Roll up Roll up!
It’s the Chai Olympiad! The ultimate competition which pits Chai Tea beverages against each other in a tea-soaked battle to see who has the best Chai Tea beverage. This is not a chai tea with a tea bag, more what is often called a Chai Latte, a chai mix with a load of hot milk.
It’s a battle between syrups vs. powders, extra cinnamon on top or not? How much foamy milk is too much?! Who knows!?
The winner will be crowned the Chai Olympiad Champion, the loser will be consigned to the hall of CHAI SHAME forever.
New drinks will be added as they are reviewed on my twitter feed (@eddus) using the hashtag #ChaiOlympiad
Starbucks ( one of the three Tottenham court road Branches) 28 February 2017
Price, Size and presentation: medium size for £3.25. Foamy and delicious.
Flavour profile: hot and sugary. A little heat from ginger, cinnamon, possibly even a little black pepper too. Perfect syrup to milk ratio. No option for cinnamon on top (don’t really need it)
Comments: this is my premier chai, this is where it all started. My fav from the beginning. As such I can’t be objective about it. I have had so much chai in my life, but this chai is like a delicious spiced security blanket. This is the drink I treat myself to on bad days and celebrate with on good ones. As such it is the taste of consolation or victory. I find it delicious and reassuring. Love!
NOTE: This is the final chai review of the Chai Olympiad. I am now tabulating the results and will present a report on my findings and crown a WINNER!
An anonymous Starbucks Barista gets in touch…!
Dear readers, I have been contacted by a professional Starbucks Barista about Chai Lattes! In the age old tradition of secret spy liaison, we exchanged brown envelopes in a darkened parking lot, spoke huskily under our breaths and smoked copious cigarettes as we discussed the insider scoop on Chai Lattes!
Me: What do you think about chai lattes?
Anonymous Barista: On the subject of chai lattes, I am not enamoured with making them, though I certainly don’t mind. While the recipe is fairly simple (chai concentrate, hot water, steamed milk on top for the hot version) it involves a lot of movement, which shouldn’t be a problem in a slow cafe but when it’s busy it’s a bit irritating. It’s also hard to judge the proportion of chai to water by eyeballing it- for every other drink we have measuring lines in cups and pitchers and shakers so we can standardize the recipe, but not so for chai. You eyeball the water amount, and since that goes in first you may end up short or heavy on milk, so from barista to barista chai consistency will vary a LOT more than say, a latte.
Me: Is there a typical chai latte customer?
Anonymous Barista: I will say there is no standard chai customer; almost everyone has their own specific way they like their chai, with far more exact recipes than Starbucks itself provides.
Do you think people look down on chai lattes because they’re not a proper coffee drink?
Anonymous Barista: From a customer perspective it is not evident that anyone looks down on a good chai, but people who like chai LOVE chai (their chai, their way) and people who like coffee like coffee and don’t think much about other drinks. As far as baristas looking down on chai… we may do a bit, but only because there isn’t much finesse to it. Even people who are very specific with their recipes don’t give feedback on foam texture or proportion, and there is not much technique or challenge to making a chai.
Me: Cinnamon on top or not?
Anonymous Barista: As far as cinnamon goes, that’s a loaded topic at Starbucks. We recently discontinued the Teavana Oprah Cinnamon Chai, which had a bit of a cult following but wasn’t a big seller, and that caused minor riots from its devotees. Our normal chai isn’t overtly cinnamony, and does not come with cinnamon on top, so most people don’t much care. Interestingly, European customers will request cinnamon every time, so they’re an exception. Personally, with our chai, I love to steam cinnamon into the milk, and I skip the water in the recipe, so it’s a stronger, more cinnamon heavy and creamy experience. I’m also a fan of the dirty chai, because I’m a caffeine addict. As a special side note, I will now say that 90% of the chais our store sells have a shot or two of espresso added to them.
Me: What’s your favourite drink to make (if there is one?!)
Anonymous Barista: My own personal favorite drink to make is a latte. I love the challenge of making a solid, perfectly foamy, perfectly timed latte, and it’s a huge challenge when you work with three different machines with different timing and steam pressure. It keeps me engaged and active with the process, and there is nothing better than handing out a drink you know has perfect proportions of espresso, milk, and foam. Plus, latte art is HARD! I love practising and seeing tiny improvements over time.
Thank you so much anonymous barista for this insight into the world of Chai Lattes from the other side of the counter!
Dishoom (Kings Cross Branch): 19 February 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £2.50. This was an authentic Indian restaurant style situation and there was chai everywhere! It was served hot and in a glass.
Flavour profile: PERFECTION. Hot, spiced, milky. Ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon all stewed together with the milk and sugar. A perfect balance of all these flavours. Authentic bite of spice, not too grainy (but clearly made with fresh spices). This is what all the other chai lattes are trying (and a lot of the time, failing) to achieve! HOOK IT TO MY VEINS!!!!!!!!
