Chai tea: benefits and side effects

Chai tea: benefits and side effects
July 1, 2015 10:57 PM

Do you like Chai tea? Do you want to know whether it contains caffeine and other substances? How about its health benefits and side effects. Just check out this post on Chai tea and find out about everything you want to know about it.

What is Chai tea?

When the herbs and spices are mixed with black tea, masala chai is formed. This drink is colored and made in India first. Later it became popular to the extent that it is the main drink of many tea shops around the world. By a combination of black peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves and ginger, this tea is made. However, to make it more tasty, different flavors, powder and mixtures are added into it.

Origin of “Chai tea” word

A bit background of chai tea should be necessary to know about chai tea. In many Asian countries, chai is used for tea. The origin of this word is from a word in Persian language called ‘Chay’; the Chinese word ‘cha’ is the origin of this Persian word. The term ‘chai’ is used to indicate tea in many Arabic speaking countries. If we cross the language barrier, chai tea is just a repetition of words. While this might be true, mainly chai tea refers to a spiced tea. Due to this, from other teas, chai becomes different. In many States of India, to make chai, milk is mixed with black tea. To make it distinguishable from other forms of tea and coffee, especially from latte (a coffee type from steamed milk), different states in the United States use the term ‘chai tea’. In some Arabian countries, ‘Kark chai’ is the term used for chai tea.

Historical background

Now let us go back in history to know more about chai tea. In India, although many tea plants were grown, instead of a refreshment, tea was used as a medicine. Chai tea is used by Indians because of its benefits.

When it came to tea, during the 1830s, it had no match. Through this trade, China’s economy boosted. The British East India Company wasn’t satisfied with Chinese trade. They had great admiration for Chinese but wanted to make better tea than them. In those days, Assam tea had gained a bit popularity. Therefore, the East India Company decided to grow this tea plant more. In a few years, the chai tea became popular all over the Great Britain. Although in the Great Britain the consumption of this tea increased, in India, this tea wasn’t welcomed, mainly because the Indians hated the British. However, Britain made this tea popular by mixing it with local tea shops.

So basically, chai tea was introduced as a rival of Chinese tea. This tea gained popularity in England first and later, in India, it gained some popularity. Due to its benefits, now-a-days, it is used all over the world.

Substances present in Chai tea

There are different formulas of chai tea which mainly depends upon its consumption. Some common ingredients in all are ginger, cinnamon, black tea, clove, fennel, black pepper, sweetener and milk. Mentioned below, are some spices used in chai tea:

The base of tea – As a base tea, usually Assam (a strong black tea) is used. It is necessary to use a strong tea, so that other spices don’t overcome it. This tea is widely used in India for making chai tea, due to its cost effectiveness. Having black tea isn’t necessary in every version of chai tea. For example, gunpowder is generally used in Kashmiri chai tea.

Spices – Now let us look at the spices present in chai tea. Green cardamom is the most powerful spice present in chai tea. Pepper and spice are basically mixed for making green cardamom. There shouldn’t be no confusion between black and green cardamom. Ginger and cardamom are the main base species. This means that, whatever the brand of chai tea is, these base species are always used. It’s your choice on adding other spices. With the base spices, cloves, peppercorns, or cinnamon can be added. Between cardamom and ginger, cardamom is more prominent. Also, in different regions, the composition of the spices might be different. As an example, consider the Kashmiri chai tea. In this tea, instead of using black tea, green tea is used. In some other areas, some spices are avoided at all costs. Coriander, rose flavor, chilli, cumin and nutmeg are some other spices.

Using milk – The use of buffalo milk for making chai tea is common in India. On the other hand, in the United States, milk is obtained from cow. 1/2 parts milk is generally added to water and heated to boiling limit. To increase flavor, sometimes, condensed milk is used. Water can be replaced by milk, if you avoid milk.

