If you’re in the mood for a hot drink, there is nothing quite like a smooth and rich latte! Hot drink fanatics will know that there are a myriad of different types of lattes available, each with its own subtle blend of flavors.
But if you have ever come across a chai latte in your local café, you might be confused about this odd drink – is it a coffee, or a new type of tea drink?
So, what is chai latte, and what does it taste like? Chai latte is a hot beverage made with masala chai and steamed milk. Masala chai is a blend of black tea, ginger, and sugar. Other spices are often added to a chai latte to create a warming, milky drink with a fragrant spicy aroma.
Are you tempted to give chai latte a try but not sure if it is the drink for you? We’re here to help with the ultimate guide to this refreshing milky drink!
We’ve also found the best chai latte recipe for you to try making this popular drink at home.
What Is A Chai Latte?
Chai is one of the oldest hot drinks in the world, originating in India thousands of years ago. If you’re not sure what chai is, then you’ve undoubtedly tried it, and many people drink it regularly.
That’s because chai is actually what we call tea! Yes, in most parts of the world this popular and commonplace hot drink is called chai.
So, you may well see chai latte on a coffee shop menu, but it has no coffee in it whatsoever. The basis for this milky, fragrant hot drink is tea or chai.
If you’ve ever delved into the world of chai, you’ll know that there are many different types available from all around the world. These are broken down into two broad groups: green chai and black chai.
When we talk about the chai in a chai latte, this is a particular blend of black tea and spices called masala chai.
To make masala chai, black tea is steeped in hot water and then mixed with sugar, ginger, and milk. There are many variations on this basic recipe, with other popular additions including cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cardamon.
This ancient Indian recipe is estimated to have been around for up to 9,000 years, with links to the royal court in Siam. It is believed that masala chai became popular as an Ayurvedic therapy, an ancient form of alternative medicine.
So, we’ve got the chai part of the chai latte sorted, so where does the latte come into it?
We’ve all become accustomed to seeing latte on the coffee shop menu, and it comes in many different forms. The most authentic latte is a caffe latte, an Italian coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk.
There are many variants on this basic recipe, including the chocolate flavored mocha latte and spicy gingerbread latte.
When it comes to coffee drinks, the latte is always made in a very specific way. The key to this is adding steamed milk to freshly brewed hot coffee. In the original Italian version, the milk is hot but not foamed.
Outside of Italy, a latte is normally topped with steamed milk and a layer of foamed milk. This version is often heavily sweetened, particularly in the US.
And while you’re probably thinking this sounds just like a cappuccino, there is a subtle difference between the two drinks!
In a latte, the milk is normally mixed with the coffee, before the foamed milk is added. A cappuccino has less milk and more foamed milk than a latte, and these are not stirred together.
In a cappuccino, you should be able to see layers of coffee, milk, and foam, whilst a latte will be the same color throughout.
The name caffe latte in Italian translates as coffee and milk, so when we switch the caffe for chai we are simply replacing coffee with tea!
So, what happens when you swap the coffee in a latte for tea? Let’s find out!
How Is A Chai Latte Made?
If you order a chai latte in a café or coffee shop, they will all use a similar technique to make this hot drink, with some subtle differences.
Firstly, the masala chai must be brewed. Black tea is steeped in hot water, and then it is infused with spices. The blend used will vary from one café to the next, and is often a well-kept secret!
An alternative method is to use a chai syrup or powder, which speeds things up when drinks need to be prepared in a hurry.
Whilst the masala chai is brewing, the milk can be prepared. The aim is to heat the milk and whisk tiny air bubbles into it, creating a thick but light paint-like consistency.
This deliciously warm and light milk is then poured into a cup, along with the strained masala chai. These are gently mixed together, and the remaining foam in the milk jug is spooned on top.
Some cafes like to add finishing touches, such as a dusting of cinnamon or star anise. For a sweeter version, vanilla syrup may also be added.
What Does Chai Latte Taste Like?
Chai latte tastes quite unlike any other kind of latte you’ve ever tried! This delicious hot drink has a sweet and spicy taste, thanks to the rich black tea and aromatic spices.
Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg are all what we think of as warm spices, blending beautifully with fragrant black tea leaves.
Combined with this we will also taste a light, creamy flavor, thanks to the carefully steamed and frothed milk.
The milk also has a very important role to play, as it tones down the tannins in the tea. If you’ve ever tried black tea without milk you’ll know all about these tannins, as they make your mouth feel instantly dry!
What Is The Texture Of Chai Latte Like?
The texture of a chai latte is light and creamy, coating your mouth with a lovely velvety feeling. This is thanks to the tiny air bubbles that are whipped into the steamed milk, as well as the foam topping.
You can alter the texture of chai latte by using different types of milk. The recommended dairy milk to make a chai latte is whole milk, as this has the perfect level of cream to hold the delicate foam.
If you switch to plant-based milk, this will alter the texture of the chai latte. Denser kinds of milk such as macadamia nut milk or cashew nut milk will give a thicker, foamy texture to the chai latte.
Almond milk and soy milk are both lighter and will produce a chai latte that is thinner and not so foamy.
How Is A Chai Latte Different From Other Lattes?
Chai latte has a distinctive flavor that is quite unlike any other form of latte. The vast majority of latte drinks contain coffee, whereas chai latte is based on black tea.
