Travelling through India, chai was a common word heard every day – “Chai Chai Chai” the chai wallah’s would call out in their high pitched voices as they walked briskly up and down the train aisles or from their little stalls and trolleys on the bustling dusty streets of every town in every region.
One of the things I still remember from my first trip to India was when the doors of the plane opened and you get your first hint of this amazingly colourful place. I was literally hit by a wall of warm spicy air and nothing like I’d ever experienced before. All those aromatic spices, well you soon find out about them at your next meal or chai stop.
This traditional heart-warming drink is so sweet and spicy, tasting very different to the one you have had at your local cafe. Chai means tea, but not a cup of tea as we know it. This special tea is made from black tea leaves, milk, sugar and spices all brewed up, long-poured from one pot to another to blend it, strained and served usually in a glass – and in true Indian style often far too sweet for the Western palate, but we love them for it!
Masala Chai is also another name that is often used and there is a real art to making the perfect chai to be sure. Chai wallah’s are super proud and serious about this way to make a living so we need to appreciate its roots to understand that it is so much more than just “a cuppa tea love“, as the English would say,Â but it is a very important part of daily life in India, as is a good coffee in the West.
Chai has become a bit of a trendy commercial word in the West over the years and you can get a chai latte in almost every cafe these days. Often they are made from the powder or syrup and you can even buy ready-made blends in the supermarket that you just add hot water to for that quick cup at home. These are full of hidden nasties though, so please read the labels. Some cafes will make chai with tea leaves if they have them (and you ask), so if you want to try something more authentic then be sure to check. I personally prefer the chai made from tea leaves and even better is making it yourself at home!
In Ayurveda we can use chai in a medicinal way by adjusting the spices according to your constitution (body type), any current health concerns and the season.
Here is an Ayurvedic inspired chai recipe for Autumn and Winter or to balance VataÂ in times of stress – all you need is a pestle and mortar, saucepan, the ingredients below and a desire to experiment with your taste buds!
An Ayurvedic inspired chai tea recipe for Autumn and Winter or to balance Vata - it also combats those sweet cravings and promotes good digestion. You can adjust the spices according to your constitution (body type), any current health concerns and the season (see the notes at the bottom for more suggestions).
- 2 cups water
- 2 slices fresh ginger root
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
- 4 cloves
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp ajwain
- 2 tsp raw sugar
- 2 tsp black tea leaves or 2 teabags cut open and the tea taken out
- 1 cup unhomogenised organic milk
Add the water and ginger to a small pan and bring to the boil for 5 minutes.
Place spices in pestle & mortar and grind a little then add the spices and sugar to the water bringing it back to the boil for a further 5 minutes.
Add the tea leaves and immediately add the milk bringing it back to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes until your desired strength. The negative effects of the tannins in the tea are not activated if you add the milk at the same time. You may find the milk will cause the chai to rise up the sides of the pan on boiling, so be sure to stay close by.
Strain before serving. You can add more raw sugar or raw unheated honey when serving if you want the chai to be a little sweeter.
- Vata - the spices in this recipe have been adjusted for Autumn and Winter or to balance Vata,Â so we are using less fennel as it is cooling in nature and more ajwain and warming spices like cinnamon, black pepper, clove and cardamon.
- Pitta - in the Summer or when there is too much Pitta adjust it to use less warming and more cooling spices like fennel.
- Kapha - in late Winter/early Spring or when there is too much Kapha, use less milk and more water, reduce the sweetener and add more warming spices like those listed above.
- Black cardamon and ajwain are not usually available in your local supermarket, however, they are sold in most Indian grocers.
- Decaffeinated - if you would prefer not to use black tea leaves then try substituting them for rooibos tea leaves. Rooibos chai is quite different but still very tasty.
Spiced chai is a balanced and nourishing drink which is good to have throughout the day to help combat those sweet cravings, especially when that afternoon slump hits and it also promotes good digestion. If you’re on the go, you could make up larger batches and keep it in a thermos to drink wherever you are. It’s also the perfect coffee replacement too if you’re wanting to cut down or give up.