How Brewing Chai is like Making Lotion: Cosmetic Chemistry in the Kitchen


Kenyan breakfast is incomplete without a cup of tea. It was one of the first meals I was taught to prepare for the family. The quantities of milk, water, sugar, tea leaves, spices and heat had to be perfect to produce the tasty brewed beverage.

I started preparing lotions last year, learning the principles from a technical perspective - mixing water, oil, emulsifiers, additives under heat with preservative for a longer shelf life. It was only after several experiment and product cycles that I made the connection. This is exactly how we make Chai at home! (with the exception of preservatives of course).

Both Chai and Lotions are made by:

1. Heating water, oil and emulsifier to mixing temperature: The milk in chai contains unique properties which bind fats to liquid. In cosmetics, natural emulsifiers help oil and water mix into a solution.

2. Adding ingredients at right amounts and time: In chai, tea leaves and spices are added sparingly, before or after the mixing starts. Additives in cosmetic lotions work similarly to infuse and enhance the final product.

3. Mixing, Heat and Time: With heat and stirring your mixture begins to emulsify and bubbles form which can overflow if unchecked. In chai this happens a lot! This is only the beginning of the process. Both lotion and chai call for turning down the heat and periodic stirring to allow completion of emulsification. Without this time it will separate. The final product will have minimal bubbles, uniform color and consistency.

Chai is typically made daily within the Kenyan home so preservation is not needed. Lotions use preservation techniques to keep our products fresher for longer. The kitchen is a great learning ground for chemistry - so get cookin'!

Here is a link to authentic Kenyan chai if you are feeling nostalgic/creative.


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