Ode to Chai

Ode to Chai

I started drinking chai when I was doing my internship at The Chopra Center for wellbeing because we had to make it every day. There were an almost overwhelming number of spices that went into that chai recipe. OMG! And I was the newbie on the block. So guess who got to make the chai? 

And then it became addictive. When you have a cup of chai tea, it’s like wrapping yourself up in a cashmere blanket, it’s so cozy and warming. In this cool transition time of year there’s so much warmth and depth in a cup of chai. It feels just right. 

What is chai, exactly?

Chai is a beverage that is a blend of black tea, honey, spices and milk. And… you can riff on that. You don’t have to put milk in, or you can use nut milks of your choice. You can use green instead of black tea, or a little maple syrup to sweeten instead of honey (but not that much of it). 

Use the basic idea as a blueprint and make your own personal chai.

Why add chai to your culinary vocabulary?

Spices dial up flavor AND health. 

Over the past decade or so, spices have gone under the microscope. 

A major impetus for this may well have been the prolific use of spices by traditional healers from around the globe for centuries. It appears they may have been on to something. 

Many aromatics contain compounds capable of modifying gene expression. Genes often have the equivalent of on/off switches, and they typically flip on and off rapidly to meet the changing needs of the body. When this system is operating well, one of its functions is to create molecules and proteins that keep cancer and many other diseases at bay. Spices appear to play a huge role in this process. Similarly, many aromatics contain compounds that provide immune support, control inflammation, and ward off bacteria and viruses. They are great for mental clarity. What more could you ask for? Great taste and possibly increased longevity? Check.

All of the spices in classic chai—a combination of cardamon pods, fresh ginger, peppercorns, cinnamon, coriander seeds, clove—provide a power-packed boost for your immune system. Interestingly, turmeric is not in traditional chai. But, since it’s super anti-inflammatory and warming, it’s particularly good for this time of year, so I’ve added it to my chai recipe (see below). Plus I love the color. :)

All of the chai spices are excellent for digestion, and are antimicrobial and antibacterial. The pro anti team! Black and green tea in themselves have a lot of anti-inflammatory properties. 

Chai is like protective wear, or wilderness wear. With this nourishing brew you can get a really great concentration of these spices in one DELICIOUS cup of tea. Amazing.  

Put yourself on the silk road express.

Here are three recipes that are a riff on chai, allowing you to get more spices into your life! This blend of spices are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, they smell (aromatherapy) and TASTE amazing. I like to make a big batch of my chosen chai and keep it in the refrigerator, just heating up what I want as needed. In the summer my husband Gregg lives on chai iced tea. If you’re an iced-tea person, this might be for you.

Economically minded? You can use the spices once, then freeze and use them again. Experiment! And if you really want to do a hack and you don’t have the time to combine the spices, there are many tea companies that make a chai blend.  

Turmeric and Cinnamon Masala Chai (1).jpg

Isn’t your mouth watering already? Talk about an alluring recipe. Masala is Indian for a spice blend, most notably those used in teas (aka chai). This incredibly comforting libation heals both body and mind. I recommend this chai to anyone whose appetite is waning or who finds him-or herself with a touch of indigestion. Added bonus: the almond milk, besides tasting great, is perfect for those of us who are lactose intolerant. You’ll feel like you’re being wrapped in a cashmere blanket. :)

Commonweal Tea (1).jpg

You may have heard the slogan “You’ve tried the rest; now try the best.” That’s the way I feel about this tea recipe. It was developed ages ago by the fantastic folk at the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, a renowned retreat for patients and caregivers, and they’ve been very kind in allowing me to share their recipe with you. 

When I used to cook at Commonweal, I often made about six quarts a day so I’d have some on hand for anyone who came through the door, and still, it was never enough. The blend of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom is like a backrub in a cup. It turns me into absolute mush, it’s so good.


How do I love thee? By keeping thee at all times on my refrigerator shelf. Seriously. My husband, Gregg, lives on iced tea, and he loves this green chai in particular. Green tea is a real brain-boosting food, and here we up the ante by adding ginger, cinnamon, and coriander, all of which have top-notch anti-inflammatory properties. In our house, this is a go-to for staying sharp throughout the day. #seriouslyyum.