Chai tea, chai latte, chai, masala chai, chai tea latte or chai milk tea, are some names that are used to describe flavourful spiced Indian tea. Do they all mean the same thing? Chai tea vs Chai latte – what is a difference?
What is Chai Tea?
Chai tea is an Indian milk tea made with black tea, milk and sugar. Even though chai is a very popular drink and India is one of the most important tea producing countries, chai has not been served and enjoyed in India for thousands of years. In fact, the tea production in India didn't really exist until a few hundreds years ago. Another type of chai, masala chai, is a spiced milk tea, made with spices, milk, black tea and sugar. This type of chai does have roots in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine with thousands of years of history. However, drinks with black tea, and chai is first and foremost a black tea drink with milk, are quite new.
These days, any drink made with black tea and spices is likely to have the word chai in its name. That includes chai latte too. So, what is the difference? Or, are they the same drink?
1. What do their names really mean?
Chai may be the most popular spiced tea around the world, but there's still a lot of misunderstanding behind its name. Both chai tea and chai latte mean tea with milk. Chai actually means tea, which would make chai tea literally mean tea tea. Chai latte means tea latte. Traditionally, tea in India has been prepared with milk, sugar and black tea leaves. Latte in Italian means milk, but when talking about coffee and tea drinks, it's used to describe drinks made with steamed and frothed milk. Today, chai latte will usually mean spiced black tea, while chai can, but doesn't need to contain spices. Although, in western countries, it usually does.
2. Chai tea vs chai latte ingredients
The main difference between chai and masala chai is that masala chai contains spices. However, chai latte will always contain spices, not only just black tea, milk and a sweetener.
This meas that both the traditional masala chai and chai latte contain exactly the same ingredients – strong black tea leaves, spices, milk, water and sugar. And not only do they contain the same ingredients, but they can also contain the same ratios, too. You can make both masala chai and chai latte using instant chai powder, but to enjoy the traditional chai, pure tea and freshly ground spices are a must. Furthermore, instant chai powders usually already contain milk and sugar.
Chai latte may sometimes contain more milk than chai tea, and chai tea can sometimes contain more milk than chai latte. That's because there aren't any strict rules to follow. However, there some drinks may be more authentic than the others.
Chai tea can also be made with milk only or very very little water. But chai latte will always contain at least 50% water, 50% steamed, although the milk content is often much higher.
3. Is there any different in colour?
Sometimes you may read that chai tea can be made with no milk, or very little milk and that's the reason it has a darker colour. However, that's not the case. It may have a darker colour because it's prepared differently. Chai latte will usually have a lighter colour, but not always.
So why is that? First, a proper chai is made with more tea leaves than latte, and it's made by simmering the leaves and spices in water and milk. This will give a deeper, more beautiful colour. Chai latte is made by simply steeping tea leaves in water for a couple of minutes. However, if you use more tea leaves for making a latte, then it will be darker than traditional chai. Next, chai latte is sometimes made with powders and concentrates, so there won't be any steeping involved at all. This will influence the colour too, making it either brighter or darker.
When using real tea leaves, the more milk you add to a chai latte, the brighter the colour will be. However, even is you use the same ingredients and ratios, the colour may still be different.
Learn more about simmering and steeping chai tea and find out why one method is better than the other here.
4. Which one is easier to make?
When making chai from a scratch, chai latte is easier to make. You can simply steep a pre-made loose tea blend or chai tea bag in boiling water, add sugar and steamed and frothed milk. This is the most common method. But to make a proper traditional chai, you will need to boil the tea leaves and spices first, add sugar and milk and use a tea pulling method to improve the texture and flavour. Making a chai latte at home would take up to 10 minutes and making a fragrant chai tea with spices will require over 20. Of course, you could take more time to make a traditional chai and top it up with steamed and frothed milk, and you could make a “traditional” chai by simply steeping a pre-made blend in hot water.
5. The best texture
Even if you start with the same amount of ingredients, when prepared traditionally, chai will have a richer and fuller flavour than chai latte. That's because spices and tea leaves will be simmered for much longer to release the flavour, the water content will reduce, and the texture will be improved by pulling the tea. Chai latte will have a weaker flavour, less silky texture, but it can still be creamy and rich. Texture will depend on ingredients and steeping time. No matter how well you steam the milk, an authentic chai tea will always have a nicer, fuller texture.
