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The History of Chai

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Here’s the sitch. “Chai tea” isn’t a thing. Maybe you’ve casually said it once or twice, but let’s dive into why you should probably reassess using that term ever again. The word “chai” literally means “tea” in Hindi. So, asking for a cup of “chai tea” is really you asking for “tea tea!” Kinda redundant, right?

Tea, however, means something a little different in India. Drinking tea with milk and sugar is deeply ingrained in Indian culture, stemming mainly from British influence. But, Indians made a few Desi-style moderations to the tea-drinking experience, using boiled milk and jaggery (sugar). But wait! Aren’t there lots of spices in Chai?? That’s Masala Chai a.k.a spiced tea! There are endless recipes and techniques for making Masala Chai, varying from family to family, region to region. But, any good Masala Chai will have milk, sugar, cardamom, and ginger in the mix. In India, the warming spices used to make Masala Chai are ground fresh into a blend, originally as Karha—a mixture of spices used in Ayurvedic medicine to heal all kinds of ailments. In the U.S., you can often find Masala Chai as a syrup, or in blend form with whole or ground spices.

Back in the early 20th century, the Indian Tea Association (owned by the British) went on a major, old-school marketing push to promote the use of black tea in India, offering a cheaper type of tea; though many vendors opted to reuse old tea leaves. Before this, black tea wasn’t super popular in India due to its incredibly high prices. Against British recommendations, many vendors would add lots of spices, milk, and sugar—more than the typical norm for British-style tea—to keep costs down. Factories and textile mills began to offer “tea breaks” (CUTE) to their workers, while the rise of Chaiwallas at railway stations began to grow as well—selling their Masala Chai in clay cups called, Kullhars.

Fast-forward to the 60’s, when Masala Chai’s popularity increased significantly after black tea was made even more affordable to the Indian population via an industrialized form of tea production. Today, the beverage is a staple in Indian culture. It’s become a way of life for most, often drinking chai throughout the day. Many homes in India will include Chai as part of their breakfast routine, and as an afternoon pick-me-up with snacks like pakoras, rusks, samosas, biscuits and other savory treats!

If all this Chai talk has you craving a hot/iced cuppa chai, head over to our sister restaurants Chai Pani Asheville, Chai Pani Decatur, or Botiwalla for a fresh, made-in-house cup of Masala Chai. OR, click here to get your hands on our Chai Masala blend--made with ginger, cinnamon, green cardamom, black pepper, clove, and allspice--and get your Chai fix whenever the mood strikes!

Chai Masala Spice Facts

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