Something Different
Week of: June 29, 2009
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Iced Chai Refreshes With Spice

By Dana Jacobi
for the American Institute for Cancer Research

Chai is spiced tea, but this description misses the abundant shades of flavor found in this Indian drink. In my pantry, I have chai tea bags filled with combinations based on black tea and green, with and without caffeine. One uses Assam, a refined black tea tasting less bitter than more run-of-the-mill blacks. In the evening, I often switch to herbal chai. It is made with rooibos, a South African plant said to be even richer in antioxidants than what is botanically considered tea.

Indians focus on the health properties of chai. Each spice has its benefits, from easing digestion to stimulating the body’s circulation with a warming effect. I focus more on how chai tastes, finding it a great way to consume quantities of tea for its antioxidant benefits.

Besides the tea, the spices in chai affect its flavor. As a chai fanatic, I have collected at least 20 different brands and types. Sampling several at a time, in some the bite of clove dominates over the mellow flavor of cinnamon and dry taste of cardamom. In others, the heat from ginger, black pepper, or both, takes over. Some chais include fennel or anise seed because they add a sweet flavor. For added variety, some also include vanilla, chocolate, or orange zest.

As the weather warmed and drinking hot tea all day became less comfortable, I began to think about how to make it into a good cold drink. Experimenting revealed interesting options.

Teabags of preblended chai never produce flavor as good as brewing spices plus tea from scratch. So the ideal iced chai requires two operations. First, brew chai from teabags and freeze it into ice cubes. As with all iced tea, this avoids ice diluting the flavor in your glass. These cubes keep for several days, longer when, once frozen, they are stored to a resealable plastic bag.

For step two, brew a batch of chai using spices plus tea. This, too, keeps for several days in the refrigerator. Finally, for the milk and sweetening essential for chai, almond milk adds flavor that marries beautifully with the spices, while agave, a natural liquid, sweetens it gently.

Iced Almond Chai

Iced Almond Chai

I am happy mixing the chilled chai with cold almond milk, but for those who insist that summer drinks be iced, this recipe will give the best balance of flavors in a creamy drink.

  • 3 green cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. anise seed
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 3 black teabags
  • 3 chai teabags with black tea
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened almond milk, chilled
  • 8 – 10 tsp. agave syrup, preferably dark

For the chai, combine the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, anise, and peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Add the water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Off the heat, add the black teabags, cover, and steep for 5 minutes. Remove the teabags, squeezing them well. Pour the chai into a heat-proof jar and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Strain the chai when ready to use, and discard the spices.

For ice cubes, in a heatproof measuring cup, pour the boiling water over the 3 chai tea bags and steep for 10 minutes. Divide the tea between two ice cube trays and cool to room temperature, then freeze into cubes.

To serve, place 6 chai ice cubes in each of four 12-ounce glasses. Pour in 1/2 cup of the strained, chilled chai. Add 1/3 cup almond milk and sweeten to taste, using 2 to3 teaspoons agave syrup per serving.

Makes 4 servings, 4 cups

Per serving: 60 calories, 1 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 13 g carbohydrate, 0 g protein,

0 g dietary fiber, 50 mg sodium


Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

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