Warm and cozy spices packed up with a little punch of caffeine, served together creamy and warm. Stand back Starbucks - we've got fancy morning coffee under control with this easy homemade dirty chai latte.
Fun fact: I didn't start drinking coffee until after I had a kid at the age of 36. (Seriously.)
But I've been a fan of chai lattes for as long as I can remember; somewhere around my post-college years, when they hit the coffee shop scene with all of their popularity. (Yes, I'm that old - I remember chai before it was mainstream!) Pretty soon you could be anywhere from Starbucks to Dunkin' Donuts and find a chai latte.
So what is it, anyway?
What is chai tea
Well, first things first - the word "chai" in Hindi actually translates to "tea." This is the everyday tea in their culture. So when you say "chai tea," you're actually saying "tea tea." 😂 So from here on out, we're just going to refer to it as "chai," mmkay? ☕️
Now, that we've got that sorted, what is chai? The traditional ingredients are usually black tea as a base, mixed with strong spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and black peppercorns.
From there, it's traditionally brewed into a creamy, sweet concoction with whole milk and cane sugar. However, the milky sweet tea treat we order in America has very little in common with the origins of true Indian chai.
Where did chai come from
"Legend has it that the origin of chai dates back more than 5,000 years, when a king in what is now India ordered a healing spiced beverage be created for use in Ayurveda, a traditional medicinal practice in which herbs and spices are used for healing.
The heat from ginger and black pepper was believed to stimulate digestion; the antiseptic properties in cloves were thought to help relieve pain; cardamom was used as a mood elevator; cinnamon supported circulation and respiratory function; and star anise was known to freshen the breath.
As the healing beverage spread across India a wide variety of spices were used to prepare the drink, depending on the region of the continent or even the neighborhood where the beverage was being made.
Believe it or not, original versions of “masala chai”, or “spiced tea”, contained no actual Camellia sinensis tea leaves. Milk and sugar were also later additions to the famous drink. The addition of black tea leaves, milk and sugar were popularized thousands of years later (in the mid-1800s) when the Camellia sinensis assamica tea plant variety was discovered in India and cultivated by the British, who ruled continent at the time and had an insatiable desire for strong black tea with milk and sugar."
What chai tastes like
Everything above should give you a good picture. Warm spices, creamy, sweet.
For me, chai makes me think of a crisp fall morning, while there's still a slight chill in the air. The crunch of fall leaves underfoot. Curled up on the porch with a throw blanket and a good book. Snuggles on a Sunday morning on the couch.
(And this dirty chai pairs really well with some spicy chorizo breakfast tacos on Sunday morning, if I do say so myself!)
What makes it dirty
A chai latte is made by mixing steamed milk with black tea that has been infused with spices. The drink is then topped with foam.
The spices used will vary from recipe to recipe, although the mix commonly includes warm spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. If you want to make your own chai spice, you can find a recipe for that here!
So, dirty chai is coffee shop speak for adding one or more shots of espresso to the chai latte.
Why it's called a dirty chai
Because espresso is a strongly brewed, dark coffee, similar to the color of 'dirt', it is is making the chai 'dirty.'
Fear not, there is no actual dirt in your chai latte!
The easiest dirty chai latte recipe
Coffee shops and baristas use a lot of fancy words and a lot of fancy tools. And don't get me wrong, I love the occasional coffee house dirty chai.
That said, sometimes I just want to stay at home. The price alone makes a huge difference for me - I want a dirty chai without all the muss and fuss, something I can put together quickly and easily without a steamer or frother or espresso machine.
Most places charge you for the chai, then charge you for each additional shot of espresso (I usually go 2, called a double!) and then charge you again for any alternative or dairy-free milk like almond milk you might want to use. By the time I'm done, my little coffee shop dirty chai has cost me between $8-9. Woof.
Delicious, but not sustainable on my wallet.
Enter, the easiest dirty chai recipe. While it's not going to come to you with a fancy shape or design in your milk, you'll still get the flavors of a creamy chai latte spiked with a bit of a strong coffee flavor.
And, it will only take you 5 minutes to put together.
How to make a dirty chai latte at home the easy way
I use coconut sugar in this recipe as well as an oat milk creamer that I use in my morning coffee (no, oat creamer is not paleo, but it's the best dairy-free creamer I have found as a substitute for half and half!)
You're going to put some water on to boil. While that's heating up, add your tea bag, your coconut sugar (or sweetener of choice) and your espresso powder to your mug.
Once your water boils, pour it in the mug over the ingredients. Give it a quick stir, then...
...cover to let it steep for about 5 minutes or so. I'm usually making this recipe in a pair of two, so I tend to just fold over a dish towel like this 👇 to cover the mugs and hold in the heat and flavor.
We do have some "fancy" tea lids like these that we use once in awhile, but it just depends on how lazy I'm feeling!
After the tea has had about 5 minutes to steep, you're going to uncover and pour in your creamer or milk to taste.
Give it one more good stir, then go ahead and pull out the tea bag and give it a good squeeze to get the extra flavor into the tea, then serve immediately.
- If you want to add a little foam or froth to the top for that little something extra, you can get one of these small hand frothers and use it as the last step before serving.
- If you want to make an iced dirty chai latte, follow this recipe as written. Then place the finished product in the fridge or freezer to chill. Once it has cooled, pour over ice and serve immediately.
- As written, this recipe makes a lightly sweet and decent strength coffee flavor dirty chai. Creamer and sugar will need to be adjusted to different taste buds, as well as accommodating for the use of different sweeteners and creamers if they are swapped in! Use it as a base and play with it a bit to find your perfect combo.
- 1 chai tea bag
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
- 2 teaspoon espresso powder
- 10 ounces boiling water
- 2 tablespoon dairy free creamer
- In a mug, combine the coconut sugar and instant espresso powder.
- Add the chai tea bag to the mug.
- Boil the water, then add 10 ounces of water to the mug. Cover and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
- Uncover, wring out the teabag on a spoon and stir.
- Add your creamer of choice, stir again, and enjoy!
This drink is very much one of personal tastes! You can adjust the amount of espresso, amount of sweetener, and amount of creamer to your tastes. Don't be afraid to play with it a little bit to find the right levels of each for your taste buds.
If you are not dairy free, you can use half and half in this recipe. Keep in mind it will be thicker than dairy alternatives, so you may want to use a single Tablespoon and then add more as needed.
You can use regular sugar in place of coconut sugar - it's a 1:1 swap. You can also use a liquid sweetener like maple syrup, just know that it will add a slight maple flavor to your drink!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 93Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 38mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 0gSugar: 12gProtein: 0g