Is chai tea good for you? Absolutely! If you happen to love the complex flavor of warm, spicy chai tea (also known as masala chai or masala), then you’ll be thrilled to discover that this delicious treat comes with some wonderful benefits for your body and mind. We’ll also share a recipe for the perfect DIY chai, so you can create your own blend if you’d like to.
What is Chai Tea?
Even though chai black tea has a signature flavor that comes from the addition of sweet spices like cinnamon and cardamom, there are quite a few optional ingredients that make this tea special! In some places, chai tea comes in teabags or sachets, and is served without added milk or sweetener. Most of the time though, the question “What is chai tea made of?” is answered with a long list of ingredients that includes milk or a nondairy option, plus sugar or another sweetener. Often, these sweet, milky concoctions are sold as chai tea lattes.
All chai tea recipes have three things in common: Black tea serves as the foundation, and the flavor profile is rounded out with ginger and cardamom. But these delicious chai ingredients are just the beginning! Most masala tea recipes also contain the aforementioned milk and sugar, along with sweet cinnamon sticks, pungent ground cloves, and a touch of spicy black peppercorn. Different families have developed their own chai recipes over time, carefully guarding their secret spice mixtures, which are known as karha.
Many masala chai tea recipes contain additional spices including nutmeg, star anise, and fennel seeds. A few (mostly in western nations) call for allspice instead of or in addition to clove and cinnamon, along with a touch of vanilla.
Chai spice blends and tea preferences vary from one place to the next. If you ask “What is chai?” the answer will vary depending on where you are! Western Indian karha blends usually avoid black pepper and cloves. Kashmiri people prefer to use gunpowder tea or green tea instead of black tea, and their recipes often call for additional ingredients including saffron and almonds. In Bhopal, it’s common to add a pinch of salt to each cup of chai tea.
Does Chai Tea have Caffeine?
Since black tea serves as the basis for almost all chai tea recipes, the answer to this question is almost always “yes.” These days, it is possible to get decaffeinated chai if you like, and you can always make your own chai tea using decaffeinated black tea and your preferred blend of karha spices. Some people like to make chai with herbal tea instead of traditional black or green teas.
The amount of caffeine in chai tea made with black tea is approximately one-third the amount found in a similarly-sized serving of black coffee. If you’re looking for a nice afternoon pick-me-up and you don’t want to find yourself feeling too alert at bedtime, a cup of chai might be just the thing.
Chai Tea Benefits
Before we jump headfirst into the benefits of chai tea, it’s important to note that these benefits will vary depending on which spices are used in the recipe, along with which tea is used for the base.
Tea is a Great Source of Antioxidants
Whether you’re enjoying chai with black tea or green tea, you’ll be treating your body to a rich blend of antioxidants along the way. The antioxidants in tea help slow down the aging process, promote healing, and nourish cells so that they achieve optimal functioning. Some support skin health, while others help keep vital organs in top condition.
When you drink tea regularly, you’re also decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. You might even be cutting your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer at the same time!
All types of tea are considered to be superfoods. White, green, black, and oolong teas come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. They look and taste different from one another because of differences in processing methods. For example, green tea leaves are simply dried instead of being fermented. Both oolong and black tea leaves are fermented and crushed to provide their signature flavors.
Whichever type of tea you choose as the base for your chai, you’ll be enjoying lots of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help cells get rid of damaging free radicals. In case you’re curious about polyphenol levels, you’ll be thrilled to discover that tea contains about eight to ten times as many polyphenols as are found in most vegetables and fruits.
Most experts agree that you should try to drink three cups of tea per day to cut your heart disease risk and enjoy other heath benefits. If you like lots of milk and sugar in your chai, consider having it just once per day and enjoying two servings of plain tea. If you like, you can sweeten your chai with stevia and use skim milk or a plant-based milk to cut back on extra calories and reduce your overall sugar intake.