Comments: Oh my lord. This is the best, most delicious chai. I had two glasses (they also had chocolate chai on the menu, which I wish to sample as well) one option was to have a toasted bun alongside for chai-dunking it was SPECTACULAR
Store Street Espresso: 8th February 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £2.70. V small. One size only. Looks promising.
Flavour profile: Immediately after the first sip I was put off. It was overpoweringly milky to the point where I question whether the milk had gone off slightly. There was a feint cinnamon but it was distant. What a fucking WASTE of money!
Comments: As there’s nothing to mention about the chai, I’ll mention the service: the first person who served me was nice but it took a sort of unreasonable time for the drink to arrive, a queue formed behind me waiting for drinks and two baristas were chatting about their pay cheques and not really doing anything else. What a dreadful disappointment of a drink! This is the first of ANY Chai I’ve been unable to finish. I even drank that bitter Upper Fleet one, but this was worse. HOW AWFUL.
Yumchaa (Fitzrovia): 6th February 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £3.15 for a regular. This was sitting in so I had a LOVELY mug. Good size for a regular. Cinnamon on top!
Flavour profile: Oh my GAWD. It wasn’t just cinnamon on top! It was nutmeg as well. Incredible flavouring, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and an underlying note of citrus (sort of orangey, I think?) Not overly sweet but you don’t miss that with all of these other lovely flavours going on. What a TREAT!
Comments: this was a powder but it wasn’t grainy or gross, it was perfectly well prepared. Milk to Powder ratio was perfect. A drink full of overwhelmingly adventurous flavours! A real journey of a chai! Delicious, unusual and full of spirit. I must go back for another!
Lantana (Fitzrovia Branch): 3 February 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £3.40 for a large. An indie large is a corporate medium, I have learned. It only struck me after I’d left just how expensive that was for a medium size, but obviously, it’s good to support smaller shops!
Flavour profile: This was subtle to the point of non-existence. What was even in there aside from milk? Nothing at all to say!
Comments: I’m not angry, just BITTERLY DISAPPOINTED. Lantana was a gorgeous little shop, I had lovely service from a cute Australian man, Mariah Carey playing in the background, they had veggie mite and toast available, lovely cakes everywhere. But this was a non existent chai. I did spy the chap get the syrup out and pour it in but I fear it was not enough. I’ve given them a one just for the atmos and the loveliness of the shop. But the drink was a huge disappointment. I bet they’re great for coffee etc and I would LOVE to go back and get something else from there, but I essentially paid £3.40 for a cup of hot foamy milk.
Gail’s PART TWO: 31 January 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £3.00 for a standard (quite small) size (this one was free though!) This looks so much more like it, but now, dare I say, is there TOO MUCH CINNAMON? The drink itself below the milky foam and cinnamon was the off white colour you’d expect in a good chai.
Flavour profile: This was, quite frankly, sweet as FUUUUCK. At least I could taste the flavour this time. Sugary with a hint of a little spice. Overall quite nice but not spectacular by any stretch. I got more pleasure from imagining the flavour when reading the recipe (below!)
Comments: SO MUCH FOAMY MILK. Alas, I feel this was poorly prepared, with no serious consideration for the syrup/milk ratio. I was left with a cup full of foamy fluffy cloudy milk peppered (and in places, drenched) with the almost excessive cinnamon (never happy, me!) Was this a SARCASTIC OVER-CINNAMONING due to my previous complaint, I wonder?! I bet this is great when you sit in with a big mug and a spoon to stir along as you go, but for a take out situation I wasn’t overly impressed. I would say an average, could be better.
Gail’s get in Touch!
So after my previous review of Gail’s subpar Chai (23rd January), I received a few tweets from their official twitter account apologising and asking for my email address. Soon afterwards a received the following email:
I was moved by all of the chai recipe details, which I have found very useful, ESPECIALLY the type of tea they use, Assam. I have taken it for granted that a lot of the chai I’ve had has only been briefly introduced to genuine tea, so getting the low down from Gail’s that they actually use a syrup made from real tea is a revelation. The fact that the drink is supposed to come with cinnamon on top is also great to hear. I cannot imagine what they all must have thought of me in their office (what an IDIOT!), but they took my criticism with grace and a few days later after replying with my address and thanking them for their kind and quick reply to my review I received this in the post:
A postcard with a handwritten message and TWO fully stamped loyalty cards! What a lovely gesture! Although now I am slightly nervous about returning to the cafe as the email stated the baristas KNOW someone complained their chai wasn’t made properly. I will give them another try and review again, hopefully finding that the drink is as delicious as the recipe suggests.
Nice one GAIL!
Tinderbox (2nd floor Tottenham Court Road Paperchase):
27th January 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £2.60. This was a drink-in beverage not a take out so I was given a BEAUT of a vintage sundae / milkshake glass with a nice long spoon. Quaffed it feeling like a QUEEN!
