Chai and Chai Latte

I always raise my eyebrows when I hear or see “Chai Latte”. As I described in my previous post, “chai” is hard wired in my brain to mean a certain drink – hot black tea boiled with milk (spices optional). So what is this “Chai Latte” stuff anyway – it combines two words from 2 different languages and the drink doesn’t event taste like chai.

In my quest to check out the competition, I had a chai latte at different cafes around the city. Most of them were way too sweet and too light (too much milk, not enough tea).  Some that weren’t too sweet (like at Tartine Bakery – where they make their own chai), were still too milky – the taste of the tea diffused.

Of course I concluded that none of them could make good chai (or chai latte) ‘coz they didn’t grow up drinking it - like me.  After I came up with my Chai Brew, I tested it on my Indian friends and turned them into believers – good chai can come in a bottle! I was indeed proud; until I went to my friend’s café and made chai using my brew and the espresso machine.

Here is what I found out –

Chai Brew + milk – heated over stove top = homemade chai

Chai Brew + milk – heated in microwave = homemade chai

Chai Brew + steamed milk using espresso machine = “chai latte”

I am not a food scientist and I have no way to explain why steaming chai brew (or concentrate) with milk produces a different result than heating it in microwave or a stove top.

So now, I have a new respect for the words “chai latte”. I am not sure who coined the term (Starbucks?), but they did the right thing. A “chai latte” is black tea frothed with milk - not to be confused with “chai” – the traditional tea drink from India.

Chai Latte

Chai - the way it should be