You know how online products often have a rating system where consumers can choose anywhere from one to five stars that indicate they either “would not recommend” to “would highly recommend” a product? It’s safe to say that the entire Indian continent would give chai a five-star, “would highly recommend” review, and over the past couple of decades, hundreds of thousands more Westerners would do the same. The chai fan base is probably bigger than any movie star’s or pro sports star’s or reality show star’s… or all of them combined.
So what’s the big deal, you ask? If you’re asking, it’s because you haven’t tried chai – and we think it’s chai time you did! While there’s undoubtedly some out there who just don’t find chai to their liking, several million others just shake their heads and say, “Oh well, more chai for me!” Let’s take a look at this one-of-a-kind tea and see if we can make a be-leaf-er out of you!
Once Upon a Chaime…
The origins of chai are somewhat murky, dating back either 5000 or 9000 years ago to a king in either India or Thailand. The king mixed together what are now known as chai spices as a healing Ayurvedic medicine. At the time, black tea was not part of the mixture.
Jump ahead to the mid-19th century when the British East India Company had begun smuggling tea plants out of China and creating tea plantations in their colony, India. While black tea began to be more available in India, it was still quite expensive for the average citizen. To lessen the amount of tea they needed for a cuppa, they began adding chai spices and milk to it, making it a more affordable beverage. Also, the India Tea Company began promoting tea breaks for workers as a vehicle for selling more tea. Adding to tea’s rise in popularity was the fact that in the 1930s there was an oversupply of Indian tea that the British tea companies began selling to the Indians.
The real game-changer for making chai wildly popular was the introduction of CTC teas, a much more efficient method of processing the black tea that results in a far more affordable tea. It was a match made in heaven for chai tea lovers, and the rest is history.
What Is Chai?
The name “chai” is the Hindi word for “tea.” It was derived from “cha,” the Chinese word for “tea.” “Masala chai” means “spiced tea,” which is what “chai” has become synonymous with – a tea brewed with milk, sugar and warming spices. The recipes vary by region and personal preference. Traditionally, chai is a black tea mixed with strong spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger and black peppercorns. When people say “chai,” they are generally referring to “masala chai.” To say “chai tea” literally translates to “tea tea,” so try not to say that.
Chai is basically the national drink of India, with most citizens consuming three to four cups daily from morning to night. Chaiwalas (or chaiwallahs, either spelling meaning “tea person”), are everywhere in India. They prepare, sell and serve chai from corner stands and small shops. In India, chaiwalas and others generally prepare chai from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Here in the U.S., we generally prepare chai with a pre-made blend of black tea and spices. Harney offers several chai teas:
- Chai, our own sweet and spicy blend
- Chocolate Chai Supreme, a customer creation and winner of our 2018 Tea Blendings contest
- Chai Hara, a green tea version of our Chai black tea
- Organic Rooibos Chai, an herbal version of a classic chai
- Indian Spice, a black tea with cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg
- Chaga Chai from our Wellness collection made with wild Canadian Chaga mushrooms and chai spices
Let’s Have Some Chai
Brewing chai is no different than brewing other teas, unless you choose to make it with all fresh ingredients instead of using a chai-blended tea. You can use milk if you wish (your favorite kind will work just fine) and add the sweetener of your choice (or don’t!). Or you can use a combination of milk and water to steep your chai leaves. If you prefer an iced chai, steep your tea in hot water but don’t heat the milk and pour all over ice.
Chai lattes, both hot and cold, have gained in popularity throughout the U.S. If you order a “dirty chai” when you’re out, it means they’ve added a shot of espresso to your tea. Hence, the very appropriate name!
Here are a couple recipes incorporating chai for some real decadent pleasures:
Pumpkin Chai Latte
- 1 tea bag of Chai (or decaf Rooibos Chai)
- ½ cup plain, unsweetened almond milk or milk of choice
- 2 tablespoons real pumpkin purée
- 1 tablespoon real maple syrup or honey
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon pumpkin spice blend (or ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger, dash of nutmeg, dash of cloves)
- Tiny dash salt
- ½ teaspoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch (optional, makes the latte super creamy)
- Optional garnishes: 1 cinnamon stick or star of anise, coconut whipped cream
Optional coconut whipped cream
- 1 can (14 ounces) full fat coconut milk, chilled at least 10 hours (the coconut milk MUST be full fat and MUST be refrigerated for at least 10 hours. Put a mixing bowl in the freezer to chill while you’re at it.)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- In a small saucepan, bring ½ cup water to a gentle boil. Remove the water from heat, add the tea bag, and let it steep for 4 minutes. Before removing the tea bag, squeeze any water remaining out by pressing the tea bag against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon.
- Add the almond milk, pumpkin purée, maple syrup, vanilla, pumpkin spice blend and salt to the pan. Whisk in the optional arrowroot starch or cornstarch. Pour the mixture into a stand blender and blend for a minute or two, until the components are blended together and the drink is nice and creamy. (You can also use an immersion blender in place of a stand blender.)
- Pour the mixture back into your pan and gently rewarm on the stove, then pour it into a mug. Top with optional whipped coconut cream and/or garnish with optional cinnamon stick or star of anise.
- To make the coconut whipped cream: Pull out the chilled can of coconut milk and mixing bowl. Open the can of coconut milk and scoop the solid coconut cream into the chilled bowl (you can use the remaining coconut water in smoothies). Using an electric hand mixer, beat the cream until fluffy and smooth. Add the maple syrup, vanilla extract and cinnamon and gently blend again to combine. Use the coconut cream immediately or cover and store in the fridge for later (it will be soft at room temperature and more firm when cold).
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Harney chai tea, pulsed in food processor until finely ground
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large mixing bowl and electric mixer) combine the butter, sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 3 minutes.
- Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until well combined, light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the flour, chai tea, cinnamon, cardamom, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cream of tartar, optional salt and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute.
- Using a medium 2-inch cookie scoop or your hands, form approximately 12 equal-sized mounds of dough (2 heaping tablespoons each), roll into balls, and flatten about halfway.
- Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Silpat or spray with cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, combine sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and stir to combine.
- Dredge each mound of dough through cinnamon-sugar.
- Place dough mounds on baking sheet, spaced at least 2 inches apart and bake for about 9 minutes, or until edges have set and tops are just set, even if slightly undercooked in the center; don’t overbake for soft, pillowy cookies. Cookies firm up as they cool. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before serving.
If you’re already a chai fan, we hope you discovered a new fact or recipe to enrich your life. If you weren’t a chai fan before, we hope we’ve piqued your interest and will try this unique and wildly popular beverage. Sitting down with a cup of chai could become the chailight of your day!