Tea pulling is pouring tea from one vessel into another for several times until small bubbles form.
6. Chai tea vs Chai latte flavour
If you never tried proper chai tea before, you are missing out. It's more than just a spiced black tea. Proper chai is warming, incredibly rich and has a deep colour. Even the creamiest, best prepared chai latte will feel weak compared to the traditional chai, no matter how much effort you make. To get the best flavour of both drinks, use 2 heaped teaspoons of tea per serving and whole milk. You don't need to use extra high quality tea leaves. In fact, broken tea leaves and tea dust will work better – they will give a stronger tea base.
7. Which is sweeter?
Another misconception is that chai latte is usually sweeter than chai tea. However, a proper cup of chai or chai masala will always be sweeter and have a more concentrated flavour than chai latte. The sweetness of a chai latte will ultimately depend on your preferences, even if you buy it from a coffee shop. Many of them may taste great and sweet enough, even if you don't add any sugar. Alternatively, you can choose any sweetener you want, including white or brown sugar, honey, stevia or other sugar alternatives.
Chai tea is made with sugar or jaggery, and not with honey or other sugar alternatives. Without a sweetener, it may be quite bitter and you will notice it definitely needs an extra sweet note to elevate the deep and complex flavour. This is not the case with lattes.
8. Serving difference
Chai tea is usually served from small cups, unlike chai latte that's mostly available in large servings. Both are best served hot, but you can serve them over ice too. You can store traditionally prepared chai in the fridge and drink when you are ready, but a freshly made cup will taste the best. You can't do the same with latte without compromising the tea appearance. What makes latte a latte is a layer of foam.
9. The add-ons
You can add some additional ingredients to both of these drinks. A properly made chai tea makes for a wonderful boba tea. All you need to do is add cooked tapioca pearls coated in brown sugar syrup and some ice.
Chai latte taste great iced too, but don't add boba pearls. Instead, you can serve it with whipped cream or ice cream.
10. Caffeine content in chai tea vs chai latte
Chai tea and chai latte both contain black tea, so they are both caffeinated. However, it's likely that chai tea will contain more caffeine than chai latte.
First, chai tea is simmered, rather than steeped. Steeping time and water temperature both impact how much caffeine is released. For example, if you use the same tea leaves for 3 infusions, the first one will have the most caffeine, the second one less, and the third one the least. If you steep tea for making chai latte for 3 minutes, you won't extract all caffeine.
Next, the caffeine content will depend on how much tea leaves you are using, too. If you are using the same amount of tea leaves for making chai tea and chai latte, then it's likely that a chai latte will contain more caffeine. However, if you use double the amount of tea leaves for making chai latte, then it's likely it will contain more caffeine than chai tea.
And finally, chai lattes are sometimes made with concentrates or syrups. This will influence the caffeine content, too. That said, it's likely for chai lattes from coffee shops to contain more caffeine than those that you made at home.
Traditionally, chai tea is made with caffeinated tea. However, if you are making it at home, you may use a decaf tea too. But if you want to buy it from a tea vendor, don't expect a decaf style. It's much easier to find a decaf chai latte, both in coffee shops and stores.
11. Which one is more expensive?
When making chai tea and chai latte at home, ingredients for both will cost approximately the same. You can use exactly the same ingredients and exactly the same ratios to make both drinks. The only difference will be the method you use.
However, when buying it from tea shops or coffee shops, a chai latte is likely to be more expensive and always served from a larger cup/mug than traditional chai tea.
12. Calories in chai tea vs chai latte
Both chai latte and chai tea will be calorie rich. While sugar will add calories too, the most will come from milk. Both drinks are also best made with whole (full fat) milk. The type of milk is super important if you want a silky texture. 100 ml of whole milk contains anywhere from 60 to 100 calories. Next, it's common for chai lattes and chai teas to contain 15-25 grams of sugar per serving, and some may contain up to 35-40. 10 grams of sugar will provide around 40 calories.
Chai tea vs chai latte recap
So, which one is better? Is it the silky and complex chai tea or lighter but silky chai latte? There's no right answer to this question. If you want a rich flavour and incredibly creamy texture, always make (masala) chai from a scratch. Use fresh spices, strong black tea and simmer it for 15-20 minutes. But if a cup of spiced black tea latte is all you need, chai latte will be much easier to make. Chai latte is easier to customize too, and great for serving iced.
Updated September 21st 2023.