By Alina Petre, MS, RD
In many parts of the world, "chai" is simply the word for tea.
However, in the Western world, the word chai has become synonymous with a type of fragrant, spicy Indian tea more accurately referred to as masala chai.
What's more, this beverage may have benefits for heart health, digestion, controlling blood sugar levels and more.
This article explains what you need to know about chai tea and its potential benefits.
What Is Chai Tea?
Chai tea is a sweet and spicy tea renowned for its fragrant aroma.
Depending on where you come from, you may recognize it as masala chai. However, for the purpose of clarity, this article will use the term "chai tea" throughout.
Chai tea is made from a combination of black tea, ginger and other spices. The most popular spices include cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper and cloves, although star anise, coriander seeds and peppercorns are other well-liked options.
Unlike regular tea, which is brewed with water, chai tea is traditionally brewed using both warm water and warm milk. It also tends to be sweetened to varying degrees.
Chai lattes are another popular way to consume the tea. People make these by adding a shot of chai tea concentrate to steamed milk, which produces a beverage containing more milk than you would find in a typical cup of chai tea.
Chai tea can be purchased in most cafés, but is also easy to make at home, either from scratch, premixed tea bags or a store-bought concentrate.
What's more, chai tea has been linked to a variety of health benefits.
Summary: Chai tea is traditional Indian milky tea made from a blend of black tea, ginger and other spices. It can be consumed in various forms and may provide a variety of health benefits.
It May Help Improve Heart Health
There's evidence that chai tea may be good for the health of your heart.
In some individuals, cinnamon has been shown to help reduce the levels of total cholesterol, "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides by up to 30 percent (3).
Most studies used doses of 1–6 grams of cinnamon per day, which is generally more than you'd find in your typical cup of chai tea.
However, a recent review reported that doses of as little as 120 mg per day may be sufficient to offer these heart-healthy effects (2).
Most research has observed that drinking four or more cups of black tea per day may slightly reduce blood pressure levels. What's more, drinking three or more cups of black tea per day seems to be linked to an 11 percent lower risk of heart disease (6, 7).
However, not all studies are unanimous, and none have investigated the direct effect of chai tea on heart health. Thus, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made (8).
Summary: Chai tea contains cinnamon and black tea, both of which may help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, studies that directly investigate the effects of chai tea are needed.
Chai Tea May Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
Chai tea may contribute to better blood sugar control.
That's because it contains ginger and cinnamon, both of which may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels.
Lower insulin resistance makes it easier for your body to use insulin to escort sugar out of your blood and into your cells. This can help lower blood sugar levels.
A recent study gave two grams of ginger powder per day to people with type 2 diabetes, and found it helped lower their blood sugar levels by up to 12 percent (13).
Studies report that effective ginger and cinnamon doses tend to range from 1–6 grams per day. Such doses are more than what you can expect to get from store-bought chai tea bags, or a cup prepared by your local barista.
To get the most benefits, try preparing the tea yourself from scratch. That way, you can add slightly more cinnamon and ginger than most recipes call for.
It's also important to note that, unlike home-brewed chai tea, varieties prepared in cafés are often heavily sweetened, which would likely negate the blood-sugar-lowering benefits of the other ingredients in chai tea.
The American Heart Association recommends women keep their intake of added sugar under 25 grams per day, and men keep their intake under 38 grams per day. This latte alone could max out that limit (16).
For the best blood-sugar-lowering results, opt for an unsweetened version.
Summary: The cinnamon and ginger found in chai tea may help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels. However, it's best to steer clear of heavily sweetened, store-bought varieties.
It May Reduce Nausea and Improve Digestion
Ginger seems especially effective at reducing nausea during pregnancy. In fact, a review of studies conducted on a total of 1,278 pregnant women found that a daily dose of 1.1–1.5 grams of ginger significantly reduced nausea (19).
This is about the amount of ginger you'd expect to have in one cup of chai.
In addition, animal studies report that black pepper may increase levels of digestive enzymes needed to properly break down foods and support optimal digestion (25).
However, the amount of pepper used in these animal studies was up to five times higher than the average amount consumed by humans. Thus, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Summary: The chai tea ingredients ginger, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves may help reduce nausea, prevent bacterial infections and support proper digestion.
It May Help You Lose Weight
Chai tea may help prevent weight gain and promote fat loss in several ways.
First, chai tea is generally prepared with cow's milk or soy milk, both of which are good sources of protein.
