Exploring the Different Spices in Chai Tea
Making the perfect cup of chai is more an art form than a science and everyone makes it slightly differently. How you make your cuppa can change daily depending on the spices you put into it too. Understanding why chai (chai tea is a misnomer akin to saying tea) tastes like what it does is a history lesson involving China, the Silk Route, the East India Company and the Indian uprising against foreign rule. We’ll save that for another day. For now, read on to learn about the different flavour profiles that go into making a cup of masala tea.
Different Types of Black Tea
Masala chai (or chai as it is commonly known) is made from black tea grown in India. It is harvested from the leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis. Although this tea plant is grown in other countries too, Indian tea has a much bolder flavour profile compared to the black tea grown in China. There are two main types of tea grown in India: Darjeeling tea and Assam tea.
Darjeeling teas are relatively mild in flavour and are more comparable to the milder Chinese black teas than the more robust Assam teas. It can be had without milk or sugar and is often described as the ‘champagne of tea’.
The tea grown in Assam is power packed with nutrients and flavours from the mighty Brahmaputra flood plains. Assam teas have a unique caramelly malty flavour which tastes bold and robust. Assam tea that is processed using the Cut, Tear, Curl (CTC) method is the tea you want to use for making a refreshing cup of masala chai.
The kind of milk you use also matters when it comes to the taste of chai. Much of the milk used in India is rich water buffalo milk, but you can use full-fat cow milk instead. Try to avoid skim or half and half if you can.
Everyone has their own favourite combination of spices when it comes to making a cup of masala tea. Use as many or as few as you like. Change them up according to your mood or the weather or take a deep dive into Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) and pick the spices with healing properties for your ailments, that’s completely up to you.
The main spices in masala chai include:
Ginger: Use fresh ginger to brew your chai instead of powder. Warming, earthy, and floral all at the same time, it’s indispensable to masala tea.
Black Pepper: Fresh, pungent, woody, and great for colds. Adds a bite to your chai.
Star Anise: Adds a licorice flavour to your chai.
Cinnamon: Woody and sweet, this spice adds a luxe aroma to your tea.
Nutmeg: Feeling festive? The sweet and warm fragrance of nutmeg will do the trick.
Green Cardamom: Adds a herbal, citrusy sweetness to your tea.
Cloves: The bitterness of cloves balances out the sweeter spices perfectly.
Lemongrass: Fresh leaves of lemongrass are also used in a chai infusion, particularly when someone is ill. Try it when you’re well too – the citrusy freshness of lemongrass is a treat.
Drinking chai is not just about what it tastes like though. It’s about an experience. An experience where you get to enjoy the warmth of the glass of chai, inhale the rich aromas of earthy tea and spices and revel in moments of contentment and companionship far away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.
For an authentic chai experience, come on down to Chachi’s Chai Bar for a cup of hot chai accompanied by authentic Indian snacks or little bites from Canada for a perfect fusion of Eastern and Western tastes.