Why You Don't Need To Say 'Chai Tea' When Ordering At A Cafe

There's no wrong way to drink chai. Whether you prefer it hot or iced, plain or with milk, or served as a latte, the comforting flavors of ginger, cardamom, star anise, and cloves are a welcome treat any time of day. Throughout the last 20 years, chai has surged in popularity around the globe, especially in Western cultures. But the next time you order a cup from your favorite cafe, there's something you may want to keep in mind. Saying "chai tea" is technically incorrect.

In India, saying "chai tea" is redundant, as it essentially amounts to saying "tea tea" (chai means "tea" in Hindi). You wouldn't place an order for "pasta spaghetti" or "queso cheese," yet Shiv Puri of New York City's Bombay Sandwich company told Eater that approximately a third of his customers still say "chai tea." And according to Puri, that's breaking "the number one rule" of drinking masala (spiced) chai.

So nice, you don't need to say it twice

The tendency to order "chai tea" isn't entirely the consumer's fault. When chai first made its way onto cafe menus in North America, many companies — lookin' at you, Starbucks — listed the beverage as "chai tea" or a "chai tea latte" on their menus. Initially, that may have been an indicator of what the beverage contained, as it was new to many customers. But now that chai is almost as ubiquitous in the west as it is in India, it's long past time to drop the extra word. 

Still, the western world has a long way to go. Chai is the national drink of India, where on average, every adult consumes at least two cups a day, according to the India Times. Throughout the country, tea sellers, called "chai wallahs," make hundreds of cups per day from street carts and small cafes by infusing loose black tea, warming spices, and usually some form of milk or cream. Served nearly boiling hot during even during the hottest weather, the beverage is a mainstay of India's vibrant street culture.

Chai can spice up more than just lattes

The spices used to make chai can vary; some makers use black peppercorns in their spice blends, while others may add saffron or even turmeric. Many variations of the drink exist, including "dirty chai," which is chai with a shot or two of espresso and sometimes chocolate. 

If you want to go one step further, you can try "naughty" chai, which is spiked with bourbon or whiskey, as in this autumn chai cocktail recipe. Or, go from spiced to spicy by adding a dash of cayenne pepper. And if you crave caffeine in the morning but want the warm flavors of chai, try adding a teabag of chai to your ground coffee before brewing. 

Once you find your favorite blend, try adding it to baked goods. Instead of buying a whole jar of each and every spice, incorporating a powdered chai blend or brewed chai into a batch of banana bread or chai latte cupcakes is an easy, economical way to amp up the flavor. The best part? It will also give you a yummy snack or breakfast to go with that chai latte.