The redundancy of "Chai Tea" (Masala Chai)

masala_chaiWe’ve all said it, “chai tea” — the greatest redundancy in the world of tea. In the Hindi language, “chai” means “tea”, so saying “chai tea” is the same as saying “tea tea.” Just think about that the next time you are in a coffeeshop and hear someone order a “chai tea latte” — whatever that is. Granted the popularized form of “chai tea” in America is syrup or powder based anyway – so calling what most drink in America “masala chai” would be a bastardization.  Masala refers to a mixture of spices; in masala chai, usually cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and black pepper. Thus “masala chai” means “spice tea.” While on the subject of masala chai, here are some guidelines to make great masala chai from loose leaf:

1. Prepare a 3:1 mixture of milk to water (some recipes call for a 1:1 ratio).
2. Add masala chai to the mixture and heat for 15 minutes.
3. Add sugar to taste, start with adding 1.5 teaspoons for each cup of liquid used.


About the Author:

Tony has been studying tea for over ten years and has traveled to many tea producing regions throughout Asia. His book, "Tea: A User's Guide" is available now.


  1. April 16, 2013 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Try cutting out sugar, fats, or salts. These are usually foods
    that you will eat when you are craving, so
    manage your cravings effectively. They are only good in small doses, and the modern diet is full of them.
    If you’re having a sugar craving, have some fruit. Add various spices to your food rather than salts or excess fat.

    If you don’t particularly like preparing raw vegetables and fruits, consider drinking fruit juices
    instead. Drinking fresh juice will provide you with an excellent source of nutrients you
    need without having to go through the trouble of preparing
    the veggies and fruits. Consider drinking your fruit juice through a straw so as to avoid damaging your teeth.

  2. elizabeth October 3, 2010 at 1:13 am - Reply

    This has nothing to do with the redundancy issue, but that cup is cute, anybody know where to find one like it? Or is this just a random stock photo?

    • Tony October 4, 2010 at 6:17 am - Reply

      I found these in Mumbai at a small bookstore. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find them here in the states.

  3. Bob Sandale August 19, 2009 at 12:04 am - Reply

    My understanding is that the name Chai came from a port in China where tea was exported. There was the Port of Chai and the Port of Tea. Hence the two names.

  4. Jenni August 17, 2009 at 5:03 am - Reply

    Eurgh, I hate Starbucks-ised chai. I made the mistake of ordering it once, thinking that it might be proper chai. Never again! Much better to make at home, with good quality loose leaf tea and the spices of your choice. I have some pictures of making chai on my blog, if you are interested:

  5. James Butler August 5, 2009 at 3:18 am - Reply

    Must be an American phenomenon, I’ve never heard it in England or Sweden. Especially not in England where the word “cha” is common slang for tea anyway.
    And in Sweden, chai is chai and everyone who drinks it knows what it is; so no-one would ask for chai té (Swedish for tea).

    On the actual substance itself, all these syrup chais are awful in my opinion. The only good cups of chai I’ve ever had have been in Indian restaurants.

  6. Griffin Kelton April 21, 2009 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Tony! It bothers me so much when people ask for Chai Tea or say they have to go to the ATM machine, or better yet, PIN number. I was going to talk about this in episode 7 of my show. Thanks for clearing it up for people. I’ll have to reference you! Technically, this sort of redundancy is referred to as a pleonasm–i.e., using more words than necessary to express an idea. It is more specifically and ironically referred to as RAS (Redundant Acronym Syndrome) syndrome. Clever. Thanks again!

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