today.
In 1960 a new processing method referred to as Cut, Tear and Curl was implemented in Assam, India to process black tea. The cut, tear and curl method is an inexpensive process that results in a stronger and even more flavorful black tea. When the CTC method was implemented the popularity of masala chai grew eventually skyrocketing in popularity around the globe for its eclectic and spicy spin on the world’s favorite beverage . . . tea.
Many families have their own special masala chai recipes that have been passed down through generations. One of the most common methods for making masala Chai begins with the boiling of loose black tea leaves, milk, freshly ground spices and a sweetener. Once the tea has been boiled, steeped and simmered the chai mixture is poured over a strainer to filter out the tea leaves and spice residue.
Masala chai is a wonderfully palatable drink with a unique sweet and savory taste. The milky tea is usually served warm, fresh off the stove, but it can also be served over ice as a cool and refreshing drink.