Tea Helps Decrease Stress Levels
You probably know that stress is terrible for your whole body, not to mention your mind! Luckily, one of the nicest masala tea benefits is its ability to help eliminate stress. This is something chai has in common with all other teas: tea and the ritual of slowing down to enjoy its warmth and aromas relaxes the whole body, lowering levels of a stress hormone called cortisol along the way. This can help with everything from insomnia to weight loss. If stress is impacting your life, you’ll find that tea can make a difference, especially if you take a few minutes to relax and center yourself as part of the process.
Some Chai Tea Benefits Come from Spices
Since chai tea contains healthful spices, it offers some additional benefits. In ancient Indian Ayurveda, these spices are classified as sattvic, meaning that they offer a combination of vitalizing, calming, and mentally clarifying benefits. No wonder a cup of chai tea can make you feel incredible! Here’s a quick look at the benefits of chai tea spices, one by one.
A common spice that’s often overlooked, black pepper offers intense warmth without the ultra hot flavor found in so many other types of pepper. If your chai blend contains black pepper, then you’ll enjoy a bit of a metabolism boost as well as some benefits for your circulatory system. If you’re feeling cold, you’ll probably notice that this spice helps you feel a bit warmer.
Cardamom is unforgettable, and once you try it, you’re likely to crave its delicious, warm flavor. In Ayurveda as well as traditional Chinese medicine, cardamom has a reputation for benefiting the heart, lungs, and kidneys while acting as a mood booster.
Like other warm spices used in Ayurveda, cloves are said to synergistically increase the strength of other herbs in the blend. Traditional herbalists typically recommend cloves for pain relief, and they have been studied for their antiseptic attributes.
Cinnamon may help balance your blood sugar when enjoyed regularly, plus it has a reputation for increasing circulation. In Ayurveda, cinnamon is used to increase vitality and promote awareness while simultaneously reducing fatigue. Good news for those who have romance on their minds: Cinnamon is a traditional aphrodisiac! It also happens to be delicious, so enjoy as much a you like.
Fennel seeds offer a light, warm, licorice-like flavor, plus they’re good for digestion. In traditional medicine, fennel is used to treat laryngitis. It has a history of use in benefiting kidney and eye health as well.
Warm flavor and delicious scent aside, ginger’s benefits include stimulating circulation and boosting immunity. This wonderful herb is partly responsible for the inherent warmth you feel on your tongue whenever you sip a cup of chai. If you’re traveling and you have a tendency to suffer from motion sickness, consider indulging in chai tea. The ginger it contains can help bring you back into balance so the journey is a bit easier on your body.
Nutmeg has an irresistible flavor and scent, plus it can help with digestion. Traditional herbalists have many uses for this marvelous spice: It has a reputation for stimulating lymph nodes and kidneys, and its warmth makes it useful in topical preparations for painful conditions like arthritis and sciatica. In chai, nutmeg rounds out the flavor profile beautifully. Sprinkle a little extra on top of your drink if you like!
Star anise is one of the prettiest spices around, thanks to lovely star-shaped pods that look beautiful floating in a hot cup of chai. This herb offers a slight licorice scent and flavor, and in traditional medicine, it is used to treat coughs and colds.
DIY Chai Tea Recipe
This traditional homemade chai tea recipe uses plain black tea as its base. You can substitute green tea, white tea, or even your favorite herbal tea! We recommend trying this basic recipe as-is and then adding, subtracting, and otherwise adjusting ingredients to create your own complex, signature chai tea blend.
Homemade Chai Tea
Makes 6 Servings
A two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ teaspoons whole peppercorns
10 whole cloves
2 star anise pods
6 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
6 black tea bags
6 cups cold water
2 cups milk, any dairy or non-dairy variety
½ cup sugar, honey, or equivalent calorie-free sweetener
Add the spices to a medium-sized saucepan. Use a heavy spoon to crush the spices and then add the water.
Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the pan with a loose-fitting lid and allow the blend to simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the blend from the heat. Add the tea bags and allow them to steep in the covered pan for about 5 minutes.
Remove and discard the tea bags.
Add the milk and sweetener of your choice to the pan and bring the mixture back to a simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk well to ensure proper blending.
Strain the chai into a pretty teapot and serve piping hot.