5/26/2023 | By Environmental Nutrition

Read on to learn more about the popular chai tea and decide whether it should be a part of your life.

The folklore

Varieties of the Indian black tea infused with herbs and spices we know as chai date back perhaps 5,000 years to ancient India or Siam (present day Thailand). Originally, chai contained no tea. It was a blend of herbs and spices used to balance the energies in one’s body. It wasn’t until the British colonization of India that tea was added to the chai blend. To fund the war effort in World War I, tea breaks were introduced to workers. Tea vendors concocted their own chai spice blends, sometimes including milk and sugar to lower the cost. Today, chai enjoys global popularity for its spicy sweet flavor as well as health benefits.

The facts

The word, “chai,” comes from “cha,” the Chinese word for tea. Recipes for chai vary, but generally include black tea combined with a series of strong spices, or “masala,” like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and peppercorns. It may be brewed in hot water or with hot milk and sweetener. When made with water, a one-cup serving of chai tea is virtually calorie-free and contains trace amounts of nutrients, but it contains many powerful phytochemicals (plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity) associated with health benefits.

chai tea looking good!

The findings

Chai contains black tea (Camellia sinensis), which is rich in health promoting plant compounds that have the potential to reduce risk of chronic conditions and disease. Studies have shown that drinking black tea regularly helps protect against cardiovascular disease and complications such as heart attack, stroke, and hypertension (International Journal of Health Sciences, 2019). Chai also contains several spices, such as cinnamon, with health benefits. Cinnamon has also been associated with heart health (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2020) and its potential in reducing diabetes, cancer protection, and cognitive benefits.

The finer points of chai tea

Chai blends vary, so choosing one may require some experimentation. Available most anywhere teas are sold, chai may be purchased loose leaf, in tea bags, or in a powder mix. Check package labels or ask at a tea shop to make sure the blend contains actual tea and spices, not flavorings, artificial ingredients, or added sweeteners. Choose a blend that smells fresh and vibrant and store in an opaque, airtight container away from light, heat, and pantry items like coffee and spices that may seep scent and flavor.

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