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Cheers to Chai!

Did you know the word chai literally translates to the English word tea? Traditional “chai” spices originate from India, in a blend known as Masala.

The warm, spicy sweetness of these freshly ground herbs and black tea boiling on the stove – aroma rising from the pot – is an ideal atmosphere for a cold winter morning! It’s not hard to imagine why variations of this blend are plastered over almost every tea and coffee shop window as soon as the autumn solstice arrives.


Masala chai was invented in the early 20th century by tea vendors across India, after the British pushed a campaign for citizens to purchase tea grown in Assam. In India at that time, tea was often used as an herbal medicine rather than a recreational drink.

When the British established tea plantationsin India and Ceylon, and stopped acquiring the majority of it from China, they encouraged the people of India to participate in consumption. The Indian Tea Association, owned by the British, insisted that factory and mine workers receive a tea break during the day.

Originally, this beverage was served in the British style, with low doses of milk and sugar. Indian tea vendors, called Chai Wallahs (male) or Chai Wallis (female) began to add a variety of spices and more water and milk to reduce the use of the expensive black tea.

In modern day India chai wallahs can be found on every street corner at any given time to provide, “…the piping hot, milky brew that fuels the country.”


Masala chai is really a category of tea, rather than a specific type. There is no determined recipe, just a combination of ingredients including  milk, sugar, ginger and cardamom. The ginger and cardamom base is referred to as karha. Strong black tea is traditionally added to Karha to make a masala chai, but isn’t necessary.

If made with black tea, it contains about ⅓ of the caffeine present in coffee. Assam is often used because it’s strong enough to hold its own against the milk, sugar, and spices.

In India, a particular type of Assam called mamri is often used, because it is inexpensive and easily accessible. (Mamri is processed into granules instead of whole leaves, which are still larger pieces than the “tea dust” that’s often used in tea bags.)

Another style, kashmiri chai, is made with gunpowder tea, also known as pearl tea, which is usually some sort of rolled green or oolong.


Other spices frequently used in masala chai blends are cinnamon, star anise, peppercorn, nutmeg or cloves. Warming herbs are popular additions, which act as stimulants and have drying properties.

This can help pacify feelings of lethargy and relieve cold hands and feet, both of which are symptoms of a body that is too moist, according to herbal medicine traditions. Such herbs can also be helpful for those who have trouble digesting. Perhaps a more timely and desired benefit to drinking this tea during the winter holidays when feasts are upon us!

Licorice root and rose can also be incorporated for a sweeter, calming variant. These herbs are naturally cooling and moistening for the body, making a nice balance between spices. Our Herbal Chai Spice blend, for example, includes juniper berry and licorice root.

Culture and Preparation

Water buffalo milk is traditionally used to make chai in India, but low-fat cow milk is common outside of the country. Sweetened condensed milk is also used to double as a sweetener and dairy additive.

Generally masala chai is made of 2 parts water and 1 part milk, combined with the spice blend and brought to a boil, then poured through a strainer into cups. The preparation method may vary depending on local customs. It’s not about how you get there, it’s about the final product!


Craving masala chai now? Here’s a recipe, using our own Masala Chai blend. We’ve already gathered most of the ingredients for you!

Recipe makes about 3 cups of tea.

Ingredients needed:

2 cups of water

1 cup of milk, or milk substitute

2 Tablespoons of cane sugar, or sugar substitute (optional, can sweeten to desired taste)

3 Tablespoons of Shen Zen Tea’s Masala Chai tea blend (can also use Pumpkin Spice Chai, Mate Chai, or Herbal Chai Spice!)


  • Combine ingredients in a pot on the stove.
  • Heat to a rolling boil.
  • Once boiling, turn down heat and allow to simmer for approximately 6 minutes uncovered for mild/average strength. 10 minutes for strong.
  • Strain through metal mesh strainer into desired mug(s) and enjoy!


Shen Zen Tea masala chai variations:

Masala Chai: Black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, and cloves.

Pumpkin Spice Chai: Cinnamon, cardamom, oolong tea, vanilla beans, ginger, black tea, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and marigold.

Mate Chai: Yerba mate, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander, chicory root, and black pepper.

Herbal Chai Spice: Cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, rooibos, ginger, allspice, black pepper, juniper berry, and licorice root.


Written by Bryanna Putman

Edited by Allegra Radcliffe



1.) Eplett, Layla. “Tea Tuesday: Meet The Chai Wallahs Of India.” NPR, NPR, 14 June 2016,
2.)  Rawat, Radhika. “Karha: the Heart of Chai.” Hanuman Chai, 19 Nov. 2011,
3.) Tilgner, Sharol. Herbal Medicine: from the Heart of the Earth. Wise Acres, 2009.


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Health Benefits of Pu-Erh & Ginger

We are often asked if we offer any teas that aid in digestion, so here are a couple of suggestions from our menu. Since Neil and I inquisitive thinkers, we always do the research ourselves before we make any claims about our teas, especially when it comes to tea and health. Read below for a bit of science to explain why these teas are so good for your tummy!

Yunnan Puerh Ginger

African Ginger (caffeine free)



Although we have heard people tell us that ginger is good for digestion, we still went out of our way to find numerous articles reviewing studies showing how ginger benefits the digestive system. According to Dr. Tilgner in Herbal Medicine, ginger can increase the activity of digestive enzymes, increase the circulatory system, and prevent stomach ulcers. Ginger increases the secretion of bile to break down oily foods in your diet and helps to relieve flatulence, burping, and colic. Dr. Campusvej and associate researches published findings in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showing that ginger can aid in nausea and vomiting. Other clinical studies have found the same results in humans and other animals.


Pu-erh tea is an aged tea that has been used in Chinese Traditional Medicine for over a century. Pu-erh tea has multiple health benefits including aiding digestion and weight-loss. According to multiple studies published in the North England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Medicine, and British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, pu-erh tea leaves can lower total cholesterol and body weight. When people drink pu-erh tea, the tea slows the production of an enzyme necessary for making fat cells in the body called fatty acid synthase. This is because the tea develops natural chemicals that are not present in other teas called ephedra alkaloids and lovastatin. Lovastatin is actually concentrated and used by pharmaceutical companies to make prescription medicine to lower cholesterol.

When pu-erh is aged, it remains moist so that the microbes and break down the leaves. Every couple of years, tea masters may re-moisten the leaves and age them again, which keeps the microbes alive. Researchers believe that there are specialized microbes inside the aging pu-erh tea leaves that produce lovastatin. Interesting results published in Food Chemistry, Oncology Research, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research show evidence that drinking pu-erh tea can lower low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) and increase the high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol).

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Dreamwell Sleepy Time Tea

Dreamwell is specially formulated to help you sleep and taste great, too!



We’re proud to announce Shen Zen Tea’s new Dreamwell. This all organic, caffeine-free blend features chamomile, lavender and lemon balm for a soothing flavor plus valerian, hops, and St. John’s Wort to help induce deep and restful sleep.

Dreamwell tea is specially created to help you sleep faster and rest more deeply through the night.
My wife, Grace, a naturopathic medical student at Bastyr University, helped choose the most effective herbs. Our first draft worked almost too well… WE NEARLY FELL ASLEEP IN THE LAB! Over a few weeks of testing, we found the perfect recipe to make Dreamwell taste great while still being effective.

We hope you enjoy but please drink responsibly… make sure you’re near a bed when you drink our new Dreamwell tea! 🙂