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Chai, masala chai, chai tea latte

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I know that chai means tea and masala chai refers to the spiced black tea Americans generally shorten to just chai. To me, masala chai by definition includes milk, usually when I order chai there is no need to request milk, and in the 2 years I lived in the Himalayas, the staff tea break ALWAYS was milky sweet tea.

I've noticed that a few places have chai on their menu as a chai tea latte. Today when I asked what this meant, I was informed that chai is simply the spiced black tea with no milk, and if I wanted milk in it I should order the chai latte. This seemed rather silly to me, about the only way it makes sense is if they are trying to make it Italian sounding to fit in with caffe latte and the other Italian drinks on the menu.

What do you think? Does masala chai always include milk? Is chai latte redundant and/or unnecessary? Have you ever ordered chai in an American coffee shop and received black tea with no milk?

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  1. That is the americanization of chai. It's kind of like people calling it "chai tea" -- the word "chai" means tea, so you are essentially calling it "tea tea".

    Traditionally, chai contains water, milk and tea leaves. Masala chai includes spices. I've seen some tea/coffee places add vanilla to theirs in the US -- not something I've ever seen until recently and definitely not by an indian person (I'm indian and have had a few cups of chai in my lifetime). I think since many non-Indians drink tea without milk, they feel the need to add "latte" to the name to make sure people understand it comes with milk. In India, it's a given.

    1 Reply
    1. re: boogiebaby

      Thanks, It has always been my experience and understanding that chai, masala or not, includes milk, was so surprised that this guy was trying to convince me that milk was an option not the norm.

    2. I like it with milk, but what's wrong with offering options?

      1 Reply
      1. Linguistically, "chai" means tea, and "masala" refers to a mixture of spices. So "chai" = tea, and "masala chai" = spiced tea. "latte" on the other hand, is Italian for milk.

        So chai tea latte literally means "tea tea milk". A masala chai latte, though, would be an accurate, if linguistically weird, description - "spiced milk tea"

        To my knowledge, masala chai is frequently but not always made with milk. So it's reasonable to assume that when you order it, it will come with milk, but also reasonable to list milk explicitly, if you serve the non-milk variety.

        In my experience, though, a "chai tea latte" generally bears only a vague resemblance to actual Indian style masala chai, so I'm quite happy for it to have its own menu description.

        1 Reply
        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

          I'll have to try ordering chai, no milk sometime and see what happens! As far as I know, all the coffeeshops around here (Seattle) use a spiced tea concentrate and steam it with added milk. Even the website for Oregon Chai says it is to be mixed with an equal portion of milk.

          Something lost in translation for sure, but doesn't it still seem odd to mix Italian and Hindi?

        2. The stuff that American coffee shops call "chai" usually bears little resemblance to Indian chai. Overpowering taste of cloves, added vanilla, too little cardamon, thin milk or none at all. I haven't found anywhere yet that comes close to Indian chai, so I avoid ordering it.

          1. I have ordered chai before where i was given a choice between a chai tea bag tea or a "latte" that was made from whatever concentrate they use (bleugh).
            In which case i order the tea bag tea and ask for a side of hot soy milk (i can't have much dairy) and kinda mix my own.
            But anywhere with a "chai tea latte" on their menu i have found uses a flavored sweetened concentrate that i suspect doesn't actually harm any tea leaves in its making.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ttrockwood

              Yes, I looked at the website for Oregon Chai, which is a popular one here, and they list instant tea powder as an ingredient. I think the chai tea latte is a marketing thing to fit in with espresso shop menus.

              Mostly I was just annoyed at this guy's garbled explanation of what chai is.