It’s one of the questions we get asked a lot by people who are new to chai. Is chai latte tea, or coffee? Because chai latte is a relatively new thing in Europe and America, lots of people aren’t quite sure exactly what it is. It’s often known as ‘chai tea latte’ – but lots of people associate the word ‘latte’ with coffee, not with tea. Confusing, isn’t it? Allow us to clear things up for you…
‘Chai’ means ‘tea’
The first thing to mention here is that chai means tea. So when we say ‘chai latte’ we are actually saying ‘tea latte’. If you’ve ever tasted chai latte, you’ll know it’s not just tea and milk. ‘Chai latte’ is the Western term given to what is known in India, Nepal, Tibet and surrounding areas as Masala Chai. Masala chai is an ancient recipe made using a selection of warming spices, sugar or honey, and milk. It’s basically the national drink of India! In fact, if you’re offered a ‘cup of tea’ in India you’ll usually get masala chai. That’s why you’ll sometimes see people calling them ‘Spiced Chai Latte’ – aka spiced tea latte. So to recap:
Chai ‘tea’ latte
All equals the same thing.
Case closed, right? Kind of…
Latte used to be an exclusively ‘coffee’ kinda thing – but now it’s diversified
The definition of ‘latte’ (courtesy of dictionary.com) is:
You already know #1, but check out #2 (that’s what we’re interested in here):
2: a similar beverage, made with tea in place of espresso
This is where the term ‘chai latte’ or ‘chai tea latte’ comes from (‘chai tea latte’ doesn’t actually make sense – more on why that is here). It’s basically a very milky, strongly flavoured spiced tea.
Sometimes dictionaries need a little time to catch up with modern phrases and phenomena. If you’re into hot drinks you’ll probably have heard of Matcha Latte (green tea latte), Turmeric Latte – even Beetroot Latte! They’re all made with more milk than water, with a base of tea, coffee, or another ingredient, usually herbs or spices. So a latte isn’t just a question of coffee or tea. Basically, it’s any kind of milky drink.
This follows if you have ever tried a cafe latte (to give it its full title) – the kind of latte people usually assume you’re talking about. A cafe latte usually contains a shot of coffee, topped up with steamed frothy milk.
Whether something is a latte or not is a question of ratios. As a rule of thumb if there’s more milk than water in your cup, it’s a latte.
So is chai latte tea or coffee?
To recap, chai latte is tea latte. If you remember that chai means tea, you’ll never forget!
The only time chai latte is coffee is when it’s a dirty chai. This is a naughty but nice combo of chai latte and coffee. To make a dirty chai, simply add a shot of coffee to your brewed chai and stir. You can find an amazing recipe for dirty chai here!