Dance the Cha-Cha – Drink the Chai Chai

Maybe some of you are reading about chai tea for the first time. We’ll approach the subject as if you were learning the steps to a Latin dance, the cha cha. The first thing an instructor might do is explain how the dance got its name. In the following paragraphs, I will do the same with this increasingly popular drink called chai tea.

Interestingly, chai tea is actually a tautological expression. Simply put, both tea and chai are exactly the same word, only spelled as written in different languages. To differentiate from other types of teas, we will use the term, chai tea, to mean a tea made with four ingredients. Essentially, those are tea, milk, and spices sweetened with either sugar or honey.

What we in the West call chai tea, those in the East call Masala chai. This beverage is extremely popular in southern Asia. In India it is sold in cafés and by street vendors called chai wallahs. These merchants even take their hot tea pots to businesses daily in late morning or mid-afternoon. Along with selling their beverage, chai wallahs also pass along the latest news and gossip.

Now that we know how the “dance” got its name, let’s learn some of the steps. Strong black tea is most commonly used in India to make Masala Chai. It is customarily brewed with tea leaves boiled rather than steeped. Westerners have changed some of the “dance” steps. More typically, here chai tea is made from a spice mix.

In India this spice mix is called chai Masala, as opposed to the drink, Masala chai. In learning to cha cha, some of the dance steps may be confusing to learn. In a similar way, the different names and components used to create a chai tea beverage have caused confusion to some.

Okay, now you know how this “dance” got its name and have learned the steps. Now it’s time to dance the cha cha and drink the chai. We’re guessing no one has seen a chai wallah selling tea in this country, at least not yet. Instead of stopping by a chai stall for news and gossip, we meet friends at coffee shops to visit and chat.

Americans purchase chai teas in places like Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, or Caribou Coffee Company. At your neighborhood Starbucks, you may even purchase an iced chai- based drink. This version of their popular Frappuccino drink is made with a coffee-free cream and chai tea concentrate.

You may be wondering about the health benefits of dancing, or as we use the term in this case, of drinking the chai. Masala chai as prepared with strong black tea in the East may have an amount of caffeine equivalent to that in coffee. Perhaps for that reason green chai tea has been marketed as a healthier alternative to drinking coffee.

Chai latte, or chai tea latte, sold in coffee houses is a steamed milk beverage made using a spiced tea mix or concentrated liquid rather than espresso. This allows you to have that second cup of chai without the guilt or the crash that goes with having that extra caffeine in coffee. On the flip side, chai tea drinks sold in many of these establishments may not have the health benefits that come with Masala chai. If the chai tea is not mixed fresh each day, it will not be as potent. Also, as the tea is brewed in southern Asia and India, whole spices are used. For hundreds of years in those cultures a variety of spices have been used to treat or relieve medical symptoms.

Well, dance class is over for today. The instructor has a final note about the drinking of chai tea. Studies about all the possible benefits of chai tea are still open to debate. Most agree, however, that the choice to drink tea is by and large a beneficial one. As is true with dancing the cha cha, one is more likely to reap those benefits by preparing the drink oneself as from watching it from the sidelines.

Now, go enjoy life as you dance the cha cha and drink the chai chai.


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