How To Find The Best Tea For Chai — And What To Eat With It

Sweet, spicy and fragrant, Chai tea is popular for good reason.

Chai is made from a mix of black tea, ginger and spices. Some of these can include cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, black pepper, star anise, coriander seeds and peppercorn. 

Different from traditional tea, which is mostly brewed with water, Chai is brewed with both warm water and warm milk, and is sweetened to a greater degree. 

Below is a beginner’s guide to Chai, its origin, what it’s made from, what the variations are and plenty more. 

The origin of the name Chai

“Chai” is quite simply the Hindi word for tea, itself derived from the Chinese word for tea, “cha”. According to one legend, the history of chai can be traced back over 5,000 years, when a king in what is now India demanded a spiced beverage with healing powers.

To stimulate digestion, the heat of the black pepper and ginger was brought into the equation. To relieve pain, cloves were added for their antiseptic properties. Cardamom to improve mood, cinnamon to support respiratory health (and likely because it tastes delicious) and star anise to keep your breath pleasant smelling and fresh. 

What spices are used in chai?

Cardamom is by far the most common spice in Chai, followed by the likes of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and star anise. It doesn’t have to end there, however, with pepper, coriander, fennel and nutmeg blending well with the tea. 

These spices used in Chai, as with a lot of food and drink, vary region to region, climate to climate. Some drinkers may include spices such as cumin. The further west Chai moved over its history, the more the likes of cacao, bay leaf, and even saffron were introduced. 

What types of tea can be used to make chai?

Chai can made with more teas than you might think, though the most popular choices are Assam and Darjeeling black teas. Less popular bases for chai include all manner of green teas, the South American herb yerba mate or the South African herb rooibos. 

Now, how you brew different bases is something you may want to jot down. For example, black teas can be brewed a bit longer than others and in hotter temperatures in the region of 200 to 212 degrees for 5 minutes. For chai with green tea bases, brew at a lower temperature of 170 to 190 degrees for 5 minutes. If you’re a casual tea drinker, this could be overlooked. 

What’s a dirty chai latte?

The Dirty Chai Latte is a normal cup of Chai mixed with a shot of espresso. If you were to double that espresso shot, then it becomes a Filthy Chai Latte. And made with a milk alternative, it becomes a Dirty Hippie Chai Latte. This beverage was apparently created by accident in England in the 90s when a barista mistakenly poured a shot of espresso into a customer’s Chai latte.

To fix yourself your own Dirty Chai, brew 8 ounces of black tea for 5 minutes in boiling water using a tea bag. Add a shot of espresso and 1 to 2 teaspoons of chai tea mix. Then heat up some milk (non-dairy for the hippies) and add to your liking. To level it up that little bit more, sprinkle on some cinnamon. 

Most coffee shops will serve Dirty Chai Lattes. Don’t worry if you can’t see it on the menu – you can just ask for a chai latte with a shot of espresso. If you’re in Starbucks, however, you’ll find Dirty Chai Lattes are on their “secret menu” so just ask. 

If you prefer your hot beverages cold, the Iced Dirty Chai Latte is what you need to be ordering. If that doesn’t meet your expectations, try the Blended Dirty Chai Latte, which is blended until smooth and usually served with whipped cream and toppings. 

What goes well with chai tea?

Tea pairings aren’t taken as seriously as wine pairings are but they’re just as specific. Commonly, sugars and cream are added to chai to turn it into a frothy milk latte. However, opting for a plan chai instead allows you to pair it with a milk chocolate treat and experience the treat a new way. 

Scones, especially for the British among you, pair well with chai. Although less sugary than other pastries, such as muffins, scones provide a sumptuous amount of butter, with an overall crumbly texture that is perfect to pick up when drinking your next cup of rich chai. 

For the Americans among you, beef jerky believe it or not, is a surprising mate of the fabled chai. Given that beef marinades often include cardamom and cinnamon, pairing a chai with a stick of chewy beef goes down a treat. Try to find jerky low in salt and enjoy a snack, full of protein. 

We compared chai pairings with wine pairings before, which are famously linked to cheese. Well, we weren’t joking. They really do have a lot in common. For example, brie (yes, brie) is known to compliment a cup of chai. Spread some of this mellow cheese on a piece of bread and prepare to have your mind blown. 

Josh Teal

Josh Teal is a freelance writer with wit and verve, powered by copious amounts of tea and coffee. That makes him something of an expert in all things brewing, whether it's for you or for your pets!

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