Adding sweetener – There are a number of sweeteners available in the market. As a general rule, any and every one of the sweetener can be added to chai tea. The most commonly used sweeteners present in chai tea are honey, syrup, sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar etc. In some backward areas of India, jaggery (rough dark brown sugar) is also used as a sweetener. You can remove the sweetener if you don’t like sweetened tea.

Nutritional value of Chai Tea

No fats, vitamins, carbohydrates, and calories are present in unsweetened chai tea. However, when sweeteners like sugar and honey are added to chai tea, carbohydrates and calories are added to the body. Calcium, protein, vitamin A, iron and calories are supplemented by the addition of milk. The following table will give you a better understanding of chai tea:

Nutritional information of 16oz per serving

Nutrients mg % of RDI
Cholesterol 20 7
Sodium 115 5
Total carbs 45 000 15
Fat 4 500 7
Saturated fat 2 10
Vitamin A   8
Iron   2
Caffeine 95 mg  

Benefits of Chai Tea

Now let us look at the benefits of chai tea. Chai tea has a number of benefits. Different chai teas have different benefits. Now there are two methods of stating the benefits of chai tea. One method is to look at the ingredients of chai tea and tell the benefits of each separately. The other way is to state the health benefits of chai tea in general. Both of these ways are used in this article to get a better overview.

Individual ingredient benefits

First let us look at the benefits of chai tea with regards to the ingredients present in it. The ingredients in chai tea work together and increase the benefits of each other. Some ingredients along with their benefits, have been mentioned below:

1. Black tea

Black tea is quite beneficial as there are a number of antioxidants present in it. Now you might be thinking that the benefits of black tea as an antioxidant are ordinary, however, it isn’t so. Cardiovascular diseases are prevented due to black tea. Due to the lowering of bad cholesterol and maintenance of the levels of high cholesterol, this usually happens. Viral and cancerous disease can also be prevented by the use of black tea, according to some research. Research has supported that black tea is helpful against certain kinds of cancer (1).

2. Cardamom

In the digestion process, cardamom greatly helps. The immune system is also strengthened by cardamom. This medicine is present in different ingredients. Helping the body against different respiratory diseases, and enabling good circulation of blood throughout the body are some benefits of chai tea. Some research has also shown that cardamom has antioxidant properties present in it (2).

3. Ginger

Ginger present in chai tea, provide a number of benefits. Some of the major benefits of ginger include its benefit in reducing the inflammation in the body and strengthening the immune system. Many inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and osteoarthritis can also be kept under control by the use of the ginger. In addition to this, ginger has many antioxidant properties (3). In a study, it was found that ginger effects the hepatic antioxidant enzyme.

4. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is also quite beneficial for controlling the blood sugar. The digestion process is also made easier due to cinnamon. Cinnamon also has antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

5. Fennel

There is also fennel in chai tea. In fennel, vitamin C and fiber are present. Fennel is also beneficial for cancerous patients.

6. Black pepper

For metabolism, black pepper is quite helpful. Some research has shown that black pepper helps against fat storage in the body and keeps the fats in the body, to a minimum level. Also, black pepper is quite beneficial against the bacteria and gastrointestinal diseases (4).

7. Clove

Clove is also present in chai tea and is quite beneficial. It can help fight the ulcer pain and aid in the digestion process. Some antibacterial properties are also present in clove.

General health benefits

Now let us move on to the general benefits of chai tea. Some of the general benefits of chai tea have been mentioned below:

1. Antioxidant properties

There are many antioxidant properties of chai tea. Temperature or caffeine have no effect on the antioxidant properties of caffeine, according to Indiana University School of Medicine. The professor of pharmacy at Indiana University School Of Medicine, named Dr. James Klaunig has this to say with regards to the benefits of tea, “If you take tea as a drink and don’t take the individual supplements, you will get more benefits. There is an ongoing debate about whether caffeinated tea has more benefits or decaffeinated tea. According to me, it doesn’t matter which tea you consume; you will get the benefits. It doesn’t matter that for your chai, you use black or green tea, you will still get all the antioxidant benefits of the tea”.

