The health benefits of chai tea are debatable, depending on precisely what sort of chai is being consumed, and how often. In India, many people drink chai daily, and some demonstrable health benefits have been observed. In other parts of the world, ingredient substitutions may detract from the potential health benefits of chai tea, although tea in general is good for the health, and chai tea certainly isn't bad for most people under most circumstances.
Traditional chai tea is made from a base of black tea mixed with spices like pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves. The tea is blended with milk and honey for service to create a sweet, creamy beverage. In some parts of the world, sugar is used instead of honey, and other people like to use dairy alternatives in their chai like soy or rice milk. Milk levels in chai also vary widely; some teas have a high milk concentration, while others have a higher proportion of tea.
Black tea, the base ingredient in chai, contains antioxidants which can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Antioxidants are also believed to beneficial to heart health, and some researchers suggest that they may help prevent cancer as well. Black tea also has a small amount of caffeine. For people who are caffeine sensitive, chai might not be a great choice; people with ulcers and heartburn may also want to stay away from chai.
The various spices in chai have been used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries. Both Ayurveda and Chinese Traditional Medicine place a high value on spices in the treatment of a range of conditions. Ginger helps to ease sore throats, along with cold and flu symptoms, and it can also calm an upset stomach. Cloves have traditionally been used as an invigorating spice, and they may promote circulation as well. Cinnamon is a common stimulant, while cardamom eases indigestion and helps to calm the consumer. Pepper also promotes healthy digestion. For people who experience indigestion after Indian food, a cup of chai might be a great help.
The use of honey instead of sugar in this spiced tea can also be a good nutritional choice, although there is some debate about the health impact of refined sugar. Highly refined sugars like white sugar may not be beneficial to human health, while honey has antioxidants, can ease sore throats, and can fight bacterial infection in some cases. The wide variety of milk choices in chai can also make it a healthy choice, as people with lactose intolerance can enjoy the taste with a non-dairy milk.
While not as good for you as a plate of brown rice and steamed vegetables might be, chai tea can certainly be beneficial. The combination of spices in the tea can promote general health and ease specific complaints, and people who make their own chai can control the ingredients for the best health effect. Processed chai drinks like chai lattes may not be as beneficial as traditional chai tea, since these drinks often contain minimal chai and higher amounts of white sugar. The spices may also not be as potent because coffee shops tend to order chai mix in large batches rather than mixing it fresh on a daily basis.