The perception of authentic chai latte is that it’s tricky, time-consuming and simply not practical for baristas. Sadly it seems to have earned a (slightly unfair) reputation for being difficult and the bane of many baristas’ lives. But what if you could serve a barista-friendly chai latte without compromising on flavour?
Authentic = difficult…right?
Not necessarily. Allow us to explain…
Why has chai latte got a reputation of being difficult to make?
The humble coffee shop has experienced a spectacular overhaul in the past few years. We’ve replaced tea cosies and boring brews with sultry single origin blends, latte art and guest spots on carefully curated menus. Although coffee is still the principal focus, many places are diversifying due to customer demand for something different. Trendy superfood lattes and ‘novelty drinks’ like beetroot latte, golden milk and matcha are joining the mainstays like green tea and hot chocolate.
Although chai latte is incredibly popular in other Western countries like Australia and the US, it’s still relatively new in the UK. Not everywhere sells it or includes it on their menu. Lots of coffee buffs reject it as a fad with little credibility thanks to the likes of Starbucks. But chai latte actually has a deep history, rich heritage and cultural significance just like coffee does. It also has levels of authenticity and quality. Provenance, taste, depth. No two chai latte blends are the same.
Most ‘chai latte’ in the UK isn’t actually chai latte at all…
Unfortunately the norm in the UK is powdered chai latte blends. Sickly sweet, full of sugar and sometimes fillers. Only featuring a handful of the spices found in traditional blends. A pale imitation of the real deal.
Technically they aren’t chai latte at all, since they don’t contain any tea whatsoever. No wonder lots of baristas can’t understand the hype around a milky, sugary, too-sweet drink with no depth or real flavour to it that tastes like being hit in the face with a cinnamon stick. This (rather dated) article in The Guardian sums it up nicely. To lots of people, chai latte is a joke.
But that is a huge shame and does a disservice to what chai latte really is. Done properly, chai features a nuanced, delicate and fragrant palette of flavours that blend beautifully together and balance as one. Each ingredient can be traced to source, should be carefully chosen in select ratios to ensure the notes and flavours complement one another. Just like coffee. So doesn’t chai latte deserve better than a bad reputation and a bunch of lousy products that can barely even call themselves masala chai? We think so.
What makes a chai latte ‘barista-friendly?’
I knew when I started Aura Chai that our blends couldn’t just appeal to hardcore chai latte lovers like me. That bit was easy. They also had to appeal to the people who’d be making them day in, day out! Our ‘barista-friendly’ test has several different factors to it – time, ease and mess/stress.
Time is obviously of the essence for busy baristas. When you’re slaving away behind the counter making coffee after coffee at peak times, the last thing you want to do is take a break from that to put together a more complicated order. This is why I made sure that our blends could quickly infuse. The method involves adding boiling water to fast-track the infusion (you can smell the tea and spices as soon as the water hits them). Then steaming this together with the milk enables the infusion process to continue, so there’s no waiting around. It takes roughly the same amount of time as a coffee, perhaps a little less time.
I knew that for baristas making chai latte had to be easy. Just as easy (if not easier) than making a coffee. I also wanted to make sure Aura Chai could be made in a similar way to powder blends so that the process remained the same for those who were used to that. Often people are surprised by just how easy it is, before being blown away by how different it tastes. See this video we made specifically for baristas for a speedy overview of the steps!
Another common complaint with chai latte is that it’s messy as well as time-consuming. So Aura Chai needs less equipment than you’ll need to make a coffee. Of course, powdered blends simply dissolve (mostly, they do tend to have a cloying ‘grainy’ quality to them), so there’s no by-product. The bad news is that authentic chai latte is always going to have a by-product. The good news is that this is easy to manage and can even be side-stepped completely.
By serving in a pot for the customer to strain themselves the process becomes even quicker, easier and mess-free. Customers love the theatre of this and it is super Instagrammable! Some of our coffee shops make a concentrate and store it behind the bar, but that isn’t the best solution for everyone. We’re versatile enough to ensure you can do what works for you.
When developing Aura Chai I realised that really the amount of ‘mess’ is the same as it is in the coffee making process. It’s just different – it just takes getting used to. Even in a small space it’s super easy to manage. Simply use one milk jug just for the chai. Or keep the strainer in a pot as you do with the portafilter, tap it out into there each time and give it a quick rinse regularly. It’s 100% compostable too.
As for the stress, the news that Aura Chai costs the same as a premium powdered blend helps ease the strain!
So essentially brewing a cup of Aura Chai for a customer involves exactly the same process as a powdered chai latte blend – you simply strain at the end or decant into a teapot for them to serve themselves. Same steps, same time – no compromise on flavour and customer experience.
Barista-friendly chai latte blends
I started Aura Chai because I became fed up with the lack of authentic, delicious options available at coffee shops in the UK. I do love coffee, but I don’t drink it very often because I’m not very caffeine tolerant and tend to want something healthier. My favourite go-to is chai…but everywhere I went, even the artisanal independents, I could only find powdered blends. Nothing authentic. To a chai latte drinker this is like turning up at a lovely coffee shop and being offered supermarket brand freeze fried coffee. Frustrated, I eventually made my own blend to offer to end the disappointment for fellow chai latte lovers!
Are you disappointing your customers?
I remember those first few weeks when we moved back from Melbourne. Manchester’s coffee shop scene was booming. I was keen to taste a comforting, cosy cup of chai as I’d become accustomed to enjoying almost daily back in Aus. I went into a really nice, independent coffee shop in Manchester. You know the kind – with the pretty plants, beardy baristas and special menu of single-origin roasts.
I ordered a chai latte but when I got it it looked more like a pale coffee. No pot or strainer, just a glass. I took one sip and couldn’t drink any more. It was sickly, far too sweet and tasted like someone had dumped a whole jar of powdered cinnamon in it. I couldn’t detect any other spices.
In Australia it’s rare to find a chai latte that isn’t made with a whole spice, loose leaf blend.
I thought maybe I’d been unlucky, but it turned out this was my experience everywhere I went. In fact there was only one place in Manchester at the time serving proper chai latte.
This was the first (and should have been the last) powdered chai latte I’ve ever experienced. I started asking whether the chai was loose leaf before I ordered, only to be met with a confused face. Often the barista didn’t understand why it would be made any other way than with powder and milk. I even tried one of the ‘high-end’ powder blends at one of Manchester’s most upmarket, popular coffee shops. It was no different.
I always felt terrible having to leave a really lovely place or ordering a tea or a decaf coffee when I really wanted a chai latte. It got me wondering, how many other people are having this same experience? Do the owners know that they are disappointing their customers? I’m always pretty sure that they don’t, and that if they did, they’d be horrified. Often I’d be met with blank faces when I asked whether the chai latte was authentic. I’d got so used to that being the norm back in Melbourne that I was totally confused by the lack of authenticity here. When you pour your heart and soul into a place it shows – but substandard products really impair the overall impression and experience your customers have.
“Ever since we started serving Aura Chai it has been incredibly popular. We get through roughly 4kgs every 6 weeks. People often tag us in Instagram stories and posts featuring Aura Chai and we have quite a few regulars now who come back for it constantly. We’ve definitely become a destination for chai latte in Manchester and it perfectly complements our high-end offering.”
If you were a chai latte loather before, I hope this article and the information I’ve shared has changed your perspective. I share this not as a business but as a genuine lover of chai latte and its immersive history and culture. Give it the respect it deserves and it can do wonders for your business!