When I think of Chai, of course the latte springs to mind as it’s one of my favourite drinks. But I recently discovered that it’s not a ‘true’ Chai. In fact, a Chai latte is actually unhealthy, whereas a Chai Tea – the original drink, is the source of all the health benefits.
Chai is the Hindi word for tea, and legends has it that an Indian King was hunting for a drink made from Ayurveda spices. It eventually became known as a healing drink called Kadha, containing a variety of spices throughout history using ginger, black pepper, turmeric and munakka raisins.
Fast forward to the British Raj of India, and Kadha began to fuse with English tea traditions using tea leaves, milk and sugar. That’s how Kadha became Chai!
The health benefits of Chai Tea can vary depending on the spices. To find out more I spoke to Sandra Benn, Founder of Chiya & Chai Loose Leaf Tea.
“Firstly, black tea contains flavonoids that support our health and wellbeing due to their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Tea uniquely contains an amino-acid known as L-theanine and combined with caffeine, this benefits our cardiovascular and metabolic health.”
“Tea from the camellia sinensis plant – not herbals or fruit teas which technically are tisanes or infusions – has roughly half the caffeine of coffee, so can be helpful to those seeking to reduce their caffeine intake. The blend of tea and spices means the caffeine content is further reduced.”
She went on to say that tea contains low amounts of carbohydrates, protein and fats, which are extracted when infused leading to only trace amounts in our cup. So the calorific value of tea is almost zero.
Since in the UK, 20% of our calories each day are consumed in beverage form, drinking tea in place of ready-made bottled drinks and alcohol can contribute to lowering calorie intake and helping with weight management and prevention of related diseases like diabetes.
Cinnamon contains high levels of polyphenols with antioxidant properties that help to reduce inflammation. It may improve cholesterol and blood pressure, key risk factors for heart disease. And studies have shown it decreases the amount of sugar in the bloodstream by interfering with digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates to sugar and by helping cells to increase their uptake of glucose.
Ginger is high in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s also great when we’re suffering with headaches and cold and flu symptoms. Ginger can also help with various types of nausea, including chemotherapy related nausea (larger human studies are needed), nausea after surgery and morning sickness.
Cardamom is another spice with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits helping with blood pressure and to help prevent and repair cell damage.
It is also used to treat bad breath and improve oral health. And recent animal studies suggest it may help with stomach issues and heal ulcers.
Think of cloves, think of Christmas, but their usefulness extends beyond the holiday season. Again, anti-inflammatory properties could help reduce oxidative stress and antimicrobial properties kill bacteria that causes food poisoning and offers benefits to oral health.
Star Anise’s distinct flavour means you don’t use a lot of it at a time. But when you do, the abundant flavonoids give it antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. This latter benefit is being explored in the pharmacological field for antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial potential in its major compounds.”
HOW TO MAKE ‘PROPER’ CHAI TEA
Masala Chai is the traditional and most popular version of Chai tea. It is said to be stated in the legends about the Indian King and Kadha. In Hindi, Masala means ‘spices’: ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom and clove.
Suswati Basu, Editor and Host of the How To Be Books Podcast adds, “The recipe varies from family to family. It’s a process, and each spice and aroma is a link to our roots and our past. I love Masala Chai, I will always order it in an Indian restaurant and at times will make it at home using my mum’s recipe.”
According to the tea company Chai Guys, the best way to brew Chai tea is in a hot pan on the stove where you combine the Chai tea, milk and water. Once mixed, it’s brought to a boil and simmers for 3-5 minutes before being strained, and it’s up to the tea drinker whether or not to add any sweeteners.