The Roots of Chai

Chai and its ingredients
Chai and its ingredients
Traditional preparation at a street market
Traditional preparation at a street market

From hot to iced, straight or as a latte, there are many ways to drink chai. Throughout the years, chai has become a drink that's loved by many, and a big part of tea culture. Have you ever wondered about the history behind chai and how it has evolved into the beverage we're sipping today? Keep reading to learn more about chai.

What is Chai?

Let's start with the term "Chai." Chai is the Hindi word for “tea”. This term was derived from “cha”, which translates to "tea" in Chinese. For that reason, many people don’t like the phrase "chai tea", as this is much like saying "tea tea." While most people just use the term chai today, this beverage is also known as masala chai.

Now, when it comes to the beverage itself, chai is a blend of tea and spices. Usually, chai contains black tea and spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and peppercorns. This combination makes the tea both sweet and spicy. It also lends itself to many different preparations.

Origin of Chai?

According to legend, chai was first consumed thousands of years ago. There's debate on whether this happened closer to 5,000 or 10,000 years ago, but we do know that chai's history is deeply rooted. Lore tells us that chai was created by a king and was used as a cleansing beverage. Initially, chai was just a blend of spices and contained no caffeine.

Evolution of Chai

Black tea was first introduced to chai recipes in 1835. This is when the British established tea plantations in Assam, India. Around this time, the use of black tea became more common in chai recipes. This is also when adding milk and sweeter to the drink started to happen regularly. However, black tea was too expensive for most people in India at the time, so this version of the beverage didn't gain popularity with the masses.

Decades later in the 1900s, the Indian Tea Association began promoting consumption of the beverage to people in India. Even though interest in the drink grew, black tea was still very expensive in the region. For that reason, milk, additional spices, and sweeteners were added to the beverage to cut costs. This is when chai finally started to become more popular with the people of India.

Chai Today

Chai still continues to be a widely-consumed beverage in India. Ever since CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea hit the market in the 1960s, chai recipes using black tea have become commonplace and this version of the drink is now easily accessible in India.

There are a number of different chai variations worldwide, some now use plant-based milks in their recipes and some people opt for a modern, rooibos version of chai. No matter the preparation, people all over the world now consume chai daily. It's the perfect way to start the day or get an afternoon pick-me-up when coupled with a sweet snack.

In America, chai lattes are one of the most popular chai preparations, including festive lattes like the famed pumpkin chai latte. A chai beverage nicknamed "dirty chai" (chai tea plus a shot of espresso) is also becoming increasingly popular in America.

Wrapping Up

Now you know all about the history of chai! From its rich history to the many different versions over the years one thing is clear: this spiced beverage is here to stay! What's your favorite way to prepare chai? Let us know!