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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.