Chai tea is a delightful beverage that comes from the country of India. I first got to enjoy this beverage served hot with some tea biscuits, made by a former friend from Lanovala, India. Lanovala, India is famous for its candies, such as chikki a sweet made of nuts and jaggery, but that is another story. My eyes were transfixed as my friend scooped heaping amounts of the mixture containing black tea leaves, cloves, cardamom, and other aromatic spices into a pot filled with a blend of milk and water left to simmer on a stove. Some spoonfuls of sugar were added for sweetness, and the mixture was strained into mugs for serving. My taste buds were transported to another world, and my senses were excited by the warmth and richness that I found while drinking this tea. I had to have more of this tea in my life and I wanted to know more about Chai tea and its history.
Tea: An Ancient Beverage
According to www.blog.oregonchai.com the beverage known as Chai tea has a history of 5,000 years of being prepared and consumed. The word Chai comes from a Hindi derived word meaning ‘tea.’ Black tea grown in the Assam region of India was originally used for medicinal purposes, but when combined with traditional spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and others Chai tea was born. The popularity of drinking tea spread throughout Asia and to Western Europe from the 1700s and 1800s, especially because of the British East India Company. Great Britain had India as its territory and because of competition and market fears over Chinese tea production, India became a major producer of tea.
The tea plant itself is an evergreen, native to China, Tibet, and northern India. It is part of the Camelia family and known as Camelia assamica or Camelia sinensis. There are four main types of tea: green, black, oolong, and white, which depend on the time the plant is harvested and how it is processed. Tea that is produced in India typically creates stronger-tasting leaves, whereas tea grown in China or Japan produce more delicate lighter notes in flavor and have smaller leaves. The tea plant grows best at altitudes between 2,000 and 6,500 feet and can grow up to heights of 30 feet. Tea bushes are capable of producing quality tea leaves beyond 100 years!
There are over 3,000 varieties of tea in the world, and it is the most consumed beverage following water. Black tea is created when the tea is left to wither and undergo full oxidation, given it a very high caffeine content. Oolong tea undergoes partial oxidation, is quite fragrant, and has a caffeine level that falls between green and black tea. Green tea is allowed to wither only a bit after being picked and is rapidly heated. This type of tea has a low amount of caffeine and is usually brewed at a low temperature for a small amount of time. White tea is the most delicate and valued for its subtle tones and natural sweetness. This tea is not allowed to oxidize and produces the lowest amounts of caffeine when given a short steeping time at a low temperature. The longer you allow a tea to steep at a higher temperature, the more caffeine will be extracted.
Cinnamon, Cloves, & Cardamom
Specific aromatic herbs have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest forms of healing developed in India. Cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom are three spices which stand out in their use in Chai tea. Each one has specific healthful qualities and flavor that are highly prized by many. In the ancient world, cinnamon was a spice more valuable than gold, as was salt. Cinnamon helps to treat colds, indigestion, and keep high cholesterol in check. Cinnamon also improves digestion and helps remove toxins from the body. It is valued as an expectorant and decongestant for respiratory conditions and the common cold or flu.
Cloves aid in digestion, have antimicrobial attributes, boost the immune system, and fight against oral disease. In Ayurvedic medicine, cloves are used for promoting healthy digestion, healing tooth decay and fighting bad breath. Cloves contain calcium, zinc, vitamin C, and other beneficial minerals. An anti-cancer property rich herb, cloves are highly valuable beyond just being a signature aromatic addition to tea.
Cardamom has a sharp flavor that is prized in desserts made in India and the Middle East. It is a digestive herb that is prized in Ayurvedic medicine for balancing all three doshas. Cardamom helps reduce bloating and gas, and the seeds can be chewed to freshen the breath. You can improve the blood circulation and help cure dental disease and certain urinary tract problems. Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world following saffron and vanilla. This highly prized herb helps control cholesterol, promotes good cardiovascular health, and has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
Best Retailers for Chai Tea
If you are looking to try out some Chai tea and you cannot make a trip to India, there are some fine retailers known for tea you can explore. My top three picks are Celestial Seasonings, Harney & Sons, and Teavana. Celestial Seasonings is known for its herbal tea selections with Cranberry Apple Zinger being a personal favorite beverage of mine, to be steeped in apple cider. Celestial Seasonings offers various forms of Chai tea, from Dirty Chai to India Spice Chai. A 5 count box retails on its website for $3.99.
Harney & Sons wins my heart because of its finely crafted packaging. A 1lb. bag of premium loose Chai tea retails online its site for $22.00 and it is worth every penny for the experience your senses will enjoy. Harney & Sons offers a wide selection of various teas packed in modern designed boxes, and darling metal tins that are reusable and look quite attractive in your cupboard or open on a table.
Teavana is a familiar site in many malls and typically passerby can pick up a sample of their latest tea for retail. Teavana offers quality loose-leaf chai tea in small sample sizes and in attractive metal tin containers. Purchasing Chai tea from Teavana ranges from $9.98 for 2 ounces of Maharaja/Samurai Chai Tea Blend, to White Ayurvedic Chai Tea for $12.98 online. I am also a fan of Teavana for the blooming or flowering tea, which provides visual entertainment, as you watch your tea unravel and blossom as it steeps.
Drink Tea For Life
Drinking tea is an activity that many people around the world enjoy every day. Tea can be enjoyed as a breakfast beverage, to be paired with an afternoon snack, or simply as a pick-me-up in the early evening. Chai tea is a popular beverage that provides pungent aromatic spices with anti-oxidant, and other healthy benefits to the body. Enjoy a nice cup of tea at home after perusing the selection of various retailers, or even have a cup of tea at the local café. Tea has been around for thousands of years because of its value to traditional cultures, balancing one’s health, tempering the mind, and easing the spirit.