Is Chai Latte Tea or Coffee?

Is Chai Latte Tea or Coffee?

Whenever there is the perfect combination of cold weather, dark skies and treat-yourself attitude, it always makes us yearn for something a little more than a simple cup of coffee can offer.

We are talking about rich, luxurious winter and festive drinks, flavoured with spices and syrups, sometimes topped with cream, but always delicious.

But it has brought up the age-old question of one of the most popular cosy beverages: Is chai latte tea or coffee? 

Now, we know that coffee, in and of itself, is a magical thing - a wonderful part of the day that gets us through the working week, and we could talk about it for days on end. But sometimes you want something a little different. 

So, is chai latte tea or coffee?

It is a curious yet well-known fact that, when working in a coffee shop, baristas will get asked for some truly bizarre beverage orders. Usually, this is purely down to personal taste quirks and has proliferated thanks to Starbucks’ model of completely customisable drink options. But there are also times when orders are peculiar due to a lack of understanding about how a drink is made or what it contains. A traditional macchiato being given instead of the Americanised version, for example. 

Another misconception is that chai lattes contain coffee. While this might stem from a misunderstanding that latte means coffee (it doesn't: it means milk, but that is a whole other beverage-based topic) it could also be because the drinker is watching their caffeine intake and doesn’t want to consume it unknowingly. When in doubt it is always better to ask.

So let’s deconstruct the name. We already know that latte means milk, but what about the chai part? Chai is one of those English words that has been borrowed from another language and something has been lost in translation. Chai simply means tea. So when you are asking for chai tea, you are asking for tea tea.

However, western world chai is a name we give to a blend of black tea and spices (and usually a good amount of sugar too) and then added to milk, hence the latte. Chai Latte becomes Tea Latte.

So for the person asking in regards to caffeine, the answer is not always a simple one. No, a chai latte does not contain coffee, but it may still contain caffeine. This will largely depend on what type of chai base is added to the milk in the first place. Most high street coffee shops use a powder or syrup-based chai mix, which is made up of black tea and spice flavouring and a heck of a lot of sugar, whereas others use real tea and a homemade mix of spices.

The caffeine levels will come from the tea used, and if it is something you are wary about, always check with the server before ordering. 

Why is chai latte popular?

Chai lattes were introduced to the Western world en masse by Starbucks in the early 1990s, and its popularity grows year on year.

That popularity has something to do with the drink’s unique blend of flavours and health benefits. The combination of black tea, spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and milk or a non-dairy alternative creates a creamy, flavorful drink that is both comforting and invigorating. Additionally, the spices used in chai lattes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, making them a healthier alternative to other sugary drinks. The popularity of chai lattes also stems from their versatility - they can be enjoyed hot or cold and can be customised with different spices, sweeteners, and milk alternatives to suit individual tastes and dietary preferences.

What’s a dirty chai latte?

By now, you probably think you’ve got chai lattes covered. Tea latte that tastes like spices and which does not contain coffee, right? Well, sort of. There is a type of chai latte that contains both. Or just coffee. Let us explain.

A dirty chai latte is an ordinary chai latte that has had a shot of espresso (or two, if you’re really needing that caffeine boost) added to it. 

How to make a dirty chai at home:

If you're hankering for the cosy warm taste of a chai but can’t make it to your local cafe, there’s no need to panic. We are going to show you how to make a chai latte (or dirty chai latte) at home.

You will need:

How to make chai latte at home:

  1. Pour your milk into a saucepan. Always err on the side of a little bit more than you want. This is because milk gets hot quickly and if you put in too little (or if you're only making a drink for one this might mean too little) the milk will heat too quickly and burn your pan. Good luck cleaning that off if it happens!
  2. Heat the milk slowly.
  3. Once a few bubbles start to appear around the edge of the pan you can add in the chai mix. See your particular brand’s instructions for an accurate amount.
  4. Continuously stir to keep the milk in constant motion. Not only will this ensure your chai mixes nicely, but it’ll also help to stop the milk from sticking.
  5. Lift off the heat as soon as larger bubbles start to form or the surface of the milk starts to rise.
  6. Pour into a cup and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg.
  7. If you want to make a dirty chai latte, place the espresso (or equivalent) in the cup first, before pouring in the milk. This is to make sure everything is all properly mixed by the time you come to taste the drink.

Variations of Chai Lattes

If you’ve enjoyed your chai latte experience, we have good news for you: there’s a whole world of latte variations out there that don’t rely on coffee! From the health-boosting turmeric latte to the delicate taste profile of the rose latte, right through to the enigmatically named London Fog.

If you are wanting something a bit more coffee-based, we’ve got you covered in our blog post exploring hot coffee cocktails (including irish coffee!), or for the more traditional among you, there’s our how-to guide for gingerbread latte recipes you can try at home.

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