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Friday, January 27, 2012

Braver Than Storebought: Chai Latte

I've been wanting to start a new segment called Braver Than Storebought. 

Ever see a food item that's insanely priced and wonder if you could reproduce it cheaper?
Ever taste a food product that looks good, but tastes like barf, and wonder if you could make it better?
Ever make a meal that is marketed as a convenience product and wonder if it's really all that convenient...or even healthy?

These are the questions I'm going to answer in this segment.  I have a whole pile of food items that I've been asking these same questions about.  I'm going to make the storebought version and a homemade version and judge them against a set of criteria and see which one is really "better", "cheaper", or more "convenient".

First up - - Chai Lattes.

First, a funny story.  I was a typical four year old once.  Did dumb things just to see what would happen when I did them.  I was alone in the kitchen and poured some milk without asking Mom.  I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen if I added a little water.  I added some and drank. It still tasted fine.  So I went back to the sink and added more.  Tasted weird.   Went back to the sink (I'm four - so I'm up on a chair which was not allowed in our house, mind you).  This time I had about half the milk gone and filled the glass halfway with water.  Just as I was becoming mesmerized by how milk goes from pure white to tan the more water you walks Daddy.  And of course he sees me at the sink, standing on a chair, filling up my milk with water, with my Mom nowhere in sight and knows in an instant that I'm monkeying around.  And of course, in our house, there was no such thing as wasting food.  Do you know he stood there and made me drink that whole dang glass of watered down milk.  It was the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted. 

It was 30 years later before I could bring myself to try a latte - knowing that they are a half milk/half water mix.  I don't care how good a parent you are - - you will totally mess you kids up somehow. 

DESCRIPTION:  A chai latte is a half-n-half combination of steamed milk and chai tea.  Chai tea is made up of several stiff tasting herbs including cardamom, cloves, and pepper.  The mix is sweetened, thank goodness!

The storebought version is a pre-made chai flavored syrup.  Oregon Chai is the brand sold in my area. 
Most coffee shops also use a boxed chai concentrate when they make your lattes.  "Tea flavoring" is an ingredient.  Not actual tea leaves.  Hmm...

THE RECIPE:  Making your own chai lattes couldn't be easier.  Unless you have a home espresso machine, you do have to settle for warmed milk rather than steamed.  But if you're not a total coffee snob, you know this makes no difference in taste. 

1/2 cup chai tea blend of your choice  (I used Rishi Tea's chai mix. You could also assemble your own mix of the tea leaves  & spices but I didn't want to have to guess at the right ratios of so many variables).

3/4 c sugar (more or less to taste - 3/4 c was sweet but not sickeningly sweet to me)
3 cups water

Put this in a saucepan and bring to just under a boil. 

Turn the heat back down to a simmer for about a minute and stir it to make sure the sugar dissolves.  Turn the heat off and cover it.  Go do a load of laundry or something while the leaves steep.  Pour the tea through a strainer into your storage jug.

(One note.  Tea drinkers know that you can re-brew the same tea leaves at least once and still get a good brew.  I reused my leaves again, as above, but this time adding only 1/2 c sugar and 1-1/2 c water).

The tea in your storage jug is now your chai concentrate.  Don't drink it straight up - - it is hefty.  To make your latte, warm or steam some milk with the chai concentrate in a 50/50 ratio. 

This concentrate keeps incredibly well in the fridge for a looong time.  I made some over a month ago and it's still good. 


This recipe couldn't be easier.  It takes only minutes to brew the tea. And it's a great make-ahead /cooks while you do something else kind of recipe.  It took no more time and energy than opening up a box of the pre-made mix. 


I don't know many kids under 10 that might like to drink chai lattes.  And since this is a stovetop recipe, I don't recommend it for doing it with the kids.

I thought this recipe was better than the storebought version.  Every coffee or tea drinker has their own preference levels of sugar & cream.  Making your chai lattes from scratch allows you to make it as sweet or as stiff as you prefer.  I thought the box mix tasted like syrup-milk.  With my version, I could taste the spices.  I could also SMELL them.  The smell of real chai is fan-tastic.  The box concentrate just smells like sugar with a faint "tea" smell. 

Plus you can use REAL sugar, sucant, agave or stevia.  With the box mix you get corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.  Ew! 


A 32 oz. box of chai concentrate is $5.49 in my area. 
Assuming I use 4 oz. of it per serving I'd get 8 servings.
       That's $0.69/serving

A quart of milk is 1.99 and yields about 16 (4 oz) servings. 
       That's $0.12/serving.

Rishi dried chai mix is $39.99 per pound.  But a half a cup of tea mix is .16 pounds, or 6.39. 
Brewing it twice yields 9 (4 oz) servings. 
      That's $0.71.

With the boxed concentrate, one 8 oz. serving costs $0.81.
With the homemade concentrate, one 8 oz serving costs $ 0.83.
Starbucks charges, what?  About $4.00 for the same size!!!!  THAT IS NUTSO!

Costwise, the homemade version is pennies more and you are getting REAL milk, REAL tea, and REAL spices with the sugar level of YOUR choosing.  That's worth two cents more, right?? 

Plus, I am not kidding when I tell you I've kept my concentrate around for over a montha and it's still good.  You can brew up a huge batch and have it whenever you want.

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