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What is masala chai & why you should not call it “CHAI TEA”

A spicy, bold and milky cup of tea like masala chai is perfect for the colder seasons (although, I do enjoy it all year round!). This traditional tea blend is so warm and inviting! It is also common to find in coffee shops, bakeries and sometimes restaurants. However, even if a place offers masala chai that name exactly might not be on the menu. When you’re ordering one, do you find yourself asking the barista for a masala chai or a chai tea? The latter is usually what is written on the menu and, unfortunately, is incorrect.

What is “Chai”?

In India, the term “chai” was used to describe a concoction of steeped herbs and spices. It once didn’t contain any actual tea leaves! Today it is common to find tea used in this traditional drink with milk and sweetener. So, why should you be calling it “masala chai”?

Masala” translates to spiced and “Chai” translates to tea. Therefore, masala chai is spiced tea. Since “chai” actually means “tea” saying “chai tea” is redundant. Yes, most menus are in fact saying they serve “tea tea”. The proper name is “masala chai”. This is similar to “naan” which means bread so when saying “naan bread” you are saying “bread bread”.

How do you make Masala Chai?

There is no set recipe for masala chai. Traditionally, it consists of tea, milk, sweetener and spices. However, the spices vary. Some popular choices are cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorn and ginger. You can make masala chai with all of these spices and then some or you can also just make it with only cinnamon and ginger. Ingredients differ from region to region in India.