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The chai that’s served up in coffee shops is usually a strong brew of black tea blended with a mixture of spices, milk, and sugar. The black tea leaves (like Assam or Darjeeling) contain a wallop of antioxidants, called flavonoids, that help protect the body against Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and heart disease. In fact, researchers from the Institute for Cancer Prevention in Valhalla, New York, have shown that tea—whether black, green, white, or oolong—has about eight to ten times more flavonoids than fruits and vegetables. And tea may help soothe stress: A British study from the University College in London found that people who drank black tea had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and were able to destress faster than those who drank a tea substitute.
Chai may be even more nutritious than traditional black tea. Says tea researcher Wa Song, a professor of nutrition at Michigan State University in East Lansing, "In addition to the health benefits from the phenols in the tea, chai provides some phytochemicals from the ginger, cinnamon, and other fresh spices." These spices have different kinds of disease-fighting antioxidants that work in harmony with tea flavonoids. What’s more, the milk that gives chai its creamy flavor provides a hefty serving of calcium and vitamin D to strengthen your bones. "Plus it has more flavor, providing a more pleasurable taste," adds Song.
It’s easier than ever to make chai at home. Dry mixes, similar to instant coffee, require you to just blend with warm milk for a quick brew. Steam the milk in an espresso machine to make yourself a chai latte. To make traditional chai, here’s a simple recipe:
For less caffeine, try making chai from white tea leaves, which are the least processed and contain the highest amount of antioxidants. If you prefer no caffeine, try a slightly more pungent red chai made from red tea leaves.