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Old 05-17-2014, 10:58 PM
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Chai tea...wtf is it supposed to be?


So, I've been coming across this phrase off and on(most recently in a Big Bang Theory episode), so I figured I'd ask...what gives? Chai is just the Hindi word for tea. Saying chai tea is like saying tea tea. It makes no sense.
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Old 05-17-2014, 11:20 PM
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It doesn't taste like actual tea, but it is black tea blended with herbs and spices. I hate tea, I like chai. It tastes spicy- that's the best way I can describe it.
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Old 05-17-2014, 11:21 PM
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Chai tea is highly spiced and often served sweetened and with milk or cream. Calling it chai tea is simply an English adaptation, much like saying with "au jus" or calling something a paella pan.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_chai

Last edited by IvoryTowerDenizen; 05-17-2014 at 11:21 PM.
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Old 05-17-2014, 11:52 PM
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Originally Posted by IvoryTowerDenizen View Post
Chai tea is highly spiced and often served sweetened and with milk or cream. Calling it chai tea is simply an English adaptation, much like saying with "au jus" or calling something a paella pan.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_chai
Your link is to Masala chai, and if that's what chai tea is, then it really ought to be called Masala tea in English. Or spiced tea. Chai tea is silly.

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Old 05-17-2014, 11:55 PM
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I hate tea, I like chai.
No, no, no. When I read that I see "I hate tea, I like tea". It hurts my brain.
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Old 05-17-2014, 11:55 PM
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Your link is to Masala chai, and if that's what chai tea is, then it really ought to be called Masala tea in English. Or spicy tea. Chai tea is silly.
Did you read the link? It describes the etymology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_...nd_terminology
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:07 AM
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Did you read the link? It describes the etymology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_...nd_terminology
It says exactly what I'm saying?

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In many Eurasian languages, chai or cha is the word for tea. This comes from the Persian چای chay, which originated from the Cantonese Chinese word for tea 茶 chá. (The English word 'tea', on the otherhand, comes from the Chiew Chow dialect of Chinese "teeh".) Despite this, in many Western languages this spiced tea is commonly referred to as simply chai,[1] which can lead to conflation. For this reason, although a tautology (literally "tea tea"), the term chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:24 AM
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This is all very interesting. Many people have told me about Chai Tea and couldn't tell me what it was. Since I've never liked anything but weak green tea I never tried it. I think I'll give it a whirl now if people are saying it doesn't taste like tea.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:38 AM
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You sound like one of my online friends who hates it when people say "chai tea" and he hates "chai tea latte" even more so because real chai is supposed to be made with milk so it's like saying "tea with milk tea with milk".

Last edited by Wile E; 05-18-2014 at 12:39 AM.
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Old 05-18-2014, 01:29 AM
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Chai is just the Hindi word for tea.
Yes.
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Saying chai tea is like saying tea tea.
No. Well, yes, if you're literally translating a hindi conversation to english. But not if you mean as originating in an english conversation. In english, chai refers to teas made with that particular blend of spices to demarcate them as different than the more familiar green and black teas. Why the british soldiers who introduced chai into english chose chai and not masala, I don't know. But I can tell you that the cultural penetration of chai tea is so deep and strong, I doubt there's any chance of people switching to masala tea or masala chai instead of chai tea.

It's not even like it's the only word that's happened to. I assume when you order a latte at a coffee shop, they don't just hand you a glass of milk.
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Old 05-18-2014, 01:45 AM
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No, no, no. When I read that I see "I hate tea, I like tea". It hurts my brain.
Sorry. In the United States at least this battle is well and truly lost - Starbucks has seen to that. You'll either have to learn to ignore it ( maybe with a slight wince to make yourself feel better ) or develop plenty of headaches in the future .

Last edited by Tamerlane; 05-18-2014 at 01:45 AM.
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Old 05-18-2014, 02:18 AM
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Get some salsa sauce on the side. If you're short on cash, stop at the ATM machine first. Don't forget your PIN number.
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Old 05-18-2014, 02:49 AM
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PIN number I can understand in certain contexts, because PIN is a homonym for other words and without saying the "Number" after it, it might be confusing (and it's still faster than saying out the entire acronym).