Damage to the cells and tissue is minimized due to the antioxidant properties of the black tea present in chai tea. Another powerful antioxidant is the ginger present in the tea. That is probably the reason why ginger tea is so popular. The World’s healthiest Foods magazine states that chai tea is quite beneficial against certain types of cancers, especially the ovarian cancer. The antioxidant properties of chai tea are also increased by the presence of black pepper in it. Also, cardamom present in chai tea is quite beneficial and has many antioxidant properties. Moreover, due to this spice, skin cancer can be treated.

2. Anti-inflammatory properties

Chai tea has got anti-inflammatory properties in it, mainly due to the presence of ginger. Different inflammatory conditions can be treated due to the presence of ginger in chai tea. This is the reason that chai tea is recommended by Ayurveda (a natural healing system in the Indian Culture). Ginger has been praised due to its anti-inflammatory properties, in a paper recently published by Grzanna and his fellow scientists (5). There is more evidence that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties. An article was recently published in the “Journal Of Medicinal Food” in 2005, the crux of which is that ginger is now-a-days being used as a replacement of anti-inflammatory drugs, due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Other than ginger, the cloves present in chai tea also have anti-inflammatory properties. According to an article published in October 2010, the cinnamon in the chai tea also has anti-inflammatory properties.

3. Aid in digestion

If one had to choose one common factor in all the ailments, it had got to be poor digestion. This is how important the normal functioning of digestive system is. Digestion is aided by chai tea. Cinnamon aids in digestion as it helps against diarrhea and nausea. However, the main ingredient of chai tea which aids in digestion is black pepper. When black pepper enters the system, it helps the pancreas in the secretion of certain enzymes, which fastens the whole process of digestion of the foods which take time to digest like fats. Also, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website, ginger is quite helpful for digestion.

4. Reduction in cancer risk

You might be surprised to know that chai tea has the ability to fight cancer in the body. The cancer is fought due to the presence of phytochemicals and antioxidants present in chai tea. To see the working of chai tea, you need to know how cancer work. Basically cancer spreads by damaging the healthy cells and DNA. This is done by the ‘rebel cells’ in the body, which keep on growing. Different types of cancer like stomach and bowel cancer can be prevented by chai tea when it is consumed on daily basis.

Now let us see the spices in chai tea which reduce the cancer risk and ends the growth of cancerous cells. The antioxidant properties of chai tea are increased due to presence of different spices like cardamom, black pepper and ginger. When treating cancer, these spices are especially beneficial. Ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer (also known as rectal cancer; involves the formation of cancerous cells in rectum or colon) can be treated by ginger. Nonmelanoma skin cancer (a broader category of skin cancers in which different skin cancers are present) is also prevented due to the anti-oxidizing properties of cardamom.

Other than fighting cancer, different cardiovascular diseases are also prevented by chai tea. Different spices in chai tea reduce the blood pressure which in turn decreases the risks of cardiovascular diseases. The damage to the cells and tissues is prevented due to piperine, the antioxidant which is present in black pepper.
 

5. Fighting anxiety and depression

Against depression, chai tea is quite beneficial. It helps fight the symptoms of depression. The main reason of the relieving of depression is due to the caffeine present in tea. The caffeine makes a person active and full of energy. So when a depressive patient takes caffeine, he feels relieved. Chai tea can also be made by people, as a home remedy, who have anxiety. It soothes the mind and body. Also the depressive feelings are eliminated when cardamom is added in chai tea.

6. Strengthening the immune system

Immune system can be made strong due to chai tea. Immune system is boosted due to the presence of cardamom and ginger in chai tea. Some common diseases such as headache, cold etc. can be treated by chai tea as it strengthens the immune system.

