This is where the flavor of chai comes from

When you want to sink into your favorite book or just kick back and relax, a cup of chai can make any moment special. After all, the warm feelings we get from enjoying the myriad fragrant spices along with black tea can't compare to any other beverage experience. This unique drink stands out from the pack due to the intense flavors that few other teas can only hope to deliver. While the drink can trace its origin to India, the aromas and flavors we love in our chai off the grocery store shelves have been pared down to accommodate the American palate. The original version, however, contained a selection of flavors that inspired what we now know of as chai.

While chai dates back for millennia, the current version we have in our cupboards was introduced to us through the British and the East India Trading Company. According to The Spruce Eats, the original masala chai consisted of a blend of spices that varied from region-to-region and didn't use tea leaves at all. When the English set up tea plantations in Assam, India in 1835, they began promoting their crops both abroad and in India. They eventually mixed their black tea with the traditional masala spices, as well as milk and sweeteners, to create the chai we know and love today.

What does chai look like in India?

As chai spread through the world, the drink began to cement its current image in India proper. According to Food & Wine, chai today still consists of black tea, a masala spice blend, milk, and a sweetener. Assam black tea generally makes up the foundation of your standard cup of chai in the Indian subcontinent, and many would recommend you only use whole milk as your dairy. To get the closest to the authentic sweetness levels, using a heaping teaspoon of unrefined cane sugar or regular white sugar remains a must. The biggest flavor difference lies in the spices.

The spice masala differs from household to household, but typically contains a mix of cardamom with fresh-ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and star anise. Per Food & Wine, "Pepper, coriander, nutmeg and fennel are also used, but they are slightly less common." While these spices appear in chai, not every ingredient gets used in every blend, and the ingredients and proportions of each have little consistency between recipes.

If you love picking up a box of pre-packaged chai at the supermarket, you probably won't get all of these flavors. But if you feel brave and want to mix up a masala at home, the sky's the limit when it comes to creating your perfect chai blend.