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Masala chai is a flavoured tea beverage made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic spices and herbs. Originating in the Indian subcontinent,the beverage has gained worldwide popularity, becoming a feature in many coffee and tea houses. Although traditionally prepared as a decoction of green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn together with black tea leaves, retail versions include tea bags for infusion, instant powdered mixtures, and concentrates.
The term “chai” originated from the Hindi word “chai”, which was derived from the Chinese word for tea, known as “cha”. In English, this spiced tea is commonly referred to as masala chai or simply chai,though the term refers to tea in general in the original language. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte or chai tea latte (essentially meaning “tea tea latte”) for their version to indicate that the steamed milk, much like a regular caffè latte, is mixed with a spiced tea concentrate instead of espresso. By 1994, the term had gained currency on the U.S. coffeehouse scene.
The recipe or preparation method for masala chai is not fixed, and many families have their own versions of the tea. Most chai contains caffeine, typically one-third that of coffee (if made with a black tea base). The tea leaves steep in the hot water long enough to extract intense flavour, ideally without releasing the bitter tannins. Because of the large range of possible variations, masala chai can be considered a class of tea rather than a specific kind. However, all masala chai has four basic components: milk, sugar, cardamom, and ginger. The western adaption of chai, or chai latte, has a lighter and sweeter taste than the Indian version of a more herbal and spicier milk beverage.
The base tea is usually a strong black tea such as Assam, so the spices and sweeteners do not overpower it. Usually, a specific type of Assam is used called mamri. Mamri tea has been cured in a special way that creates granules as opposed to “leaf” tea. It is inexpensive and the tea most often used in India. However, a wide variety of teas is used to make chai. Most chai in India is brewed with strong black tea, but Kashmiri chai is brewed with gunpowder tea.
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