Chai was widely adopted in the 20th century from British colonial tea plantation owners in India. It is believed to have been introduced in the west in the 1960s, with Starbucks launching its chai tea latte in the 1990s in the US (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images).


By Nadeem Badshah

MORE Britons are becoming tea-total and switching to masala chai.

Shops say they are selling more boxes of the spiced milk brews compared to a few years ago. And with winter on its way, it has become the most popular drink served in the Dishoom restaurant chain.

The hot drink, often containing cardamom or ginger, is also on the menus at high street coffeeshop chains including Starbucks and Caffè Nero.

Naved Nasir, executive chef at Dishoom, told Eastern Eye: “From day one, Dishoom has served the sort of chai you will find at Bombay’s innumerable tapris (street stalls), where it is usually poured with great dexterity and skill from arm’s length into a small, stout glass.

“Our guests have always delighted in this spicy, sweet elixir.

“From an early morning caffeine fix to a mid-morning snack of chai-dunked bun maska (buttered bead); from a sweet complement to the spicy kick of vada pau (savoury snack) at lunchtime, to a soporific post-dinner drink, chai is a versatile drink that forms a common thread through mealtimes in Bombay, and in Dishoom.

“Perhaps it is this that lends to its enduring appeal.”

According to the UK Tea Council, Britons consume around 165 million cups per day or 60.5 billion cups per year.

Chai was widely adopted in the 20th century from British colonial tea plantation owners in India. It is believed to have been introduced in the west in the 1960s, with Starbucks launching its chai tea latte in the 1990s in the US.

Yoshita, an employee at Patel Brothers’s shop in south London, said: “Starbucks and Caffè Nero are selling masala chai, there is more awareness of it.

“And there is more availability in terms of brands. We are selling loads of it, it has picked up in the past year.

“People do not want to make it any more. It is a shortcut, you can just open a sachet.”

In 2015, there was 20 per cent growth in the launch of chai latte products consumed at home, according to a report by Mintel.

Usman Younas runs Watan Superstore in Bradford, West Yorkshire. He said there is more demand for chai lattes but green tea and Yorkshire Tea remain the most sought-after in the region.

Younas told Eastern Eye: “It has grown in popularity, but masala tea has not got the biggest slimming effect compared to green tea.

“If you like it, you tell your neighbour. There are so many alternatives in coffee shops.

“It has done well. Cardamom tea is a staple spice in festivities among people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Turkish origin.

“Twinings even offer a Spicy Chai, they have done their research.

“If I did not have green tea or cardamom ones, customers would jump up and down. If I didn’t have Yorkshire Tea, I might as well put the shutters down,” he joked.

In a taste test for Good Housekeeping magazine, Angela Pryce, a tea and coffee buyer for Fortnum & Mason, said her top three products were Teapigs Chai Tea, Morrisons The Best 100 Chai Tea Bags and Pure Leaf Chai Tea.

Cyrus Todiwala OBE runs three Indian restaurants in London. He revealed that masala chai was more popular in his eateries due to its perceived health benefits.

Todiwala said: “Coffee sales are still greater and I wish that more people would shift to tea instead. But many more automatically ask for the masala chai.

“While tea will not give you a high like coffee may, it does have the ability to make you feel refreshed and energetic.

He added: “It is believed that tea has several medical benefits.”