The name “chai” is the Hindi word for “tea,” origins from the word “cha,” in the Chinese which also means “tea.” When talking about chai, it means a mix of spices steeped into a tea-like beverage. The recipes of the mix for chai vary across continents, cultures, towns and families although the traditional ingredients usually include black tea brewed strong with milk and sweetened with sugar or honey and mixed with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and black peppercorns.
The origin of chai dates back more than 5,000 years ago when a king ordered creation of a healing spiced beverage from herbs and spices for use in Ayurveda. A variety of indigenous spices was used to prepare the healing drink which then came the creation of chai tea.
Original versions of “masala chai,” or “spiced tea,” contained no actual Camellia sinensis tea leaves, milk nor sugar. The addition of sweet were only popularized thousands of years later (in the mid-1800s) when the British created the now famous tea-growing regions of India and popularized tea as a beverage.
You haven’t visited India until you experience its chai culture. But no worries, Masala chai (spiced tea) is a drink that you may find in almost every corner of India despite the fact that, chai may be spiced and prepared in completely different ways depending on the customs of the region, the town, or the person preparing it.
You can enjoy it at Chai “wallahs” which are Indian chai makers where you will find sit, stand, or set up shop with their chai-making gear on nearly every street corner of the town. Each chai wallah may have his or her own style of brewing and spicing which packed in small batches to order.
The concept of a chai latte had travelled out of India and became popular with Western consumers a decade ago.