What is Masala Chai? Masala Chai is a drink made with milk, sugar, and a variety of spices, such as cinnamon, clove, and many others. It is commonly found at coffee shops today as an alternative to traditional coffee and espresso based drinks.
Masala chai traces its origins back over 5000 years to the court of King Harshavardhana, who used the drink to keep alert during long working hours. Surprisingly, this early version of masala chai did not have caffeine in it, and was made as an ayurvedic tonic to keep the king in balance while he presided over the courts. It wasn’t until 1835 when the British mixed black tea into the drink and promoted it across India to profit from its established popularity. As India began to dominate the tea market globally, masala chai moved from being a drink for the upper class to being a drink for everyone, including the working class. “Chaiwallas”, or “tea shops”, began to open on every street corner- these local shops brew masala chai in large quantities and give local people a place to meet, talk, and enjoy their cup of masala chai. They remain a staple of Indian culture in the present day.