Legend and lore suggest Chai Tea was invented by a royal king in India who kept his recipe undisclosed and sacred. In fact Chai Tea is a product of Ayurveda, a science of India that dates as far back as five thousand years. Chai does not refer to a particular type of tea but the manner in which it is prepared and served, with milk/cream and honey/sugar. Traditionally each family would have their own recipe of herbs and spices to mix and boil with tea leaves. This recipe was based on available ingredients and the constitutions of family members. Typically this is a highly potent blend that has myriad medicinal and health promoting properties. Among these benefits of consuming Chai regularly is to increase the digestive fire, sooth and relax the digestive tract, increase waste and toxin excretion, elevate metabolism, and decrease appetite.
Science is finding Tea (Black, Green, and Oolong), the main ingredient of Chai, is an excellent source for anti-oxidants, good for the heart, and reducing cholesterol levels. In addition numerous herbs are combined with the Tea to give it its unique flavors and healing properties. It isn’t one herb or spice in general that aids in digestion but the combination of many acting together. The result is a delicious, piquant, and often times dark brew.
Chai Tea, like the human body, is a homogenous mixture of many compounds acting and reacting together to create harmony. As with soup, the ingredients when boiled in water draw out and enhance the flavors within one another before fusing together to form one wholesome decoction you can drink. Digestion begins with the mouth and usually we tend to equate bad tastes and smells with being good for us. Such is not the case with Chai. It represents a harmonious blend of all five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and spice) recognized by the taste buds that is also pleasing to the other senses.
Text of the ancient healing tradition Ayurveda indicate that cardamom tea has been used after meals to aid digestion for about 5,000 years. Based on anecdotal reports, acid from coffee and spicy foods such as curry can irritate the intestines, produce gas and make dairy difficult to digest. “Yoga Journal” says cardamom can be brewed and added to coffee to neutralize the acid and can be consumed as a tea during or after meals to reduce the gas associated with spicy foods.
Black Pepper is one of the first ingredients to stimulate the body as it works with the taste buds and their relationship to the stomach. The taste buds signal the stomach to excrete hydrochloric acid which is necessary for digestion of proteins and other food components. If food goes undigested by the stomach it can sit sedentary for hours. This leads to symptoms of indigestion and/or heartburn. If undigested food moves into the intestinal tract it begins to rot. The intestines are meant for absorbing nutrients not digesting them. As the food begins to rot it becomes an ideal place for gas producing, diarrhea inducing, and constipation causing gut bacteria. In addition the outer layer of the peppercorn helps stimulate metabolism and breakdown existing fat cells.
Cinnamon is considered to be one of the world’s oldest known spices. There was a time when it was considered such a commodity it was used as a type of currency. It is found in nearly every Chai. It aids in digestion by calming the stomach, fighting bacteria and fungus. It has been shown to increase production of insulin in test tube trials and has anti-nausea and diarrhea attributes. Cinnamon also enhances the effects of other herbs and bridges the gap between flavors.
Ginger is the only root employed in medicine and cooking. It has a mild, cool flavor that helps settle the stomach. The gingerols and shogaols found in Ginger have been proven to ease the effects of motion sickness.
Cloves are often found in various Chai Teas. They are revered for their ability to kindle the digestive fire. Cloves are also good for soothing the throat and mouth and are sometimes incorporated into lozenges or sprays for such purposes.
Although there seems to be little scientific basis for the claims, Mexican folk medicine holds that the benefits of lemongrass tea include: aiding digestion, calming nervous disorders and helping in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Saffron has been known since Antiquity as a remedy for all pains, without claiming to be a universal medicine, it is however a natural solution for many health problems in our times. In the East, saffron was generally used to treat light to moderate depression; it had the reputation to bring cheerfulness and wisdom. Because of this, it is said that it has aphrodisiac properties for women.
Chai Tea is available in store bought teabags or if you are into making your own the herbs are quite tangible and can be found year round at your local health store. To brew the chai it takes 20 minutes and you can now buy instant pre mix chai, just add hot water at www.vedicmix.com. Traditionally it is served with milk or cream and honey. The milk softens the flavor of the many potent herbs and the honey, sometimes referred to as “Perfection of Sweet,” balances the spices.