Spilling the Tea on the History of Chai

Spilling the Tea on the History of Chai

"Tea is the elixir of life" - Eisai, Kissa Yojoki

In recent years, chai lattes have grown in popularity and can be found in every coffee shop. However, the origin and benefits of chai are more than a cozy sweater-weather drink. As is the case with most cultural practices adopted by the West, chai’s cultural significance has not only been stifled through western assimilation, but has also resulted in incorrect interpretations of what chai actually is. Let’s dive into some of the ayurvedic benefits of chai and where it originated.

Chai: What It Is and the Ayurvedic Benefits

You’ve probably heard your favorite fall drink referenced as “chai tea.” However, in Hindi, “chai” literally means “tea”. So when someone orders a “chai tea,” they are actually asking for a "tea tea." The confusion with the phrase is likely due to the fact that “chai” is actually a shortened version of the actual name. Originally, it was know as "masala chai," which literally translates to spiced tea. Different variations of masala chai exist, but it traditionally consists of fresh ginger and other spices, such as cardamom and cinnamon. Additionally, while the drink can be brewed with or without tea leaves, it traditionally contains black tea leaves.

This blend of spices result in a tea loaded with health benefits and medicinal uses, commonly used in Ayurveda. Some Ayurvedic chai benefits include:

  • Digestive stimulation
  • Mood elevation
  • Boosted energy
  • Strengthened immunity
  • Anti-inflammatory properties
  • Several antioxidants

Origins of Masala Chai

Although there are differing accounts on the origins of masala chai, according to Indian folklore, it can be traced back to thousands of years ago to an Indian royal court during the 13th century. It is said that an ancient king wanted to create an Ayurvedic drink that combined spices known for their healing properties. At the time, the drink was served with warm water and did not contain any tea leaves.

The history of chai with tea leaves that is common to India today can be traced back to the 17th century. In 1610, after the start of the tea trade with China, the Dutch began importing tea into Europe as a medicinal drink. Originally, tea was reserved for the upper classes, but by the 18th century it had risen in popularity. Due to increased demand, the British were looking to make a profit and displace China as the main exporter of tea.

With the help of the British East India Company, an imperial corporation involved in the East Indian spice trade, they looked to India as a potential source to exploit for tea. After many failed attempts, they found a native tea bush in Assam, a state in northeastern India, that led to the successful production of tea. Assam was also of particular interest to the British because it was along the Silk Road, making it an advantageous location for trading goods between Eurasia. With their newfound success, the British were once again looking to expand their profits, so they began to promote tea sales in India. In fact, the Indian Tea Association, which was comprised of British tea estate owners, persuaded the government into implementing tea breaks for industrial workers. Although masala chai struggled to take off at first, after the first world war the drink's popularity rose, particularly with street vendors. By 1947 when India gained independence from the British, chai had become the nation's largest industry. Despite its early roots with British colonialism, chai now serves as a ubiquitous symbol of cultural heritage. It embodies comfort and hospitality in Indian culture.

Many customers love the taste of Potion because it reminds them of masala chai and gives an easy and convenient dose of herbal magic. Looking for a new way to incorporate Immunity Potion into your daily routine? Try adding it to your morning tea.