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Chai (Indian Tea Latte)

No offense Starbucks – but I really really need to get this off my chest. There is a part of me that cringes whenever I hear someone order “Chai Tea Latte”. You think I’m about to go off about the nutrition don’t you? No, it’s not that. I’ve actually never really looked into what’s in a Starbucks Chai Tea Latte. The thing that bugs me is the name and the item itself.

Chai is what Indians call tea. In it’s most basic preparation – all it is is black tea, water, milk and a sweetener. Then, like any good Indian dish, you can add various spices to really kick it up a notch. Pretty much any Indian in India that isn’t trying to avoid caffeine will start their day off with a cup of chai. Now here is the part that makes me cringe — the word “chai” means “tea”. Quite literally – chai is the word for tea in India. So when someone orders “Chai Tea” – to me it translates to “Tea Tea”. That’s just weird. It’s almost like we’re stressing that the drink better be tea. Are we making sure that if the cashier doesn’t understand one language, they get the other? Who orders any drink like that?! Can you imagine ordering “water water” or “wine wine”. Why can’t we just call it “Chai.” like the 1.2 billion people who drink it every day in India do? Why add that extra “Tea”? Especially when all that “Tea” does is add a need for a further clarifier – “Latte”. Because certainly a “Chai Tea Latte” is not “Tea”. At least not what we think tea is.

Once I get over this misnomer, I then have to deal with the fact that Chai Tea Latte is nothing like chai. I mean sure there are hints of some spices there but that really isn’t what makes chai chai. When I think of chai, I really think of black tea brewing in water with some milk to give it a rich creamy taste. The spices come later if I feel like adding a little flavor to my tea. It certainly isn’t what defines chai.

Each person I know has their own recipe for making chai. I typically like to add ginger to mine because I’m a huge ginger fan. If I have cardamoms around, I throw those into the pot along with the ginger because it gives it a wonderful aroma and brings out a lot of warmth. The recipe I’m sharing below has both. A few tips:

  • When making chai you can vary the amount of milk you add based on the strength you want your tea to be.
  • Please don’t use soy milk. I’ve tried it and it just makes it taste terrible. I haven’t yet given almond milk a shot.
  • Using tea bags instead of loose tea makes clean up much easier
  • I don’t recommend having chai late in the evenings or nights if caffeine keeps you up. Unlike dip tea, since chai boils the black tea, it has a lot more caffeine than your typical soaked tea bag.

Don’t forget that I’m hosting this month’s Go Ahead Honey It’s Gluten Free. Please send me your entries for this month’s theme of Garden Tea Party by May 27th. You can email me at flipcookbook@gmail.com. If you need a little inspiration – have a mini garden tea party by making yourself some wonderful chai.

Hope you enjoy the real chai!

Chai (Indian Tea Latte)

Makes: 2 servings
Ready in: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 black tea bags
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions

1. Put the water, tea bags into a pot over medium high heat. You can use a pestle to crush the ginger and cardamom pods. Or if you’re feeling lazy like me, just using your fingers to crush the cardamom pods. Add ginger and cardamom pods to the pot as well.

2. If you didn’t use a pestle to crush the ginger in step 1, use a metal grabber that is really common in an Indian kitchen to crush it up. You really want the juice in the ginger to release into the water.

3. Let the water come to a rapid boil.

4. Add the milk and honey. Let it come to a rapid boil. Now the weird step that I’ve seen many Indians do and I have no clue what really gets accomplished: Reduce the heat, once the boiling reduces, increase the heat to high. Let it boil till the chai is almost boiling over.. then repeat by lower the heat. Don’t know why we do this – perhaps trying to squeeze the very last bit of caffeine from the tea? Drink the tea super hot!

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21 Responses to Chai (Indian Tea Latte)

  1. Spiceaholic says:

    THANK YOU! I get so annoyed when people call it Chai Tea. Their ignorant redundancy while trying to sound all trendy makes me laugh at and pity them at the same time.

    I’m so trying your chai recipe one of these days.

    I had so much fun meeting and hanging out with you guys at BlogHerFood. πŸ™‚

    • Raj says:

      πŸ˜€ hee – Glad to know I’m not the only Indian that finds the name a little odd. I do like the fact that at least it opens up chai to a whole set of people who normally might skip it at Indian restaurants.

      btw – love your nickname spiceaholic. πŸ™‚ I used to use ‘American Chai’ for the longest time until that movie with the same name got really popular!

      Let us know what you think about our new product – Velvet Aroma. We’re really looking for feedback to make a product that is very useful for bloggers and blog readers.

  2. Tracee says:

    Yumm. I do tolerate half and half and cream, but I’ve been wondering how almond milk or coconut milk would do. Hmmm, I guess I’ll just have to try it!

    • Raj says:

      I haven’t tried either yet… but hope to do so soon. Coconut milk might be a little strong. I wonder if rice milk might work.

      I have tried half and half.. and I didn’t think it really worked well… A little too rich and creamy for my tastes. But I know some people who love chai with half and half – so you might just like it! πŸ™‚

  3. chai tea is some of my favorites from starbucks! thanks for posting this recipe!! can’t wait to try making my own one day~~ πŸ™‚

    • Raj says:

      This is going to taste WAY different than the starbucks version πŸ™‚ I think it’s much much better!

