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Masala Chai Newsletter

Masala Chai Perfume

Those who have lived in India are acquainted with the central role Chai or Tea plays in the lives of the Indian people. From morning to evening Chai pervades the social and cultural atmosphere of the country. Early morning cups of aromatic cup of Chai are, in most households, a "must" for getting started into the days activities. Periodic breaks throughout the day are taken for this Chaidelicious refreshing beverage. The simplest form which it takes is black tea leaves steeped in boiling water to which liberal amounts of sugar and milk added, but many home recipes include various spices such as anise, ginger, lemongrass, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, fennel, etc . Each delicious variation of this classic drink has its own character and one can find endless delight in concocting their own unique aromatic home brews.

The spice combinations used in making Masala Chai find their roots in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of natural health care. The main spices of ginger, cardamom, clove etc were valued for their properties of promoting healthy digestion and many believe that these special blends in beverages many centuries before black tea became the national beverage of India. It was only natural that when black tea or chai began to spread throughout the country that the ancient Ayurvedic digestive blends should be included in the recipe.

Outside of the home, Chai is omnipresent as well. Hundreds of thousands of small tea stalls are scattered through the country and one can hardly turn a corner without finding some sort of establishment that offers this refreshing beverage. Traveling by train one is greeted at every station by tea vendors who purvey their chai moving along the perimeter of the train or circulate within each compartment carrying their large steaming metal tea kettles to serve the needs of the travelers. Bus stations two in villages and towns great and small are sure to have many stalls clustered in their vicinity. In fact, wherever people are found gathering, for business, religious or pleasurable pursuits, there one will find tea vendors offering their aromatic elixirs.

The aromatic ingredients for Chai are produced in different parts of India. Camellia thea now grows in Assam, Himachal Pradesh, and Darjeeling in North India and the Nilgri Hills and Munnar Hills in South India. It is mostly grown in the mountainous regions of India but in Assam large tea plantations are found in Brahmaputra River Valley. It has been my good fortune to visit several areas where tea has been growing in lovely rural settings in India. In the mountain regions of Kerala near Munnar, we traveled through a wonderful cool and refreshing zone where eucalyptus and gigantic poinsettias grew amidst immaculately cultivated tea plantations. In the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, one of our colleagues who cultivates organic Rosa damascena also had many acres of tea gracefully surrounded by towering Himalayan peaks, and in Assam I was the guest of a family who along with growing tea were deeply involved in the planting of thousands of agar wood trees throughout the state. We had a memorable lunch in their country home, deep in the countryside where their tea plantations were located. Many colored butterflies drifted on the afternoon air amidst the green glossy leaves of the camellia bushes as we sat enjoying a tasty meal prepared by our hosts.

The aroma of black tea is developed during the curing process. Here is a brief description of the process.

"The tea plant is a single-stem bushy plant ranging from 20 to 60 feet in height. Regular pruning keeps its height to a more manageable 4 to 5 feet tall. It has an economic life of 40 years with regular pruning and plucking. Tea bushes are planted 3 feet to 5 feet apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape on specially prepared terraces to help irrigation and to prevent erosion. Trees are planted in between the tea plants to protect them against intense heat and light. Tea is cultivated on 59,000 acres of land in Munnar and surrounding villages with an annual yield of 55,000 tons. Four years after planting the tea plants are ready for harvesting.

Tea leaves are mostly hand picked, two leaves and a bud together, every 5- 10 days. An experienced tea leaf picker can pluck up to 30 kg tea leaves per day. Mechanical plucking although more efficient is seldom used due to lower quality of yield. To make one pound of black tea, it takes approximately 4 pounds tea leaves.

As soon as the newly picked leaves reach the factory, processing begins. The leaves are spread out over a large area for up to 24 hours where they lose some of their moisture. Sometimes heated air is piped over the withering racks to speed up the process. From the withering-racks the soft, green leaf is sent to the rolling machines where the leaf is rolled and broken up to release the tea flavor. From the roller the tea is moved to coarse mesh sieves. The fine leaves that fall through are taken to the fermenting rooms, while the coarse leaf is returned for further rolling.

