Have you ever wondered what’s in chai tea?
Sidebar: yes – “chai tea” is redundant and actually not the proper term for this beverage! That’s because “chai” means “tea” in numerous languages, including Hindi. So saying “chai tea” is actually like saying “tea tea.” But, since many of you out there are searching for “chai tea,” we’re referring to it that way in this blog. That said, if you refer to your next chai as just “chai,” you’ll be seen as much more of a tea pro!
Besides a plethora of chai-flavored teas and beverages on the market, chai tea spices are also commonly found in baked goods, candies, candle scents, face masks, and more. So why is it so popular?
While this specific type of tea may seem mysterious at first, it won’t be after reading today’s quick guide. We’ll share everything you need to know, including the health benefits of chai tea and how to make your own chai tea recipe at home.
What is Chai Tea?
Chai tea doesn’t exactly grow on trees like oolong tea or green tea. Instead, chai tea starts with loose-leaf Assam, Ceylon, or English black tea or black tea crystals. Then artisanal tea growers add warm, comforting spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and star anise to the black tea base.
The addition of these cozy spices (commonly called “chai spices), makes chai tea a perfect cold-weather beverage. But you can also enjoy this spiced black tea over ice during warmer weather.
The Two Most Popular Types of Chai Tea
Tea drinkers typically come across two different varieties of chai tea:
- Masala chai tea, which is a traditional Indian style chai containing fewer spices. It may only include hints of cardamom and ginger. And it’s often served with a splash of milk.
- Authentic chai tea. Unlike chai tea from India, authentic chai packs a variety of spices and flavors, including:
- Green cardamom
- Cinnamon stick
- Fresh ginger
- Black peppercorns
- Coriander seeds
This gives tea drinkers room to experiment with flavor profiles and spices they like best.
Is a Chai Tea the Same as a Chai Latte?
You can make a chai tea latte by adding steamed or frothy milk to your chai tea bags or crystals.
However, this is not the same as the popular chai latte drink at most chain coffee shops. At Starbucks, for example, baristas make a chai tea latte with a concentrated chai tea-flavored syrup and milk. So one chai tea latte made this way contains over 40 grams of sugar!
While that drink won’t do any favors for your health, chai tea is actually quite beneficial.
The Top 7 Benefits of Chai Tea
Because chai teas start with a black tea base and include various helpful spices, they pack a winning combination for many areas of your well-being. We think the best chai tea health benefits include:
1. Support for Better Digestive Health
Black teas come from oxidized/fermented tea leaves, which can be very beneficial for your digestive health. This specific type of tea contains flavonoids and two types of polyphenols: theaflavins and thearubigins.
So sipping cups of chai tea may help support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, which supports improved digestive health and may help with bloating.
2. Support for Heart Health
The black tea in chai is also beneficial for supporting heart health and healthy cholesterol levels.
Researchers learned that drinking 4-5 cups of black tea per day can support healthy blood pressure levels (2). And over the course of 12 weeks, scientists from another study discovered black tea drinking might result in support for healthy LDL/HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels — two crucial heart health markers (3).
The ginger in chai tea also plays a role in supporting heart health. It supports the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response and also encourages healthy blood flow (1). It has also been recognized for its ability to support healthy cholesterol levels, including the harmful LDL type (1).
3. Support for Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Black tea has also been studied for its ability to help support healthy blood sugar levels after eating in both normal and pre-diabetic adults (5). And researchers believe the cardamom, cinnamon, and black peppercorn found in chai tea may also help people maintain healthy blood sugar levels (4).
Although we need more research on humans, animal studies highlight how cinnamon and black peppercorn both reduce insulin resistance and fasting blood glucose levels too (1).
4. Healthy Cholesterol Management
In one study with pre-diabetic women, green cardamom helped support healthy cholesterol levels (6). The study on cardamom mentioned earlier also suggests that study participants experienced support for healthy cholesterol levels when supplementing with three grams of cardamom for 10 weeks (4).
5. Support for a Healthy Metabolism
Black pepper, another spice commonly found in chai tea, has been shown to aid digestion, support healthy blood sugar levels, and help with weight management in animal studies (1). When rats were fed a high-fat diet, the black pepper helped break down fatty acids and fat cells for improved lipid metabolism (1).
A similar finding was discovered in animal studies with black tea. This time, the black tea helped prevent the digestion and absorption of fat while also impacting fat build-up within the body (7).
