“Chai Wallahs use ground black tea, not the whole leaves or good quality broken leaves that only the wealthier Indians can afford,” said the smiling gentleman on the train in Diana Rosen’s book, Chai: The Spice Tea of India. “They brew this ground black tea with their own combination of spices: pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, [and] maybe cloves or ginger,” he says.
His comment is one of the better explanations for understanding what Americans refer to as chai or, more properly, Masala Chai.
Masala chai combines black tea with cardamom and other spices (see above), and is boiled in milk and water. It originated in India following the British colonization of the subcontinent in the nineteenth century. The beverage utilizes the English practice of drinking tea with milk and sugar while including flavorful spices native to India.
Today, Masala Chai comes in many shapes and forms. A popular recipe included in Tea Sommelier by Francois-Xavier Delmas and Mathias Minet is below:
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It’s also possible to buy high-quality Masala Chai already mixed with spices, such as cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Sheer Tea’s blend was produced in Assam, India by a network of small tea growers whose goal is to empower local farmers. It is one of the more popular blends and creates a feeling of alertness – due to the caffeine in the black tea – combined with a sense of well-being and calmness because of the various spices.
Rosen, the author referenced at the top, said that when she travels through India she samples masala chai at every train stop. “Visitors all come to treasure those first fabulous cups of masala chai on introductory trips to the land of spices, India, and try whenever possible to duplicate this pleasure at home,” she wrote.