What is Masala Chai?
Masala chai is a drink commonly served piping hot and made from a combination of spices and tea. The tea leaves are usually crushed, teared and curled black loose leaf tea (known as CTC tea).
The proportion of spices and tea used in masala chai varies from household to household, and chaiwala to chaiwala, that is part of the beauty that makes this drink so diverse and special. But most recipes tend to use five key spices: ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom and clove.
Masala Chai Flavour Profile
Aromatic & Spiced
Masala Chai Spices
Antioxidising, sweet & spicy
Aromatic & flavourful
Anti-inflammatory & warming
The spices used to create masala chai which tantalise the taste buds are steeped in ancient folklore. More than 5,000 year ago, in the Indian Royal Court, a drink known as Kadha was created for a King. Its purpose was to cleanse and energise the body in the old Ayurvedic style. This drink used a blend of spices and milk (but no tea) and was successful in fortifying the King’s vigour. Since then, many variations of that original spice blend have been passed down through generations over thousands of years to resemble recipes familiar to us today.
There's an innumerable amount of spice blends used for masala chai these days. Star anise, fennel seeds, nutmeg, lemongrass, mace, tulsi and many more play starring roles in some recipes. But the all-important five most chaiwala's need to master are: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and clove.
Crushed, Torn & Curled Black Tea
The black tea used in masala chai is another vitally important ingredient that goes into making a delicious cup of masala chai. The tea goes through a process of being crushed, torn and finally curled to create the small black pellets you might have seen in loose leaf tea caddies or within standard tea bags. This process makes the tea taste stronger and more robust in flavour - perfect for blending with powerfully flavoured spices. The CTC method of processing tea was first used in the Amgoorie Tea Garden in Assam in 1930, a short trip from our own CTC tea source in the gardens of Assam.
Chai Guys founders on their first trip to Assam
Harvested tea ready to be processed
Modern-day chaiwala 'pulling' masala chai.
The Origins of Masala Chai
The origins of masala chai are steeped in history - both modern and ancient - with roots in ancient South Asian medicine, British colonialism, and modern innovation.
Our story begins in the region of Assam where tea plants have grown for thousands of years. Historically, locals used the tea plants as a herbal medicine. We also have records of spice mixes being boiled with milk, but without tea, to create ancient Ayurvedic medicines which are still being used to this day. However, it wasn’t until years later that these two key components of masala chai were united into one drink.
In the 1830s, tea from Assam and Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) was discovered by the British East India Company and turned into large plantations to export to Britain. Despite this proliferation, the availability of tea for local populations was scarce as the majority was shipped overseas.
In the early 1900s, in an effort to expand their already monumental profits, the British Indian Tea Association ran an aggressive campaign encouraging mining, factory, railroad and textile workers in India to drink tea for breakfast and on their breaks. However, if Indians wanted tea, they had very little access to it due to its prohibitive cost. And so - much to the chagrin of their colonisers - chaiwalas would supplement larger quantities of tea leaves with masala spice mixes from the old Ayurvedic recipes, as well as more milk and sugar to create their own version of the drink. Thus, masala chai was born.
Chai Guys Masala Chai
"Probably the best chai in London"
We knew that while Chai Guys’ success lay upon creating the best Masala Chai you could buy, it was also our biggest challenge. Part of the beauty of Chai is that no two households will make it the same way, and so we had a broad spectrum of people to please.
After sourcing our signature blend of black tea directly from the gardens of Assam, we spent eight months testing various iterations of Masala Chai. The end product is a soul-warming brew with a beautiful balance of spices that has become our best seller. Our Masala Chai is a journey of taste sensations, from the first sip you’re greeted by the sweet and minty flavour notes of cinnamon and cardamom, followed by the deeper, more robust flavours that you feel at the back of the throat from our fiery pepper, ginger and cloves.Shop our famous masala chai mix
A cup of Chai is only as good as the quality of the tea and spices that go into it. Chai Guys uses only the best. We source our teas directly from the gardens of Assam and mountains of Darjeeling in India. Our spices come from around the world and we grind them freshly ourselves. With each order, you will receive a step-by-step video guide on how to brew the Chai.
You can find simple instructions on how to brew chai here.
What's the difference between Masala chai and chai latte?
Authentic masala chai is not a powdered drink (as 'chai lattes' often are). It's a drink which is cooked with freshly ground spices and tea, to create a soul-warming drink.
In the UK and the western world, Masala Chai has become synonymous with the non-authentic, sugary Chai Latte, which you can find at all your high street coffee chains. Our goal is to redefine what Chai means to people in the western world, and to win over those who make this drink the authentic way at home too.
Chai Guys’ masala Chai uses a high proportion of spices to tea, brewed for a long time to extract all the flavours from our ingredients. We use traditional methods, but the end-product is a twist on a classic masala chai. You'll have to try it yourself to really understand what we mean!