These Chai Tea Benefits Are Worth Switching Up Your Usual Coffee Order
Read up on the benefits of chai tea, then find out where to buy the best pre-made options or how to make your own.
Want to spice up your morning routine? Brew yourself a cup of zesty chai tea. The delicious drink is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, along with vitamins and minerals your coffee just can't stack up against. Ahead, learn about chai tea benefits, along with an easy recipe for making chai tea from scratch. (Related: These Craft Tea Recipes Will Have You Rethinking Your Daily Latte)
What Is Chai Tea?
Chai tea is a spiced black tea with origins in India. Its exact ingredients can vary, but it's often made with black tea, milk, sweetener (such as sugar or honey), and spices commonly including cardamom, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Some versions might also have black peppercorns, nutmeg, or fennel.
The name "chai tea" is a bit misleading, though, as the word "chai" means tea in Hindi, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In that case, "chai tea" translates literally to "tea tea," and a more appropriate name would be "masala chai," which translates to "spiced tea" in Hindi. However, in Western countries, the drink is commonly called "chai tea" or simply "chai," according to the Harvard school. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, "chai tea" and "masala chai" will be used interchangeably.
Chai Tea Nutrition
Since masala chai can be made with a variety of ingredients, the nutrient content will differ from cup to cup. Generally speaking, though, the most commonly used ingredients pack quite the punch. For starters, black tea offers antioxidants, amino acids, and vitamins A, C, and K, according to the journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. (See: Shay Mitchell Says You'll Love This Black Tea If You Have a Major Sweet Tooth)
Ginger has vitamin C and several B vitamins, while cardamom (which is part of the ginger family) has potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Clove and cinnamon also offer nutrients such as folate, calcium, and potassium — just to name a few. Plus, depending on the type of milk used, your chai tea drink may offer a boost of vitamin D and protein too.
For a general idea of chai tea nutrition, here's the nutrient breakdown of one 8-ounce cup of hot chai tea (made with approximately equal parts milk and water), according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- 120 calories
- 2 grams fat
- 4 grams protein
- 22 grams carbohydrates
- 146 milligrams calcium
- 17 milligrams magnesium
- 221 milligrams potassium
- 7 micrograms folate
BTW: If you're looking to cut back on coffee without totally giving up caffeine, chai tea might be a good alternative. An 8-ounce cup of chai tea has about 22 milligrams of caffeine, which comes from the black tea, according to the USDA. That's about one-fourth of the caffeine in the same size cup of coffee — 96 milligrams.
Health Benefits of Chai Tea
Although the ingredients in masala chai haven't been studied together as a blend, research has linked the individual ingredients in the drink to various health benefits. Here's what the spiced beverage could do for you, according to registered dietitians and scientific research. (Related: Delicious Tea and Food Pairings to Boost Your Health)
Fights Oxidative Stress
Tea in general is known for its kick-butt antioxidant properties — and chai tea is no different. Black tea, which is used in the drink, is packed with antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids, according to the British Journal of Pharmacology. Antioxidants fight oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals before they wreak havoc on cells, explains Megan Byrd, R.D., registered dietitian and founder of The Oregon Dietitian. This is key for overall health, as oxidative stress contributes to a range of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The spices found in masala chai add even more antioxidants to the mix. Ginger contains gingerol, a compound with antioxidant properties, according to the journal Foods. Cardamom, as with black tea, also has flavonoids. Clove and cinnamon both contain eugenol, a compound that combats oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzymes.
As chai tea combats oxidative stress, it also pumps the brakes on inflammation. That's because oxidative stress actually contributes to inflammation, according to Oxidative Stress and Biomaterials. What's more, the spices traditionally found in chai tea can target inflammation in other ways. For instance, "ginger can inhibit the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that increase inflammation throughout the body," according to Kara Lydon, R.D., registered dietitian and founder of The Foodie Dietitian. This is due to its gingerol and shogaol, another compound found in ginger. The eugenol in clove and cinnamon also lend a hand by inhibiting cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme involved in widespread inflammation, says Lydon. Oh, and extra points if your chai tea has nutmeg; the fragrant spice also has the ability to inhibit COX-2, according to Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.
Promotes Heart Health
Oxidative stress can play a role in the development of heart disease, but the antioxidants in black tea (and therefore, chai tea) could help. Consuming black tea is linked to a lower risk of heart disease thanks to the antioxidant effect of polyphenols and flavonoids in the drink, according to the British Journal of Pharmacology. Lydon adds that these antioxidants may also reduce high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, aka major risk factors for heart disease. A small 2017 study also found that cinnamon can reduce high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are linked to heart disease and stroke, she adds. (Related: Young Women Are at a Higher Risk of Heart Attack Than Ever Before, Says New Study)
Helps Manage Blood Glucose
The polyphenols in black tea may reduce postprandial (i.e. post-meal) glucose levels, according to Kelsey Lorencz, R.D.N., founder of Graciously Nourished. See, when you eat a meal, your blood glucose rises, and your pancreas responds by making insulin, a hormone that helps glucose enter your cells. This makes your blood sugar level return to normal. But if your body doesn't produce enough insulin, your blood glucose remains high, which increases your risk for diabetes. A small 2017 study, however, found that black tea can reduce blood sugar after eating. And while the exact mechanism behind this effect is still unclear, a strong theory is that black tea increases insulin secretion, says Lorencz.
