Sweet, spicy and creamy: Chai is a complex blend of exotic flavours that can be tailored to appease almost any drinker. Learn how to master the art of brewing the perfect Chai no matter what your dietary or time restrictions, from a calming authentic experience to a fast and flavourful cup.
The Origins of Chai
Chai has been influenced and reinvented many times throughout history by many different cultures and customs, and the tale of its origins is also a globalised one. In the western world, the words ’Chai Tea’ are used to describe the spiced milk tea from India. The term ’Chai' is derived from the Chinese term ‘Cha’ and is Hindustani (languages spoken in northwestern India) for tea. This means that the modern term that we’re familiar with is somewhat redundant because it translates to 'tea tea'. The correct term for the spiced tea drink that we commonly refer to is ’Masala Chai' which translates to mixed-spice tea.
Tea plants have been found in South Asia since antiquity but were originally consumed more like herbal medicine for Aryuvedic healing practices. Leisurely consumption of tea in India began with the British East India Company (EIC) in the late 1900s. The EIC was formed to bolster trade on the Indian Ocean which included assuming a large portion of global trade in tea. Britons cultivated tea for trade and also tea culture in India by influencing how it was consumed (recreationally as opposed to medicinally) and what it was consumed with (milk and sugar). The fusion of milk and traditional Masala Chai gave rise to the milky Chai we're most acquainted with today.
Traditional Recipes and Brewing Method
Chai Masala recipes and brewing methods differ greatly throughout India as these are often inspired by family recipes and regional spices. Most Chai is made with a black tea base, milk, sweetener and a combination of spices - usually cardamom, cloves, peppercorns and ginger.
Ingredients can vary greatly. Some Chai recipes include star anise, saffron, nutmeg, decaffeinated tea, traditional buffalo milk or vegan milk and different sweeteners. Chai is traditionally brewed by decoction, which is to simmer the mixture in a pot to draw out all the flavours, then strain it to drink.
Modern Chai Drinks
Chai Masala was introduced to the western world initially in the 1960s. India was a stop on the popular ‘hippy’ trail that took intrepid travellers from the western world to the Middle East and Asia. Those that arrived in India for spirituality and adventure likely also came across Masala Chai through a ‘Chai Wallah’ or tea vendor.
Its most recent resurgence has seen Chai appear in cafes and coffee houses adopting the recipe into frothed 'chai lattes' and adding it to their menus. Unfortunately, many cafe Chai Latte flavours are derived from syrup and can be excessively sweetened. Luckily, a more authentic Chai can easily be made at home using premium Origin Tea Chai mixes made with high-quality spices. This gives you control over the brewing method, sugar level, milk type and ease of brew!
Let’s Discuss the Dairy First
Masala Chai was most commonly consumed with local buffalo milk in India as it added a delicious creamy taste and texture to the drink. Cow's milk is the closest alternative but isn’t the only option. Vegan and lactose intolerant drinkers can enjoy the same milky Chai by using alternative milk.
Soy milk is the classic milk alternative and has a full-bodied creamy taste compared to many other alternatives. It does have a distinct earthy ’soy’ taste which can add depth to your Chai. Nut milks such as cashew or almond are also readily available alternatives. These are slightly less creamy, but their nutty flavours complement the spice of Chai well.
For those with nut allergies, oat and rice milk can be a good option. Each tastes a little like their respective ingredients and have a lighter consistency. If you prefer your Chai on the creamy side, only use rice or oat milk if you have time to brew your Chai in a pot over heat and do so with a higher ratio of milk to water.
Another interesting milk alternative option is coconut milk. Coconut milk designed for drinking (as opposed to cooking) is a nice creamy option but does taste a lot like coconut. If you are a fan of coconut flavour, coconut milk will add an interesting tropical touch to your spicy chai.
How To Brew Black Chai
Our Black Chai Tea is inspired by traditional Chai Masala. Our blend consists of a Ceylon tea base, and a mix of high-quality cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg for strong spice flavour. Brew traditionally by adding one teaspoon of loose leaf mix to a brewing pot with 50ml of hot water. Steep for 2-4 minutes, then add 150ml of your choice of milk and sweetener to taste and stir over heat. Strain into a cup using a mesh tea strainer and enjoy!
For a quicker brew on the go, first steep a Black Chai teabag in 50ml of hot water. Meanwhile, heat some milk in the microwave or with a milk frother if you have one. After the tea has steeped for 2-4 minutes, add heated milk and sweetener of your choice and your Chai is ready to go.
How To Brew Sticky Chai
If you have time for a traditional brew, add three tablespoons of Sticky Chai Mix to a with 50ml of water, 150ml of milk and your choice of sweetener to taste. Warm the mixture until the liquid reaches about 68 degrees, then strain the liquid into a drinking cup using a mesh .
If you want Sticky Chai on the go, steep three tablespoons of Sticky Chai mixture in 50ml of hot water in a jug. Leave for 30 seconds, briefly stir, then strain into a glass. Heat or froth 150ml milk (for a Chai Latte style drink) separately and add to your strained Sticky Chai liquid.
How To Brew Natural Chai
Our Natural Chai premix is handcrafted without dairy, gluten or caffeine which makes it ideal for drinkers with allergies or sensitivities. Natural Chai is still filled with rich flavours of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, star anise and ginger. This mix is perfect for Chai drinkers in a hurry. Simply add one heaped teaspoon of Natural Chai to a cup, then fill with 50ml of hot water. Steep for sixty seconds. Heat or froth your choice of milk separately to 68 degrees, add to the Chai, stir and enjoy!
Tips for Latte Lovers
Any of our Chai blends can be used to make the perfect at-home Chai Latte. For a quick latte on the go, steep our Black Tea Chai, Sticky Chai or Natural Chai in hot water as per the instructions above and froth milk separately. We would recommend a milk steamer as it works well to create silky foam with all milk types and will froth your milk quickly. Alternatively, a hand-held milk frother can also be used to froth heated milk fast.
If your preference is to brew on the stove, we would recommend frothing a little bit of heated milk separately by using any of the methods above, or by using an immersion blender, then heaping the froth onto your Chai after you have strained it.
Using an immersion blender directly in the brewing pot is not recommended as it could blend the spices.
Enjoy your chai!
If you have followed any of the steps above or came up with your own unique technique to make a nice cup of chai, share it with us on Instagram by tagging @origintea on your post or using the hashtag EsperienceTheOrigin. Happy Brewing!