Piping hot chai holds a warm place in the heart of India. Although it might sound odd that a scorching hot beverage be so widely enjoyed in one of the worlds warmest countries, chai actually cools the body. It does this by raising core body temperature above ambient air temperature.

In many parts of India there is a saying that loosely translates as: "spiced chai… the tea that eats like a meal" - and in certain parts of India it is true. Traditional Indian chai is a heady mix of spice and tea. Chai recipes are handed down from generation to generation the way westerners pass on grandmas' apple pie recipe. The tea is traditionally brewed by boiling milk, adding good thick black tea, various spices and then boiling it again. The resulting mixture is thick, spicy and incredibly full-bodied.

Chai has a history over 5000 years old. It’s roots can be traced back to “ayurveda”, the natural healing system of the Hindus. By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for "tea" in many European and Asian languages. Even though there is no fixed recipe for chai it is typically prepared with loose black tea, milk, water, and sugar. Masalas, or spices, are added to make “masala chai” and may include any of the following: cardamon, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, saffron, and fennel. Other possible ingredients, though not traditionally used in the preparation of chai, include vanilla, chocolate, cocoa, carob and even licorice.

"Chai" (tea) is a ubiquitous beverage throughout South Asia. Street vendors called "chai wallahs" (sometimes spelled "chaiwalas") are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.


In the 1830s, the British East India Company became concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea, which constituted most of its trade and supported the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain: approximately one pound (by weight) per person per year. British colonists had recently noticed the existence of the Assamese tea plants, and began to cultivate tea plantations locally. In 1870, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain was still of Chinese origin, but by 1900 this had dropped to 10%, largely replaced by tea grown in British India (50%) and British Ceylon (33%).

However, consumption of black tea within India remained low until an aggressive promotional campaign by the (British-owned) Indian Tea Association in the early 20th century, which encouraged factories, mines, and textile mills to provide tea breaks for their workers. It also supported many independent chai wallahs throughout the growing railway system.

The official promotion of tea was as served in the English mode, with small added amounts of milk and sugar. The Indian Tea Association initially disapproved of independent vendors' tendency to add spices and greatly increase the proportions of milk and sugar, thus reducing their usage (and thus purchase) of tea leaves per liquid volume. However, masala chai in its present form has now firmly established itself as a popular beverage, not just outlasting the British Raj but spreading beyond South Asia to the rest of the world.

Health Benefits

Black tea and green tea contain many beneficial antioxidants, including high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols and catechins. They work by binding harmful oxygen-containing molecules called free radicals and peroxides, which damage DNA, cell membranes, and other cell components. Numerous scientific studies have shown that antioxidants in tea help control inflammation, improve immune function and prevent cancer.

In addition, chai spices were originally incorporated in tea for medicinal purposes. According to Ayurvedic (Ancient Indian) philosophy and medicine, these spices are considered to be "sattvic," or calming, vitalizing and mentally clarifying.


Cinnamon has been found to lower LDL cholesterol, and have a regulatory effect on blood sugar. In a US Department of Agriculture study, cinnamon was found to reduce the proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.

Cinnamon also has antiviral and antibacterial properties, in addition to improving cognitive function and memory.


A popular spice in both the Indian and Chinese preparations, cardamom helps stomach cramps, and improves circulation.


Clove contains significant amounts of an active component called eugenol, which has made it the subject of numerous health studies, including studies on the prevention of toxicity from environmental pollutants like carbon tetrachloride, digestive tract cancers, and joint inflammation. In the United States, eugenol extracts from clove have often been used in dentistry in conjunction with root canal therapy, temporary fillings, and general gum pain, since eugenol and other components of clove (including beta-caryophyllene) combine to make clove a mild anaesthetic as well as an anti-bacterial agent. For these beneficial effects, you'll also find clove oil in some over-the-counter sore throat sprays and mouth washes.

Eugenol  functions as an anti-inflammatory substance. In animal studies, the addition of clove extract to diets already high in anti-inflammatory components (like cod liver oil, with its high omega-3 fatty acid content) brings significant added benefits, and in some studies, further reduces inflammatory symptoms by another 15-30%. Clove also contains a variety of flavonoids, including kaempferol and rhamnetin, which also contribute to clove's anti-inflammatory (and antioxidant) properties.

Black Pepper

Peppercorns contain impressive list of plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties. Peppers have been in use since ancient times for its anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-flatulent properties.


Medically, nutmeg has strong antibacterial properties. It is effective in killing a number of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. Like cloves, nutmeg contains eugenol, a compound that may benefit the heart. Myristicin found in nutmeg has been shown to inhibit an enzyme in the brain that contributes to Alzheimer’s disease and is used to improve memory. It is used in small dosages to reduce flatulence [excessive stomach or intestinal gas], aid digestion and improve appetite.

Chinese Star Anise

star anise is most widely used for treating digestive ailments such as abdominal cramps, bloating, belching, constipation, gas, indigestion and stomach aches. In China, the herb is often consumed after meals to help dispel gas and bloating caused by food. It is believed that star anise activates the body’s digestive enzymes, which helps assimilate heavy foods such as meats and fats.

Star anise contains a substance known as Shikimic acid, which is extracted and used to make the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Not only does star anise hinder the flu, it also helps keep the lungs clear of mucus. Because of its expectorant properties, the herb promotes the liquefaction of thick mucus, which makes it easier to expel.


Historically, ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.


The health benefits of fennel include relief from anemia, indigestion, flatulence, constipation, colic, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, menstrual disorders, eye care, etc. Fennel, bearing the scientific name Foeniculum Vulgare Miller, or its essence, is widely used around the world in mouth fresheners, toothpastes, desserts, antacids and in culinary.