Those of us with haemochromatosis are well aware of the virtues of drinking tannin rich black tea to inhibit iron absorption, but did you also know combining tea with chai spices can further enhance your overall health and wellbeing?
I love nothing more than the meditative allure of sipping a strong cup of tea (black, green, white and herbal tisanes to boot), taking a few minutes out of my day to fully enjoy the calming and satisfying brew whilst mindfully returning to the present and gaining greater clarity.
For those following Iron-ic Wellbeing on social media, it should come as no surprise that one of my favourite weekend treats is a warming cup of chai tea. When the routine chores are done, I always find time for “me” and just love discovering new cafes around my patch serving up this traditional brew. Currently I can’t go past Fresh Organic Goods (FOG) in Richmond for their slightly bitter but surprisingly smooth and refreshing red chai latte made with Rooibos tea, almond milk, cinnamon and honey or the sweet and creamy Almond Chai from Now & Then Cafe (N&T) in Kew.
Chai is the Indian word for tea and, whilst the Chinese first discovered tea in around 2700BC, we have the Indians to thank for chai tea as we know it, adding their own spices to the traditional British “black tea with milk and sugar please”. I will be forever thankful for, and can still remember, the first time this hot, sweet and milky brew passed my lips – heaven!
The health benefit of spices for mental, emotional and physical healing are many and varied, and it is little wonder that chai has been heralded for centuries in eastern medicine as promoting antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits. In fact, chai is the tea that keeps on giving, as the more we learn about it the more benefits continue to emerge.
Everyone seems to have a favourite chai tea recipe, however they all include a number of consistent ingredients which bring their own health benefits, including:
Black Tea – in addition to helping to inhibit iron absorption, it is well known that black tea is a powerful antioxidant which can help prevent free radical damage to cells and tissues whilst also preventing cardiovascular disease.
Ginger – chai tea’s anti-inflammatory star is ginger, one of the most popular cooking spices in the world. Ginger provides a wealth of potent medicinal properties, including treating colds and digestive problems, relieving nausea, lowering cholesterol, improving circulation and helping to relieve arthritis, which can be especially helpful for those suffering aches and joint pain associated with haemochromatosis.
Cardamom – incredibly popular in eastern medicine, cardamom helps to detoxify the body, keep our respiratory system in good working order, aids digestion and supports the immune system. The benefits of cardamom are also said to include lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced cardiovascular risks and improved circulation.
Cinnamon – winter is unimaginable without this spice and thankfully it brings relief from arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties, helps fight bacteria and lowers bad cholesterol. Cinnamon is also known to balance blood sugar and has powerful digestive properties, helping to calm the stomach and combat diarrhoea and nausea.
Clove – cloves not only stimulate digestion, freshen the breath, have an antibacterial effect and are a known cure for fungal infections, but they also have analgesic and anti-inflammatory (natural pain relieving) properties due to the main constituent called eugenol. It is no mystery, therefore, why our forbearers would chew on a clove to alleviate tooth and gum pain!
Black Pepper – often overlooked as a beneficial spice given it is so readily integrated into our daily life, black pepper helps to fight chest congestion, improve digestion and circulation, promote intestinal health and help fight a fever. Piperine, the primary active constituent in black pepper, is also a powerful antioxidant which can prevent cell and tissue damage.
I also add nutmeg, star anise, all spice berries and coriander seeds to my chai mix for added depth of flavour and warmth.
Given the many benefits of chai tea its growing popularity should be no mystery. However, along with its rise in fame, and ability to sit comfortably amongst an ever growing array of tea and coffee blends, the popularity of chai has also seen its unfortunate commercialisation – so much so that many pre-packaged chai teas, along with those sickly chai syrups, can have copious amounts of sugar and artificial flavours and very little actual beneficial spices.
Why would we subject ourselves to these imposters when it’s so easy to make your own healthy chai tea at home? Trust me – once you catch a whiff of this freshly ground spicy deliciousness you’ll never go back to fake chai. Enjoy!
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 1-2 thin slices fresh ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 1 piece star anise
- 3 All spice berries (pimento)
- 6 Black peppercorns
- 6 Coriander seeds
- 1 Fresh Nutmeg
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons loose black tea leaves
- Sweetener to taste (I prefer honey or maple syrup)
- 1. Grind the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, all spice berries, peppercorns and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle (or use a blender for a less traditional approach). Grate in the fresh nutmeg.
- 2. In a small saucepan, combine the water, spices and fresh ginger and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, or until fragrant.
- 3. Add the milk and tea leaves and simmer for a further 1 minute.
- 4. Turn off the heat and let steep for 3 minutes.
- 5. Pour the liquid into a cup through a fine sieve. Discard the leaves and spices.
- 6. Add sweetener to taste and enjoy!
- For the black tea, I prefer Assam, Ceylon or English Breakfast Tea, however you could also try Earl Grey or Lady Grey for greater floral elements.
- Whilst I've listed quantities for the spices above, it really is up to your own personal taste. Play around with the different spices over time to determine your preferred blend.
- Cows milk, soy, almond or coconut milk will all work well with this recipe.