But wait, there's more: Some of the spices in masala chai may reduce fasting blood glucose, aka your blood sugar levels on an empty stomach. (FYI, a high fasting blood glucose is also linked to diabetes.) According to a 2017 study, cinnamon might decrease fasting blood glucose; another 2017 study found that ginger has a similar effect.
The black tea in chai tea can also give you a mental pick-me-up. According to a small 2017 study in Clinical Phytoscience, black tea can improve memory and cognitive performance. It's all thanks to black tea's two main compounds: caffeine and L-theanine, an amino acid that's also found in green, white, and oolong tea. Caffeine, as you probably already know, can boost attention by easing fatigue. Meanwhile, L-theanine has a stress-relieving effect, which can make it easier to hunker down and focus, according to the journal Nutrients. A 2017 study also found that the combo of caffeine and L-theanine reduces mind wandering and improves attention. Take that, procrastination.
Feeling woozy? Sip on a cup of chai tea. Between the warm liquid and medley of spices, the drink may help steady your stomach. Ginger can ease nausea, explains Byrd. She adds that it's especially helpful for nausea during pregnancy, an effect noted in the journal Integrative Medicine Insights. A 2015 study also found that cinnamon, a common chai tea ingredient, may alleviate nausea and pain related to menstrual cramps. (Related: The Best Foods for Cramps, Fatigue, Bloating, and More Period Symptoms)
Potential Risks of Chai Tea
The ingredients in chai tea are generally considered safe, says Lorencz — but you may want to limit or avoid the drink if you're sensitive to caffeine. The same goes if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, as you'll want to ask your doctor how much caffeine is safe for you and your baby, adds Lorencz.
Similarly, the caffeine in chai tea can mess with your sleep if you drink it too close to bedtime. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends avoiding caffeine four to six hours before hitting the hay to avoid any issues.
Keep in mind that chai tea is traditionally made with milk, but if you're lactose intolerant, that's an easy fix. Just make or buy chai tea made with non-dairy milk, suggests Lydon. Finally, in some folks, the ginger and black pepper in chai tea may have mild digestive side effects such as heartburn or stomach upset — something to consider if you're prone to either, according to Lorencz.
Where to Buy Chai Tea
Chai tea is sold in chain supermarkets, health food stores, and Indian grocery stores as well as in numerous variations across online superstores such as Amazon. It's available in many forms, including premade drinks, chai powder mixes, concentrates, tea bags, and loose leaf tea, says Byrd. Premade chai drinks are typically available in cans and bottles, such as Bolthouse Farms Vanilla Chai Tea (Buy It, $6, instacart.com). Chai powder mixes are designed to dissolve in hot milk or water, such as Blue Lotus Chai Traditional Masala Chai (Buy It, $18, amazon.com). Some versions contain powdered milk, so be sure to buy a dairy-free version such as Coconut Cloud Vegan Chai Tea Latte (Buy It, $21, amazon.com) if you don't vibe with lactose. Chai concentrates, such as Rishi Tea Masala Chai Concentrate Beverage (Buy It, $19 for 2 boxes, amazon.com), are concentrated liquids meant to be diluted with milk or water. Chai tea bags and loose tea are meant to be steeped in hot liquid; the individually wrapped tea pouches are especially convenient for traveling. Try: Numi Organic Golden Chai Tea (Buy It, $6, amazon.com).
You can also find chai tea at Indian restaurants and most coffee shops. However, the ingredients and brewing methods will vary. Depending on your preference, you might be able to request that it's made with plant-based milk or sans sweetener.
While you have tons of options, the healthiest way to reap the aforementioned chai benefits is to brew some at home with a tea bag or loose tea, says Byrd. This lets you "avoid a lot of the added sugars, preservatives, and extra additives that many chai products have, [including ingredients such as] corn syrup, sugar alcohols, artificial flavoring, and maltodextrin," she says.
But if you want to try a premade product such as a powdered mix, "look for one that has no more than 15 grams of added sugar per cup," she recommends. Also, look for recognizable ingredients such as honey, milk, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon, she says. (Related: 12 Healthy Spices and Herbs You Need in Your Kitchen)
Better yet, try making your own masala chai mix so you know exactly what's in your cup. Not only is a DIY version super easy to make, but it lets you adjust the ingredients according to your liking. Check out this authentic masala chai tea recipe by chef Srikant Singh, co-founder of Happy Bellyfish Cooking School.
Authentic Masala Chai Tea Recipe
Makes: 2 cups
Cook time: 13 minutes
Total time: 18 minutes
- 2 cups water
- 1 to 2 cups milk (depending on your preferred richness)
- 4 teaspoons of loose black tea
- 2 teaspoons of jaggery, sugar, or honey
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 4 to 6 cardamom pods
- 4 to 6 cloves
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick (about 2 centimeters long)
- Grind all spices except cinnamon with a mortar and pestle. For a less spicy chai tea, reduce or omit black pepper.
- Add water to a small pot, followed by ground spices. Place pot over high heat and bring water to a boil.
- Add black tea and sugar. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add milk. Lower heat, then simmer for at least 10 minutes. Brew longer for thicker tea.
- Place a small strainer on top of a mug. Pour tea through strainer and enjoy.
- To make an iced version, chill tea in the refrigerator for 1 hour then serve over ice.
- For best flavor, Chef Singh recommends using Ceylon or Assam black tea.
Recipe provided by Chef Srikant Singh of Happy Bellyfish Cooking School.