7. Fighting and preventing diabetes

The blood sugar levels in the body are controlled due to chai tea. Due to this, type 2 diabetes can easily be prevented. After drinking chai tea, a person usually abstains from consuming sugar. Also, chai tea can help a person in the cases when his food intake is full of toxins including sugar and caffeine. To keep the diabetes at bay, about two cups of daily chai tea intake is necessary. There is one thing that is important to mention here and it is that you should remember that this information isn’t provided to you so that you eat excess of junk food. It is only here to inform you about the benefits of chai tea.

Side effects of chai tea

There are numerous benefits of chai tea but the big question is whether there are any side effects associated with this kind of drink. The simple answer to this question is yes. Some of the side effects of chai tea have been mentioned below:

1. Caffeine side effects

It’s no hidden fact that chai tea contains caffeine in it. The caffeine content in tea is more than in coffee. There are 100 mg of caffeine in 16 oz chai tea. If the caffeine content in chai tea is too much, dizziness, nausea and restlessness can be caused. Also due to much caffeine in the body, it’s difficult for a person to sleep (6). In rare cases, the blood pressure of a person can be raised by excessive caffeine consumption. You should limit the caffeine intake in chai tea. You can do this by avoiding black tea and using green tea for making chai tea because black tea contains more caffeine than green tea. You can also go decaffeinated chai to avoid caffeine.

2. Dangers for breastfeeding and pregnant women

Breastfeeding and pregnant women should be careful while consuming chai tea because it contains many spices and herbs. Many side effects can be caused by these herbs. The main herbs which you need to avoid during pregnancy include burdock, guarana, parsley, thyme, sage, uva ursi, damiana and comfrey. Avoid drinking the brand of chai tea which contains any of these herbs.

Other side effects

Other than the above mentioned side effects, there are more side effects of chai tea. Iron deficiency can be caused in case a person consumes too much chai tea. Absorption of iron in the stomach becomes a tedious task when chai tea is consumed, due to the various compounds present in it (7). Also, another side effect of chai tea is that it can interact with different drugs. So, if you take several medications, it is a good idea to consult your doctor.

Preparation of Chai Tea

Now that you know about the benefits and side effects of chai tea, it is a good idea to know about the preparation of chai tea. Preparing chai tea is quite simple and easy. The main ingredients which you require for the preparation of chai tea are 1 tsp sugar or 1/4 tsp honey, 1 tsp cardamom seeds, 3 cups milk, 5 cup water, 10 cloves, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

To make chai tea, with the help of a string, attach cloves, cardamom and cinnamon with each other. Now take a pot of water and place the string in it. Now gradually boil the water. Now, after turning the heat off, add tea leaves in the boiled water. Now take out the string of cloves, and cinnamon and also take out tea leaves. After this, the tea is ready. For taste, add sugar or honey in it. Pour it into a cup and enjoy.

Practical advice

Preparing chai tea is a simple task. But there are some tips that you need to remember to get the most out of chai tea. The first thing which you need to know is that it isn’t necessary that you add each and every ingredient into the tea. You can add the ingredients of your own choice and add their quantities according to your taste. For example, if it is written in the ingredients that you need to take sugar; you can go for other sweeteners like vanilla or honey. Also, you need to know that there are many kinds of cinnamon. Some of them are expensive and cheap. You should try every one of them and decide the best for yourself. Also, instead of black tea, you can also try white tea or green tea. So, the main thing you need to remember is that you should try different combinations for chai tea and come out with the best one.

Conclusion

We covered all major health benefits and side effects of chai tea. Basically you should avoid drinking this tea if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, one should not drink this tea in excessive quantity due to caffeine contained in Chai tea, which may have some negative effects on our health. The article also provides a practical tip on how to actually make Chai tea at home. While Chai tea is generally safe you should always ask your physician if you have any questions.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Article resources: See numbered references within the article.
Image resources: Dollarphotoclub.com
Published: July 1, 2015 10:57 PM
Last updated: August 4, 2015 10:40 PM
Next scheduled update: August 4, 2017 10:40 PM
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