Secrets of Masala Chai
Masala Chai’s story begins in the 1830’s, when the first British tea plantations were set up in Assam India. By the 1900’s the British, in addition to exporting their harvest, started promoting their black teas to Indians, for whom tea was expensive. This is precisely when tea breaks were introduced in Indian factories, and “chai wallahs” started popping up at virtually every railway station and street corner.
To keep costs down, rather than drink tea by the cupful Indians used tea as the base for Masala Chai. Into a smaller amount of tea, they added milk and a mix of indigenous spices including cinnamon, ginger root, cloves, black pepper, cardamom, anise seed and more. The most often used tea for Masala Chai is Assam, a black tea. However, in the mountainous Kashmir region a green gunpowder tea is the favoured tea base. To this day every Indian household and street vendor has its own closely-guarded recipe.
Masala Chai (“chai” means tea in Indian) offers a robust, exotic taste profile. The tantalizing aroma created by the addition of spices to either a black or green tea base is a road trip for the nose. Because of the sheer variety of permutations, Masala Chai is best considered a class of tea, like Black, Green or White. It stands proudly on its own alongside coffee, other teas and hot drinks.
With either a green or black tea base, Masala Chai has 35 - 45 mg of caffeine per cup, which is still only a third that in a cup of coffee, plus it releases at a slower, steadier rate. Traditionally, whole dairy milk is used in a Masala Chai, plus a sweetener like sugar, honey or agave syrup. Froth up some extra milk to dollop over top and you’ll be in Chai Latte heaven.