Chai is spiced tea, originally from India, but now increasingly enjoyed around the world. The various types of teas used in chai (black tea, green tea, and less commonly Rooibos, or red tea from South Africa) have been the subject of extensive studies in recent years to understand and quantify the health benefits.
Green tea was initially the primary focus of most health studies because it was seen to carry a high amount of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a compound known to exhibit powerful anti-oxidant qualities. As green tea goes through the oxidation process to become black tea, the amount of this antioxidant is decreased. So it was assumed that green tea would be "healthier". However, recent studies have found that the newly formed compounds of the oxidation process are equally beneficial. So black tea has been redeemed. Although slightly different in composition, both give outstanding benefits.
Other beneficial compounds in tea include tannin, which acts to counterbalance and enhance the beneficial effects of caffeine. Tannin causes the caffeine to be absorbed more slowly and thereby avoids the caffeine "shock" and crash commonly associated with coffee. Due to the negative press on caffeine, some may find it odd that it could be seen as a health benefit. But in small amounts, tamed by the synergistic effects of tannin, it seems to have several beneficial metabolic properties. This combination also tends to induce a calm, alert and focused mental state, characteristic of alpha brain waves as demonstrated on EEG machines. In addition, black tea contains many beneficial polyphenols including Theanine, which also tends to increase alertness and clarity. The increased focus has been demonstrated to last three to four hours.
As there is no known negative side effects of drinking tea, some doctors studying these effects have come to recommend drinking 4 to 5 cups per day. Worldwide, tea is the most consumed beverage next to water.
For more information and research studies on tea, please use the following links:
Teausa-org - Research on the Potential Health Benefits of Tea
PRnewswire.com - Tea May Improve Attention and Focus
About.com – Black or Green Tea: Which is Healthier?
Medical News Today – Black Tea and Diabetes
Infection Control Today Magazine – Tea Boosts Immunity and Helps Skin
USDA Agricultural Research Service – The Latest Tea Research
In addition to the tea in chai, there is also a number of spices which are added to give it its characteristic chai flavor. These include: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, Black Pepper, Nutmeg, Chinese Star Anise, Ginger and Fennel. Although less studied than tea, these compounds have also been used for thousands of years in oriental herbology for various benefits. In the West, we are only now beginning to appreciate the value of some of these traditional uses.
It is further thought that it is a synergistic combination of these key spices, along with the tea factors, that further increases the beneficial effects and therefore makes chai unique among tea. For general traditional uses, see
Chai A Healthy Coffee Substitute
For more detailed research, see:
NPR.org – Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar
HeartSpring – Cinnamon Combats Diabetes
World Healthiest Foods.org – Ginger helps anti-inflammatory
Natural Society.com – Ginger inhibits Ovarian & Prostate Cancer Cells
Health News – Black Pepper the Spice Jewels
Organic Facts.net – Black Pepper Health Benefits
Healthy Eating.com – Star Anise Benefits
Natural Society.com – Clove - Healing Super Spice
Compleat Mother Magazine – Fennel Health Surprise