In India, chai means tea. It is an infusion of a strong black tea that’s been simmered along with milk, sugar/honey and sometimes spices. Unlike a loose leaf black tea, you do not steep chai; you simmer the infusion of tea and milk at a medium-to-high heat for a couple of minutes. Simmering helps combine the tannic strength of a black tea with milk to produce a creamy liquor with a dense texture.
What the rest of the world refers to as ‘chai tea’ is actually a catch-all term for a spiced tea blend that can be consumed with milk, or what Indians call ‘masala chai’. Masala refers to a combination of spices and a ‘masala chai’ is prepared with the addition of spices. There is no one definite recipe for a perfect masala chai. For as many various regions that span the length of India, there are just as many ways to make a masala chai. However, there are some staple spices that can be found in most spiced chai blends – cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, fennel seeds and clove.
Here’s a list of the most popular types of chai you can try across India.
A tea spiced with Indian flavors, and desired greatly on cold mornings. The most common spices used are cardamom, clove, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Recipes use some or all of this in varying proportions.
Adrak or Ginger Chai
Adrak or ginger chai is a hot favorite, especially during winter. Grated ginger is added to the tea pot while the tea is brewing. This is also considered the elixir for colds because of ginger’s reputation for clearing sinuses.
Elaichi or Cardamom Chai
Another hot favorite, this uses freshly ground or powdered cardamom. It’s sweet from the cardamom and is a refreshing choice of chai. Cinnamon can also added grated or powdered.
Bombay Cutting Chai
Made famous in Mumbai or Bombay, the Cutting Chai is called so because the flavor of the tea is said to be so strong that it is only served by the half-glass. It’s a modified masala chai and is served in small ‘cutting glasses’ instead of cups, and is a best-loved from ‘tapris’ or the roadside tea stalls.
Originating from Kashmir, this is a traditional green tea prepared with exotic spices. The signature flavor of Kashmiri Kahwa is derived from saffron strands, which are included in the blend. Cardamom, almonds, cinnamon and cloves are also added to the tea. This is a tea best served during brunch hours.
Also, known as ‘Ghava’ or ‘Kattan Chaya’, this is a form of black tea which finds its roots in South India. The Sulaimani is basically black tea with lemon, and is best had after a heavy meal as it aids in digestion.
Known more for its health benefits, Tulsi Chai uses one of India’s most sacred herbs – the holy basil. Fresh tulsi leaves are added to the brew and it’s thought to strengthen the immune system and in relieving stress. This can be prepared with or without milk and the ideal time to consume is said to be in the morning.
For a chai recipe, click here