Flavour profile: A lovely syrup! And what a lot of nutmeg in there! Gorgeously warm and milky with a bit of a cinnamon hint too. Not overwhelmingly sugary at all but sweet enough to be delicious. Cinnamon on top would have competed it but it was delicious as it was.
Comments: A real treat of a drink! Carefully made (ideal syrup/milk ratio) and utterly lovely. Service in the cafe was fantastic, very friendly people indeed. View from the cafe window was lovely and company was wonderful as well (although this had no affect on the beverage, I feel it’s worth mentioning) Also, got it at a discount due to my Paperchase loyalty card! Wonderful all round, will be back!
Fleet Kitchen: Wednesday 25th January 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £2.40 for a small one. General appearance fine if looking a bit too much like a coffee?! As sizes go, this was the smallest small I’ve had so far. Essentially three gulps.
Flavour profile: I don’t want to say rancid… but it was heavy on the clove from the first sip and that was it. NO SWEETNESS, NO CINNAMON, NOTHING BUT SOURNESS AND MILK. RANCID.
Comments: people often say chai lattes are too sweet. Well, my darlings, TRY THIS ONE. Sour like the face of an old drag queen. Not a moment of pleasantness for the whole beverage. I hugely regret even trying it. I would add to this a note about the service in the cafe: the quirky chalkboard with all the drinks and prices listed the chai as a “Chai Lattee”. The chap making the drinks made two cappuccinos for people behind me in the queue. As I was standing about making the place untidy, I watched the woman who served me notice me and go over to remind him about my drink and the chap genuinely looked perturbed to have to make one. This rancidness may indeed have been because it had been so long since someone had ordered one, that the syrup was old and gross. Worst chai latte I have ever had and I shall NEVER try one from here again.
Gail’s: Monday 23 January 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £3.00 for their regulation size, a small compared to all other cafés. Cog-themed cup (?!) is Gail a horologist as well as a café owner?
Flavour profile: It’s a syrup. The milk is fucking WHITE AS SNOW. No option for cinnamon on top. Way too subtle, but there is a slight after taste. No spices to even mention individually. I could have been drinking the dregs of yesterday’s leftover lattes, to be honest. Possibly just poorly made by barista (more syrup plz!)
Comments: What a tiny disappointment! I’ve practically finished it while writing this. I’m left feeling underwhelmed. Not least because the actual service in the café was abysmal. I wouldn’t normally mention service as this is all about the drink, but it was AWFUL. The funny thing is the best service I’ve had so far was at Nero’s where they served me an absolutely disgusting drink. Milk so white possibly due to fact there was almost NO FLAVOUR AT ALL GOING ON. Gail, stick to your cogs, I’m very disappointed in you.
Costa: Friday 20th January 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £3.00 for a medium bit of an expense, nothing special though was offered cinnamon on top.
Flavour profile: It’s a powder, so prepare yourself for that powdery edge. The flavour profile was different to others, there was a definite clove in there. Possibly too much clove. Cinnamon too, but it didn’t feel SPICEY which is what you want. This is sanitised good boy chai, not rebellious drop out of uni and travel the world sleeping with beautiful strangers chai (have yet to find this blend sadly…)
Comments: I would say if you’re looking for a solid chai, give this a try. Not unpleasant at all. But of course, as you drink the powder becomes stronger and more invasive. This is a solid mix, isn’t too bad at all.
EAT: Friday 13th January 2017
Price, Size and presentation: £2.60 for a large. Handsome and foamy. Smooth AF.
Flavour profile: Cinnamon is there, but what else? Suspect it’s an artificial chai flavour not a combo of other ingredients. Definite chai bite with the Sweetness.
Comments: This is a syrup chai. Smooth as fuuuuuck but possibly too sweet for some. Good strong aftertaste of chai-ness follows the initial smooth sugary taste. Combination is very delicious. Like a beautiful dream of a drink. Could be a bit more complex in flavour but this is hot sweet Chai. Fuck YESSSSS
Score: 4.5 / 5
Caffe Nero : Wednesday 11th January
Price, Size and presentation: £2.95. Medium size, good amount of foam. Optional cinnamon sprinkled on top. So far so good.
Flavour profile: There’s definite nutmeg and a sharpness of cinnamon but that’s all. Overall, pretty disappointing. Unpleasant mouthfeel.
Comments: this is a powder-based Chai tea and you can really tell. Even when stirred through it remains powdery and unpleasant. Especially when combined with the milky froth, you’ll get little chewy gobs of powder mixed with milk. Not a great chai experience. The service in this particular Nero’s was exceptionally good, the barista was jolly and chatty and was actually singing to herself at one point. What a cruel irony that the drink she had made for me whilst on such a high was to be so utterly gross. Hugely disappointing. Don’t bother!
Score: 1.5 / 5