ATM machine needs to die in a fire.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with Chai Tea, or cheese quesadilla, etc.
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Old 05-18-2014, 02:59 AM
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bldysabba, if you try and make sense of how sub continental culture is portrayed in the west, you will have an aneurysm. Just , accept it and try not to grimace too much. Especially when they insist that you are wrong and act all superior like IvoryTowerDenizen. Or drewtwo99

OTH, I nearly spat "Chai tea latte" at the Barista when I had it so there.

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Originally Posted by Inner Stickler
Why the british soldiers who introduced chai into english chose chai and not masala
Since, masala means powder or paste, it would make no sense at all.

FTR, "chai" means simply tea, whether its green tea, or Kashmiri tea or with teabag or made in a pot. The qualifier tells you what it is, not the word "chai".

Last edited by AK84; 05-18-2014 at 02:59 AM.
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Old 05-18-2014, 03:02 AM
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I always thought chai tasted kind of pumpkin-y. It's a delicious beverage that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
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Old 05-18-2014, 03:34 AM
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I always thought chai tasted kind of pumpkin-y. It's a delicious beverage that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
Great reference!
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Old 05-18-2014, 03:48 AM
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bldysabba, if you try and make sense of how sub continental culture is portrayed in the west, you will have an aneurysm. Just , accept it and try not to grimace too much. Especially when they insist that you are wrong and act all superior like IvoryTowerDenizen. Or drewtwo99

OTH, I nearly spat "Chai tea latte" at the Barista when I had it so there.



Since, masala means powder or paste, it would make no sense at all.

FTR, "chai" means simply tea, whether its green tea, or Kashmiri tea or with teabag or made in a pot. The qualifier tells you what it is, not the word "chai".
Sure. But in English, it's become synonymous with masala chai. Why? I don't know. But it's not an unusual linguistic phenomenon that words with generic meanings in one language take more specific meanings in others. See "raisin" or "corn" (that's within the same language even). It's called "semantic narrowing."
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Old 05-18-2014, 04:20 AM
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Especially when they insist that you are wrong and act all superior like IvoryTowerDenizen. Or drewtwo99
What the fuck? I didn't say anyone was "wrong" or that I was superior. Just giving my own opinion. I even give some middle ground for certain "wrong" things to say, like understanding when PIN number might be superior to saying just PIN.

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Old 05-18-2014, 04:33 AM
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My English SO often says "chai" when all she's having is regular old black tea with milk and sugar/stevia/honey (sweetener varies). She's from the Norfolk area - don't know if that matters.
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Old 05-18-2014, 05:48 AM
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My English SO often says "chai" when all she's having is regular old black tea with milk and sugar/stevia/honey (sweetener varies). She's from the Norfolk area - don't know if that matters.
In parts of the south of England, particularly London, we sometimes call tea "cha". Does she say "chai" (rhymes with fly) or "cha" (with a long a as in "ah")?
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Old 05-18-2014, 06:14 AM
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"Cha" is Punjabi. As lots of British forces were stationed in the Punjab and the Frontier and a lot of immigration to the UK is from there, not surprised.

jimbluff314, that's pretty much what "chai" is.


And welcome back jjimm
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Old 05-18-2014, 06:22 AM
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It says exactly what I'm saying?
This was the part that I thought addressed your point:
Quote:
For this reason, although a tautology (literally "tea tea"), the term chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea.[2][3]
Yes, it's a tautology, but there are other foreign words, when adapted to English, that get used that way. Paella pan, is one example.

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bldysabba, if you try and make sense of how sub continental culture is portrayed in the west, you will have an aneurysm. Just , accept it and try not to grimace too much. Especially when they insist that you are wrong and act all superior like IvoryTowerDenizen. Or drewtwo99
Color me very confused. I'm not sure how agreeing with the OP, but saying it just isn't all that unusual for foreign words to be treated that way, is acting superior.

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Old 05-18-2014, 07:03 AM
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Only on SDMB will we go 12 rounds about something as disgusting as clove, anise and cinnamon flavored tea, with milk.

