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Masala chai

Masala chai
Masala chai (literally "mixed-spice tea") is a beverage from the Indian subcontinent made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.
Terminology

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for "tea" in much of South Asia (Hindi: चाय cāy, Urdu: چاۓ cāy, Marathi: चहा cahā, Gujarati ચા chā, Bengali: চা cha, Mandarin: 茶 Chá) and many other parts of the world.[1] (For the etymology of chai and related words see Etymology and cognates of tea.) However, for many English speakers who refer to ordinary tea as "tea", the word "chai" has come to imply "masala chai".

Although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India, tea is ubiquitous throughout South Asia, where street vendors called "chai wallahs" (sometimes spelled "chaiwalas") are a common sight. Chai is also a popular item in the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Irani cafés or Chai Khanas.

The traditional brewing process boils or simmers the tea leaves over sustained heat, instead of steeping them in preheated water as it cools down. For more information about international preparation methods and consumption patterns, see Tea culture.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers outside those regions, the term "chai" is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal caffè latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

History

Tea plants have grown wild in the Assam region since antiquity, but historically South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than as a recreational beverage.[2] Some of the chai masala spice mixtures, or Karha,[3] that are still in current use are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts.

In the 1830s, the British East India Company became concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea, which constituted most of its trade and supported the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain: approximately one pound (by weight) per person per year. British colonists had recently noticed the existence of the Assamese tea plants, and began to cultivate tea plantations locally. In 1870, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain was still of Chinese origin, but by 1900 this had dropped to 10%, largely replaced by tea grown in British India (50%) and British Ceylon (33%).

However, consumption of black tea within India remained low until an aggressive promotional campaign by the (British-owned) Indian Tea Association in the early 20th century, which encouraged factories, mines, and textile mills to provide tea breaks for their workers. It also supported many independent chai wallahs throughout the growing railway system.

The official promotion of tea was as served in the English mode, with small added amounts of milk and sugar. The Indian Tea Association initially disapproved of independent vendors' tendency to add spices and greatly increase the proportions of milk and sugar, thus reducing their usage (and thus purchase) of tea leaves per liquid volume. However, masala chai in its present form has now firmly established itself as a popular beverage, not just outlasting the British Raj but spreading beyond South Asia to the rest of the world.[4]

Outside of India

As the popularity of masala chai has spread around the world, the nature of the beverage has changed in various ways beyond the redundant terminology noted above. Its original form remains available in restaurants that serve South Asian cuisine, but outside those venues, many Westerners are just as likely to consume their "chai" as a slushy iced beverage resembling a milkshake as to drink it as hot spiced tea.[citation needed] Chai flavouring is also used in baked goods such as pumpkin pies, biscuits or butter tarts.
[edit] Tea-based mixes/concentrates

Liquid "chai concentrates" have become very popular for their convenience, as these spiced, sweetened tea-based syrups merely require dilution with milk, water, or both to create a flavorful hot or cold beverage. Most coffeehouse chains use commercial liquid concentrates instead of brewing their own chai from scratch. Dry powdered or granular mixes similar to instant coffee are also commercially available.

Both dry instant mixes and liquid concentrates can be replicated at home. A liquid concentrate can be made by brewing an unusually concentrated pot of highly spiced tea, so that the dilution of a small amount into a cup of hot water or a glass of cold milk results in roughly the same concentration of tea as in a normally-proportioned brew; e.g., to make a syrup from which one ounce suffices to make one eight-ounce cup of normal chai when diluted, brew tea (and the proportional quantity of spices) at eight times normal concentration.

Similarly, unsweetened iced-tea powder can be tailored to individual taste with powdered spices, sugar, and (if desired for convenience and texture) dry nonfat milk and dry non-dairy creamer; the result can be mixed with hot water to produce a form of instant chai masala. This form of dry mix has certain disadvantages, however: the powdered spices may leave a grainy residue at the bottom of the cup, and it may dissolve poorly in cold water, especially in the presence of dry milk/creamer powders.

Other chai shortcuts


Many Western supermarkets now sell pre-packaged single-serving teabags of "chai". The packaged directions generally call for steeping the small bag of ground spices and tea leaves in a cup of hot water for several minutes longer than plain teabags, resulting in a beverage which is slightly stronger than the average teabag brew but still not as intense as traditional preparations.

Some American supermarkets also carry bottles of "chai spice" alongside their dried herbs and other spices. Unlike Indian spice mixtures, the American ones are generally made from powdered spices (cinnamon tends to be the dominant flavor) and sometimes sugar; this mixture can be added at the last minute to an already-brewed cup of tea as there is no need to strain off the solids.

Cold "chai"


As an alternative to the hot tea format, several types of cold "chai" beverages have become popular in the United States. These range in complexity from a simple spiced iced tea without milk to a slush of spiced tea, ice, and milk (or non-dairy creamer) mixed in a blender and topped with whipped cream.

Components

Many Western commercial preparations such as Oregon Chai use non-traditional ingredients such as vanilla[7] or chocolate, relegating the traditional masala spices to a relatively minor role.

During the Christmas season, a quick chai fix can be made by combining plain tea with eggnog as a convenient pre-spiced, pre-sweetened dairy product.

Non-tea-based variants may be prepared with herbal tisanes such as rooibos, or with the South American beverage yerba mate.

Some coffeehouses in the United States offer a version of masala chai augmented with espresso, but this beverage does not have any one universally recognized name. Depending on the establishment, it may be called "java chai", "red eye chai", "chai charger", "tough guy chai", "dirty chai", or many other different names.[citation needed] However, despite the common tendency in many countries to use the term "latte" to mean "cafe latte", the term "chai latte" does not generally imply the presence of coffee in the beverage; see the Spiced tea terminology above.

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