We hate to be dramatic...
So it'll come as no surprise that we consider masala chai to be the QUEEN of black tea blends. Not only does its origins span hundreds and thousands of years, but it has also been used as an ancient health remedy, aiding in digestion, being full of antioxidants, AND boosting the immune system.
What more could you want?
Masala chai translates to 'spiced tea' and is the most popular form of tea in India.
Typically, masala chai is made from black tea leaves, milk, sugar, black pepper, ginger, cloves, and cardamom: which all come with their own histories and purposes.
The earliest records of this magical brew date back 5,000 years ago to the courts of King Harshavardhana, where it was developed as an ayurvedic drink. The king would drink the chai in order to stay awake through long court days, and the chai was eventually used as a welcome drink for guests.
Over time, the tea trickled down to the lower classes, where the drink would be served in small clay pots called kullhads by chaiwallahs. These chaiwallahs would serve the masala chai at busy places such as train stations, where they would make large batches of the chai and sell them to travellers and passing customers. Over time, these little chai stalls became a meeting place for people to socialise and discuss the daily dramas.
Prior to 1835, the drink was composed just of spices and sugar, but the British introduced black tea leaves to the drink when they headed east to colonise. During the beginning of the 20th century, milk was also introduced to chai, when travellers and traders across India decided that they needed a way to enhance the flavour of the spices without increasing the price. This resulted in the sweet, spicy, creamy tea that we have now.
Masala chai is now a staple across the world, with every country and region serving it slightly differently. In India, Kashmir serves green tea instead of black tea, Western India leaves out the cloves and black peppercorns, Bhopal adds salt to the blend, and other places merely opt for a basic blend of tea, cinnamon, and ginger. And then in the UK, EISA Tea Co. serves vegan sticky masala chai!
All in all, it's a pretty interesting brew!