The Las Vegas strip might be an unlikely place for a hot, steaming cup of traditional Indian tea or masala chai. But you can now find this thick, creamy concoction on the Las Vegas strip, so let’s dive into the history of masala chai, which is now becoming popular in the west.
The Culture of Chai in India
As Starbucks and other cafes join in the growing trend of serving chai lattes, chai has come to simply mean spiced black tea in the Western world. This by no means, is the true definition of real Indian tea or chai. Lost in translation in the west, masala chai in India is much more than spiced black tea. It is a ritual.
The chai ritual or “tea time” that came with British colonization to India is more than just sipping a beverage. It is a whole culture. It is about starting the day with a new hope. It is about catching up with friends and family. It is about putting yourself first and also showing hospitality to anyone who knocks on your door during the sacred tea time. It is also about seeking refuge from the high afternoon temperatures and cooling down with a hot cup of tea or warming up the soul in frigid weather. Sometimes, it is just about freshening up in the afternoon to face the rest of the day.
Chai is a unifying factor in India. It transcends all boundaries. Anywhere you go in India, you will see roads dotted with chaiwallahs (tea hawkers) with tea stalls. If you’re not sipping chai in someone’s home, chances are you will be sipping it on a street corner. The thick, creamy liquid made fragrant with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and others is intricately weaved into the fabric of India.
The Ingredients of Masala Chai
A good cup of masala chai has many health benefits. The main ingredients of the masala chai mix are cinnamon, green cardamom, cloves, pepper, ginger, and star anise. This complex and vibrant mix of spices helps improve digestion, metabolism, and immunity. The tea, of course, is an antioxidant. With its origins found in Ayurveda, today, even modern science backs up this ancient knowledge.
How to Make Real Masala Chai
At Divine Dosa & Biryani, we not only make Masala chai the traditional way but also serve it in a kullad or an earthen cup. Traditionally, masala chai is made with full cream milk and freshly ground spices. Our masala chai recipe is steeped in culture. We boil water and allow our freshly ground spice mix to lend its aroma and flavors to the water, then add black tea, and then a generous splash of full-fat milk (or dairy-free substitute if you are vegan or lactose-intolerant) tops the aromatic water, which slowly turns thick and creamy. We then pour spoonfuls of it into traditional kullads and serve it piping hot. This is real chai or Indian masala tea. You can wash down the delicious dosas and biryani with it or end a satisfying meal of curry and rice with masala chai.
Tea Estates in India
India vies with China for the title of the world’s largest producer of tea. The three central Indian tea regions are Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. Both Assam tea and Darjeeling tea come from the Northeastern part, and Nilgiri tea comes from the Southern mountains in India. Each of these has a distinct flavor profile.
The habit of drinking tea might have come as a byproduct of colonization and the British rule in India. Still, masala chai has its origin in Ayurveda – an ancient, eastern medicine practice that uses natural herbs and spices to treat various ailments.
A popular ingredient in Indian chai, ginger is believed to have many health benefits and is thought to keep your body warm in winter.
Chai and Its Accompaniments
Chai is served with biscuits (or cookies as we call them in the U.S.) and also many savory crackers and dry, spicy lentil mixes. It is also best enjoyed with samosas, vada pavs, and pakoras (fried onion and vegetable fritters). When it rains, most Indians have an unrelenting craving for a hot cup of chai with pakoras; it elevates the tea drinking experience to another level altogether.
Bringing Traditional Masala Chai to Las Vegas
With its digestive properties, masala chai is a great beverage to wash down a delicious meal. While chai lattes are now found in almost every cafe in Las Vegas and the rest of the Western world, we felt the need to bring a traditional Indian chai to the table. Because it is much more than just drinking tea. “Real chai” means a cup of spiced tea that reminds us of home—of stories and people. Real chai tastes and feels like the invisible fiber that links us to our roots, rich in tradition.
For those not from India, it gives them, a sneak-peek into a brand new culture. When we took our Certified Indian Culinary Tour of India, we knew one thing: our menu had to have traditional masala chai served with 100% authenticity. Because we want every cup to hold a story.
You will also find Masala Chai at Mint Indian Bistro – both the locations. At Mint, the masala chai is served street-style in small glasses.