Dirty Chai vs Chai Latte: What is the Difference?

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The chai latte has become one of the most popular drinks ordered at coffee shops in recent years. If you are chai lover, you may have noticed many coffee shops offer a beverage called a “dirty chai.” The dirty chai is a popular drink that has one key difference from a regular chai latte. Coffee lovers and tea enthusiasts alike can enjoy this espresso variation of the traditional chai latte. Here we will discuss similarities and differences between the dirty chai vs chai latte.  

Key Difference: Dirty Chai vs Chai Latte

The difference between a dirty chai and a chai latte is that a dirty chai contains an added shot of espresso. 

There is a dirty chai tea latte with latte art in a white mug that is sitting on a white saucer. This is an aerial view and the dirty chai is sitting on a wood grain table.
Dirty Chai Tea Latte Photo by Phil Desforges on Unsplash

What is Masala Chai? 

Traditional masala chai originated in India. The name “chai” comes from the Hindi word for tea, although it is really known for the blend of spices that flavor that this tea. “Masala” in Hindi means a blend of spices. Traditional chai tea begins with a base of strong black tea that is blended with several warming spices. There are several different blends of spices used for chai tea, but the most common spices include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Black Pepper
  • Star Anise
  • Cardamom
  • Allspice
  • Nutmeg
  • Fennel 
  • Cloves

Although chai tea is usually made with black tea, it can be made with other types of tea such as green tea or herbal teas. Herbal teas, such as rooibos tea, are usually used to make a caffeine-free version of chai tea. Black tea can also be decaffeinated by pre-steeping and disposing of the tea for 1 minute before you steep it for your chai latte. 

What are the Health Benefits of Chai?

Chai tea contains powerful antioxidants known as flavenoidsFlavenoids have several health functions including protecting the body from cancer and inflammation. 

What is a Chai Latte?

Chai lattes are a variation of a caffe latte, but rather than containing espresso, they contain chai tea. 

Chai Latte Ingredients

Chai lattes have three main ingredients: 

  1. Chai tea
  2. Milk
  3. Sweetener

How Does a Chai Latte Differ from Chai Tea?

The main difference between a chai latte and chai tea is that in chai tea, the chai is steeped in water, whereas in a chai latte, the chai is steeped in milk. We have a full post discussing the difference between chai tea and chai lattes here

What is a Dirty Chai?

A dirty chai is a chai latte that has added espresso. This espresso drink provides an extra kick of caffeine due to the espresso. There are many alternative names that a dirty chai goes by, including a dirty chai tea latte, a java chai, a red eye chai, espresso chai, and a filthy chai.  

Dirty Chai Ingredients

Dirty chais have all the ingredients that a chai latte has, with the addition of espresso:

  1. Chai tea
  2. Milk
  3. Sweetener
  4. Espresso

Chai Latte vs Dirty Chai Preparation

A classic chai latte can be made a few different ways: 

1. Chai Tea Bags

Steep a chai tea bag directly into the steamed milk, similar to how a London fog is made. This method usually utilizes a steam wand to heat the milk and steep the tea at the same time. This also produces the milk froth that lattes are known for. If you do not have an espresso machine with a steam wand, you can heat the milk on the stovetop. Just be careful not to heat the milk above 170oF or you will scald the milk. To make milk foam without a steam wand, you can use an electric milk frother or pour the hot milk into a french press and pump the plunger up and down to introduce air into the milk. 

In this version of the chai latte, you need to add an additional sweetener such as sugar, honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar. 

2. Chai Tea Concentrate

Chai lattes can also be made by mixing a liquid chai tea concentrate with hot milk. You can either make a chai concentrate yourself, or find one in the tea section of most grocery stores. These chai concentrates typically contain a concentrated blend of steeped black tea, chai spices and a sweetener. Chai concentrates usually result in a stronger flavor than the tea bag method because tea does not steep as well into milk. Because the concentrate has already been steeped in water, it retains the full flavor of the chai. You can use as much or as little of the concentrate as you want to achieve your desired strength of the chai flavor. 

3. Chai Powder Mixes 

The third way chai lattes can be made is by using a chai powder mix. These mixes contain dehydrated powdered milk and are mixed directly into hot water. They result in a creamy chai latte that is very easy to make. The downside of these mixes is that flavor-wise they are not as natural tasting and tend to not achieve the same creaminess as chai lattes that are made using fresh milk. 

How are Dirty Chais Made

To make a dirty chai, an extra espresso shot is freshly brewed and added to a regular chai tea latte. If you do not have an espresso machine, you can still make a dirty chai at home. A great alternative is a moka pot. This stovetop espresso maker makes a strong coffee that tastes very similar to espresso made from an espresso machine. Add 1 oz of this coffee to a regular chai latte to make a homemade dirty chai.   