Everybody knows the only propper tea is english breakfast or earl grey. Taken black. Sugar optional. Lemon if you're dainty.
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Old 05-18-2014, 07:58 AM
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I loooove Chai Latte. Black tea: check. Lovely cookie spices like cinnamon, cumin and cardamon: check. Lots of milk: check. And added layer of milk foam (milk foam is the only reason I even drink cappuchino's) CHECK!

The spices make it taste so sweet you don't even need to add sugar (Starbucks of course does add loads of sugar as a default, and keep quiiet about it). So, self made Chai latte is a sweet, warming drink with few calories.

Chai latte can be bought as a premade balck tea mix. But it is also available as just the spice mix, so you can add it to your own favourite black tea in the concentration you like.
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Old 05-18-2014, 08:15 AM
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"Cha" is Punjabi.
Or the original Cantonese. Or Bengali or Gujarati or Odiya...etc
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Old 05-18-2014, 08:22 AM
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There are so many of these misuses of non English language such as with au jus or my favorite- the gangster in Mickey Blue Eyes wanting to open a restaurant called "The La Trattoria"
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Old 05-18-2014, 09:04 AM
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There is no one "chai" recipe. It is a mixture of tea and spices (Bigelow even has a chocolate chai) that is usually drunk with milk and sugar. The spices vary depending on who makes it.

As for the language issues:

1. There is nothing wrong with redundancy in language. In fact, it's an essential element to prevent miscommunication.
2. The original definition or origin of a word is at most an amusing curiosity. It has no relevance to current usage.
3. The users of the language determine what's correct. "Chai tea" is how people differentiate it from other types of tea. Getting huffy over the etymology shows lack of understanding about language.
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Old 05-18-2014, 09:51 AM
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There are so many of these misuses of non English language such as with au jus or my favorite- the gangster in Mickey Blue Eyes wanting to open a restaurant called "The La Trattoria"
And my favorite example, "the La Brea Tar Pits," or "the the tar pit tar pits." What a weird thread. And it happens in all sorts of languages. A similar example to the OP is the Hungarian word "baconszallona," which is the English word "bacon" followed by the Hungarian word "szalonna," which means "bacon." So, like "chai tea," you have the same sort of redundancy. But it refers to basically "streaky bacon."

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Old 05-18-2014, 09:59 AM
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If people can't call it "chai", what should they call it?
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Old 05-18-2014, 10:03 AM
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Great reference!
;D
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Old 05-18-2014, 10:04 AM
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Another food related example in English might be "kielbasa (sausage)." I grew up speaking Polish, and the word simply means "sausage" in Polish. But in US English at least, it has come to specifically refer to a type of smoked Polish sausage. Despite being a generic term like "chai" in its native language, and despite Polish and English being my native tongues, it's never bothered me (nor do I think I ever really noticed) that the generic refers to something more specific across this pair of languages. I would not bat an eye if someone said "kielbasa sausage." I know what it means and it matters not one whit what it literally means in the native language. That's just how languages work.
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Old 05-18-2014, 10:06 AM
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If people can't call it "chai", what should they call it?
I suppose "masala tea" would be the answer. Or perhaps "Indian spiced tea" (although, who knows, maybe "Indian" is too specific/not specific enough.) I'll just stick to "chai" when speaking English where that term is widely used.

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Old 05-18-2014, 10:08 AM
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I suppose "masala tea" would be the answer.
But if "chai" means "tea", can I say "masala chai" or "chai masala"?
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Old 05-18-2014, 10:11 AM
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But if "chai" means "tea", can I say "masala chai" or "chai masala"?
I don't see why not. (The first, that is. The second would refer to the spices that go into the tea. ETA: I think. I don't know how flexible word order is. But that's how I've always encountered the terms. A native speaker can clarify.)

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Old 05-18-2014, 10:31 AM
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If people can't call it "chai", what should they call it?
Tea?

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But if "chai" means "tea", can I say "masala chai" or "chai masala"?
Masala Chai: Please don't even go there
Chai Masala: Tea Powder; sounds ridiculous.

