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Wendy Almeida

Wendy Almeida wrote about enjoying the outdoors with kids in her monthly Kid Tracks Outdoors column for the Maine Sunday Telegram for more than 10 years. Her kids have grown up exploring the trails of Maine on foot, skis and bikes as well as through the Geocaching and EarthCache games. The family has found treasures of all sorts while out on the trail and the journey continues to be as much fun now that the kids are teenagers as it was when they were preschoolers. Follower on Twitter @wea1021 and Instagram instagram.com/wea1021

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Posted: February 12, 2016

Find the best chai latte in downtown Portland

Written by: Wendy Almeida

 

Chai latte. Staff photo by Carl Walsh

Chai latte. Staff photo by Carl Walsh

I love chai lattes. They are a creamy, spicy-sweet, grown-up version of hot cocoa. Most start with black tea spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and allspice, but every version is a bit different. Some have a dash of pepper or nutmeg, cloves or anise. And then there’s the style in which they’re made.
There are brewed cups of chai, and then there is a chai latte made from concentrate. Both have merit but the results are very different.
My daughter (also a big chai fan) and I decided to be more purposeful in exploring all the chai latte options we could during our morning commute to school/work. We did not discriminate against any establishment. We took recommendations from high school friends, coworkers and sidewalk signs. We sampled Dunkin Donuts, Gelato Fiasco, Coffee By Design and more. If we missed your favorite, post a comment below and we’ll add it to our tasting list.

The frothy steamed milk is filled to the brim but this photo reflects the fact that the aroma of the spices prompted me to take a sip, and then another!, before I got the shot. Wendy Almeida photo

The frothy steamed milk was filled to the brim but this photo reflects the fact that the aroma of the spices begged me to take a sip (and then another!) before I got the shot of this cup of chai from Coffee By Design. Wendy Almeida photos

COFFEE BY DESIGN (67 India Street)

This chai latte is an excellent cup of spice. It is not overly sweet, but it has exactly the right amount to be appealing to someone who likes sweet things but wants to feel virtuous for not going overboard on the sugar. It is made from concentrate with two options, sweet or spicy. I’m partial to the spicy option. Coffee By Design also offers a brewed chai tea.

Starbucks

Starbucks has a sweet, spicy mix with a nice thick frothy milk topping… and speedy service. 

STARBUCKS (176 Middle Street)

Starbucks was by far the fastest service of any cup we’ve ordered in Portland. The chai latte, made from concentrate, was frothy and creamy. Not overly diluted by milk, the spice was prominent and excellent.

Whole Foods

My daughter ordered iced chai tea, while I opted for the hot version at Whole Foods Market. Despite being made with the same ingredients, the iced version tasted different than the hot one. I plan to revisit my chai latte haunts again in warmer weather to see which iced version I like best. 

WHOLE FOODS MARKET (2 Somerset Street)

On a coworker’s recommendation, we tried Whole Foods’ chai latte. We weren’t disappointed. The organic concentrate was flavorful and full of spice, like apple pie without the apples. There was simply an overtone of fruitiness in the cup, and we guessed it may have had more allspice than other versions we have tried.

Frothy milk, a convenient location next to several eateries, make this a nice stop for when out for a to-go lunch and a cup of spice for an afternoon pick-me-up. Wendy Almeida photo

Frothy milk, a convenient location next to several eateries, make this a nice stop to accompany your to-go lunch. It’s a cup of spice for an afternoon pick-me-up from Gelato Fiasco. 

GELATO FIASCO (425 Fore Street)

Here, an order of “hot chai” delivers a latte. You will be asked what kind of milk you’d like. I always go for whole milk (my family raises Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats so I’ve been spoiled with exceptionally creamy milk). I found the spices are less prominent with the amount of milk used, but it still has a nice sweetness to it. My daughter likes this spot when she plans to stop next door for a burger to-go from Five Guys.

This was the only cup of chai latte I've ordered with a design. Wendy Almeida photo

This was the only cup of chai latte I’ve ordered with a design and I really liked that touch from Bard. 

BARD COFFEE (185 Middle Street)

Bard uses chai concentrate that is lightly sweet. The milk is super frothy and creamy, and the day my daughter and I bought our chai (she ordered iced while I wanted hot), we thought it was one of the milkiest versions we’ve had. But it didn’t hide the spicy flavors. Plus, the hot version comes with a design in the milk. We liked that a lot.

A vanilla chai latte from Dunkin Donuts has its place as a nice hot cocoa substitute.

A vanilla chai latte from Dunkin Donuts has its place as a nice hot cocoa substitute. 

DUNKIN DONUTS (One City Center)

A vanilla chai at Dunkin Donuts is the most like hot chocolate of any of chai teas we’ve tasted. The flavor is sweet and creamy but the vanilla tones down the spicy kick. It tastes high-calorie, but at 330 calories, it is still lower calorie than some other menu options. The sweet vanilla milk taste rules. Some days, that works just fine for us.

This is made in-house at Others! and I found a sprinkling of spices around the rim. Wendy Almeida photo

This is made in-house at Others! and I found a sprinkling of spices around the rim that made it even more appealing. 

OTHERS! (15 Monument Square)

The location of my favorite brewed chai latte is Others! in Monument Square. The cup was full of spicy flavor with a very light hand on the sweetener and a nice thick layer of frothy whole milk. They use a blend of fair-trade black tea and organic ingredients mixed and brewed at the shop. It is an excellent option for those days when I want a lot of spice without the sugar.

Chai-HolyDonuts

Chai latte paired up with a donut is an amazingly tasty combination. 

HOLY DONUTS (7 Exchange Street)

Holy Donuts steams 2-percent milk (whole milk wasn’t an option when I’ve visited) and the chai, brewed ahead of time and warmed up, is lightly sweetened. There is a mild spicy kick but it lingers on the tongue after a sip. I found this very pleasant. Despite my love affair with the concentrate lattes, I like visiting this spot because I can get my dose of sugar with their chai-flavored donut.

This is a milky, spicy tea brewed while you wait chatting with the super friendly baristas at Arabica.

This is a milky, spicy tea brewed while you wait chatting with the super friendly baristas at Arabica. 

ARABICA (2 Free Street)

This brewed chai is brewed on the spot. The day I visited, the milk was not overly frothy so it was a cup of milky tea, which has its own appeal when monitoring your sugar intake. The first time I went to buy chai, the shop had a note at the counter saying they were sold out. Clearly they have some regular fans of their brew. I suspect that is in part to being one of the friendliest coffee stops I’ve encountered in Portland.

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