Masala chai, often simply referred to as “chai,” originated in India as a delicious combination of sweet and spicy tea with boiled milk. In recent years, chai has gained popularity in the U.S., Australia and Europe as a trendy favorite in coffee shops and as a popular at-home treat.
In India, chai long was a stable of the working class, as it combines tasty tea with the sustenance of milk, spices and a hint of sugar or honey, making it a drink that provides energy for working throughout the day. As India evolved, chai grew popular among people across most castes, not just day laborers.
In the U.S., part of chai’s appeal is that the tasty drink that can be made fairly healthfully and kept low-calorie when brewed at home. The recipe for at-home brews is simple: Choose a good chai, steep, and then add some dairy or non-dairy milk.
According to Mintel, from September 2015 to September 2016, chai latte launches — prepackaged powdered teas, ready-to-drink liquid chai or chai bags — increased by 20% globally.
In the U.S., in 2015, consumers spent $75 million on chai ready to be brewed at-home in tea bags, according to data from SPINS. That was a 15% increase from the year before. In that same timespan, sales of chai liquid concentrates grew 21.2%. Chai sales continue to increase year over year.
The reasons are many: It has become popular with stars, from Oprah to the Kardashians. Most chai is gluten-free. It can also be made vegan. Many chais are hydrogenated-free and trans fat-free, which can be determined by studying the ingredients list. Chai can also be made healthier when a sugar-free or low-sugar version is chosen.
Another reason for chai’s gain in popularity is that chai, like chocolate and red wine, is packed with flavonoids and antioxidants, which carry health benefits. Flavonoids have been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Additionally, the spices used in chai, like ginger, cinnamon and turmeric, are also linked to health benefits. Ginger may help reduce nausea, pain and inflammation. Cinnamon may help stabilize blood sugar, according to WebMD. Turmeric has been linked to several health benefits, from helping lower joint inflammation to lowering cancer risk.
When brewed at home, or when a healthier powder version is chosen, consumers can maximize chai’s health benefits by keeping the sugar content low, making for a low-calorie, low-sugar drink. For example, David Rio chais are around 60-120 calories each.
How to choose a good chai When it comes to selecting a tea, consumers will want to focus on quality and preference. For quality, non-GMO, organic teas are best. For taste, consider how spicy to go. Some spices used in chai include: ginger root, green cardamom and cardamom seed, cinnamon, star anise, clover and peppercorn. Some specialty flavors get themed to enhance certain flavors, like vanilla or pumpkin. It can be fun to try a variety to find favorites.
A few options include: brew-at-home chai tea meant to be taken with milk or a non-dairy milk alternative, decaffeinated versions, sugar-free versions, and even dairy-free powders.
One thing is sure: More Americans are trying chai and finding that they like it.
Interested in finding the right chai for you? David Rio has a chai for everyone — with various flavors that are more spicy or more sweet, sugar free, gluten free, varieties that use a green tea, black tea or white base - and many more options. You name the chai, and we have it. All David Rio teas are organic, non-GMO and Kosher certified. Check out our selection.