What is Vanilla Chai Tea?

If you haven't experienced chai yet, you are missing out. However, you might be wondering, “What is vanilla chai tea?” Is there a way to make it at home, or do I have to go to a specialty shop? 

Homemade Chai Tea Latte with anise and cinnamon stick in glass mug - What is Vanilla Chai Latte
Chai tea consists of black tea, spices, milk, and a vanilla syrup

Vanilla chai tea is a flavored version of a regular cup of chai tea. Chai consists of black tea, spices, milk, and sweetener, which can include vanilla syrup. If you have the ingredients at home, you can make chai tea on your own and flavor it with vanilla.

What is Vanilla Chai Tea? 

India is the world's fourth-largest tea exporter and has built up a culture around tea that goes back for centuries. The method of brewing tea and serving it as part of their traditions informs how Americans make chai tea

To understand what vanilla chai tea is, we first must understand what chai tea is. The word “Chai” means “tea” in Hindi, and Indian audiences will know that “Chai tea” is like saying “tea tea.” In their culture, the word chai means any tea served with milk. 

pouring milk on a tea
Chai means any tea served with milk

The chai we are more familiar with is “Masala,” or “spiced” tea in its country of origin. American chai tea is a black tea brewed with spices, cream, and sugar. This particular form of tea is one of the most popular kinds and is sold at most coffee and tea shops. 

A vanilla chai tea is a variation of regular chai tea. The preparation involves the same ingredients as a traditional chai tea, but the vanilla flavoring– usually a sugar syrup– replaces the sweetener. 

The combination of warm, exotic spices and creamy vanilla is irresistibly delicious, making it a popular drink option for those who want to take a break from their usual coffee order.

If you love tea, you might be interested in our Mugwort tea guide. 

Traditional Chai Tea Ingredients

If you order chai at an American tea or coffee shop, you won't get a choice of tea. Instead, the assumption is that you want a spiced-up black tea with cream and sugar added.

Different spices in a chopping board and a milk
Chai tea consists of four ingredients

There are four primary ingredients in chai tea, though you can swap the milk and sugar for your favorite alternatives: 

  • Black tea
  • Whole milk
  • Spices, including cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger
  • Sugar

Traditional chai starts with a strong, full-bodied black tea, usually a Darjeeling or Assam. During steeping, brewers include spices which can vary depending on the preparer's preferences. However, cinnamon, cardamon, and cloves are all ubiquitous pairings.

The spices add warmth and depth to the tea associated with chai in America. In some stores, chai tea is sold with the spices already in the bag. 

If you'd prefer to make your own, though, natural spices such as cinnamon and cloves are easy to put in a tea bag with dried tea leaves, making it easier for those seeking the warmth and spice of chai to make their tea at home.  Once the tea brews, it's time to add whole milk and sweeteners. Sweetening chai is where the flavors come in. 

The traditional method of making chai can change as a dietary need dictates–often, coffee and tea shops offer varying types of milk instead of cow milk to put in the tea. However, some milk is an integral part of chai tea, and whole milk works the best with the flavors. 

Even though whole milk and sweeteners are ingredients in chai, there are some health benefits to the traditional drink. 

Add a Splash of Flavor with Vanilla

Vanilla flavoring (or any other flavored sweetener) typically replaces the sweetener in your cup of chai. Although vanilla lattes are the most popular, caramel and maple chai are delicious favorites. 

Raw organic vanilla beans
Vanilla beans are expensive

What provides the vanilla flavoring varies depending on where you get your vanilla chai tea. Unfortunately, real vanilla beans are challenging to come by and can be expensive. Even most vanilla extracts are imitation vanilla to save money and precious resources. 

However, the vanilla flavoring in vanilla chai tea is usually a pump or two of vanilla-flavored latte syrup. It's the same syrup in a coffee latte, and it's usually a combination of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is the cheapest way to make a sweet syrup used in many coffee shops. 

At a coffee shop like Starbucks, you can choose any flavorings you would add to coffee and get some pumps of those in your chai. Most people opt for vanilla since the flavor pairs well with the cinnamon spice flavoring of the chai itself. However, you might find a new favorite in maple, toffee, or pumpkin.

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