Indian Spice Therapy in a Cup

Spices – Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik

Written by Silpi Patnaik

While evenings in the world unfold in solitary swimming pools of whiskeys, wines and champagnes, Indian twilights are all about floating in the spiced streams of masala chai and a whole lot of conversations over it. For the rest of the world a lot might be happening over coffee, but for a rugged brown-skinned Indian happiness sits, loiters and surrounds on the rims of the clay pot of his ginger-laden spiced tea. Yes, spiced tea is the strongest personality in every Indian household and all work, small or big, either precedes or follows a semi-elaborate spiced tea session. Indian spiced tea, seasoned with an assortment of spices or more appropriately “masalas”, is an overwhelming irresistible uncompromising affair. It is time the world be aware about the array of spices that are such crucial characters in this classic Indian drama called “masala chai.”

Cardamom- Green and Black , Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik

Cardamom- Green and Black 

Belonging to the ginger family, green and black cardamoms are oblong seed pods with a shell stuffed with lots of seeds inside. Both the types of cardamoms have distinct flavours and are used in separate recipes, yet never together. While powdered green cardamom is mostly stirred into sweet dishes, the bigger black variant is used in spicy food items. However, both are crushed and thrown into a brewing pot of spiced tea for their amalgamation brings out a heady aroma. It is this peculiar intoxicating scent of cardamoms that has made South Asians such addictive to their morning cup of tea. Cardamoms are known for aiding digestion, refreshing the breath and injecting a punch of energy through their dominating smell. Combined with the nicotine in tea, they spruce up our half-awake bodies and provide a shot of energy to kick start the day.

Cinnamon – Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik


Mildly sweet, distinctly flavourful and largely medicinal, South Asian Cinnamon is made from the deep internal bark of Cinnamomum trees. Cinnamon is popular across the globe for its enriching smell and is treated as one of the basic ingredients in international recipes of lattes, breads, cookies, etc. Known to boost metabolism and lift moods instantly, this reddish-brown slim round elongated spice implants a soul in an otherwise bland beverage or baked good. Thus, a pinch of this mood enhancer in spiced tea makes it even more delectable. Cinnamon is also a staple in traditional Indian curries and soups. It releases a refreshing steam that is known to clear minds. It is a preferred spice after hectic afternoons and busy days. Cinnamon is popular for high quantities of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It may even reduce bad cholesterol and cut the risk of blood pressure. Consuming a little cinnamon everyday with the regular spiced tea is thus advisable.

Saffron – Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik


Saffron, the legendary thread-like spice, is derived from a flower called saffron crocus. It is a colour all in itself- tad golden, tad red, tad orange and a tad bit of all of them combined together. Fondly addressed as the “sunshine spice”, saffron is known to purify our bodies and provide a natural blush to our cheeks, courtesy its high amounts of antioxidants. Saffron is very strongly flavoured and is always consumed in small quantities. The ideal way to use it is to first crush it in warm water till it changes its colour from crimson to orange and then add warm milk to it till it transforms itself completely into a soothing tint of yellow. It is owing to this alchemy of colours and transformation of fragrance that saffron is known to treat symptoms of depression. It gives warmth to our bodies and keeps body aches, irritability, anxiety and PMS at bay.


Star Anise – Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik

Star Anise 

Native to Vietnam and South West China, star anise is made from the fruit of a Chinese evergreen tree. Although not a mandatorily used spice in masala tea, yet star anise can add an earthy and edgy flavor to warm beverages. This mysteriously star-shaped spice has medicinal properties because of its high content of flavonoids and polyphenols. Like all other spices, star anise too is anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants.

Bay Leaf 
Dried bay leaf is an herb that is used in all Indian curries without exception. Although not extremely distinctive in its smell or taste, yet it plays a very important role of bringing together the essence of all other spices and rounding up the burst of flavours by merging one into another. Apart from that, bay leaf is proven to do much good to our throats. It is to some extent medicinal and provides relief to our sore cells. One dried bay leaf is customarily thrown into rice and desserts to make them subtly flavoured. It is also torn and stirred into masala chais and “kadhas.” It is known that professional singers regularly drink water boiled with bay leaf to retain the freshness and melody in their throat.

Ginger – Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik

Last but not the least is Ginger roots or Ginger which is said to be the soul of Indain masala chai. Native to South East Asia, ginger is renowned for its tremendous health-friendly attributes.  “gingerol”, a therapeutic oil, flows inside the tough light-brown body of ginger and is responsible for making it enormously medicinal. Ginger is compulsorily used in Asian recipes and over the period of time has become an inseparable ingredient of continental cuisine as well. Apart from being anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-viral, Ginger has wondrous effects on sore muscles, indigestion and nausea. A half inch ginger freshly grated into the pot of masala chai does ensure that one stays happy, healthy and pumped up throughout the day.
All the aforesaid spices along with a few optional ones like cloves, black pepper, nutmeg etc. are crumbled in the pit of a mortar and then tossed into the boiling tea. All these spices blend into the golden coloured waves of the brewing pot of spiced tea to make it extra strong, extra stimulating and extra exhilarating. One customizes his cup of tea according to his specific needs and requirements.

Spices – Photo Credit Silpi Patnaik

This process of permutation, combination and customization of spices has been an ageless ritual. Every Indian is privy to the surge of excitement and the bout of refreshment that a smoky hot cup of masala haci injects in his body. It is masala chai that provides him a purpose in the mornings, hope in the mid-mornings, solace in the evenings and comfort post- twilight. It is precisely because of this multifaceted nature of tea that all Indians “meet over tea”, “discuss over tea”, “finalize deals over tea” and  “dream over tea”. They return to the arms of tea at every two-hour interval because with a mélange of powerful spices in it masala chai works like magic potion for them. masala chai sessions are almost like tiny celebrations weaved into the fabric of a work day.

If you are still imagining the excitement that a mug of spiced tea generates then hit your local grocery store for the South Asian spices, buy a painted terracotta cup, brew an urn of masala chai, have a hearty time with your teapot and turn the silhouettes of imaginations into frames of reality.