In Hindi, the word "chai" simply means "tea" while the term "masala" refers to a blend of spices. In the west, we've come to use the term "chai" for that special mixture of black tea and fragrant spices with milk and sugar (or honey) that creates an aromatic and warming tea drink.
Many Americans were first introduced to chai in a premixed carton. In India, making Masala Chai can take time and care, like a special family dish with a recipe passed down through generations. The spices most commonly used are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, anise, fennel, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper. I've had the chance to watch traditional chai being made by a friend from India. First he used a mortar and pestle to grind each spice by hand, then stirred them into a pan of milk which was slowly simmered (not boiled!) for several minutes before black tea leaves were added. Last, he stirred in some sugar until it dissolved, then poured the steaming brew into our glasses. It was a delight to watch and well worth the wait!
At ArtfulTea, we often tell customers there are as many ways to make chai as there are people who drink it. While chai can certainly be enjoyed milky and sweetened, it is equally delicious on its own as a spicy brew with no milk or sugar. We offer two types of Chai, each with its own balanced blend of spices. The first, a "traditional" Masala Chai, combines cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves with a premium Ceylon black tea. For a caffeine-free option, our popular Rooibos Chai is organic and contains cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, cloves and black pepper along with South African rooibos.
Try making either of these with milk and/or sweetener, or create your own variation to discover the way you enjoy chai best. I've even heard of folks who add a splash of strong coffee to our Rooibos Chai to make a lower-caffeine version of "Dirty Chai." Masala Chai lends itself to creativity and experimentation. Enjoy!