What Is Chai Tea?
Chai tea is black tea mixed with a blend of honey and spices, including cardamom and cinnamon. It's brewed with water, and milk is usually added.
Chai has a long history as a beloved beverage. But chai wasn’t always associated with black tea, as it is today. The earliest versions of chai were made entirely of spices, and it didn’t include any tea at all until British colonization of India.
In Hindi, "chai" means tea. The Western term typically used is "chai tea," and it's also known as masala chai (spiced tea).
Chai has always been extremely versatile, with preferred spices and ways to prepare it varying from one region or person to the next.
Today, chai tea can be found everywhere from authentic Indian restaurants to large chain coffee shops.
Chai vs. coffee
Chai tea comes in many forms, including as a tea bag or a concentrate, which is a prepared liquid form of the tea that calls for adding milk. The amount of caffeine in chai tea is lower than in coffee, with chai tea having about 40 milligrams of caffeine for tea bag varieties and up to 61 milligrams for concentrates. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 80-100 milligrams of caffeine.
Concentrates typically have added sugar, with some brands including up to 28 milligrams of sugar in a 12-ounce serving.
Chai vs. matcha
Matcha, a powdered form of Japanese green tea, receives a lot of praise for its high antioxidant content, which comes from polyphenols, plant compounds that can protect you from illnesses.
Chai tea provides many of the benefits of green tea, and it has a bold flavor and pleasant scent that few people can resist. Also, black teas, including chai tea, have an amino acid called L-theanine that isn't found in other teas like green tea. It's known to help with focus and stable energy levels.
Chai Tea Ingredients
Chai tea, whether prepared using a tea bag, concentrate, powder, or loose tea leaf variety, usually contains:
- Black tea
- Black pepper
The tea is finished by blending milk (or a milk substitute) and/or hot water.
Chai Tea Nutrition
Chai tea is a great source of antioxidants such as catechins and theaflavins. These fight oxidative stress and can play a role in preventing cancer and other conditions.
Depending on how it's prepared, chai tea may also include:
A cup of unsweetened chai tea brewed with water contains:
- 0 calories
- 0 grams of protein
- 0 grams of fat
- 0 grams of carbohydrates
- 0 grams of fiber
- 0 grams of sugar
How much caffeine is in chai? The amount of caffeine varies by brand, but an 8-ounce serving of chai tea can range from 40 milligrams of caffeine for tea bag varieties and up to 61 milligrams for concentrates, similar to other kinds of black or green tea (up to 50 milligrams).
Chai Tea Benefits
Depending on which spices are used and how it’s brewed, chai tea can provide a variety of noteworthy health benefits. It's often low in calories, making it a healthy substitute for sugary beverages such as hot cocoa or apple cider.
Other potential benefits include:
Lower blood pressure. The cinnamon in chai tea may prevent hypertension, especially in people with diabetes. Research also shows that people who drink several cups of black tea every day lower their blood pressure by several points.
Can help improve brain function. The black tea and spices found in chai can provide significant benefits to both short-term and long-term cognitive function. Research reveals that the mere smell of cinnamon can improve both attention and memory. Also, the caffeine and L-theanine in black tea are both linked to improved focus.
Lower blood sugar. Black tea helps to regulate glucose levels and may prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar. It is especially valuable for controlling glucose levels after drinking sugary beverages.
May help reduce bloating. Ginger, which can be found in chai tea, is known for helping with constipation and fermentation (the process your body uses to break down sugar), which are causes of bloating.
Is chai tea good for a sore throat? The polyphenols in black teas, specifically theaflavins that aren't found in other teas, are known to help with protection from illnesses. Also, honey, an ingredient in chai tea, can help with soothing a sore throat.
Side Effects of Chai Tea
Packaged chai tea mixes or pre-made drinks and concentrates often include high amounts of added sugar and dairy. Some varieties of chai tea concentrates contain up to 24 grams of added sugar per serving. Adding certain types of milk also increases sugar intake. The daily recommended amount of sugar is 24 grams in women and 36 grams in men, according to the American Heart Association. So, one serving of chai tea concentrate could meet the cutoff for your daily recommended sugar intake.
To maximize the health benefits of chai tea, check nutrition labels carefully. If possible, make it from home or try unsweetened varieties.
Although the amount is not as great as that in coffee, chai tea does contain caffeine. At 30-50 milligrams, black tea varieties can have about half the amount found in coffee. The FDA notes that a range of caffeine that can be safe is up to 400 milligrams a day for healthy adults (about four cups of coffee). Some side effects of too much caffeine include:
- Upset stomach
If you have side effects from caffeine, talk to your doctor about drinking chai tea or trying decaffeinated varieties.
How to Make Chai Tea
The way you prepare chai tea depends on the type.
Loose-leaf tea and tea bags. To brew a chai tea bag, simply boil water and steep the tea bag in the water for about 5 minutes. For loose-leaf tea, use a tea strainer (which holds the tea on top of your cup) or a tea ball (which contains the tea while it's steeping in the water) to make your cup of chai tea. You can also finish by adding milk. The recommended amount of milk ranges from a dash to equal parts milk and tea.
Concentrates and powders. Chai tea concentrate is the liquid form of the tea bag version, but includes added sugar. To make your chai tea using a concentrate, add equal parts of the concentrate to equal parts of milk or a milk substitute. You can enjoy this type of chai tea in many ways, including iced or steamed.
You can add powdered forms of chai tea to hot water or milk to match the flavor you'd like. But these forms can be highly processed.
Chai tea is a black tea that includes ingredients that have many health benefits. But some varieties have a large amount of added sugar and about half as much caffeine as coffee. Talk to your doctor about drinking chai tea if you have certain medical conditions or have side effects from caffeine.
Chai Tea FAQs
What's the difference between chai tea and chai latte? Chai tea is the name of the black tea that's usually steeped to prepare it. Chai tea lattes normally include much more sugar and you can find them as concentrates.
Can you drink chai tea every day? Black tea varieties, like chai tea, are considered safe for drinking daily. But black tea has a range of caffeine, from 30 to 50 milligrams, so it's best to limit daily tea drinking.
Does chai tea have more caffeine than coffee? No. Chai tea contains about 40-61 milligrams, and coffee packs 80-100 milligrams.