Chai latte is warm, milky, fragrant, slightly spicy, and popular in all cafes. However, although it is served in cafes and is named after the latte, it does not actually contain any coffee.
Chai is one of the oldest tea-based beverages in the world. It originated in India thousands of years ago and has spread across the world over the past two centuries. A big question remains, however: how could a drink that has been enjoyed in India for thousands of years become so popular on cafe menus?
Here's an explanation of what a chai latte is, where it came from, and what its future might be.
WHAT IS THE CHAI?
Chai as the Western world knows it has been cultivated in India for thousands of years. The word chai comes from the Hindustani word for any and all tea, which has grown in the Assam region for millennia.
When we talk about chai in chai lattes as a specific blend of black tea and spices, we are talking about masala chai. Masala chai is made by steeping black tea in water, then mixing it with sugar, ginger and milk. However, other spices can be added, including cardamom, cloves, cinnamon or peppercorns.
It is believed that masala chai originated in the Indian subcontinent between 5,000 and 9,000 years ago. According to some stories, it was born in a royal court in Siam as a drink associated with Ayuverda, an ancient Indian form of alternative medicine. Ayurvedic therapies historically involved the use of herbal compounds, minerals and metals to treat disease or pain.
Today in India, masala chai is usually prepared from scratch and enjoyed at home or on the street. Street vendors or "chaiwallahs" prepare it and sell it on stalls throughout the day. It is often prepared in a pan with crushed leaves. Once boiled, it can be strained to remove large chunks.
Early forms of masala chai contained only black tea combined with spices and herbs. Milk was not added until the 1800s, thanks to British colonial influence in India. In an effort to undermine China's tea monopoly, the British East India Company established a huge number of plantations to create a source of tea it controlled.
Local consumption of tea or chai remained low until British-funded promotional campaigns encouraged Indian companies to give their workers "tea breaks". Thanks to the high cost of tea leaves, even of low quality, milk and spices were quickly added to lengthen the drink.
Today, more than 800,000 tons of tea are consumed in India every year. It is estimated that 30 cups of chai are consumed for every cup of coffee. Also, on average, two cups of chai are consumed per person every day. Throughout India, chai is prepared differently. It is common to see it tasted with buffalo milk, the cow being sacred in Hinduism.
The story of the chai latte itself is a bit more vague. It is thought to have started appearing in Western cafes in the 1990s, but there are no precise data on its origin. Its popularity has seen a particular peak in the last 10 to 15 years.
THE FUTURE OF CHAI LATTE
The future of the chai latte is bright. When you brew your chai, it fills the restaurant with a warm, spicy smell that attracts customers. If they have never heard of it before, we prepare one for them to convince them.
Chai lattes are destined to continue to grow in popularity.