Chai refers to spiced tea from India. The word chai means tea, and therefore it is unnecessary to refer to Chai as Chai Tea.
Another term for chai is Masala Chai. This term is sometimes used as chai is a generic term for tea in many languages. For instance, the Chinese term for tea is 'cha', which is phonetically similar to chai.
Chai tea is very popular in India and is steadily gaining popularity around the world. Chai is not a type of tea by itself, but is rather a class of tea due to the wide variety and the fact that is technically a mixture.
Chai is generally a mixture of strong black tea, milk, various spices and a sweetener. Strong tea is used so that the other ingredients would not overpower the tea. Plain white sugar can be used as a sweetener, although unprocessed sugar, molasses, honey can also be used.
For spices, the most common elements are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorn and cloves. Other spices such as nutmeg, chocolate and licorice are also used, but to a lesser extent.
Chai can also be made using green tea - this is known as green chai - but because of green tea's weaker flavor, only certain spices are used in its making.
Spices used to make Chai tea
The most common spices used are:
Cardamom: A fragrant spice that comes in green and black varieties. The green variety is used for chai te. It is recommended that cardamom should be heated in a hot pan before use, to ensure that the full aroma is brought out.
Cinnamon: For chai tea, cinnamon chunks or sticks is recommended.
Cloves: Whole cloves are used for chai, and usually one or two is enough for a large pot.
Pepper: Whole peppercorns should be used - they should be ground when necessary.
Ginger: A root, ginger has a strong spicy flavor reminiscent of citrus.
Other spices that are used in chai tea include:
Ajwain: A strong, bitter spice used to aid digestion.
Allspice: A spice that, like its name suggests, tastes like a combination of pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. It comes as berries, which should be crushed just before use.
Coriander: Taken from the seed of the cilantro plant, it has a sweet taste similar to citrus peel. They should be roasted and grounded when used in making chai.
Chocolate: For chai tea, unsweetened dark chocolate is mostly used.
Fennel: Used as a breath freshener and digestive aid, fennel can be either crushed or used whole.
Licorice: A sweet, strongly-flavored root spice, it is often available in teabag form.
Nutmeg: This spice is commonly used for cooking as a topping. Nutmeg has a subtle flavor similar to a mixture of cinnamon and pepper. If used in chai, it should be added just before drinking, as nutmeg quickly loses its flavor when heated.
Vanilla: Beans are recommended as they offer the best aroma and taste. The seeds should be removed from the beans before use. Vanilla extracts should only be used if it is a pure extract.
Tea used in chai
There are several black teas that can be used in making chai.
Darjeeling tea, with its light taste, works well in combination with subtle spices such as cardamom.
For strongly-flavored Chai, Assam and Keemun teas are recommended. Both are strong-tasting teas that will not be overwhelmed by spices such as ginger. Keemun tea in particular adds a cocoa overtone to Chai. Another tea that is recommended is Nilgiri Tea, which is versatile enough to suit most spices.
Green chai tea
A version of chai that is becoming popular is green chai tea, made from green tea. Green tea is a tea that is gaining popularity due to its light, refreshing taste, and it is not surprising that green chai has also developed.
Green chai is also popular with those who do not like the strong tastes of black tea, used for usual chai. However, only subtle spices are used in making green chai tea, due to the green tea's weaker taste. Spices used for green chai include nutmeg.