Every Chai lover has a story of when the bug first bit them. For some it’s a mother special comfort tea, or the visits to a happy, rotund auntie. For others, it was born in the buzz of street food vendors, and the sizzling clay cups poured by a chai wallah. For me it is London. London you say? That doesn’t sound very authentic. Where is the street market? Where is the adventurous tourist praying for death, as his stomach tries to wrestle itself away from him in search of a toilet? Nonetheless chai will forever be linked with London for me. Newly married, on honeymoon, walking with a fresh young wife and a steaming cup of chai latte along the overcast edge of the River Thames. It’s a hard memory to beat.
So, what is this magical marvel that has so indelibly imprinted into my memory, pushing aside space reserved for a now spicier spouse? Let’s start with the obvious.
Chai is the Hindi name for tea. Chances are the Hindi speaker taking your order for chai-tea is smiling at you out of sympathy. Not everyone was made to be a Microsoft engineer, she is thinking. Tea-tea is not a thing. Flex your barista muscle by order a masala chai instead. “Masala” being a spice mix.
But scoring that date with her will need a little more street cred. Let’s break down a list of spices you might find in a typical chai masala blend. That way you can soud either like a champ or chump- depending on how tall you are – when you suavely ask if she uses Sri Lankan cinnamon or Casia bark in her chai. Traditional blends are regional and often familial.
Most blends begin with green cardamom. Its perfetly ok to leave it at that, and many versions do so. Other popular spices include ginger, cinnamon, pepper, fennel, cloves, anise seed, star anise, mace, nutmeg, cumin, coriander seed, almonds, saffron, chilli and lemon grass. Some more modern twists include rose petals, orange peels, cacao, vanilla and liquorice root.
The quality of the spice, ratios and selection thereof are the difference between the Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Olivera of chai. Freshness is key, and worth the effort to secure. You can try livening older spices by pan heating them and grinding them before use, but there is only so much gallop you can get from a dead horse. Sourcing and choosing between a wide range of varieties of each of the spices is one of our ongoing challenges. Even when they are in peak freshness, different varieties of and origins of each spice can have a massive impact on the end result.
Let’s not forget the “chai” part of masala chai. Traditional Chai is brewed with a strong black tea, typically an Assam, but green tea is also used in regions such as Kashmir where lighter aromatic marsala blends are favoured. The native Indian tea varietal associated with Assam (Assamica ) is particularly well suited for masala chai, as its robust character and bold colour are not diminished by the addition of spices and milk. It is worth noting that true tea, tea derived from the Camellia sinensis plant, has caffeine. Assamica varietals are known to have higher levels of caffeine than their cousins. Because of its brisk and bold character, Assamica and its hybridized offspring are commonly grown throughout regions outside of India, particularly in Africa. So, when selecting a tea base for your masala chai, you may want to broaden your scope of options. We use one of Malawi’s treasures, the Satemwa tea estate, as the base of our chai concentrate and our loose-leaf versions.
Masala Chai is traditionally brewed in hot milk and served sweet, but has made its way to the west in a number of formats, not the least of which being the spicy chai latte.
Enjoy a perfectly balanced spicy chai with our artisanal chai concentrate. Perfect for professional environments as well as home application. We use premium spices and tea to create a harmonious, full flavoured chai, without the effort. Or you can enjoy the ritual of chai preparation with our loose-leaf chai tea, or our sticky chai tea blends.