Britons have long been known for their tolerance of queues. We’re famous for it, in fact. Yet the recent influx at Tea-shops across the UK has put our collective patience to the test.

Perhaps you, too, have found yourself in this position, waddling gradually towards the counter, eyes darting around for some form of entertainment. Settling your gaze at the blackboard, you might have indeed wondered “what is Chai Tea?”

It seems to be everywhere - silently taking the country by storm. But did you know that “Chai Latte,” the term that most often appears above the heads of barristers, isn’t what it seems?

Despite its unmistakable popularity, there is little authenticity found here. To truly understand “what is Chai Tea?”, you must learn about its roots, its origins - the Indian subcontinent.

Western drinkers first acquired a taste for Chai Tea in the 1990s. In India, meanwhile, this aromatic delight arguably dates back millennia. From region to region, village to village, and even household to household, recipes differ significantly from one another. There, a Masala Chai Tea, as its officially known, has taken on a life-force of its own.

The following article will explore all aspects of “what is Chai Tea?”, diving deep into its history, ingredients and Chai Tea benefits. And once you know the facts, you can buy from The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. We pack all Loose Teas, Tisanes and Coffees fresh to order - our way of guaranteeing both quality and consistency. What’s not to like?

What is Chai Tea

What is Chai?

Let’s start at the beginning of “what is Chai Tea?”. This delectable infusion is a type of flavoured Indian Black Tea combining the finest quality leaves with a variety of herbs and spices.

The leaves, in particular, most commonly originate from the Camellia sinensis var Assamica (Indian Tea) plant. Its other ingredients, meanwhile, derive from across the Indian subcontinent.

We’ll look into these ingredients in more detail in due course. For now, it’s worth noting that a typical cup of Chai Tea contains cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn and star anise.

Slightly more unusual blends, on the other hand, might have ginger root, turmeric, fennel, ginseng, lemongrass, liquorice root or nutmeg. Regardless of its components, Chai Tea benefits the mind, body and soul in a plethora of ways.

Types of Chai Tea vary depending on the area of India they come from. The northern Indian state of Rajasthan, for example, makes it by adding camel milk.

In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, it includes buffalo milk. Then there is a recipe from the state of Jammu and Kashmir known for its pinkish tint from adding salt. In some regions, a dollop of butter is the preferred choice.

Due to the multitude of recipes available, it’s immensely difficult to describe the taste of Chai Tea comprehensively. However, as a rule of thumb, it offers a distinctly bold flavour with sweet, spicy hints in every sip. From Cutting Chai to Irani Chai; Darjeeling Chai to Assam Chai; and then, of course, Masala Chai, the possibilities are almost endless.

Chai Tea Ingredients

Chai Tea Ingredients

The term “Masala Chai”, translated from Hindi, means “Spiced Tea” (मसालेदार चाय). It stands to reason, then, that a cuppa of it involves a multitude of delicious, indulgent ingredients.

Let’s now explore “what is Chai Tea?” component by component, beginning with the significance of each ingredient in Indian culture. Most, if not all, have a close association with the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda.

An estimated 80% of rural communities in the country use Ayurvedic Medicine, which involves using herbs and spices to balance one’s “doshas”. Doshas, in turn, are energies in the body that make up every individual, of which there are three: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha, according to Ayurveda, has a different function, providing spiritual harmony when balanced. 

  • Vata: Controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, blinking, breathing and the heartbeat.
  • Pitta: Regulates the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition and temperature.
  • Kapha: Influences growth in the body. It also supplies water to all the body parts, moisturises the skin and maintains the immune system. 

But what, exactly, are the ingredients found in Chai Tea? And how can they reportedly balance the doshas in the body? Keep reading to discover more about its components, thus enabling us to get one step closer to understanding “what is Chai Tea?”.

Loose Leaf Black Tea

Loose Leaf Black Tea

Black Tea is one of the four primary Types of Tea, the others being Green, White and Oolong. The difference between each one comes about through the processing of the leaf.

This particular type undergoes the most processing, which involves a significant period of oxidation. In oxidising the leaf, it changes colour from green to brown to black.

What’s more, and perhaps more importantly, oxidation has a dramatic influence on the chemical structure and, ultimately, the taste of the Tea. Upon brewing, Black Tea loses the grassiness of its greener counterpart, instead consisting of distinct notes of malt and/or earth.

Depending on the type, there may also be hints of chocolate and spice, with each variety having something unique to offer. 

When it comes to Chai, the most common Black Tea acting as a base is Assam Tea. Originating from the Indian state of the same name, Assam Tea first appeared on the scene in 1823. Since then, it has been “adopted” by Ayurveda for complementing the Vata dosha.


Cardamom: An Ingredient Used

This spice comes from the seeds of several plants in the Elettaria and Amomum genera. It belongs to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and has been a staple of Indian diets for thousands of years.