Protein is a nutrient known to help reduce hunger and promote feelings of fullness.
Research also shows that compounds found in the type of black tea used to make chai may promote fat breakdown and help reduce the number of calories your body absorbs from foods (30).
What's more, one high-quality study reported that drinking three cups of black tea per day may help prevent unwanted weight gain or gain of belly fat (8).
However, it's worth noting that these effects remain small and appear to only work over the short term.
Finally, animal studies show that consuming black pepper may help prevent the accumulation of body fat, though it's not yet clear how these results relate to humans (31).
However, if you're drinking chai tea, be careful not to consume too much added sugar. Some popular varieties of chai tea contain significant amounts, which would likely counter any of the small benefits outlined above.
For instance, a 12-ounce (360-ml) chai tea made with skim milk contains around 60 calories, while a homemade chai latte may contain around 80 calories.
In comparison, the same quantity of nonfat chai latte at your local café may contain up to 180 calories. It's best to stick to unsweetened, homemade varieties (14).
Summary: Chai tea contains several ingredients that may work together to promote weight loss or prevent unwanted weight gain. To experience the best results, steer clear of sweetened chai teas.
Dosage and Safety
Currently, there's no consensus on how much chai tea the average person would need to drink to reap the health benefits listed above.
Most studies focus on the benefits of individual ingredients, which makes it difficult to determine the actual amount of chai tea or the specific recipe you would need to maximize these benefits.
When consumed in excess, caffeine may cause a variety of unpleasant effects, including anxiety, migraines, high blood pressure and poor sleep. Too much caffeine may also increase the risk of miscarriage or low birth weight (34, 35, 36, 37).
That said, typical intakes of chai tea are unlikely to exceed these recommendations.
Each cup (240 ml) of chai tea is expected to contain around 25 mg of caffeine. That's half the caffeine dose provided by the same quantity of black tea, and one-quarter that of the typical cup of coffee (32).
Due to chai tea's ginger content, individuals prone to low blood pressure or low blood sugar, or who are taking blood-thinning medication, may want to limit their intake or keep it in the lower end of the range.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant may want to opt for chai teas made from plant-based milks or only water.
Summary: Chai tea is generally considered safe, although it does contain caffeine and ginger, which may cause negative effects in some people. The optimal dosage is not yet known.
How to Make Chai Tea at Home
Chai tea is relatively simple to make at home. It only requires a few ingredients and you can follow a variety of recipes to make it.
The recipe below is one of the most time-efficient preparation methods you'll find.
It requires you to make a chai concentrate in advance and store it in your refrigerator.
This process only takes a little more time up front, but significantly reduces the time it will take for you to enjoy a daily cup of chai tea or chai latte at home.
Chai Tea Concentrate
Here is what you'll need to make 16 ounces (474 ml) of the concentrate:
- 20 whole black peppercorns
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 green cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 2.5 cups (593 ml) water
- 2.5 tablespoons (38 ml) loose-leaf black tea
- 4 inches (10 cm) of fresh ginger, sliced
1. Roast peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise on low heat for around 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Using a coffee or spice grinder, grind cooled spices into a coarse powder.
3. Using a large saucepan, combine the water, ginger and ground spices and bring to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes. Avoid letting your mixture reach a boil, which will cause the spices to become bitter.
4. Stir in the loose-leaf black tea, turn the heat off and allow to steep for around 10 minutes, then strain.
5. If you prefer your tea sweet, reheat the strained mixture together with a healthy sweetener of choice and simmer for 5–10 minutes, then cool and refrigerate.
6. Strain the chai tea concentrate into a sterilized bottle and let cool prior to refrigeration. The concentrate keeps in the fridge for up to one week.
To make a cup of chai tea, simply stir one part concentrate with one part hot water and one part hot cow's milk or unsweetened plant milk. For the latte version, use one part concentrate to two parts milk. Stir and enjoy.
Summary: Chai tea is very simple to make. Simply follow the steps above to make your own version of the concentrate.
The Bottom Line
Chai tea is a fragrant, spicy tea that may help boost heart health, reduce blood sugar levels, aid digestion and help with weight loss.
Although most of these health benefits are backed by science, it's worth noting that they are generally linked to the ingredients used in chai tea rather than chai tea itself.
Nevertheless, you probably don't have much to lose by giving chai tea a try.
Just note that you'll get the most health benefits from your tea by opting for a minimally sweetened version.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.