The Perfect Chai Latte
Since I unexpectedly gave up coffee a year or so ago (unplanned result of a 26-day cleanse), I have become fairly well-versed in tea. I’ll usually have a caffeinated tea in the AM – otherwise mostly just some herbal tea. No biggie at home, but since I like to work from coffee shops when I can, it can be a challenge since they are, after all, “coffee shops” and not “tea shops”.
While I do enjoy a good tea, I have not become a “tea snob”. (ex – I will only drink 100% organic tea grown on land only fertilized by virgin cattle and watered with sparkling mineral water at exactly 71F)
That said, I can have a tea just about anywhere and I’m good. Starbucks has a great mint tea (“Mint Majesty”) and their “Peach Tranquility” is really good, though can be hard to find. Dunkin Donuts tea, not so much – pretty sure it’s just Lipton tea bags recovered from a bomb shelter circa 1972 and repurposed.
Life was just fine – I had my tea “game” figured out.
And then, Joey found chai tea, and my world changed.
Officially, this is the definition of chai tea:
Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a flavoured tea beverage made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic spices and herbs. Originating in the Indian subcontinent, the beverage has gained worldwide popularity, becoming a feature in many coffee and tea houses. Although traditionally prepared as a decoction of green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, ground ginger, and black peppercorn together with black tea leaves, retail versions include tea bags for infusion, instant powdered mixtures, and concentrates.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masala_chai – the Wikipedia version
If you want to get technical, “chai tea” is actually redundant as the word “chai” traces it’s roots back to the Chinese word for tea. So ordering a “chai tea” (which I have done countless times) is basically ordering a “tea tea”. Bust your least favorite barista on that next time.
Semantics aside, I love me some masala chai. That might be as close to a tea snob as I get. But dang it’s good.
Moving right along here, if you know my history, I was a BIG fan of all things latte. My “usuals” were grande skinny vanilla latte, triple grande latte, double tall latte, etc. So put my latte history with my new found adoration for chai, and you get:
Chai Tea Latte … BOOM!
I thought perhaps the Lord himself shared His Holy recipe with Starbucks to create that. Mmmmm….Mmmmmm…Good!
With that background, I have tried many, many chai tea lattes from many, many places. And I am happy to report that I found the perfect one.
But before I share that invaluable information, I will share my brief review of the other two contenders.
Yes, this is where I got my start – grande chai tea latte with almond milk, or if you are super fancy, just say “grande almond chai” (yes, I’m a dork). They do a decent job, and if you don’t watch how they make it, it’s not bad, albeit a bit sweet. If I am in a Starbucks Princess mood, then I order a “grande almond chai with only two pumps”, but that violates my sacred rule of “The longer the coffee order, the bigger the a-hole”. (Look that up, I think it’s in the Bible somewhere)
Starbucks makes it with X number of pumps of their chai concentrate and then however you take your milk (cold, steamed, almond, etc). So a grande iced almond chai is basically 4 pumps of chai concentrate, ice, and cold almond milk. I usually just buy the concentrate at the store and pour some almond milk over ice – same effect, much cheaper.
My Starbucks chai tea latte bubble was burst when I figured out it was basically chai flavor (aka – concentrate) with whatever else you want to mix in it (they use a lot of sugar).
In short, Dunkin Donuts should stick to what they do well, which is coffee. (That’s really the only thing they do well, including service, but I’ll save that for another rant.) When it comes to chai tea latte, they might as well have “The Wheel of Chai” to spin and wherever it lands that’s what you’ll get. Pretty much every time I order anything resembling chai there, it’s something different. No joke, here are the combinations that I can recall:
- Almond milk, some sort of chai flavor stuff, ice
- Almond milk, some sort of chai flavor stuff, ice, but blended
- Almond milk, some sort of chai flavor stuff, ice, now add espresso for no apparent reason
- Almond milk, ice, espresso, no hint of chai anywhere
- I think the last time was almond, milk, ice, espresso, and the just wrote the word “chai” on the cup in bold letters (ok, maybe not, but I would not be surprised)
Bottom line, if you want a chai anything, do not waste your time at Dunkin Donuts, unless you are prepared to hand write the recipe for them – and them watch them.
And now we have our winner…drum roll please…
Peet’s Coffee is primarily a West Coast thing, but there are around a dozen locations in IL, the majority being in the City, which is where I stumbled into them. Their iced chai latte is a work of art. No concentrate or random wheel of chai – this seems to be the real deal, from my perspective.
The first time I ordered it, I was confused as he was steaming something but I ordered it iced. What they do is steam the milk and also actually make a chai tea, and then they put the milk foam in the cup, add the ice, and ever so lovingly they pour the freshly made tea with the almond milk over the ice, gently stir it, and there you go. It is like chai from the heavens. And especially impressive that they take the time given how busy these places can be.
I wish there were more Peet’s near me, but my credit card balance is happy there is not. I’ll have to leave it as my treat for my regular visits to the City.
So there you have it folks – the official guide to Chai Tea courtesy of The Cup a Joe. Feel free to share with your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and definitely your favorite barista.
I hope that my investment in chai tea research saves you a lot of time, money, aggravation and most importantly leads to the millions that i need to do full-on, worldwide, multi-year, intense study of this very intense topic that is highly critical to our survival as a species.