A few years ago, when I was still working a thankless IT job, I went on a business trip to Wyoming for two weeks. During the weekend in between, I visited my favorite cousin who was living in Boulder, Colorado rather than fly back home. At the end of the weekend, in preparation for my drive back to Wyoming I was raiding her tea cupboard for something to perk me up and came across some bagged chai. I then excitedly asked if I could use her husband’s espresso machine so I could add a shot of espresso to my cup of chai in order to make a dirty chai.

What is Chai?

The drink known in the US as “chai” is more properly called masala chai. Indian for “spice tea,” masala chai is a combination of black tea, spices, sugar or sweetener, and milk. When I make it myself I use black tea, cinnamon/cassia bark, ginger, peppercorns, star anise, and cardamom. Our own Chef Wemischner has his own amazing chai recipe that is definitely worth checking out.

What is Espresso?

Espresso is a type of tea, right? While I could make the argument that coffee made in a French press is technically a tisane, true espresso is made using an entirely different process. Not simply very-strong coffee, espresso requires nearly-boiling water to be forced through finely-ground coffee beans under a high pressure. As a result it is thicker than typical coffee and has what’s known as crema on top. In addition, while most people consider espresso to have more caffeine than standard coffee, it’s actually more complicated. Espresso has more caffeine per ounce, but since the serving size is significantly smaller it ends up being less. But like with tea, there are factors that influence, such as the type of coffee beans and roasting method.

What is Dirty Chai?

Put simply, dirty chai is a beverage invented in the US wherein a shot or two of espresso is added to a cup of chai or a chai latte. It can be found at many baristas and cafes in the Pacific Northwest (we like our coffee a little too much) though I can’t personally speak for the rest of the country. 

Why Drink Dirty Chai?

The first thing that comes to my mind is caffeine: Since it has both strong black tea as well as espresso, dirty chai definitely packs quite a bit of caffeine into a single cup. Other reasons that people have told me include that it’s sweeter and more flavorful than a typical espresso drink (such as a latte), and that the espresso helps cut the overwhelming sweetness of a typical chai latte.

How To Make a Dirty Chai

In order to properly make a dirty chai at home, you’ll need espresso. This means that unless you buy espresso elsewhere and bring it home, you’ll need to have an espresso machine. You can make it using traditional masala chai if you have that, otherwise you can follow this simpler recipe.

  • 1-2 shots espresso
  • 4-6 ounces of dairy or non-dairy milk, steamed with a frother
  • 6-8 ounces strongly-brewed chai tea of choice
  • Honey or sweetener of choice

Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Espresso machine, frothing cup, large mug, small teapot, honey, and coconut milk sitting on a wooden surface.

Anyone else enjoy a dirty chai every now and then? Or are you perhaps willing to give it a try? Let me know in the comments!

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