Tea leaves are spread on cement or tile floors in a cool, damp atmosphere. As the leaves ferment they turn bright copper color. This tea is sent to tea driers where a continuous blast of hot dry air is forced over the leaves. Finally, the dried teas are sorted and graded by leaf size. Black teas are teas which have been allowed to ferment. They are graded according to the size of leaf, though the quality of the tea depends on growing conditions and the manufacturing process." BPE, "Tea"

The aroma of the cured/fermented tea leaves is captured by the solvent extraction process, the end product being Black Tea Absolute. Like a number of absolutes(coconut, pomegranate, honey) the aromatic molecules present in the absolute are not of the powerful radiant type but possesses a soft delicacy and refinement that can produce lovely results in various types of perfume blends.

Black Tea Absolute is a black viscous non-pourable(at room temperature) displaying a soft, delicate, sweet, herbaceous, woody, bouquet. Its role in Masala Chai Perfume is as a harmonizing agent-quietly moving amidst the more boisterous spices to unite them into a rich aromatic symphony. Black Tea Absolute is rather difficult to work with so I suggest making the basic Masala Chai Perfume Blend without it and then adding the Black Tea if you wish to incorporate its olfactory effects.

In general perfumery it is used to produce "sweet herbaceous notes in certain floral perfumes. e.g. jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, freesia,etc, and to produce new effects in woody aldehydic perfumes of the non-floral type. As an intensifier of clary sage, melaleuca bracteata, michelia leaf oil, or other tea like fragrances, it is unsurpassed in naturalness." Steffen Arctander

The spices used in Masala Chai Perfume, a perfume blend inspired by India's national drink, are ginger, cardamom, fennel, clove, cinnamon bark, and vanilla. In choosing these co2 extracts and the proportions, I have just gone an intuitive feeling for what they should be but I think the possibilities are endless. I selected the co2 extracts because they are very close in aroma to the spices themselves as the extraction process is done at very low heat and the transformation of aromatic molecules into ones that do not exist in the raw material is minimized.(as sometimes happens during steam or hydrodistillation). One could just as easily use the corresponding essential oils if one feels more comfortable with them and the results will also be beautiful.

Please note that the recipe is a perfume blend, not a preparation to be taken internally.


Masala Chai Perfume Recipe

1/8 ounce of Cinnamon Bark CO2 select

2/3 ounce of Ginger CO2 select

1/2 ounce Cardamom CO2 select

1/3 ounce of Clove Bud CO2 select

1/3 ounce of Fennel Seed CO2 select

1/3 ounce of Black Pepper eo

1/2ounce of Lemongrass eo

1 ounce of Vanilla CO2 total

Ginger CO2 select extract is a fine rich full bodied oil warm, radiant, spicy-woody bouquet. A delightful delicate sweet, slightly pungent chord sits just beneath the surface.

Sweet Fennel CO2 essential oil brings to the Masala Chai composition a pure and clean, sweet-spicy bouquet.

Cardamom CO2 select extract contributes a fine warm penetrating, sweet aromatic, spicy bouquet to the Masala Chai Perfume.

Clove CO2 select extract offers a rich, fresh, sweet, slightly fruity, spicy-balsamic chord to the Masala Chai Perfume.

Cinnamon bark CO2 select extract provides an immensely warm, powdery, dry sweet spicy chord to the perfume.

Black Pepper eo infuses its warm fresh, slightly pungent, dry-woody, aromatic spicy aroma into the Masala Chai Perfume

Lemongrass eo was a late addition to the recipe. It is an ingredient sometimes used in Masala chai but often just in combination with Black Tea and no other spices. I was looking for an essence which would add a bit of sweet freshness outside of the spice spectrum of aromas and Lemongrass suited the purpose very nicely as it has a fresh, citrus, herbaceous tea-like odor.

Vanilla bean CO2 total extract extract is the key, in my opinion, to harmonizing all of the rich, spicy, sweet, powdery, fruity, balsamic odors of the other spices. It was Suzanne's suggestion that it should be used because when I smelled the blend of spices before it was added it was to intense and did not produce that incredibly complex yet smooth aroma that radiates out of a cup of fresh Masala Chai. Vanilla CO2's elegant rich, sweet balsamic odor smoothes off the sharper edges of the spices and helps them meld into a totally new aromatic treat.

An interesting article concerning Indian Tea

The Origins of Indian Tea
by Jane Pettigrew
Long before the commercial production of tea started in India in the late 1830s, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of north east Assam. In 1598, a Dutch traveler, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, noted in a book about his adventures that the Indians ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil and boiled the leaves to make a brew.

In 1788, the British botanist, Joseph Banks, reported to the British East India Company that the climate in certain British-controlled parts of north east India was ideal for tea growing. However, he seems to have missed the fact that the plant was a native to Bengal and suggested transplanting tea bushes from China. But his idea was ignored.

