So First Off, What is Chai Anyways?
The drink most people think of when we talk about chai is a tea that was first enjoyed in India. I’ve been told in India they call it masala chai- which means spicy tea. And chai tea is generally made from five types of yummy spices. The dominant spicy flavor, and the first spice on our list, is cardamom. Additionally, you can usually find: cinnamon, ginger, black peppercorn and fennel seeds as the other ingredients in your beverage.
Of course, you can definitely mix and match your spices if you’re making this at home, so you could also use whole cloves, star anise or coriander seeds if you enjoy the flavors of those ingredients.
Side story time! When I was in undergrad I lived in this tiny apartment with a lovely family upstairs. I would regularly talk to the new mother while we did laundry. One weekend she invited me over to learn how to make homemade chai. It was a wonderful experience learning how to grate herbs and cook them in a saucepan.
Weekend cooking sessions quickly became a part of our routine, and we spent many a day making chai and breakfast together, singing songs, and playing cards in her tiny kitchen.
Once you have the spices you’d like to use, most people brew them in black tea or a mixture of black tea and milk.
But What About Caffeine? How Does Chai Stack Up to Coffee?
According to Livestrong.com*, here is the caffeine data of chai vs. green tea vs. coffee.
An 8-ounce cup of black tea that’s brewed for 3 minutes has 30 to 80 milligrams of caffeine, reports the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chai tea falls in the same range as generic black tea, as 1 cup of a brand name chai tea latte has almost 50 milligrams of caffeine. For comparison, the same amount of green tea has 35 to 60 milligrams, while a cup of coffee ranges from about 75 to 150 milligrams.
But What About Health Benefits?
While it really depends on what herbs you put in your tea, here is a rundown on the most common ingredients found in chai tea:
You would have to drink three cups of chai tea to achieve the same amount of caffeine you get in a single cup of coffee. And this ratio increases to 5:1 or 6:1 when you compare chai to strong coffee. By virtue of this fact alone, switching to chai will cut your caffeine intake dramatically, even if you have an extra cup. Finally we have an easy and enjoyable way to get off the stimulant/fatigue treadmill and enjoy something that is actually good for us!
Unlike coffee, chai has many inherently beneficial properties. The black tea in chai is rich in antioxidants and the spices in chai have been used for thousands of years to promote general health and well-being, as well as to treat various ailments.
According to Ayurvedic (Ancient Indian) philosophy and medicine, these spices are considered to be “sattvic,” or calming, vitalizing and mentally clarifying – The perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life! Consider these traditional uses:*
Cinnamon is thought to increase circulation and open breathing, increase awareness and vitality, and reduce fatigue. It is also reputed to be an aphrodisiac! (We won’t comment on this one.)
A popular spice in both the Indian and Chinese preparations, cardamom is said to benefit the lungs, kidneys, and heart. It is also a mood elevator.
Native to the spice islands of Indonesia, cloves have been used by the Chinese since 300 BC, and came to Europe in the 4th and 5th Centuries AD. Cloves have pain-relieving and antiseptic attributes. Like pepper and ginger, clove is also used to synergistically increase the potency of other herbal blends.
Widely used to support circulation and metabolism, black pepper can help to alleviate chronic coldness. (We can use more of that here, in the winter!) Attila the Hun demanded this spice as a ransom during the siege of Rome in 408 AD.
Nutmeg has been used for centuries to ease sciatica and promote the digestion of heavy foods. It was also used by ancient Arab physicians to treat kidney and lymph problems.
Chinese Star Anise
Traditional Asian herbalists credit star anise with a variety of properties. It’s used frequently as a cough remedy and to freshen the breath.
Long valued as a stimulant for the circulatory and the immune systems, ginger has been used to treat such disparate conditions as impotence and motion sickness.
An important medicinal plant in the royal herb gardens of medieval France and Germany, fennel is still widely used to treat both kidney and ocular problems, as well as laryngitis.