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Old 05-18-2014, 10:48 AM
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Tea?
I mean that specific type of spiced Indian tea referred to as "chai" in the West, and not, say, Lipton Yellow Label.
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Old 05-18-2014, 11:16 AM
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bldysabba, if you try and make sense of how sub continental culture is portrayed in the west, you will have an aneurysm. Just , accept it and try not to grimace too much.
Heh. Fair enough.

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Since, masala means powder or paste, it would make no sense at all.
Actually, I think the primary meaning of masala is spice, and the word is often used like that (masala movies for instance), so he's ok there.

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Yes.No. Well, yes, if you're literally translating a hindi conversation to english. But not if you mean as originating in an english conversation. In english, chai refers to teas made with that particular blend of spices to demarcate them as different than the more familiar green and black teas. Why the british soldiers who introduced chai into english chose chai and not masala, I don't know.
I somehow doubt this is an 'English' phenomenon started by British soldiers. I think it's American, spread by some marketing type with more fluff between their ears than brains.

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But I can tell you that the cultural penetration of chai tea is so deep and strong, I doubt there's any chance of people switching to masala tea or masala chai instead of chai tea.
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Sorry. In the United States at least this battle is well and truly lost - Starbucks has seen to that. You'll either have to learn to ignore it ( maybe with a slight wince to make yourself feel better ) or develop plenty of headaches in the future .

I think a big part of the reason I'm not comfortable with it being an 'English' word with a meaning that is at odds with the Hindi is because I think of English as 'my' language, just as I do Hindi. And it feels like I ought to have a say in what meaning a word from Hindi has in English. And given how many English speakers India has, I think it's a pretty legitimate stance. Maybe if more knowledgeable Americans like all you fine folk would start spreading the word, it may stem the tide?


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I mean that specific type of spiced Indian tea referred to as "chai" in the West, and not, say, Lipton Yellow Label.
Masala tea. Spiced tea. From what I'm reading here - Cardamom tea, clove tea, Pumpkin(?) tea. Those would all be accurate, masala tea would even fulfill the exotic quotient. Masala chai, which is the actual name, is an option, although I suppose any Masala chai you get in India would be vastly different.
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Old 05-18-2014, 11:23 AM
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although I suppose any Masala chai you get in India would be vastly different.
You want me to start talking about the hummus they sell in the United States? Trust me, I know all about Western culinary appropriation.
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Old 05-18-2014, 11:33 AM
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Masala Chai: Please don't even go there
Chai Masala: Tea Powder; sounds ridiculous.
I don't know why you say this, but in India, both Masala Chai and Chai Masala are phrases that are in use (the latter much less so) although they mean different things.
Masala chai means spiced tea, and is pretty common. Most chaiwalas will throw in a pinch of something if you ask them for a Masala Chai. The fancier places(like Cha Bar) have a separate Masala chai on the menu which is their approximation of the (IMO superior) roadside chaiwala.

Chai masala is more uncommon, but is used by some people to refer to, as you put it, chai powder, i.e the grainy Lipton stuff that you dunk into boiling water and later get chai from.

On an unrelated matter, I've been meaning to ask you something, but due to limitations in how I access the board, I can't send you a PM. Would you mind sending me one so I can reply to it? Thanks.
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Old 05-18-2014, 11:41 AM
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You want me to start talking about the hummus they sell in the United States? Trust me, I know all about Western culinary appropriation.
Look, I don't mind if they make something that tastes somewhat different but is called the same. I don't even mind when they start saying 'curry' is Indian food, inspite of Indian food not having any dish called 'curry'.

It's just - chai is tea. You could have adrak chai(ginger tea), elaichi chai(cardamom tea), laung chai(clove tea), Masala chai(some sort of combination of previous) suleimani chai(lemon black tea), any number of different types of chai. Chai tea, on the other hand, you can't. It's just.. you can't.
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Old 05-18-2014, 11:53 AM
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You want me to start talking about the hummus they sell in the United States? Trust me, I know all about Western culinary appropriation.
And the culinary (mis) appropriation goes both ways. I don't know why this is a big deal. (I'm not saying you're saying it's a big deal, but other posters seem to be making it into a bigger issue than it is.)