  4. Suchitra says:

    Agree with pretty much the whole blog except this:

    “Pretty much any Indian in India that isn’t trying to avoid caffeine will start their day off with a cup of chai”

    That should really read: Pretty much any north,east,west Indian in India… because, my dear, South Indians will boot you out on your very pretty behind if you suggest tea anytime before 3pm.

    • Sonia says:

      I’m assuming because they’ll savor their cup of filter coffee in the morning? πŸ™‚ I do know of the occasional South Indians who enjoy tea as their very first cup of caffeine for the day… but point has been duly noted! πŸ™‚

  5. Zusiqu says:

    A non food related word redundancy that bugs me is The La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California. La is The in Spanish. Brea is Tar in Spanish. So people who say “The La Brea Tar Pits” are actually saying “The The Tar Tar Pits.” It’s annoying, but I understand why they do it. The city the pits are in is called La Brea. There is another city in Southern California named Manteca (which means Lard). Silly Southern Californians!!! (I am one, BTW)

    • Raj says:

      Wow, I lived in LA for so long (11 years) and didn’t even know that Brea meant tar! I was even living just a few miles away from La Brea .. Pits?.. :). Very cool – thanks for expanding my obviously limited Spanish.

  6. I loved hearing your insight on how “we Americans” can get so caught up in what we call things and not think about what we are really saying πŸ™‚ I am guilty of ordering Chai “Tea” from Starbucks. I do it because I want to make sure I get Tea instead of coffee though. A friend who used to work there said that you can order Chai with a coffee or tea “base” and sometimes they might automatically make a “chai latte” with coffee??? So to add to the sillyness we are ordering a “Tea Coffee”!!!

    Btw- I use almond, rice, and pumpkin seed milk, when making Chai this way at home and they are all nice (I have a milk allergy). And thanks for explaining about busting the cardamom pods- I just started making my own teas a couple months ago and had been putting them in whole! (I know, silly American πŸ™‚

    • Raj says:

      Haha.. I’m pretty sure it’s not just Americans.. and yes – the same thing happens in India about America. Always humorous when I get caught in between with the “wait a minute..” running through my head.

      The coffee place near me calls the Chai with Coffee a “Black eye” .. or “Dirty Chai”! I love the names and they actually taste pretty good – but they’re not chai. πŸ˜›

      Thanks for the info on the different milks you’ve used.. I’ve actually never tried pumpkin seed milk! Where / How do I get this?!

      • I make it at home (haven’t seen it in a store yet). Got the idea from a raw food restaurant. But basically it’s just a 3:1 water: pumpkinseed ratio. Just soak the seeds for at least 30 min, then puree with the water and strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Then you can add vanilla, sweetener, or just drink plain!

  7. Pingback: Go Ahead Honey, It’s A Gluten Free Garden Tea Party! | Flip Cookbook

  8. Hiya, I am really glad I have found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and net and this is really frustrating. A good website with interesting content, that’s what I need. Thank you for keeping this website, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it.

    • Raj says:

      We don’t do newsletters — but we have created a website: velvetaroma.com through which you can keep track of all the blogs you like to follow from one place. Check it out – I think it’ll be just what you wanted.

  9. Amy says:

    Hi, I have always been an avid tea drinker and prefer my tea with milk in it (these days it’s homemade almond milk). I love chai lattes from “you know where” but now that I am on the SCD they are off limits. This recipe sounds delicious and I can’t wait to try it. If I don’t have cardamom pods and fresh ginger on hand, can I substitute with the ground versions?
    Thanks!

    • Raj says:

      Hi Amy! Good for you for kicking the “you know where” habit. I have tried this recipe with ground cardamom and it’s turned out fine. I’ve never tried ground ginger but I imagine it’ll work as well. One thing that does happen when you use powdered spices instead of fresh ones is that it doesn’t get caught by the strainer so sometimes the chai gets a little powdery feeling. My recommendation is to just use a little less than normal depending on how much you even notice this.

      Congrats on being on SCD. I wish you quick health and recovery! πŸ™‚

  10. ignorant American according to you says:

    Thank for recipe I guess. I have tell you I am more than a little offended by your statement. Who really care if you say tea tea when ordering chai tea. I just grateful I got to experience a part of Indian’s food culture and without Starbucks or those Indian restaurant I wouldn’t have known and tried it. You should grateful and not annoyed that even though our chai isn’t the real chai it makes ignorant American non speaking Indian want to experience more of your culture. Yeah I have no interest in visiting your blog again and maybe you should stop inviting us ignorant Americans to visiting it. Thank God there are people who educate others about their food culture people out love ,compassion and understanding.

    • Jennifer says:

      It’s interesting how some people got offended by this post, where it was intended to be educational. Not once did she say “ignorant Americans”. That is the layering of your personal views and defenses. If you want to get highly technical, ignorant is “Lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular”, so wouldn’t you rather learn something new than be so defensive? Starbucks is a corporation that adapts drinks to the American palette; she said “no offense Starbucks”, this was by no means to criticize Americans as a whole. Yes going to places like Starbucks exposes you to different things you may not know otherwise, wouldn’t your like to know the origins of something? I guess when the illusion is cracked that we can’t possible know everything we react. Spend some time outside of the US and your perspective will change; mine did. I am grateful for where I am from but at the same time have a very different perspective now as well.

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