“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” – Henry James
Recently Rocket and I spent time in the United States to visit friends and family. While home, I went to Starbucks a couple of times with my mom and sister to try their favorite – “Chai Tea Latte” with a shot of vanilla syrup.
Surprisingly, despite being a coffee lover, I really enjoyed our chai tea latte outings. Upon returning to Dubai, since I missed being home so much I went to Starbucks to order another one. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: I’ll have a chai tea latte with a shot of vanilla syrup…
Barista looks confused
Barista: Ma’am we don’t have that here.
Me: What, really?
Now I’m confused, are we at Starbucks or somewhere else?
Barista: The only tea we have is this (pointing at the tea bag selection on the counter):
I quickly glanced at the limited tea variety, then at the menu in hopes of seeing chai tea latte or something else I could have.
Barista: What about a mocha latte instead?
Me: No, no thank you.
As I walked away in disappointment, Rocket just laughed, “I told you! ‘Chai tea’ just sounds weird here.” Afterwards, I scoured the internet looking for a place in Dubai that I could get a chai tea latte. I found out that Gloria Jean’s has a version of it, but I discovered a better alternative: chai!
Confused? Chai actually means “tea” in Hindi (and a few other languages). So when we (Westerners) ask for a chai tea latte, we are actually asking for a “tea tea” latte. This might explain the confused look I received at Starbucks. What we call “chai” in the US, is actually “Masala Chai” – a spiced black tea with milk that inspired Starbuck’s chai tea lattes. It’s not spicy as in hot, but rather flavorful (cardamom, cloves, ginger, etc.). There are many variations of chai with milk which is popular in India to have after a meal or just for a break on the side of the street with or without chaat (Indian snacks like samosas or pani puri).
Don’t have plans to visit this part of the world soon? Not to worry, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in the United States that serve chai, and it’s also easy to make at home! There are many varieties that you can find with differing levels of spices so you might have to tweak the recipe to find a version that you really enjoy!
No matter how much Rocket makes fun of it, I am still looking forward to my chai tea latte with a shot of vanilla syrup on my next visit home, but I’m glad I’ve discovered the original. If you want a homemade version, check out the recipe below.
- Milk (whole milk is better, but skim will work as well)
- Loose leaf black tea – (If you can’t find loose leaf tea leaves at your local Indian or Pakistani grocery store, just use tea bags)
Use all or any combination of the following spices according to taste*:
- Cardamom pods
- Cinnamon sticks
- Fresh ginger
- Use a tea cup to measure the amount of milk you will need and place in a pot. Add one cup of milk per person and a little extra to account for evaporation.
- Slice or cut the ginger into small pieces (according to taste*) and add them to the milk. You can microwave the ginger to release more flavor before adding it if desired.
- Crack open the cardamom pods to expose the seeds. You don’t have to to take out the seeds, just add the cracked pods to the milk. You can use a mortar and pestle or crush them with the side of your knife.
- Add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg according to taste*.
- Heat the milk on low until it starts to boil. Stir occasionally to prevent the milk skin forming on top.
- Once the milk is boiling, add the tea leaves (about a tablespoon per serving).
- Keep boiling until the mixture turns tan to light brown in color. This usually takes about 2-5 minutes. The longer you boil, the stronger the tea flavor.
- Put the strainer on top of your tea cup and pour the mixture in.
- When milk heats, it will form a skin like texture on top. Don’t take it out, just keep stirring until it mixes back in. This will make your tea thicker and give it a smooth and creamier taste. Make sure to heat on low as this brings out the flavor of the spices and helps to thicken the milk properly.
- You can make the mixture without tea leaves if you want to limit your caffeine intake. Spiced milk tastes really good as well.
*According to taste – many authentic Indian recipes don’t use measurements. When learning a new recipe from a family member, I never get exact measurements! Instead it’s always according to taste. So with this recipe, try it out a few times and adjust according to taste. Let me know how it goes!