It’s considered one of the world’s oldest spices and remains a very popular ingredient used in Tea (both so-called “regular” Tea and Herbal Tea) and curries.

Cardamon’s distinct, bold and slightly sweet flavour makes it easily recognisable. During the 19th century, British colonists in India set up large-scale cardamom plantations for its cultivation.

However, even before this period, it was highly revered in Ayurvedic medicine. Cardamom is a “tridoshic”, which means it can balance all three doshas.


Peppercorn: An Ingredient Used

Peppercorns, like ginger, are well known in the west. We use them daily in myriad dishes from the mundane to the extravagant. Peppercorns in Chai Tea, meanwhile, are equally essential.

Deriving from a flowering vine in the Piperaceae family, they often enhance the already spicy notes of this beverage, providing an unmistakably full-bodied kick.

When it comes to Ayurveda, peppercorns can “pacify” both the Vata and Kapha doshas while also increasing the Pitta dosha. They help the free flow of oxygen to the brain, enhance digestion and circulation, stimulate the appetite and maintain respiratory system health.

In the world of science, they also have anti-inflammatory properties, thus improving skin health.


Cinnamon: An Ingredient Used

Cinnamon is both a spice and bark from several trees in the Cinnamomum genus of the Lauraceae family. Trade in this ingredient began many hundreds of years ago, with Arab merchants once maintaining a monopoly over the industry. In order to entice potential customers into a sale, these dealers once told colourful, fantastical stories about the origins of cinnamon.

According to one tale, gigantic birds “guarded” this spice high on mountain peaks - away from the people. When local communities discovered its existence, however, they decided to lure the birds down from their perches using ox meat.

The creatures took the food back to their nests where the weight of it toppled the cinnamon down to the ground. All that was left, then, was to collect it - or so the story goes.

There is, unsurprisingly, no truth to any of it. Nevertheless, the complex flavour of cinnamon makes it the perfect addition to Chai Tea. Adding it to a blend offers a distinct bittersweet note while simultaneously supporting the Pitta dosha.


Cloves: An Ingredient Used

Cloves are flower buds from the Syzygium aromaticum tree, which in turn belongs to the Myrtaceae family. They provide one of the most potent flavours in the world of spice, best described as strong, pungent, sweet yet slightly astringent. Some also note their warming sensation on the palate, particularly when added to a Chai Tea blend.

According to Ayurvedic beliefs, cloves balance the Vata and Pitta doshas. It enhances circulation, digestion and metabolism, while also offering relief from stomach complaints such as gas, bloating and nausea.

Furthermore, modern science recognises the potential of cloves outside of holistic healing. Indeed, studies suggest that it might regulate blood sugar, thus reducing diabetes risks.

Ginger Root

Ginger Root: An Ingredient Used

Ginger Root is a spice that requires little introduction. Unlike countless other spices of Asian origin, this particular herb of the Zingiberaceae family has been familiar to the west for at least 2,000 years.

Nowadays, we use ginger in a wide variety of household and commercial foods, including, of course, Chai Tea. It has refined tangy notes which often stand out in any recipe.

Traditional Ayurvedic texts refer to Ginger Root Tea as a remedy for many ailments prevalent in ancient Indian society. Like cardamom, it is a tridoshic.

Still, most commonly, this herb works with the Pitta dosha in aiding digestion. The same indeed applies to its modern-day use, with scientists recognising its ability to reduce intestinal gas, flatulence and bloating.

Star Anise

Star Anise: An Ingredient Used

Star Anise is the seed pod from the fruit of the Illicium verum tree. It’s as beautiful as it is delicious, going beyond the boundaries of Indian tradition to play an essential role in Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese cultures, too.

Despite the misleading name, it is not, in fact, related to the aniseed plant. Nevertheless, many would say the flavours are comparable.

This is because of a compound called anethole found in both Star Anise and Aniseed, which provides a liquorice-like taste. In Chai Tea, this enables it to offer a natural sweetness with subtly herbaceous undertones.

Ayurvedic medicine recognises its capacity to treat nausea, vomiting and gastric distress. Most interestingly, modern science actually agrees!


Turmeric: An Ingredient Used

Turmeric goes by a very telling nickname: “The Spice of Life”. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family like ginger and cardamom. In terms of its taste, it has sharp, earthy, bitter notes - notes, we hasten to add, that make for an excellent addition to Chai.

Some may also choose to enjoy Turmeric Tea as a standalone Herbal Tea. Whatever you decide, you’re in for a treat.

Turmeric is a tridoshic, assisting digestion, supporting the immune system and even detoxifying the liver. From a scientific standpoint, it has greater potential still.

Due to its prevalence in antioxidants, particularly a compound called curcumin, Turmeric Tea Benefits can combat free radicals in the body. This ultimately enables it to reduce the risk of developing several chronic conditions.

Other Ingredients

Other Common Ingredients

These are but the most classic ingredients found in Chai Tea. Others include fennel, liquorice root and nutmeg, all of which provide sweet overtones.