There is a close-up view of the top of an open mocha pot that contains brewed coffee.
Moka Pot

Dirty Chai vs Chai Latte Taste

Chai lattes have a unique flavor due to the myriad of spices they contain. They have a warm, spicy flavor profile reminiscent of fall recipes. Their subtle sweetness perfectly balances the strong spices. Although the spices are the most prominent flavor, a tea aficionado can pick out the distinct flavor of the black tea leaves. The chai latte is the perfect drink for those who want a cozy, warming, creamy drink.

Dirty chai lattes taste more bitter and have a strong coffee taste. Because the espresso has such a strong flavor, it often overpowers the taste of the black tea. This results in a drink that tastes more like a spiced cafe latte than a tea-based beverage. 

Is a Dirty Chai Strong?

Dirty chais are not as strong as most coffee drinks. This is because they usually only contain one shot of espresso and black tea is not as strong as coffee. If you add two shots, then the dirty chai will be quite strong, although the strong flavors are offset by the sweeteners, spices, and milk. 

Does a Dirty Chai or Chai Latte Have More Caffeine?

Dirty chai lattes contain more caffeine than a regular chai latte. Chai lattes are usually made with black tea, which contains caffeine. A standard 12 oz chai latte contains 32 mg of caffeine. Adding an espresso shot increases the caffeine content by 64 mg. This means a dirty chai latte with one added shot of espresso contains 96 mg of caffeine. 

Do Dirty Chais Have a Decaf Option?

If a regular dirty chai has too much caffeine for you, you can make a decaf dirty chai by using caffeine-free chai, and decaf espresso. Caffeine-free chai usually contains rooibos tea, rather than black tea. Rooibos tea has no caffeine and comes from a bush native to Africa. Keep in mind that decaf espresso does retain small amounts of caffeine, although it is often not enough to make any noticeable difference. 

Does a Chai Latte or Dirty Chai Have More Calories?

Chai lattes and dirty chais have virtually the same amount of calories. This is because the only difference between the two drinks is that dirty chais have espresso. A 12 chai latte contains 184 calories. A single shot of espresso contains 3 calories. So, a dirty chai has 3 more calories than a regular chai latte. 

image depicts an aerial view of a white cup that contains a chai latte with a star anise pod that is floating on the top. The cup is sitting on a marble background and there is a cinnamon stick on the table.

What is the Best Milk for a Dirty Chai?

Traditional chai lattes contain whole milk, however you can make them with any milk or milk alternative you desire. 

Best Non-Dairy Milk for a Dirty Chai

Oat milk and soy milk work particularly well in dirty chai lattes due to their rich and creamy texture that compliment and balance the chai spices. The flavor of coconut milk complements the spice blend in chai lattes, making it another great choice. Almond milk is also a popular option but it is less creamy than these other dairy-free milks. 

What are Some Popular Variations of a Dirty Chai?

Iced Dirty Chai Latte

Like most coffee drinks, dirty chai lattes can be made over ice. An iced dirty chai latte usually contains chai concentrate rather than chai tea bags. This concentrate, along with cold milk, and a shot of espresso is poured over ice in a tall glass. 

Chai concentrate works better when making an iced chai latte. This is because chai tea bags must be steeped in warm milk in order to impart their flavor. It is not very easy or desirable to heat cold milk, steep the tea, the cool it again.

Filthy Chai Latte

This uncommon term for a dirty chai variation refers to a chai latte that has two or more espresso shots, rather than just one. A dirty chai latte with a double shot of espresso is also known as a double dirty chai. Some people differentiate a double dirty chai from a filthy chai, referring to a filthy chai as a chai latte with three shots of espresso.

While there are certain areas in the United States that use the term “filthy chai” more, it is not as well-known as a dirty chai. Many people also find that the names dirty chai and filthy chai are inappropriate and prefer to avoid their use altogether. You are better off just asking for the number of shots of espresso you want in your chai latte to avoid any confusion.

​Which Should You Choose? Chai Latte or Dirty Chai?

Whether you decide on a chai latte or a dirty chai is a matter of personal preference. Coffee lovers will appreciate the added flavor and caffeine boost of a dirty chai. Tea lovers are better off sticking to a regular chai latte. You might also consider the time of day when ordering your drink. Dirty chais are an excellent choice for the morning because of their caffeine content. If it is closer to bedtime, you might try ordering a caffeine-free chai latte. Ultimately the best way to decide which drink you prefer is to try them. They are both excellent and flavorful drinks and are sure to delight your taste buds.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy these comparison posts:

Iced Mocha vs Iced Latte

White Mocha vs Regular Mocha

Cafe con Leche vs Latte: Is There a Difference?

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