Again, we need more research to confirm these findings in humans. Still, the results are positive and show that these ingredients may support healthy weight management efforts, as discussed in our black tea guide.
6. A Boost for Your Immune System
Another incredible health benefit of drinking chai tea is that it’s loaded with ingredients that contain antioxidants. These can help fight free radicals and support a healthy immune system.
Clove, for example, is a rich source of polyphenols and antioxidants. It also possesses antimicrobial properties to help combat a host of ailments (8)(9). Star anise is similar to clove because it’s also a powerful antioxidant with antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory characteristics (10).
And while ginger is known for its anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory properties, some animal studies show it’s also great for combating oxidative stress in the body due to its antioxidant properties (11).
7. Anti-Nausea Perks
Many people know that ginger is fantastic for easing symptoms of nausea and vomiting, especially in pregnancy, and research backs up these claims (13)(14). So drinking chai tea may alleviate tummy troubles before or when they set in.
Can You Drink Chai Tea Every Day?
With all those health benefits of chai tea, you may be wondering, is chai tea healthier than coffee? Can you drink it safely every day? The answer to both is absolutely!
Because of the powerful spices and black tea base, you’ll get a dose of healthy ingredients to support a number of systems in your body, including your gut, heart, and metabolism.
Does chai tea make you sleepy? Because it’s black tea, which contains caffeine, the answer is usually no. However, you’ll find less caffeine content in a cup of chai tea than a cup of coffee. (Amount of caffeine can vary depending on which tea you choose.)
Further, the effect of caffeine hits differently since it’s coming from black tea. See, tea contains l-theanine, a calming amino acid that helps counteract some of caffeine’s negative side effects (like the jitters). Rather than your system getting hit with a harsh jolt of energy, the caffeine in tea provides a sustained boost of calm yet alert energy. L-theanine is also released in small microdoses over 4-6 hours, so you can enjoy that steady flow of energy for much longer than you would with coffee.
Is chai tea a laxative like coffee can be? Nope! Since tea is hydrating instead of being a diuretic like coffee, it may be easier on your tummy too.
How to Make Your Own Chai Tea Using Black Teas and Spices
While you could technically buy chai tea commercially at the grocery store, it’s just as easy to brew your own at home. We recommend sticking to this homemade version so you can avoid the high amounts of sugar and chemical additives often found in store-bought options. This homemade chai will likely be as close to traditional chai as you can come.
Here’s a list of the ingredients you’ll need to have on hand to make one cup of a basic chai recipe. You can double or triple this to make a larger batch at once.
Chai Tea Ingredients (per cup)
- 1-2 packets of black tea crystals
- 2-3 whole cloves
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 2-4 whole black peppercorns (you can also use white peppercorns)
- ½-1 cinnamon stick
- ½ star anise
- 1.5 cups of water
- 2 small slices of fresh ginger
- A sprinkle of nutmeg
- Sweetener of choice (like maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or stevia)
Don’t feel locked into this list. You can eliminate spices you’re not crazy about or use the higher end of these ratios if you prefer a spicier beverage. Just experiment to find your perfect blend!
Chai Tea Cooking Instructions
- First, lightly toast your whole cloves, green cardamom pods, and whole black peppercorns in a skillet over medium heat for roughly 3-4 minutes to release their fragrance. Don’t cook them so long that they burn or get bitter.
- As that cooks, simmer 1.5 cups of hot water in a medium saucepan, along with your cinnamon stick, star anise, and nutmeg, for 15 minutes.
- Add in your toasted cloves, cardamom, and black peppercorns from step one towards the end of your simmer time.
- Stir in your black tea crystals (you can also use 2-3 black tea bags or loose leaf black tea leaves if you don’t have tea crystals). Add your sweetener of choice last.
- Stir everything to combine well. Turn off the heat and let this sit off the burner for 5 minutes. Strain everything out so you’re left with a fragrant chai tea.
- Enjoy as-is, or add milk or your creamer of choice to turn this into a comforting chai latte. You can also ice it down for a yummy iced tea!
Final Thoughts on Chai Tea Benefits
Now that you know the incredible health benefits of chai tea, and you know exactly how to make your own homemade version, you can savor a cup and feel good about what you’re drinking. Chai is perfect hot or cold and works any time of year (but it’s incredibly cozy during the fall and winter months).
If it’s your first time trying chai tea, let us know how it goes!