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Old 05-18-2014, 11:54 AM
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Look, I don't mind if they make something that tastes somewhat different but is called the same. I don't even mind when they start saying 'curry' is Indian food, inspite of Indian food not having any dish called 'curry'.

It's just - chai is tea. You could have adrak chai(ginger tea), elaichi chai(cardamom tea), laung chai(clove tea), Masala chai(some sort of combination of previous) suleimani chai(lemon black tea), any number of different types of chai. Chai tea, on the other hand, you can't. It's just.. you can't.
But you do. That's how langauges work. Look, I gave another example of it in English (kielbasa sausage) and an example of it in Hungarian (baconszalonna). What's the big deal?

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Old 05-18-2014, 12:07 PM
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But you do. That's how langauges work. Look, I gave another example of it in English (kielbasa sausage) and an example of it in Hungarian (baconszalonna). What's the big deal?
Like I said, for me, it's because both English and Hindi are 'my language'. There are hundreds of millions of Indians for whom English is their language. There's a sizeable intercourse between English speaking American and Indian people (though most of it may be one way), and so to millions of speakers of the English language, 'Chai tea' is ignorant nonsense(literally). I'm pushing back against it in an appropriate forum

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Old 05-18-2014, 12:07 PM
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I somehow doubt this is an 'English' phenomenon started by British soldiers. I think it's American, spread by some marketing type with more fluff between their ears than brains.
You would be wrong. The evidence is that chai came to english via british soldiers returning to the UK with a preference for a particular exotic tea mix and they called it chai.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:09 PM
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Originally Posted by bldysabba View Post
Like I said, for me, it's because both English and Hindi are 'my language'. There are hundreds of millions of Indians for whom English is their language. There's a sizeable intercourse between English speaking American and Indian people (though most of it may be one way), and so to millions of speakers of the English language, 'Chai tea' is ignorant nonsense. I'm pushing back against it in an appropriate forum
And in areas where the majority of english speakers consider chai tea ignorant nonsense, guess what? No one will be using chai tea. But in the majority of America and other mainly english speaking countries, there isn't that societal pressure.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
But you do. That's how langauges work. Look, I gave another example of it in English (kielbasa sausage) and an example of it in Hungarian (baconszalonna). What's the big deal?
I'd be really surprised, given the history of the two countries, if Hindi didn't have tons of examples of this with English words.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Alice The Goon View Post
It doesn't taste like actual tea, but it is black tea blended with herbs and spices. I hate tea, I like chai. It tastes spicy- that's the best way I can describe it.
Oh. Sounds nasty, but I like Earl Grey (bergamot rind) and some breed whose name escapes which I was told tasted like rot, oakum, and salt water because that's what the tea from the bottom of the hold tasted like and some poorer Brits came to expect tea to taste like it. Some people will drink anything, I suppose.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by bldysabba View Post
Like I said, for me, it's because both English and Hindi are 'my language'. There are hundreds of millions of Indians for whom English is their language. There's a sizeable intercourse between English speaking American and Indian people (though most of it may be one way), and so to millions of speakers of the English language, 'Chai tea' is ignorant nonsense(literally). I'm pushing back against it in an appropriate forum
I've heard it often referred to simply as "Chai" and people know they are talking about that style of tea. So if I ordered Chai, would I be justified when they give me that stinking mess of cloves and cardamom to say "Hey, chai just means tea! I wanted a plain tea!"?

Last edited by CarnalK; 05-18-2014 at 12:13 PM.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Inner Stickler View Post
You would be wrong. The evidence is that chai came to english via british soldiers returning to the UK with a preference for a particular exotic tea mix and they called it chai.
Could you point me to this evidence? The word may have come back through British soldiers, but everything I've come across since I've looked into it, indicates that the word was used as a substitute for tea, as it should be.
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Old 05-18-2014, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by CarnalK View Post
I've heard it often referred to simply as "Chai" and people know they are talking about that style of tea. So if I ordered Chai, would I be justified when they give me that stinking mess of cloves and cardamom to say "Hey, chai just means tea! I wanted a plain tea!"?
Of course not, but next time you're ordering it, if you could make fun of Starbucks to your friends for being silly enough to call something on their menu 'tea tea', I'd be much obliged
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