Cold weather and rainy days call for comfort food and hot drinks. The last few years I’ve been experimenting with herbal tea blends, then began making my own mulling spices and then discovered masala chai and, therefore, the benefits of chai tea.
What’s masala chai? A hot drink originating in India, masala means spice, and chai means tea. Americans have shortened the name to chai (or to the grammatically redundant, chai tea).
In addition to tasting delicious and warming our inner body, there are multiple chai tea health benefits. Several of the traditional spices can assist with digestion and alleviate nausea, making it the perfect after-dinner beverage. Daily consumption of a strong ginger-based chai soothes our aches and pains. Traditional chai spices have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Chai tea recipes are like curry recipes: they vary widely by region and by individual tea makers. There are traditional spices that most recipes include but Western herbalists have also used chai as a medium for medicinal mushrooms and adaptogenic herbs that not only taste delicious but support overall wellness.
Green Cardamom pods
Considered the Queen of Spices in India, green cardamom is a slightly sweet aromatic spice.
Traditional recipes call for fresh ginger, which offers a spicy citrus flavor. Dried ginger can be used and will add a spicy hot flavor.
The familiar spicy-sweet flavor of cinnamon is a staple of masala chai.
A pinch of anise-like fennel seeds goes a long way in a cup of chai and too much can overpower the other spices but its addition can “lighten” the chai blend.
The sharp taste of pepper can add a little bite to the chai and perhaps that’s why it is often not included in commercial blends.
Like fennel seeds, a few of pieces of the intensely spicy cloves is all that is needed in a chai blend.
A classic ingredient for mulling spices, nutmeg earns it place in chai by offering a sweet and aromatic flavor.
Not everyone likes the flavor of licorice and too much can overpower the tea. But the addition of licorice to a masala chai blend can bring a delightful sweetness to the tea. Daily use of licorice should be avoided by those with high blood pressure.
Unsweetened cacao nibs or cocoa powder will add the chocolate aroma but not the sweetened chocolate flavor that you may desire. Chocolate syrup would likely do that if what you really want is a spiced hot chocolate.
Tucking a chopped vanilla bean into your chai blend will help to smooth out the spiciness.
Adding reishi to your chai supports your immune system.
Astragalus & Codonopsis
Adding these adaptogens to your chai blend is a great way to support your immune system during the winter months.
Adding black tea to your chai tea is traditional, but add after simmering the spices and allow it to steep in the hot decoction.
Drinking a decoction of spices without milk or sweetener is a strong-tasting tea! Traditionally, cow’s milk is used but you can substitute a plant-derived milk like almond or coconut milk.
In India, jaggery is the traditional sweetener added to chai after it has been cooked. Cane sugar, honey or maple syrup can be used to sweeten chai.
Traditionally, whole spices are roasted for a few minutes to awaken the volatile oils and then are decocted in a diluted mix of milk and water.
One of the best benefits of creating a unique masala chai is the opportunity to add herbs that can provide additional medicinal support. Rosalee’s chai tea recipe is an example of using chai to support our immune system.
Sue Kusch, a former community college instructor and academic advisor, incorporates her experiential wisdom, expertise and science-based research garnered from her three decades of growing vegetables, fruit and herbs into her educational writing about plants and how people use them. In addition to her BA in Social Sciences and Masters in Education, she completed the Master Gardener training in 2011 and two permaculture courses in 2001 and 2014. She has studied medicinal and nutritional uses of herbs, including studies at Herbmentor and East West School of Planetary Herbology, since 1997. An avid reader, lover of historical and folkloric information, and a promising storyteller, Sue writes about the intersection of plants and people.