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Q: What does chai mean?

By Kevin B. September 21st, 2020

What does Chai mean?

Origins of Chai

What does chai mean? The word “chai” actually is another word for “tea” in Hindi, derived from the word “cha”, the Chinese word for tea. Masala Chai, “spiced tea”, is an ancient form of an Ayurvedic drink dating back 5,000-9,000 years ago. Originally made from a combination of spices, milk, and sweetener, this herbal beverage did not contain actual tea leaves and was naturally caffeine free! It is said that Indian royalty used to steep this beverage for ancient medicinal benefits and healing. The most common spices are cardamom, clove, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg but there have been countless variations over the years and around the world.

Black tea - the next frontier in chai

The addition of black tea into the mix didn’t come about until the British started setting up tea plantations in India in 1835. They produced this new form of masala chai with spices, milk, sweetener, and black tea. This method proved to lack appeal in India due to the high cost and was mainly an exported beverage at the time. It wasn’t until 1960 that CTC production became available and lowered the cost of masala chai. CTC is the crush, tear, curl method where black tea leaves are run through a series of cylindrical rollers with sharp teeth that crush, tear, and curl the leaves. This method results in inexpensive tea leaves with a powerful aroma that pairs perfectly with the spiciness of masala chai. This made masala chai more available and became highly ingrained in Indian culture.

What does Chai mean in the Indian markets?

You can find “chai wallahs” or “tea people” that sell this spicy milk tea along the colorful streets of India. It’s become a staple Ayurvedic drink that is now easily accessible to all who live or visit there, you can’t miss the aroma! The chai vendors make large batches of chai by bringing water, milk, and chai spices to a simmer in a large pan, reduce heat and add in black tea, then after the tea is steeped the mixture can be strained in a mug and sweetened to taste. Each vendor has their own recipe and tends not to compete. What does Chai mean in India? It’s simply a way of life shared and celebrated with others.

What does Chai mean in the American markets?

In the past few decades, chai has evolved and thrived in Western culture as well. Chai, chai tea (which translates to “tea tea”), chai lattes, can be found in various forms and easy to make at home as well. While made popular by big name companies such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, westerners have come to adopt and transform these overly sweetened recipes to better suit a larger customer base. Across the US and UK, chai has made a big splash into our cafes and restaurants, with no set recipe, this spice tea beverage is highly versatile and delicious.

National Chai Day

Beginning in 2018, National Chai Day was established by Somrus, who is famous for their Indian liquors, most notably their Chai liquor with spices, Wisconsin dairy, and Caribbean Run. What does Chai mean to you? You can observe this holiday by visiting a local tea shop and trying out different blends available on the market! While chai is normally steeped with black tea, you can get different versions including green tea, rooibos, pu-erh just to name a few. Be sure to save the date, September 21st, on your calendar!

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