What is Masala Chai?

masala chai
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A quintessential Indian cup of ‘tea’ is a spicy milk tea brew called the masala chai.

According to folklore, masala chai’s history began thousands of years ago in an ancient royal court, some 9000 years ago. Some say the court was located in what is now India and was created as a cleansing, vivifying Ayurvedic beverage.

Even early on, masala chai was made with a wide range of spices and prepared with many different methods. It was served hot or cold as a remedy for mild ailments. At this time, the spicy-sweet drink known as “masala chai” did not contain any tea leaves and was caffeine free.

Then came the British and vast tea plantations were set up in Assam, India. The tea that was grown in these plantations made its way into the masala chai recipes.

Gradually, the British tradition of tea sipping seeped into the Indian culture and quickly became part of the Indian way of life. With the Indians’ innate sense for business, hundreds and then thousands of chai wallahs (small road side tea stalls) set up their operations for brewing and selling their masala chai from early morning to late in the night. These chai shops became the new meeting place where men would gather to drink chai and socialize. At dhabas, the Indian 24-hour truck stops, truck drivers demanded a strong cup of masala chai as a restorative drink to get them through the long hours of driving.

Masala chai has become quite popular outside India as well. In North America, where nearly 90 percent of the teas are consumed as iced tea, this hot cup has become a trend. Because the spicy taste appeals so strongly to many palates in North America, there are now also non-traditional ingredients added, such as vanilla and chocolate, or even a shot of espresso.

In Europe, this trend has caught on slowly. Although even there, the word chai is more commonly used to describe a spicy milk tea.

In recent years, chai tea lattes and a masala-flavored drink called dirty chai have both become popular in many coffee shops in the West.

So how is it made? Click here to make the perfect cup of ‘masala chai’.

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