Chai Tea vs Chai Latte: What is the Difference?


You may have walked into a coffee shop and seen a chai latte on the menu. You then look over to the tea menu and see chai tea. Coffee shop menus often have both of these beverages, but you always thought they were the same. So what is the difference? 

Although the names are nearly identical, these two beverages are actually quite different. In this article, you will learn what is the difference between a cup of chai tea vs chai latte. 

White mug containing chai tea with a floating star anise pod. In the background, there is a cinnamon stick on a white countertop.

What is a Latte?

First let’s discuss what makes something a “latte”. Typically, a latte refers to an espresso beverage that is mixed with steamed hot milk, and has a small layer of milk foam on top. While a latte is often thought of as a coffee beverage, it does not necessarily contain coffee or espresso. 

If we look into the meaning of the word “latte,” it actually directly translates from Italian to the English word “milk”. When referring to the typical espresso drink we often call a latte, the more correct name is caffe latte, which translates to “coffee and milk.” 

As you can now see, a “latte” refers to a milk based beverage, not necessarily a coffee beverage (although a chai latte can have coffee in it, which we will discuss below). This gives us a bit more insight into what a chai tea latte is. 

What is Tea?

While you can walk into any grocery and find a variety of different types of tea, a true tea refers to pure tea leaves. Tea leaves are most commonly grown in the Asian countries or China, Japan or India. 

Tea leaves come in several different varieties including white, green, oolong, and black tea. The difference between these teas primarily has to do with how old the leaf is. White tea leaves are the youngest when picked, then comes green, then oolong, then black tea respectively. 

All true tea has caffeine in it to some degree. White tea has less caffeine than any other tea. Next comes green tea and oolong, and black tea has the highest amount of caffeine.

There are other types of tea that are not true tea leaves. Some of these include rooibos, and herbal teas such as chamomile, and peppermint teas. 

What is Chai Tea?

Traditional chai tea is a hot drink that is typically made from a loose leaf tea blend of black tea. It traditionally contains strong black tea leaves mixed with a blend of spices. There are several warm spices that are commonly found in this chai spice blend. Chai spices often include any or all of the following: 

  • cinnamon
  • ginger
  • cloves
  • cardamom
  • allspice
  • fennel
  • nutmeg
  • star anise
  • black peppercorns

This tea and spice blend is then steeped in hot water. To make chai tea, it is usually recommended to steep the tea in water that is just off a boil for 5 minutes (more or less depending on how strong you like your tea). It is important to remove the tea bag once it has completed its steep time or it will develop a bitter taste. After steeping, chai is often served with milk and honey.

There is a hand pouring a white teapot into a brown cup. In the background there is another brown cup. In the foreground, there is a pestle containing ground spices. On the table, there are scattered spices including cardamom and a whole nutmeg clove.

History of Chai

Chai originated in the Indian subcontinent. It was traditionally made with water buffalo milk, which is commonly consumed in India.

Black tea, which is the type of tea contained in chai, is most commonly exported from India. On the other hand green tea is more likely to come from China and Japan. The Indian tea industry and exportation took off in the early 1800s under the influence of British colonization. It was during this time that the British East India Company controlled tea exportation in India and created the international industry that tea exportation is today.1

You may have heard some refer to the term masala chai. When we translate this term from the Hindi language, masala means “spices” and chai means “tea”. So the term “masala chai” is essentially describing what traditional masala chai is: spiced tea.

What is a Chai Latte?

A classic chai latte is a popular drink that is typically made by using chai tea that is blended into milk, often whole milk.

Many store-bought versions of chai latte mixes are available. They typically come in a liquid concentrate or powder form. These concentrates usually come in liquid form and contain a mixture of water, black tea, sugar, and a chai spice blend. If using a concentrate, it is usually frothed into steamy milk. It can be used for an iced chai latte by mixing it with milk and pouring over ice.

There are also chai tea latte powders that can be purchased at many grocery stores as well. These powders mixes often contain the same ingredients as above except instead of water, they usually have powdered milk. These latte mixes can be mixed into hot water for an instant chai latte.

What is a Dirty Chai Latte?

A dirty chai is a chai latte that also contains at least one shot of espresso. This is an especially popular option at coffee shops for chai lovers who need an extra caffeine boost. Chai tea contains 48 mg of caffeine per cup. In comparison, a standard 8oz cup of drip coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine. An espresso shot actually contains less than a standard cup of drip coffee, coming in at 64 mg per shot. When we add the amount of caffeine from a shot of espresso to a chai latte, it brings the caffeine content up to a similar level as a standard cup of coffee.

If you are looking for an even greater caffeine boost, you can order a double dirty chai, which has two shots of espresso. If this is too much caffeine, you can just order a single chai latte, which will only have one single shot of espresso. Because this drink typically requires espresso and frothed milk, having an espresso machine is a must. If you do not have an espresso machine, you can use both a milk frother and a moka pot. Moka pots can make homemade espresso on the stove and are significantly less expensive than an espresso machine.

Does Chai Tea Have Caffeine?

Chai tea and chai tea lattes usually contain black tea. On its own chai tea contains 48 mg of caffeine per 8oz cup. That is about half the amount found in an 8oz cup of drip coffee. If you do not consume caffeine for any reason or depending on the time of day, you may want a decaf option. Fortunately, several brands sell decaffeinated chai. These blends either use decaffeinated black tea, or some contain a non-caffeinated needle called “rooibos” as the base for this tea. Although not technically a “tea”, this needle is often used in herbal and decaffeinated tea blends and make a great alternative for those who want less caffeine. 

Is Chai Tea Gluten Free?

Most chai teas are gluten free, however you should always check the labels as there are many different blends and recipes for chai. Be cautious of chai lattes, especially if they are vegan. Oats are often not gluten free and if your chai latte contains oat milk, you may be exposed to gluten.

Is Chai Tea Vegan?

Yes, chai tea is vegan as it contains no animal animal products. Chai lattes, on the other hand, may not be vegan. Some brands of the Chai concentrate, which are commonly used in chai lattes, contain honey. Honey is not considered vegan as it requires bees for its production. Additionally, the milk in chai lattes is typically cow milk, although this can easily be substituted for a vegan option. 

If you are vegan and would like to order a chai latte, ask your barista for the ingredient list to ensure there is no honey in the chai concentrate. Also as for a non-dairy milk as the base for your chai latte. In my experience, oat milk and soy milk make great non-dairy substitutes, although many people also enjoy almond milk. 

If the chai concentrate they use contains honey, you can still enjoy a chai latte. Just ask them to use chai tea tea bags and add it to the steamed non-dairy milk, similarly to how a London fog is made. You can have them sweeten it with a bit of maple syrup or brown sugar instead of honey, and you will have yourself a delicious, vegan chai latte. 

Conclusion: Chai vs Chai Latte

Now that you have learned all you could possibly want to know about a cup of chai tea vs a chai latte, we can sum up the main differences.

The main difference is that chai tea is a traditional blend of black tea leaves and chai spices whereas a chai latte is basically chai tea steeped or mixed with lots of milk. As mentioned in depth above, there are many different recipes and nuances that can be present between these two popular tea drinks.


  1. Lutgendorf, P. (2012). Making tea in India: Chai, capitalism, culture. Thesis Eleven, 113(1), 11–31.

If you enjoyed this post, you might love these recipes that go great with a cup of chai:

  1. The BEST Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies
  2. Vegan Easy Banana Bread

Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *