Adventures in Tea: Masala Chai in India
Chai is the word for tea in Southern Asia, so ordering “chai
tea” is a bit redundant. What we call chai—that soothing mixture of black tea,
cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper and other soothing flavors—is
actually known as masala chai, and historians are as befuddled by its origins
as the West is by its name. The blend may have come from India or Thailand,
from a royal court or Ayurvedic medical texts. Its ancient roots twist through
the hills of Nepal, Tibet and Pakistan.
In any case, masala chai was considered more of a medicinal brew than a recreational beverage until India's late colonial period, when Great Britain started Indian tea plantations to compete with China for the British tea market. The colonists helmed a massive tea campaign throughout India, encouraging companies to give employees tea breaks and introducing the tradition of adding milk to tea. Chai wallahs (Indian tea vendors) started using smaller amounts of the expensive tea and adding lots of cheap milk and sugar, and the modern chai latte was born.
Nowadays folks in some parts of Southern Asia enjoy up to four small cups of masala chai a day. Our head chef and co-owner Rich Freedman took part in the delicious multicultural tradition on a five week journey to India last year:
“Like many others who have traveled in India, I came away with fond memories of drinking chai. The most memorable was my first cup of chai. A friend recommended a car service to get from the airport in Mumbai to my destination. He told me that when the driver stopped to get gas, I should get a cup of chai. I walked into a bustling, crowded, chaotic, cafeteria-like place that was packed with Indian travelers. I found the spot where chai was being sold, bought a cup, and, in the midst of chaos, enjoyed the most delicious cup of chai imaginable.”
At The Teahouse we have developed our own recipes for traditional chai and some unique variations. Our SANTA FE TEA HOUSE CHAI is a traditional, masala-style chai that combines premium black tea with warming cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and other spices. Our SPICY CHOCOLATE CHAI combines chocolate and cayenne with the exotic flavors and spices of our Santa Fe Teahouse Chai to create a rich, spicy, tea with a soft liquid chocolate texture. Our ROOIBOS CHAI is a great choice for chai lovers who prefer a decaffeinated cup. We also offer WHITE SAGE MINT CHAI, which is a delicious blend of green tea, sage, mint, cardamom, and other spices.
We invite you to join us at The Teahouse for a delicious cup of freshly made chai: hot, creamy, spicy, and fragrant. You can also order our chai on our website—people from all over the country and as far away as Australia rely on us for their chai.