In 1823 and 1831, Robert Bruce and his brother Charles, an employee of the East India Company, confirmed that the tea plant was indeed a native of the Assam area and sent seeds and specimen plants to officials at the newly established Botanical Gardens in Calcutta. But again, nothing was done - perhaps because the East India Company had a monopoly on the trading of tea from China and, as they were doing very nicely, probably saw no reason to spend time and money elsewhere.

But in 1833, everything changed. The company lost its monopoly and suddenly woke up to the fact that India might prove a profitable alternative. A committee was set up, Charles Bruce was given the task of establishing the first nurseries, and the secretary of the committee was sent off to China to collect 80,000 tea seeds. Because they were still not sure that the tea plant really was indigenous to India, committee members insisted on importing the Chinese variety.

The seeds were planted in the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta and nurtured until they were sturdy enough to travel 1000 miles to the newly prepared tea gardens. Meanwhile, up in Assam, Charles Bruce and the other pioneers were clearing suitable areas of land on which to develop plantations, pruning existing tea trees to encourage new growth, and experimenting with the freshly plucked leaves from the native bushes to manufacture black tea. Bruce had recruited two tea makers from China and, with their help, he steadily learnt the secrets of successful tea production.

The conditions were incredibly harsh. The area was remote and hostile, cold in winter and steamy hot in summer. Tigers, leopards and wolves constantly threatened the lives of the workers, and the primitive settlements of the tea workers were subject to regular raids by local hill tribes. But they persevered and gradually the jungle was opened up, the best tea tracts cultivated under the light shade of surrounding trees, and new seedlings planted to fill gaps and create true tea gardens.

Ironically, the native plants flourished, while the Chinese seedlings struggled to survive in the intense Assam heat and it was eventually decided to make subsequent plantings with seedlings from the native tea bush. The first twelve chests of manufactured tea to be made from indigenous Assam leaf were shipped to London in 1838 and were sold at the London auctions. The East India Company wrote to Assam to say that the teas had been well received by some "houses of character", and there was a similar response to the next shipment, some buyers declaring it "excellent".

Having established a successful industry in Assam's Brahmaputra valley, with factories and housing settlements, the Assam Tea Company began to expand into other districts of north east India. Cultivation started around the town of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas in the mid 1850s. By 1857, between 60 and 70 acres were under tea and, whereas the China variety of the tea plant had not liked the conditions in Assam, here at elevations of 2500 to 6000 feet, it grew well. The company pushed on into Terai and Dooars and even into the remote Kangra valley, 800 miles west of Darjeeling.

In the south western tip of the country, experimental plantings had been made in 1835, while the first nurseries were being established in Assam, and by the mid 1850s tea was growing successfully alongside coffee. The climate of the Nilgiri Hills, or Blue Mountains, seemed to suit the plant, and the area under tea steadily expanded.

In 1853, India exported 183.4 tons of tea. By 1870, that figure had increased to 6,700 tons and by 1885, 35,274 tons. Today, India is one of the world's largest producers of tea with 13,000 gardens and a workforce of more than 2 million people.

Chai Legends
Buddha's Tea
by James Norwood Pratt
Various Buddhists are sometimes given credit for the discovery of tea. A contemporary of Pythagoras, Zoroaster, and Confucius, the Buddha lived in India in the 500s BCE. After his death his teachings continued to spread and in subsequent centuries followed the Silk Route to China. While there can be no one simple explanation for China's nationwide adoption of the tea habit, it is clear that the Chinese themselves associated it with the introduction and spread of the Buddha dharma. One account claims a Buddhist monk named Gan Lu (Sweet Dew) brought tea back with him when he returned from a pilgrimage to India during the first century. Seven "fairy tea trees" he supposedly planted are still to be seen on Mt. Mengding in Sichuan.

Another story says tea sprang from the eyelids of Bodied, the first patriarch of Zen, called Daruma by the Japanese. He had sailed from India to China but once arrived he merely sat down facing a wall at Shaolin Temple and did not stir for nine years. During this marathon meditation the determined saint once drowsed off, so far forgetting himself that his eyes closed momentarily. Without hesitation he sliced off his eyelids to make sure they would never again close and interrupt his wakefulness. Where they fell the compassionate deity Quan Yin caused tea plants to grow to serve Bodhidharma and all who came after him as an aid on the path to enlightenment. Unbelievers suggest this story arose because the Japanese characters for tea leaf and eyelid are the same.