By Dr. Mercola
If you love Indian cuisine or are familiar with it, chances are you’ve heard about chai or masala chai, a spiced tea sweetened and mixed with milk. Although there are many theories surrounding chai’s origin, most information traces the drink’s roots to India.
According to The Spruce Eats, the first known appearance of masala chai was in the 1800s, as the British started setting up black tea plantations in Assam, India. However, it wasn’t until the 1900s that the drink’s popularity became widespread.1
Take note that chai actually refers to the Hindi word for “tea,” so saying “chai tea” is redundant.2 Whether you call it chai tea or simply chai, this drink’s potential impacts to your health and well-being deserve to be recognized. In this article, you’ll learn valuable facts about chai tea, such as what spices are in this drink, the health benefits you can get from it and the ways you can prepare it at home.
What Is Chai Tea?
A fragrant and sweet tea, chai, or masala chai as it’s called in India, is made of a combination of black tea, milk, fresh ginger and other spices such as:3,4
Today, chai is rising in popularity in Western countries, and is sold in cafes and restaurants.5 However, you can make your own chai tea using premade tea bags,6 a store-bought concentrate7 or even from scratch.8
Is Chai Tea Good for You?
The spices and other ingredients commonly used to make chai tea have contributed to its potential impacts. These are some known health benefits of chai tea:
Helps boost heart health — Animal studies showed that cinnamon may help reduce blood pressure levels9,10 and decrease amounts of total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides by up to 30 percent.11 Meanwhile, black tea can help lower blood cholesterol levels.12,13
Contributes to better blood sugar control — Cinnamon may help reduce insulin resistance and fasting blood sugar levels.14,15,16,17
Possesses anti-nausea effects — Ginger, another spice in chai tea, may aid in reducing nausea during pregnancy.18,19
Delivers antibacterial properties — Cinnamon, cloves and cardamom are known to have antibacterial properties that may help prevent digestive issues triggered by bacterial infections.20,21,22,23 However, black pepper possesses antibacterial properties too.24,25
Helps deter weight gain and promote fat loss — Studies showed compounds in black tea can help promote fat breakdown and lower the number of calories the body absorbs from foods.26 Taking three cups of black tea daily was also said to assist with preventing unwanted weight gain or gain of belly fat.27
Possesses anti-inflammatory properties — A main component in cloves called eugenol is noted for its ability to help relieve gum pain and general inflammation. Cinnamon is known to deliver anti-inflammatory action too.28
Delivers antioxidant capabilities — Antioxidants called polyphenols in black tea may help prevent DNA damage in the body.29 Cardamom may also help reduce blood pressure levels and other cardiovascular disease risks.30
How Much Caffeine Does Chai Tea Have?
Traditional chai tea does contain caffeine, with an 8-ounce serving expected to have around 50 milligrams (mg).31 However, there are decaffeinated recipes available that you may try making.32 Black tea, commonly used to prepare chai, contains between 25 and 48 mg of caffeine per 8-ounce (237 ml) serving,33 while decaffeinated black tea has between 2 and 5 mg of caffeine.34
How to Make Chai Tea
According to the book “Chai: The Spice Tea of India,” there are two ways to make chai:35
- Combine loose tea leaves and spices first, add water and allow the water to boil. Add milk to the mix afterward, so it simmers together, and then strain and serve.
- Strain the leaf and spice mixture from the boiled water and then add heated milk and sweeteners before serving.
Take note of these reminders on preparing and enjoying chai tea:
- As much as possible, prepare chai tea or chai tea latte from scratch. Some drinks served in cafes or restaurants are loaded with sweeteners that can negate chai tea’s positive effects. Use safe sweeteners like raw honey, Stevia or Luo Han.
- Instead of conventional milk, opt for raw, grass fed milk, or coconut milk (The Kitchn notes that this works well if you plan to make chai lattes36).
Chai Tea Recipes to Try
If you’re interested in making homemade chai tea, use this recipe from The Spruce Eats as a guide:37
Homemade Masala Chai Tea
- 2 cups grass fed milk or other milk substitute
- 2 cups high-quality filtered water
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 green cardamom pods (crushed)
- 2 peppercorns (crushed)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2-inch piece ginger (peeled and chopped or grated)
- 2 tablespoons raw honey, Stevia or Luo Han
- 2 tablespoons black tea leaves (preferably Assam tea)
- In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the milk, water and spices.
- Simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the sugar and tea leaves. Stir, and then simmer for five minutes.
- Strain into glasses or mugs and serve.
This recipe makes 4 servings.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Want to know how you can make a delicious and warm chai tea latte or iced chai tea latte? Here’s a simple step-by-step guide:38
- Brew some chai tea following the instructions above.
- Froth the milk of your choice by shaking in a jar or whisking vigorously over medium-high heat. If you’re using coconut milk instead of dairy milk, use an immersion blender to froth the milk before heating.
- Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat until warm.
- Fill half a cup with the warm tea base, add half a cup of warmed milk and stir. Top off the drink with milk froth.
Drink chai tea after a heavy meal to help support digestion, or have a homemade chai tea latte during the day as a healthy replacement for sugar-loaded sodas, energy drinks and fruit juices.39
How to Store Chai Tea
In general, tea can lose its flavor the longer it sits on your cupboard or drawer. Consume tea within a few months of purchase to enjoy its freshness and flavor profile. Here's a list of things to remember when buying tea:40,41
- Know the quality of tea you’re getting — Purchase tea from a reputable company that can tell you where the tea came from and how it was processed and packaged. Make sure to exercise caution if you notice “quality” seals that say the company protects workers and wages, since not all of these organizations stand by their claims. For more information on this, read my article “The Dark Side of the Global Tea Industry.”
- Buy tea in small quantities — Purchase fresh tea in small quantities and refill stores when you’re running low. Label tea according to date of purchase, so you’ll know how long it has been on your shelf or cupboard.
- Store tea properly — Store tea in a cool and dark place away from light, heat and moisture. Since tea is completely dry, it’s self-stable. If it’s exposed to light, heat or moisture, though, its shelf life may be reduced. Furthermore, refrigerating loose tea or tea bags isn’t recommended.
- Don’t expose the tea to oxygen — Increased oxygen exposure can cause the tea to absorb odor and moisture from the air around it. Make sure to store tea in an airtight, opaque glass container. Plastic containers may transfer odors and chemicals into the tea and affect its flavor.
- Store tea away from odorous substances — Tea can absorb odors from strong-smelling foods42 or odorous substances in or near areas such as trash cans and spice cabinets. If you have flavored teas, separate them because they may impart their flavor into other teas.
Unopened and packaged black tea may last for around a year, usually in an area with a temperature of 69.8 degrees F (21 degrees C).43 Dry tea leaves can last for a long time, but as mentioned earlier, the longer the leaves are kept, the higher the possibility that the flavor will be lost.44
On the other hand, if you’ve prepared herbal teas in advance, these can last in the refrigerator for a few days, provided that you place a lid over the container.45
Side Effects of Chai Tea
Since chai tea does contain caffeine, it’s best to consume moderate amounts of it, as excessive caffeine consumption can trigger side effects such as anxiety and high blood pressure levels. It also can affect the quality of your sleep.46,47,48 Try to avoid drinking chai tea during pregnancy, too, or at least drink it in very limited amounts, because too much caffeine can increase the risk for miscarriage49 and low birth weight.50
According to WebMD, people with diabetes or heart conditions should be careful when drinking chai tea, because the ginger in it can increase insulin and lower glucose levels.
People taking blood thinners like Coumadin, heparin and clopidigrel, as well as those on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and Advil should also limit their chai intake because ginger may increase the risk of bruising or bleeding.51 Lastly, people who are lactose intolerant may want to opt for chai tea that’s made with coconut milk rather than regular milk.
Take Your Health to New Heights With Chai Tea
Whether you prefer calling it chai, chai tea or masala chai, this drink’s flavor and health benefits are more than enough to convince you that it’s a worthy replacement for unhealthy beverages. However, to ensure that you reap all the benefits chai tea has to offer, purchase high-quality and organic ingredients from highly reputable sources, and practice proper storage techniques so the tea doesn’t lose its flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Chai Tea
Q: What is chai tea?
A: Chai tea, or masala chai as it's known in India, is a sweet and spicy drink with a flavorful aroma. It’s made by blending black tea with ginger and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black peppercorns.52,53
Q: Where does chai tea come from?
A: Most research states that chai tea’s origins can be traced to India. It was in the 1800s that the British started setting up black tea plantations in Assam, India. In a matter of time, people started consuming masala chai or chai tea, a beverage made with black tea, spices, milk and some sweetener.54
Q: Is chai tea good for you?
A: Yes, chai tea is healthy. Here are some of the potential benefits linked to this drink:
- Helps boost heart health55,56,57,58,59
- Promotes better blood sugar control60,61,62,63
- Delivers antibacterial,64,65,66,67 anti-inflammatory,68 antioxidant69,70 and antinausea71,72 effects
- Assists with deterring weight gain73
- Helps promote fat loss74
Q: Does chai tea have caffeine in it?
A: Yes. A cup of chai tea (a 240-ml or 8-ounce serving) is known to contain roughly 50 mg of caffeine.75 If you are sensitive to caffeine, drinking excessive amounts of chai tea may be bad for you. Instead, opt for decaffeinated chai tea or drink chai tea in lesser amounts.
Q: How do you drink chai tea?
A: Chai tea can be consumed after a heavy meal to support digestion.76 There are various recipes for homemade chai tea and chai tea lattes that people can replicate.