Exhilarating Spiced Chai

Chai Tea Latte Mix


In 1998, I received the assignment to copy Big Train Chai Tea mix and fell in love. What is not to love? Sugar, cream, spices, tea, vanilla? I measured the brix (sugar), looked at the nutritional data on the label and decided my recipe needed at least 20% sugar. It was delicious.

To counter balance sweetness, flavor is a necessity. We don’t want food to be overly sweet and bland. It’s common to think that bland food is old, like an apple that’s been in storage too long. Our tendency is to only take a bite or sip of food that is too sweet and lacks flavor.

The same is true for foods that are not sweet enough. We cannot perceive flavor when there is no sweetness, like when chewing gum “loses it’s flavor” because sweetener is gone. We want our food to be “just right”; much like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Big Train Chai Tea mix was doing very well in the marketplace, so consumers were indicating that it was “just right”. Spices, flavors, sweetness and creaminess were balanced.

Spices and flavors useful in Chai Tea:

  • Vanilla
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Cardamom
  • Black Pepper
  • Ginger
  • Anise
  • Honey
  • Clove
  • tea


Something that stood out to me in the flavor: cardamom. It is now notorious for being one of the most expensive spices in the world.


Cardamom is a spice I appreciate in flavors. I’ve seen it described as “pungent”, strong sharp smell or flavor, but I prefer to describe it as “bright”, an intense flavor that that pops out in a fatty or sweet base. Besides being pungent, Cardamom has citrusy, minty, balsamic and woody notes.

Similarly, Good Scents describes Cardamom aldehyde as powerful and exhilarating. Exhilarating is something I would agree with, but do not use to describe flavor. Exhilarating captures more senses than smell or taste and focuses on the feeling of being very happy.

I’m unclear whether Cardamom aldehyde is naturally present in cardamom, but notice it is a key component in cardamom accords (formulas mimicking cardamom). Brian Lawerence published an analysis of cardamom essential oil in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. The majority of the oil included alpha-teripinyl acetate (woody note) and 1,8 Cineole (a medicinal or minty note).

Cardamom and India

Cardamom is one of the most popular spices in Indian cuisine, and is found in curry and other flavor blends containing anise and cinnamon. Chai tea is called masala tea in India. We were fortunate enough to have a nanny from Nepal who cooked up masala (spiced) tea with whole milk on the stove top. I remember the aroma of cardamom as the tea brewed and how spoiled I felt when she prepared it for our families. The tea was exhilarating, but so was being pampered.

Cardamom is a spice that blends well with flavors like vanilla, peppermint, raspberry and cream. There are many variations, including both green and black tea recipes.


  1. Cardamom is something i always use (one pod) while preparing my tea everyday morning. Yes, its the flavor that makes the tea interesting, while i have come to a point of not having plain tea. It will either have some ginger, masala or cardamom on a daily basis. Masala tea is best in the evening with some snacks

Cardamom is a spice I appreciate in flavors. I've seen it described as "pungent", strong sharp smell or flavor, but I prefer to describe it as "bright". Meaning, an intense flavor that can be perceived in a heavy (either fatty or sweet) background. Cardamom also has citrusy, minty, balsamic and woody notes.
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