Monday, February 10, 2014

Teaology 101: A chai tea to go please!

You ever hear those people who say “ATM machine” or “PIN number”? What they just said is “automated teller machine machine” or “personal identification number number”. It’s redundant! The same redundancy applies to chai tea. You’re saying chai chai or tea tea. Chai is not a specific tea. It’s just tea in two different languages: Hindi and English.

Now, the Persian term chay is derived from chá which originates from Mandarin. Chay eventually became chai as it passed over to other areas of Asia including India and Russia. This is a very simplified explanation on the evolution of the word. The word tea also has quite a history behind it too. However, I want to focus on the usage of chai in the West.

When requesting chai tea, Westerners believe they are specifying a type of Indian tea. A spicy tea called chai that consists of a combination of spices including star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves as well as other goodies depending on the maker, along with milk and sugar. In India, however, there are different types of chai or tea. The main tea regions are Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. The teas are actually named after the regions much like French wines are named after the regions the grapes are grown in. Thus, there is Darjeeling Chai, Assam Chai, or Nilgiri Chai and so on. Some teas are even named after the estates that produce the teas. Though not necessary, the spices can be added to these teas, specifically Assam, to create that spiced-up chai that Westerners have become so fond of.

Really, the term should be renamed Masala Chai, Spicy Tea, Indian Style Tea or some other variation as such, but I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Much like many other words, I think chai has just been swallowed up by the English language! Any marketing gurus out there? Some of the tea companies could do wonderful campaigns and set the record straight on chai, (along with orange pekoe, but I’ll save that for another time).

In a future post, I will show you how I make my masala tea. A little something to spice things up in this month of love!

A cuppa love!

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