Chai, also known as masala chai, is a sweet but spicy drink that is now being served in teahouses and coffee shops up and down the country. A new cafe staple, this Indian tea is made using a robust blend of spices that has been used for therapeutic and medicinal purposes for centuries.
Its healing properties might even hold the answer to all your problems – your knee, your hip, joints, head... and even your personality. Alas, it’s not a miracle drink. But it has been proven to have significant health benefits, as well as being the favourite drink of many across the world. So, what is chai?
In India, the word ‘chai’ refers to any and all of the wonderful kinds of tea. What we know as ‘chai’ – the spicy, milky hot drink that many associate with Christmas because of its use of seasonal spices like cinnamon – is actually called ‘masala chai’. Over in the West, we’ve basically given it a nickname, and now almost exclusively refer to it as ‘chai’ instead of its full name of ‘masala chai’.
In reality, by calling ‘masala chai’ simply just ‘chai’ actually makes us look a bit silly. In Hindi, ‘masala chai’ means ‘spiced tea’ - with ‘chai’ simply meaning ‘tea’. So, when we ask for a ‘chai latte’, a ‘chai tea’ or even a ‘chai tea latte’, we are actually (rather confusingly) asking for a ‘tea coffee’, a ‘tea tea’ or even a ‘tea tea coffee’. Don’t look so clever now, do we?
The grand history of chai
Legend has it … well actually, history has it, that this spicy mylky tea was born in India hundreds of years ago. It was made using a combination of different spices prepared in lots of different ways, being a common and traditional remedy for various bodily ailments that could be made at home and adapted to what was available.
When the British set foot in India, they set up tea plantations which began producing black tea to be exported back to Britain and around the world. This black tea eventually made its way into local masala chai recipes. These homemade teas were the forefathers of the distinctive chai flavour that we now know today – a concoction of spices, mylk, sweetener and black tea.
Eventually, masala chai became the drink of choice for many families, becoming the afternoon tea to have in India. Soon enough, the popularity of chai spread outside of India, and now it is well known globally for being a healing, restorative drink with its signature spicy but sweet taste.
The superpowers of chai
Not only is chai a tasty alternative to your standard coffee or breakfast tea, but there are also quite a few health benefits of chai tea. Turns out, this mylky tea is actually really good for your health. Unsurprising really since it has been used as a remedy for various bodily ailments in India for hundred of years.
By drinking chai, you can help improve your digestion as the spices like clove and ginger in chai aid in regulating your digestive function. Spices like fennel and black pepper offer a daily dose of antioxidants – more antioxidants in fact than most fruit and veg, meaning that regularly drinking chai can help improve the overall health of your cells.
Your immune system will also get a boost through drinking chai if it contains cardamom (which is in most chai spice blends), as cardamom contains plenty of antioxidants and is believed to help lower blood pressure, strengthen your liver and fight bacteria. The black tea and cinnamon in chai also helps lower our levels of bad cholesterol, contributing to a healthy heart. As well as all this good stuff, your masala chai also contains our good ol’ friend caffeine (unless you opt for a caffeine-free version). The average chai tea contains about a third of the amount of caffeine in a regular cup of coffee. So you can also get your morning caffeine kick from it!
Giving some lovin’ to an old (tea) bag
The big question is – what do you do with leftover tea? Putting them in the normal rubbish bin is a definite no-no (our landfills are full enough thank you). Chucking the tea bag or leftover tea spices into your compost bin is an obvious one and much more eco-friendly. But there are loads of other weird and wonderful ways that you can give a new lease of life to chai spices once you’ve made yourself a homely cup of masala chai.
You could add to your kitchen know-how by using teabags and spices to flavour pasta or rice dishes - simply use discarded teabags to flavour pots of boiling water that can then be used to cook pasta and rice in, adding new flavours to your dishes. Or, you could make use of your green fingers by rebrewing used teabags or spices in a bucket of water to then water your garden with, giving your plants a dose of nutrients.
At UpCircle, we’ve come up with another way to reuse leftover chai spices. We are committed to making this yummy, health-boosting drink even more feel-good by turning the leftover spices into luxurious aromatic soap bars. Using the residual chai spices from the delicious vegan Chai Syrup by the clever guys over at Henny & Joe’s, we make our indulgent chai soap bars. This not only means that we can create natural, eco-friendly soap bars by reloving leftover chai spices, but we can also embrew all the health benefits of chai tea into our soaps. Sounds like a win-win to us!
Committed to making ethical beauty products, at UpCircle we make our products by reusing and repurposing quality by-products of other processes, that would otherwise end up in landfill. Not only are they eco-friendly and made using only good stuff (100% natural), our chai soaps are also COSMOS & Soil Association certified, palm-oil free AND vegan. Talk about pulling out all the stops.