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Chai tea refers to an infusion of a strong black tea that’s been simmered along with milk, sugar/honey and sometimes spices. Unlike a loose leaf black tea, you do not steep chai; you simmer the infusion of tea and milk at a medium-to-high heat for a couple of minutes. Simmering helps combine the tannic strength of a black tea with milk to produce a creamy liquor with a dense texture.
In India, Chai means tea. The term is widely used as a part of the local dialect to describe just about every kind of tea there is – black, white, green, or oolong tea. So if you’re referring to it as ‘chai tea’, you’re essentially saying ‘tea tea’. But because in rest of the world the term ‘chai’ isn’t associated with plain loose-leaf tea, the term ‘chai tea’ has come into existence. In fact, what the rest of the world refers to as ‘chai tea’ is actually a catch-all term for a spiced tea blend that can be consumed with milk, or what the Indians refer to as the ‘Masala Chai’.
In India, ‘masala’ means a combination of spices. A ‘masala chai’ is, therefore, a chai prepared with the addition of spices. Now there is no one definite recipe for a perfect masala chai. For as many various regions that span the length of India, there are just as many ways to make a masala chai. However, there are some staple spices that can be found in most spiced chai blend. These include cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, fennel seeds and clove.
Chai is made using different formulas, depending on the region where it is being consumed, but there are a number of standard ingredients: black tea, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, clove and black pepper. When analyzing chai’s health benefits, it’s important to examine each ingredient in turn. Though they act synergistically to increase each other’s benefits, the separate botanical components have powerful health benefits on their own.
It’s no secret that tea is full of antioxidants. However, the antioxidants in tea may provide more far-reaching protection than we suspected. For example, black tea may protect LDL (good) cholesterol, helping prevent cardiovascular disease. In addition, some research has shown black tea has anti-viral and anti-cancer properties.
An important root used in Eastern medicine, ginger aids digestion, improves circulation, boosts the immune system and reduces inflammation, which can be especially helpful for people suffering from arthritis. It offers antioxidant support, and some research has also shown that ginger can help fight cancer cells.
Found in virtually every Tibetan medicine formula, cardamom aids digestion and supports the immune system. In addition, it helps detoxify the body, improve circulation and may also fight respiratory allergies.
Keeping with the theme, cinnamon has wonderful digestive properties and may also help balance blood sugar. In addition, research has shown that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant effects.
A great source of antioxidants, fennel also provides Vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Fennel has also demonstrated some anti-cancer effects.
Again, clove helps digestion, but it also has analgesic (pain relieving) properties and may help alleviate ulcer pain. In addition, clove has antibacterial action.
New research shows that black pepper may affect our metabolism. The study demonstrated black pepper’s direct influence on fat storage, suggesting that it may be useful to prevent fat accumulation. Black pepper also offers antibacterial and antioxidant support and aids digestion.
Given these benefits, chai’s popularity should be no mystery. The real question is why people in the West took so long to discover what Eastern practitioners have known for centuries—chai calms the mind, improves digestion and provides numerous additional advantages. This ancient beverage is treasured by people around the world for its delicious flavor and vital health benefits.