Looking for a way to ditch that afternoon coffee? Here are the health benefits of chai tea

When it comes to tea, everyone’s got a preference. Some are fans of green tea, or calming chamomile, while others prefer the caffeine kick of black tea.

But among the dozens of blends, chai stands out with its unique and powerful flavor. This South Asian drink combines tea, spices and milk and is known for its sweet taste and numerous health benefits.

Just make sure you order it correctly – many Americans may feel confident asking for a “chai tea,” but because chai is the Hindi word for tea, that actually translates to “tea tea.”

What is chai?

Chai is a sweet, spicy black tea beverage made with water, spices, milk and sweetener. The blend varies, but popular spices include cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, star anise, black pepper and nutmeg.

Chai originated in India during British rule, when the Brits began using the land to expand and lower the cost of commercial tea production. As Indian factory workers began drinking the tea, they added spices and more milk. Today, the drink is steeped in ritual and community and is “a way of life in South Asian culture,” according to the Food Network.

Chai is a mix of black tea, milk, spices and sweetener.
Chai is a mix of black tea, milk, spices and sweetener.

What is the healthiest tea? Health benefits of black, herbal, green and more

Is chai good for you?

Chai is rich in antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, registered dietitian Danielle Crumble Smith says. It starts with a foundation of black tea, which contains polyphenol compounds that act as antioxidants. Studies show the antioxidants found in teas may prevent and treat human diseases like cardiovascular disease (CVD) and may also be anti-aging and anti-diabetic.

“For people who find themselves maybe with occasional gas, bloating or stomach discomfort, then consuming chai can certainly help,” Crumble Smith says. “Chai alone is not going to calm the inflammation, but it might be a helpful supportive tool.”

Chai also contains l-theanine, an amino acid that many use for stress disorders, mood and sleep hygiene. Research suggests that l-theanine intake may improve attention, working memory and executive functions. The combination of caffeine and l-theanine in chai can help with overall alertness, Crumble Smith says.

Some chai, often dubbed “Golden Chai,” contains turmeric, which boasts several health benefits. Turmeric is touted for its antioxidant content and its ability to aid digestion, improve brain function and support healthy skin, experts previously told USA TODAY. Curcumin, the active component of turmeric, can decrease and relieve joint pain and inflammation.

Crumble Smith said she’s had patients find success using turmeric chai for headache relief.

A 2023 study published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy found regular curcumin doses are a “promising therapeutic option for migraine,” though more research is needed.

While all you need to make an authentic chai beverage is the spices, tea, milk and a bit of sweetener, like honey, in American culture chai has taken on a life of its own. Many use concentrates or powders – Starbucks’ popular chai latte is made with pumps of chai concentrate.

These versions of chai often contain high amounts of sugar, which will cancel out any of those health benefits the tea offers, Crumble Smith warns.

“Sugar in and of itself is highly inflammatory. A lot of people don’t realize it, but the combination of the sugar and the caffeine could actually increase heart rate, exacerbate feelings of anxiety, make you feel wired and then crash later on,” she says.

While sugar certainly has a place in our diet, drinking chai tea with loads of sugar can present issues for those with weight loss goals or insulin resistance. Crumble Smith recommends getting a more traditional chai or asking your barista for less sugar or syrup.

“You can control the amount of sweetener that you’re adding into it and then you’ll actually reap the benefits of those spices and anti-inflammatory agents,” she says.

Does chai have caffeine?

The caffeine content of chai is based on how long you steep the tea or whether you’re using a concentrated mix. Tea manufacturer Prana Chai reports their chai has between 20 and 100 milligrams of caffeine. The average cup typically has between 40 and 60 milligrams, WebMD says.

“Chai would be a great mid-morning pickup for somebody who might find themselves wanting to be able to focus with work and not wanting to overdo it by having another cup of coffee,” Crumble Smith says.

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