Chai is often served with milk and sugar. To understand why this is done, you want to consider that chai is a mid-meal offering that will provide protein and fats in the milk, carbohydrates in the sugar, digestive spices to free up the nutrition quickly, and stimulants to the nervous system via the tea leaves to increase an immediate demand for that nutrition.
Chai provides the body with nutrition and supports the body’s use of that nutrition. It is typically taken away from food in the mid-afternoon between lunch and dinner. This carries you through that slump or sugar craving that may arise at this time.
You may take chai at any time you want the pleasant taste and the stimulation to your system. If taking near food, reduce the milk and sugar. The food will provide the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, so the tea now can be delicious spicy support to your digestion while stimulating your nervous system to put that energy to work.
Your choices in milk or milk substitute and the type of sweetener used in your chai are entirely up to you. Packaged products, while convenient, lack the ability to directly address your tastes or to have the freshness of a chai you have brewed for yourself.
Here are some of the common household spices that you can use to make your tea more beneficial to you:
Cinnamon is a digestive spice with warming, circulatory-increasing, and sweat-inducing properties. It has the added benefits of being strongly anti-viral in action and anti-parasitic. Cinnamon is also considered to be balancing of both blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Its warming nature makes it best for Vata and Kapha.
Cardamom, whose ancient name is “grains of paradise”, is another digestive stimulant, but this one also has a strong action on the mind and increases mental clarity and focus. It is said to promote mental stamina and relieve depression. Pitta may take this in small amounts, though it is best for Vata and Kapha.
Ginger root stimulates digestion, reduces mucous, and settles the stomach. It is warming and will increase circulation and sweating. Stimulating the immune system, it is anti-inflammatory as well as preventative of both viral and bacterial infections. Fresh ginger is best for Pitta and Vata, and dry ginger is more pacifying to Kapha.
Fennel is often used as a spice to temper the heat of the other spices in chai. It is a mild digestive stimulant and counters bad breath. It boosts the metabolism and supports the body’s formation of healthy fats. It is considered anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer and stabilizing to women’s reproductive cycles. All three doshas are balanced by fennel.
Clove stimulates digestion and is warming to the body. It is also anti-inflammatory and reduces the effects of environmental toxins. It has been used for ages for its numbing qualities when applied to the gums. Too hot for Pitta dosha, great for Kapha, use in small amounts for Vata since it can be drying.
Black pepper is a digestive stimulant and purifies the body by increasing both urination and sweating and supporting you in breaking down fat cells. It is both antioxidant and antibacterial. As clove, this is too hot for Pitta, great for Kapha and to be used only in small amounts for Vata.