A traditional café latte is an equal blend of hot coffee and steamed frothed milk. This can be sweetened to taste but is normally served unsweetened.
Chai latte is much sweeter, and also has a delicate blend of spicy notes thanks to the warming blend of masala chai.
How Is A Chai Latte Different From Chai Types Of Tea?
Here’s an odd thought: the word chai means tea, so when we ask for chai tea we’re actually saying “tea tea”!
The drink we call chai tea is masala chai, the same as the tea used to make a chai latte. The main difference between the two is that chai latte tends to be sweeter, and it is made with frothed milk.
So basically, a chai latte is a more decadent and indulgent form of a traditional masala chai!
How To Make Chai Latte At Home
The great thing about chai latte is that it is easy to recreate at home, giving the satisfaction of a barista-style hot drink in the comfort of your own surroundings!
The basis for a good chai latte is a freshly steeped pot of masala chai. This is worth taking the time to make properly, as the toasted spices will infuse your chai latte with an incredible flavor.
Add any or all the following spices to a pan, depending on what you have available:
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller sections
- 2 teaspoons of whole black peppercorns
- 8 whole cloves
- 6 lightly crushed green cardamom pods
Lightly toast the spices in the pan for 3-4 minutes, until they become fragrant. Add 4 cups of water and 4-5 slices of fresh ginger.
Bring the water to a gentle simmer for around 5 minutes, allowing the fragrant spices to release their flavors into the water.
Remove the pan from the heat and add black tea. If you have them, loose leaves work better, but if not, then tea bags are a good substitution. Use 2 tablespoons of loose leaf tea or 5 tea bags.
Cover the pan and leave the tea to steep for 10 minutes.
If you wish to sweeten your masala chai, this is the time to do it. The amount of sweetener you add depends on personal preference.
A good place to start is with 1/3 cup of light brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Stir it into the hot tea blend until completely dissolved.
After 10 minutes, strain the masala chai into a fresh pot. At this stage, you can refrigerate the chai to enjoy later.
To make the chai latte, you will need warm frothed milk. The technique you use for this will depend on the equipment available.
Your coffee machine may have a steamed milk setting, or you can go for the good old “shaking in a jar” frothing method!
Once you have warm, frothed milk you are ready to serve. Fill a glass coffee cup to just over halfway with hot masala chai, and pour the milk on top.
Stir gently to combine the two, then add a generous spoonful of foam to the surface of the drink. Sprinkle with cinnamon powder, and enjoy!
If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a great video from Joshua Weissman on how to make your own masala chai!
Quick Chai Latte Recipe
As lovely as it is to brew masala chai from scratch, we don’t all have time for a tea-making ritual every time we want a hot drink! And whilst we can make a batch in advance to enjoy every day, sometimes we just need a quick fix.
This is where premixed tea blends come to the rescue! There are various options available here, all of which means we can enjoy a chai latte in super quick time.
For an instant chai latte option, use a masala chai powdered mix, to which you just need to add hot water and a splash of milk or spoonful of milk powder.
Give it a whizz with a stick blender or milk frother (we’d recommend this one), and you’ll be relaxing with your delicious drink in a matter of seconds!
Another clever hack is to use a masala chai blend, either in the form of tea bags or loose leaf tea. These are already packed with all the herbs and spices to create a fragrant masala chai, without the hassle of preparing the spices yourself.
And if you want steamed, foamed milk in a hurry, the microwave can be your savior, as well as cut down on washing up!
Pop half a cup of milk into a small mason jar, making sure it is no more than half full. Put the lid on, and shake the jar vigorously for around 30 seconds.
Remove the lid completely from the jar, and place the opened jar in the microwave. Heat it on full power for 30 seconds, and you will have steaming frothy milk ready to add to your masala chai!
Now that we’ve figured out what a chai latte tastes like, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Does chai latte have caffeine?
If you are trying to cut down on caffeine, then a chai latte might seem like a good option. This popular hot drink does not contain coffee, but it is made with masala chai, which is a black tea drink.
Chai, or tea, does contain caffeine, but not in the same quantities as in coffee. Masala chai will typically contain around 70 milligrams of caffeine. A café latte (the coffee-based version) will have nearly double this amount.
One word of warning: if you’re watching your caffeine intake, stay away from the interestingly named “dirty chai latte”. This is a chai latte with a shot of espresso coffee added, and has a caffeine count of around 140 milligrams!
What is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino?
If you’re not a coffee shop connoisseur, you might look at the menu and wonder what is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino.
After all, they both contain espresso coffee, steamed milk, and foam, so surely they’re the same thing!
The difference lies in the proportions of the ingredients, as well as the way they are presented. A latte has more steamed milk in proportion to the coffee than a cappuccino, but less of this is served as foamed milk.
A cappuccino will be served with the espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk visible in distinctive layers. In a latte, the espresso and steamed milk are gently mixed together, and the foamed milk is then spooned on top.
Is chai latte healthier than coffee?
Chai latte is a great option if you are trying to reduce your caffeine intake. Although chai does contain some caffeine, it is in much lower amounts than the quantity of caffeine in coffee.
However, chai latte can often contain a lot of sugar or flavored syrup. It is a drink that should be considered an occasional treat, not something you drink through the day to keep yourself hydrated.
If you really love chai latte, opt for low-sugar versions whenever possible.