Dirty Chai Latte

Here’s how to make a Dirty Chai Latte at home! This espresso drink has the best warm-spiced flavor and frothy foam top.

Dirty chai latte

Our favorite fancy coffee drink for a splurge? A Dirty Chai Latte! Adding a shot of espresso to masala chai gives it a jolt of caffeine. Even better, the bitterness of coffee is just right for rounding out the subtle creamy sweetness. Usually Alex and I order black coffee at coffee shops, but every now and then we’ll go crazy and order a dirty chai latte. Here’s our spin on this coffee house special: it’s just sweet enough, and spiced gently with a special blend of chai spices. Here’s what to know!

What’s a dirty chai latte?

A chai latte takes traditional masala chai, a milky spiced tea from India, and combines it with frothy steamed milk of a cafe latte. The “dirty” version of it adds a shot of espresso. The story goes that the ditry chai latte was accidentally invented in England in the 1990’s, when a barista making a chai latte for an American added a shot of espresso by mistake. He loved it, and kept ordering it everywhere he traveled.

Other names for a dirty chai latte you might see in other coffee shops? Terms you might hear for this drink around the world are Java chai, red eye chai, or chai charger.

How to make a dirty chai latte

How to make a dirty chai latte: basic steps

Making a dirty chai latte involves three basic steps (or skip to the recipe below). Here’s the main outline of you’ll need to do to make this tea latte:

  • Make the espresso. Use your favorite method! Use an espresso maker or simply make strong coffee (we used our Aeropress).
  • Make the masala chai. Next you’ll make the masala chai, or spiced milk tea. Our method takes only a few minutes using a homemade spice blend.
  • Froth the milk. The last step is frothing the milk! See below for tips.

Making the masala chai

The word chai translates to “tea” in Hindi, so saying chai tea is technically like saying “tea tea.” The more correct term for the Indian tea blend is masala chai. The word masala refers to a blend of spices used in cooking. Just like the word curry, a Westernized reduction of a complex blend of Indian spices, the American concept of chai can oversimplify and appropriate a rich Indian cultural tradition.

Masala chai spices can include many different ingredients based on the cook, just like curry powder. This Homemade Chai Spice mix uses common masala chai spices, but note there are many more used regionally in Indian blends. Many traditional Indian recipes use whole spices, other use spices ground in a mortar and pestle. This recipe uses ground spices to make it quick and easy (plus, you can use them for other uses like baked goods). Here are the ground spices you’ll need:

  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Cardamom
  • Black pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Fennel seed (optional)

To make the masala chai, simply simmer the spices with water and black tea. In this recipe, you won’t add the milk yet because you’ll need to froth it to make the “latte” portion of this drink. Speaking of that…

Chai spices

How to froth milk for a dirty chai latte

The most important part of a dirty chai latte: frothing the milk! This is the place where you’ll need a bit of technique. If it’s your first time frothing, we highly recommend reading How to Froth Milk before you start. Here are a few tips on how to get the perfect foam on a dirty chai latte:

  • The best milk for a chai latte? Use 2% milk (our favorite), or whole milk if you like a richer latte. Don’t use skim milk, as it doesn’t foam enough.
  • Heat the milk to 150 degrees (scalding). The exact temperature is important to get the right frothy foam. Use a food thermometer if you have one. Or, simply heat the milk until it’s hot to the touch with some small bubbles starting to form on the outside, but it’s not yet simmering.
  • Use a French press, hand frother, or whisk. We used our French press and it worked great. You can also use a hand frother or simply vigorously whisk the milk. For the French press, pump 100 times or 1 minute: this should result in beautiful, creamy and frothy foam!
Dirty chai latte

Vegan variation

Want to make a vegan dirty chai latte? No problem! Our favorite way to make a vegan latte is with oat milk. It froths up with a beautiful foam, almost like a dairy milk! It also has a nice creamy neutral flavor. While the foam isn’t quite as thick as dairy milk, it’s still quite good. Head to our Vegan Chai Latte recipe, then add 4 ounces of espresso.

Another variation? Add a shot of espresso to make a dirty Iced Chai Latte!

Serving your dirty chai latte

And that’s it! Make your masala chai, add the espresso, and top it off with frothed milk! It’s nice to serve it in a clear glass so you can see the lovely separation of the foam, but a mug works too. We like to add a sprinkle of chai spices on top as a finishing touch.

*Want to make dirty chai lattes throughout the week? Make a big batch of the spiced tea and refrigerate. When you’re craving a latte, warm up 3/4 cup of the tea, add espresso and froth the 1/2 cup milk.

Dirty chai latte

This recipe is…

Vegetarian and gluten-free. For vegan, plant-based and dairy-free, go to Vegan Chai Latte.

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Dirty chai latte

Perfect Dirty Chai Latte


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 large or 2 small 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Here’s how to make a Dirty Chai Latte at home! This espresso drink has the best warm-spiced flavor and frothy foam top.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Homemade Chai Spices
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bag black tea (or 1 teaspoon loose leaf black tea in a tea strainer)
  • 4 ounces espresso or strong coffee, made using your favorite method
  • 1/2 cup fresh 2% milk (or whole milk)*
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (or simple syrup)

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan over medium high heat, whisk together chai spices, water and tea bag and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove it from the heat and allow it to rest for 1 minute.
  2. Meanwhile, make the espresso in an espresso maker (or the Aeropress). Add the espresso to one large or two small mugs.
  3. After the 1 minute rest, strain the tea through a fine mesh strainer** into the mug(s).
  4. Rinse the saucepan. Add the milk and maple syrup. Heat the milk to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (measure using a thermometer): this is hot with some small bubbles forming around the outside, but not simmering. The exact temperature is helpful for getting the perfect foam (if you don’t have a thermometer you can approximate).
  5. Use hand frother, whisk, or French press to foam the milk. (The French press is a favorite method: Add the scalding milk to the French press and pump vigorously until frothy, about 100 times for 2% milk or approximately 1 minute; use 50 times for whole milk.) Rest the foam for about 30 seconds, which allows it to set. Go to How to Froth Milk if it’s your first time frothing.
  6. Pour the milk and foam evenly between the mug(s). Sprinkle with additional chai spices and serve.

Notes

*Fresh milk is best for getting a nice frothy foam. You may find that a container of milk that has been open for several days will no longer froth. For vegan, make our Vegan Chai Latte using oat milk and add 4 ounces espresso.

**You can skip straining if desired: the spices will settle to the bottom of the drink.

  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: Dirty chai latte, how to make a dirty chai latte

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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