Chai is the Indian word for tea (from the Chinese Cha). Traditional masala (mixed spice) chai, is about 5,000 years old and its roots can be traced unmistakably to the Hindu natural healing system, ayurveda, in which combinations of spices, herbs and sweeteners are used to cure bodily ailments.
Masala chai starts with a mix of sweet and savory spices such as cloves, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom (which is a base spice in almost any masala chai), peppercorn, ginger and sometimes fennel, which are ground and boiled in water. Black tea (Assam is a good base for a strong masala chai) is then added to the spice mixture which is steeped to preference, strained, then combined with any choice of milk and sweetened with honey.
In India, most people make masala chai at home, but chai wallahs sell chai to the thirsty on the go. Here, we get the Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks and other take-away tea establishments. For at-the-office cups of chai, I recommend Yogi Tea chai and Tazo decaf chai, but you really need the milk!
(photo: Suzanne Wejland)