In recent years, we have seen an increase in the popularity of chai, but not many people are aware of the wide variety of different Indian chai teas that exist, as well as the many health benefits of drinking chai. The trending tea has a rich history - and much more behind its value than being an enjoyable beverage.
In America, the term "chai" has come to refer to a particular tea beverage with Indian spices, although the original "chai" recipe did not include tea leaves. According to legend, the beverage that would eventually become chai tea originated long ago as a "healing spiced beverage" ordered by a king for use in the healing practice of Ayurveda. Ingredients in chai varied by region in India and were selected for the healing properties each spice was believed to possess. These included ginger and black pepper (digestion), cloves (pain relief), cardamom (mood) cinnamon (respiratory and circulation, and star anise (fresh breath).
It was not until the middle of the 1800s that the now classic components of tea leaves, milk and sugar became a standard part of the chai tea recipe. This corresponded with the British discovery of the Camellia sinensis tea leaves in India, and their favoring of dark tea with the added sweetness of milk and sugar.
The tea industry in India was initially spurred on by the British, but quickly grew to be a widely consumed beverage. India is now the second-largest producer of tea in the world. Much of the variety in chai tea can be connected to geographic locations, and the balance of flavor depends greatly on local taste. While cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and black peppercorns are traditional to most varieties, other include nutmeg, mace and fennel. Tea's journey west added bay leaf allspice, cacao and saffron to the mixture.
India is one of the pioneers of organic tea farming, which uses environmentally-safe techniques and avoids using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This started in 1986, primarily in the Assam region, due in large part to the Singpho people, but has grown and spread due to increasing global demand for organic tea in recent years. Much of the organic tea production takes place on large tea estates; where the signature fragrance of the plants can be experienced. Particularly with the rise of organic tea farming, tea tourism is rapidly becoming an important aspect of India's economic, following the leads of China, Sri Lanka and Kenya.
The spices in chai tea are very medicinally active and have a wide variety of health benefits. For example, ginger, cloves and cinnamon are all anti-inflammatory, which means they can relieve gum pain and inflammation of the joints. Black tea and ginger, meanwhile, are powerful antioxidants that have been linked to decreasing the possibility of a cancer diagnosis.
Chai is also often consumed after a meal because of its ability to assist with digestion. Black pepper, for instance, supports the pancreas, which release digestive enzymes, while ginger is commonly used to help relieve nausea and aid in healthy digestion.
Many of the herbs can also help with weight loss and be used to maintain a good level of blood sugar. Cardamom is filled with fiber, which helps you feel full and stabilizes your blood sugar. Fennel has been linked to reducing water retention because it is a natural diuretic. Tea is also a generally healthier alternative to other beverages such as coffee or soda, and the simple replacement can be helpful in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.