Sipping this fragrant, sweet tea doesn’t just warm the heart—it provides a dose of antioxidants, too, says food writer Monica Bhide.
Chai, which simply means “tea” in Hindi, is an integral part of the Indian subcontinent’s culture. From intense spiced black teas with hints of peppercorns to delicate green teas scented with saffron, there is a chai for every taste. Not only for sipping, brewed black tea also flavors certain curries and desserts—and is even used in hair and body treatments.
The most popular Indian teas are from Darjeeling and Assam. “The Darjeeling first flush [the earliest buds picked] is flowery, and the second flush is fuller bodied with a musky spiciness,” says Delhi-based tea sommelier Anamika Singh. For making traditional spiced chai, she recommends Assam tea, known for its briskness, malty flavor, and full body.
Authentic Indian chai is prepared by brewing loose black tea with milk, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and other spices. Not only is the tea itself an antioxidant, but these spices also have high antioxidant content, making spiced tea a deliciously healthy drink. “To obtain the maximum health benefits, don’t add milk,” says Singh, noting that some studies have found that adding milk cancels out the antioxidant properties of the tea and spices.
Spiced Chai for Two
2 cups water
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1-inch piece cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods, smashed
½ cup milk (optional)
1 tablespoon loose black tea leaves, preferably Assam tea
Sugar to taste
1. In a saucepan, combine the water, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Bring to a boil, and boil for about a minute. Add the tea and boil for another minute. Add the milk, if using, and boil for another minute.
2. Remove from the heat and strain into cups. Add sugar to taste and serve.