Then there is Lemongrass, a herb known for its citrusy flavour. Ginseng, on the other hand, has notably earthy qualities (as well as extraordinary Ginseng Tea benefits.) And yet, there’s more.

Take our Madagascan Vanilla Chai Tea, for instance, which, as its name suggests, contains vanilla pods. Alternatively, we stock Night of the Iguana Belgian Chocolate Chai. And no, before you ask, no iguanas were hurt in the making of this brew!

It does, however, boast ingredients such as apples, oranges and lemon, thus giving it a fruity twist. So, in other words, “what is Chai Tea?” can mean nearly anything!

Chai Tea Recipe

Chai Tea Recipe

Are you interested in brewing homemade Chai Tea? It’s easier than you might think. Providing you have at least some of the above ingredients to hand, the process requires little effort.

Best of all, it’s great fun, resulting in a delicious, invigorating beverage like no other. Below is but one of many recipes you can try for yourself. Just follow these instructions:

Time needed: 15 minutes.

How to Make Masala Chai Tea

Ingredients: Assam Tea, cardamom pods, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, milk, sugar, water.

  1. Crush Herbs and Spices

    Crush cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon in a mortar or coffee grinder.

  2. Place Herbs into a Saucepan

    Place crushed spices into a small saucepan.

  3. Add Water and Other Ingredients

    Add water, ginger and pepper, then bring to a boil.

  4. Allow to Cool Once Boiled

    Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let it steep for approx. five minutes.

  5. Boil Again and Add Milk and Sugar

    Replace saucepan on the heat with the addition of milk and sugar and bring to a boil.

  6. Add the Tea Leaves

    Once again remove from heat and add our House Assam Tea.

  7. Allow Flavours to Infuse

    Cover and steep for approx. three minutes.

  8. Ensure you Stir

    Stir thoroughly for 90 seconds.

  9. Cooking Over Now Strain

    Strain into a warmed teapot or directly into mugs or cups.

  10. You Have Made Chai Tea

    Serve, relax, enjoy!

Buy Chai Tea Online

Chai Tea Selection

If you’d prefer to keep things simple, there’s always the option of buying from The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Indeed, we stock a wide range of Chai Tea blends - with each as wholesome and refreshing as the last.

Although we’ve mentioned a few in the article above, there are many more waiting to be discovered right here with us.

  • Chai Tea Bags: These little pockets of goodness contain Black Tea, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Such is its extraordinary flavour that it won the Great Taste Award in 2006. The recipe came from a Grandmother of a very old acquaintance of Mr Richard Smith.
  • Spicy Turmeric Chai Tea: This infusion is for the adventurous. As its name suggests, it comes with a spicy kick from start to finish, combined with the earthy notes of turmeric. What’s more, health-conscious individuals choose it for its benefits.
  • Nepal Masala Chai Tea: Travelling over the Indian border, this is a beverage teeming with character and charm. We use Black Nepal Tea from the Shree Antu region, to which we add cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and lemongrass.
  • Red Chai Rooibos Tea: If you’re looking to cut down your Caffeine in Tea intake, this is, undoubtedly, an excellent choice. The base ingredient is Rooibos, a herb that grows exclusively in the Cederberg region of South Africa. It also includes a variety of Indian spices.
  • Cochin Masala Chai: This is one of our most popular varieties, a blend of Broken Orange Pekoe Tea from Assam and Kerala. South Indian spices accompany its base, creating a remarkably full-bodied taste with every sip.


There is no one answer to “what is Chai Tea?” due to the fact that there are so many varieties. While Chai Latte is one option, more authentic types originate from the Indian subcontinent.

They often contain a variety of herbs and spices, including Black Tea, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and peppercorns. According to the Ayurveda, these ingredients have healing properties.

There are also studies indicating that the components found in Chai can provide scientifically-proven chai tea benefits. Most, however, choose it for its great taste.

Whether you’re here for flavour or an improved sense of wellbeing, you’ll surely never look at that Tea-shop blackboard the same way ever again.

Author: Richard Smith

Partner at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company

Richard Smith is a Tea expert, entrepreneur, and owner of The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Part of a family of renowned Tea planters dating back four generations, he was born in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, where he spent his childhood between Tea Estates in Assam and Darjeeling.

In the late 1970s, having accumulated years of knowledge in the industry, Mr Smith and his mother, Janet Smith, moved to Kent, South East England, to establish a Tea business in the village of Pluckley. Their early days of packing Tea Bags by hand from chests of 10,000 prompted the creation of the company’s flagship infusion known as Pluckley Tea. It remains our most popular product today.

Mr Smith, who studied economics at London Polytechnic, has since specialised in over 1,000 types of Loose Leaf Tea - in addition to around 70 varieties of Roast Coffee - from around the world. These are now available at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, where everything is still packed by hand and fresh to order, not only to honour tradition but to ensure the utmost quality and consistency.