The word “chai” literally means tea in many languages, but is now the favourite term used to describe the blend of black tea and aromatic spices that is referred to as Masala Chai in India.

The exact origins of spiced tea are unknown, although it almost certainly had its origins in herbal medicine. Rumoured to have originated in an ancient royal court, in most probably what is now known as India, it would have been prepared without tea leaves and given as a cleansing and general health-boosting drink for treating minor ailments.

The British East India Company introduced tea plantations to India in 1835 to counteract the Chinese monopoly on tea and supply the huge demand for tea in Great Britain.

ICHAI Tea Time

It is a delicious and intensely aromatic drink...

However, consumption of black tea within India remained low until a promotional campaign by the British-owned Indian Tea Association, which encouraged factories, mines and textile mills to provide “tea breaks” for their workers. Sales of black tea within India were also boosted by the association’s support of many independent “chai-wallahs”, who used the growing railway system as a means of selling tea. But Indian people found black tea to be too bland and too expensive, so they added spices to improve the flavour and reduce costs.

Masala chai is now firmly established in Indian culture. It is a delicious and intensely aromatic drink, usually made by bringing a mixture of milk, water, tea and spices to the boil and gently simmering for several minutes or longer, although at what point the tea is put in, and how long the tea is infused with the spices varies. The very milky spiced tea is usually sweetened with sugar or honey. Every region, every family and every chai-wallah has their own special way of making it, but most masala tea typically contains cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and black pepper.