Chai is traditionally made using black tea. However, it is also available with other types of tea such as green tea, white tea, Rooibos (a naturally caffeine-free red tea from South Africa), matcha, yerba mate, and more. Many of these teas have been the subject of extensive studies in recent years to understand and quantify their remarkable health benefits.
Green tea was initially the focus of most early health studies on tea because it was seen to carry a high amount of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), a compound known to exhibit powerful antioxidant 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" than black tea. 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 green tea and black tea provide outstanding and unique benefits.
Another beneficial compound in tea is 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:
- WebMD.com - Types of Teas and Their Health Benefits
- PennMedicine.org – The Hidden Health Benefits of Tea
- Teausa-org - Research on the Potential Health Benefits of Tea
- About.com – Black or Green Tea: Which is Healthier?
- Medical News Today – Black Tea and Diabetes
- USDA Agricultural Research Service – The Latest Tea Research
Beyond the benefits of the tea in chai, there are also significant health benefits found in the various spices included in the drink, such as 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 their various health benefits. In the West, we are only now beginning to appreciate the value of these traditional uses.
It is further thought that the synergistic combination of these key spices, along with the tea factors, further increases the beneficial effects of chai. For general traditional uses, see Chai A Healthy Coffee Substitute
For more detailed research, see:
- NPR.org – Cinnamon Lowers Blood Sugar
- NIH - Ginger on Human Health; A Comprehensive Systematic Review
- World Healthiest Foods.org – Ginger helps anti-inflammatory
- Natural Society.com – Ginger inhibits Ovarian & Prostate Cancer Cells
- 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