Happy National Hot Tea Month! Not a tea drinker? I wasn’t either. You might want to read on to find out what changed my mind – some chai!
First of all, a warm beverage to sip is nice in this colder winter month as the days slowly get longer. Second, staying hydrated is hard to remember to do in winter. In the low humidity of the Southwest it’s easy to get dehydrated – even in winter, so a tasty cup of tea or chai can be the solution.
What do you Mean by Tea?
Technically speaking, any herb or spice soaked in hot water for human use is a tisane. The term “tea” refers very specifically to a tisane prepared from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Tea can be various (black, green, white, yellow, oolong) depending on time of leaf harvest and how the leaves are cured or dried. All products from the tea plant have caffeine in them. The English call their beverages tea and tisane. On this side of the pond we have tea and herb tea – but we are all drinking tisanes! Meanwhile the topic today is a tea/tisane called “chai.”
What do you mean by “Chai?”
The word chai means “tea” in a number of languages, derived from Chinese chá (茶). Chai (one syllable, rhymes with “pie”) is a millennias-old beverage which has played an important role in many cultures.
The drink from India called chai is also called “chai tea” or “masala chai.” Chai there is generally made up of rich black tea, heavy milk, a combination of various spices, and a sweetener. The spices used vary from region to region and among households in India. The most common are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Indian chai generally produces a warming, soothing effect, and is said to act as a digestive aid.
Savor New Taste Experiences
When I traveled in India, I tried a number of different chai. The water was not safe to drink, so a boiled beverage was the preferred drink of choice. Although I grew up a Southwestern gal, I was never fond of the overly spicy foods, and not a fan of the chai that included chili or black pepper. When I left India I thought I left chai far behind.
But American palates are increasingly eager to experience bolder, spicier flavors and international cuisine. More and more consumers are indulging in chai tea in the style of India, and I wished them well – “They can have my share!”
Then a company with over 150 years of making fine teas asked me if I wanted to try some chai that they promised me would be pleasing to my palate. I was dubious but willing to give it a shot. The company is Wissotzky Tea Company, founded in Moscow Russia in 1849. Long ago I had their standard tea and was charmed that it comes in tiny silken pyramids, not paper packets. I had one cup, once! and I was spoiled for life. I can always taste the paper now, and have mostly stopped drinking tea from paper tea bags. (I side with Ducky of NCIS on this issue.)
Tasty Test Results
Wissotzky Tea Company sent me boxes of four different blends from their new Artisan Spiced Chai Tea collection. Each blend artfully pairs hand-selected premium black tea leaves with market spices, herbs, and other natural ingredients. The four are Ginger and Turmeric Spiced Chai, Pumpkin Spiced Chai, Salted Caramel Chai, and Spiced Nana Mint Chai.
Salted Caramel Chai. I’m a sucker for salted caramel anything. And this now too! It’s a sweet and savory black tea beverage redolent of warm cinnamon, ginger root, cloves, sea salt, and cardamom. Yes, salt in tea is just grand.
Ginger and Turmeric. Turmeric is good for the heart (and a pretty water garden plant in the Southwest but that’s for Gardening With Soule to discuss!). The earthy flavor of turmeric, is blended with black tea, ginger root, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. The ginger turmeric chai is a nice rich drink for the morning.
Spiced Nana Mint. Mint is one of those flavors I can easily get too much of, but I did enjoy how it complemented the black tea plus cinnamon, ginger root, cloves, cardamom, and pepper for a robust breakfast beverage.
Pumpkin Spiced Chai. Seriously – do we need another pumpkin spice anything? Well, after all, yes! This is a dessert tea! A toasty balance of black tea, cinnamon, ginger, with pumpkin pieces, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, and chili. The chili was not overpowering at all. So yes, we can have a Southwestern kick in our chai.
The company says: “Like all Wissotzky products, the Artisan Spiced Tea collection is kosher and non-GMO.” Retail price is around $4.99 per 16-serving box – which is less than tea of some of the other major companies out there.
We Savorists plan to revisit the topic of tea for National Iced Tea Month – in June. I promise you tea from some of our native Southwest plants.
Closing with a caution. Moderation is key. Especially when trying a plant product you have never had before, try just a bit, then wait 24 hours before consuming again. Even if you bought it in the supermarket. Think about it – some people are allergic to peanut butter, and you get that in the supermarket.
To learn to use savory Sonoran herbs, visit Savorist Monica King Saturdays at the Arivaca’s Farmers Market, or come to one of Savorist Jacqueline Soule’s free lectures. We try to mention both on our SavortheSW Facebook page. We both have copies of Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press).” This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there we may get a few pennies.
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