History of Chai

Masala Chai ( spiced tea) , or simply Chai, Chai Tea or Chai Latte as it has become known in Australia, is spiced milk tea usually sweetened. Originating from India, Chai is widespread with many household and regional variations.

The folklore surrounding Chai dates back to between 5000 and 9000 years ago to an ancient royal court – either India or Siam. It was said that the reigning king created the recipe as a healing Ayurvedic beverage. Throughout the earlier years Chai was prepared via a diverse range of methods and contained an equally diverse array of spices. Between regions the recipes varied and it was served hot and cold as a remedy for minor ailments, but didn’t contain black tea until the 1930’s.

In 1935 the British East India Company established tea plantations in Assam in an attempt to reverse the overwhelming Chinese monopoly on tea supply to Great Britain. In 1870 approximately 90% of tea consumed in Great Britain was supplied by China but by 1900 this had reduced to 10% largely replaced by tea sourced in India and Ceylon.

From the 1830s black tea was gradually assimilating into the existing Chai spice mix and the beginnings of Chai as we know it now emerged. However the tea spice mix lacked appeal due to the high cost of tea and wasn’t popular until the 1900s when a hardcore campaign by the India Tea Company promoted the provision of ‘tea breaks’ for workers in an attempt to increase tea sales.

This resulted in both an increase in overall tea sales but also an increase in the addition of spices to the mix by chai vendors. Although initially disapproved of by the Indian Tea Company ( the tea was diluted by spices, milk and sugar to keep the costs down) it quickly became established as the preferred beverage.

Its popularity surged again in the 1960’s when mechanised tea production CTC (cut, tear, curl) was introduced. CTC produces an inexpensive tea that infuses quickly and has a strong flavour, making it the perfect accompaniment to the sweet spiciness of Masala Chai. Ultimately the popularity of Masala Chai gained momentum becoming deeply ingrained in Indian culture and lifestyle.

Today Masala Chai tea stalls are a common sight throughout India, from meagre roadside stops to larger city establishments – all with their own Chai Recipe. But perhaps the strongest association with Indian Chai is the familiar chant of Chai Wallahs. “ garam chai garam chai” (hot tea) as they weave their way along trains bursting to the seams and equally crowded streets.

Over the past 3 – 4 decades it has gained increased popularity in Western culture. The emergence  of the Chai tent at music festivals and markets has become an institution that not only serves chai but provides an ambient environment in which to drink it. Chai Lattes are now an established item on the menu of cafes and there is a growing culture of chai connoisseurs that search out authentic quality chai products to both buy ready made or to make at home! Holy Cow embraces the traditional process of brewing our chai and retails a fully natural product to ensure you drink a chai that is full of flavour and wholesome.