Chai. Sweet. Addictive. It would become a global drink phenomenon and break America's coffee obsession. But first, the drink has its origins in India.
In 1835, the British began setting up their tea gardens in Assam, Northern India. From here, the British East India Company started to ship these premium black teas around Europe. And these fine teas, brewed in teapots and hot water, were served to British royalty and aristocrats.
Thanks to the British, the Indian people now had their tea industry. But British-style tea wasn't suitable for the Indian tea taste, for it was far too bland. So Indians decided to mix the tea using milk and spices, which are a staple of Indian food and culture. Indians also had different, local spices around - ginger, cloves, cardamom, star anise, etc. – and added these to chai, creating a milk tea taste. Thus, chai's taste is like American coffee with creamer and sugar, which would help chai become popular in America.
Since America's founding, Americans preferred coffee over tea. As a result, coffee consumption exploded throughout the nation's history. In the beginning, Americans drank their coffee dark but over time, added creamer and sugar.
But this is where chai comes into the story. Chai - an antioxidant, nutrient-rich black tea - has lower calories and caffeine than coffee. In other words, it's not your typical cup of Joe.
With increasing health awareness in America, Americans began to see high calories and caffeine, found in American coffee, isn't the best health choice. As a result, Americans begin to try the healthier, alternative chai, which is introduced by Starbucks.
In the 1990s, Starbucks markets chai around America, popularizing the drink. And this leads to different, westernized versions of chai - dirty chai, green tea chai, vegan chai, etc.
Starbucks would also introduce chai latte, a steamed milk version of chai. Baristas would create other chai latte versions, using different ingredients and sugars. And the most popular chai latte version would be the dirty chai.
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Dirty Chai: American Fusion on an Indian Drink
Why is it even called "dirty chai?" in the first place? For starters, dirty chai breaks the standard rules to make chai latte. Let me explain.
To market to America's coffee taste, Starbucks introduced dirty chai. A drink perfect for those who aren't so crazy about coffee, but still want to get a sip to see what's the hype about.
So what's the difference between a chai latte and a dirty chai? Dirty chai fuses Indian ingredients with western flavors. This fusion creates a blend between a chai latte and a regular latte. Dirty chai also uses a single shot of espresso, which results in a sweeter taste than traditional chai. Using espresso, a non-traditional ingredient, thereby, caused the drink to be called "dirty." And to create a "double dirty chai," two shots of espresso can be added. Various sweeteners such as sugar and honey can also be used. And all these add-ons would come with different dirty chai versions.
One of the most popular dirty chai versions is vegan/dairy-free chai. Instead of the usual steamed milk, the drink uses soymilk or almond milk and is sweetened with natural maple syrup. Other popular variations are green tea dirty chai and faux dirty chai. And the latter uses cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom latte with tea, milk, and an espresso shot. All these variations would help increase dirty chai's popularity.
Chai Latte: A Never-Ending American Obsession
Nowadays, you can't go into a coffee shop without seeing something like a "chai latte" on the menu. Many American celebrities from Oprah Winfrey and Khloe Kardashian have also promoted chai latte. Thrillist, a website covering food trends, ranks chai latte as one of the most popular menu items. Even 7-Eleven introduced their chai latte, for chai lattes and similar products have seen a forty percent growth over the past four years.
So next time you go into a coffee shop, order a chai latte or dirty chai and see why this drink took America by storm. Because I can guarantee it, drinking a chai latte or dirty chai will take you by storm.
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