We all know about the latte, but not everyone is as familiar with it's spicier cousin, the dirty chai latte. So, what is a dirty chai latte? Essentially, this drink is a masala tea with a shot of espresso dropped into it.

It combines chai spices, black tea, milk, and espresso to make a wonderful, healthy, and caffeinated morning pick me up. If you love espresso and you love chai, then this drink is perfect for you.

Why is it called a dirty chai?

The coloring of a chai latte is very light. But when a shot of espresso is dropped into the beverage it looks darker, or dirtier; hence the name dirty chai. A filthy chai latte is a dirty chai but with 2 shots of espresso instead of one (r/starbucks, 2019).

A nasty chai latte is 3 shots of espresso in a dirty chai. The recipe is the same, just with more espresso added than chai latte; resulting in a caffeinated elixir sure to get your heart pumping.

What is the difference between a chai latte and a dirty chai latte?

A chai latte is chai spices and black tea brewed with steamed milk. Sometimes the chai spice/black tea combination comes in the form of a concentrate (Starbucks uses this method). A dirty chai latte is a chai latte with one shot of espresso dropped into it.

What is chai tea?

Chai tea latte

Chai tea actually just means "tea" tea. "Chai" literally means "tea" in the Hindi language. What most people are wondering when they ask this question is what spices are added to black tea to create masala tea.

In America, chai has become synonymous with teas that have heavy cinnamon and cardamom notes, but traditionally, the spice mix is much more complex.

What is masala chai?

Masala tea is a drink originating from the Indian subcontinent that combines loose leaf black tea, aromatic herbs and spices, and milk. The basic components of a traditional masala chai spice mix are:

  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Black Pepper
  • Ginger
  • Cloves
  • Black Tea

On the Indian subcontinent, this chai tea mix will be the standard (though some individuals will choose to add or remove a few herbs or spices and put their own spin on it).

Is dirty chai good for you?

In ayurvedic medicine, chai is used to aid in many different ailments. Each herb and spice used in chai has its own beneficial properties. The health benefits of a dirty chai latte mostly come from the masala chai spices (Kent-Stoll, 2018).

Cinnamon- Cinnamon has long been used in ayurvedic medicine to promote digestive aid and circulation. Recent studies show that cinnamon is also an effective antimicrobial and antifungal (Palanisamy, 2015).

Cardamom- Like most spices in masala chai mix, cardamom is great for digestion. The noteworthy quality for cardamom is that it promotes digestion of dairy, which would be helpful if your chai tea latte is not dairy free (Palanisamy, 2015).

Black pepper- Black pepper is commonly used to promote digestion (Parker, 2005). As this spice shares some of the same properties of cinnamon, it's a great addition to chai for moments of stomach pain.

Ginger- Ginger is very well known for being a great addition to any recipe to help promote digestion and sooth stomach ailments. Ginger is not only a great digestive aid, but also a great anti-inflammatory and detoxifier (Palanisamy, 2015).

Cloves- Cloves are a great spice for fighting bacteria, fungus, and parasites (Palanisamy, 2015). It's also great for reducing pain and is often used for relief from toothaches (Hosseini, 2013). Cloves are also well known for clearing congestion from the lungs (Parker, 2005).

Black tea- Tea is full of antioxidants and other phytochemicals beneficial to the body (Palanisamy, 2015). Black tea is also full of caffeine, so if you need a pick me up to keep you going, this will do the trick.

Milk- We have all heard milk is full of calcium and vitamin D, but actually, there is more calcium in leafy greens than cows milk. It's a great source of protein, and dairy free milks are often more packed full of protein than animal milks (Ferreira, 2019).

Espresso- Coffee beans are rich in essential vitamins and plant chemicals. Coffee has also shown to potentially lower the risk of Type-2 diabetes and some cancers (Harvard Chan).

Are dirty chai lattes good?

Coffee beans

In short, yes. Dirty chai lattes are delicious. This drink full of aromatic ground spices, warm and comforting steamed milk, and the dopamine enhancing tea leaves and coffee beans is the perfect something to fill your cup for a self care moment (Tomasi, 2015).

Not only is this drink delicious, but as we mentioned before it's also good for you! With all the ayurvedic properties of chai spices, you could practically call it medicine.

Choosing your dirty chai ingredients

Creating the perfect dirty chai latte requires cultivating the perfect list of ingredients. Fortunately, the fashionable nature of the chai latte have made many of the ingredients super accessible.

The trick with turning your chai latte dirty (in a good way) is to pick the proper coffee beans, masala tea spice mix, milk (dairy free or not), and black tea (loose leaf or bag).

Chai concentrate

Chai concentrate is by far the easiest way to make a dirty chai latte. Usually the mix will come pre-steeped and all you will be required to do is add steamed milk and espresso.

Masala spice mix

Now, your dirty chai latte recipe may be taken up a notch by cultivating your own mala spice mix from the raw spices and herbs we mentioned previously or you can buy a masala chai mix.

Sometimes these mixes will come in tea bags already mixed in with black tea leaves. Other times you can find masala chai spice mix separate from the black tea leaves. The latter method will give you the freedom to choose your own black tea leaves.

Black tea

There are literally hundreds of varieties of black tea in the world. Any one of these teas will do just fine. Typically, stronger tea blends such as Assam are used with masala chai.

Espresso beans

Don't forget that a dirty chai latte is an espresso drink! It's important to remember that the one shot of espresso in your dirty chai will require you to choose your beans. An espresso usually requires medium-dark to dark roast beans.

The reason for this is that the beans are richer in oils and give a better body and flavor for your espresso shot.


The latte, dirty chai or not, can be sweetened using a variety of ingredients. The most common sweetener in any coffee shop is sugar, and often in the form of simple syrup. However, a non-conventional coffee drink lends itself to nonconventional sweeteners.

Maple syrup- The trend of using maple syrup in coffee drinks has merit. Maple syrup dissolves easily in many drinks, it's a vegan alternative to honey, and it can put an interesting spin on the flavor of your drink due to it's memorable flavor profile.

Honey- Honey is another interesting sweetener that many coffee shops have on hand for teas. Using honey to sweeten your dirty chai latte will definitely have added health benefits, but also another layer of flavor depending on what type of honey you choose.

Sugar- Sugar is by far the most common sweetener in all brewed coffee drinks. In fact, sugar is usually the sweetening agent for masala chai all over the world. It's accessible, cheap, and accomplishes the mission of cutting the bitterness from the black tea.

Steamed milks for dirty chai latte

Milk is a super important factor in your dirty chai. Cow's milk is by far the most popular choice for masala tea throughout the world (as that is how it is traditionally made).

But, recently dairy free milk has become popular in many brewed coffee recipes. The type of milk you choose will affect the flavor of your latte, so make sure that you are okay with how coconut milk tastes if you're going to steam it into your latte.

Cow's milk- Cow's milk is by far the most popular choice of milk. It is fatty, creamy, and mildly sweet compared to other milk alternatives. It's also the easiest milk to find throughout the world.

Oat milk- Recently oat milk has been infiltrating all the drink recipes as a non dairy alternative to cow's milk. Oat milk has a creamy, mild flavor that works really well with most coffee drinks.

Almond milk- Almond milk has become a staple in most coffee shops as a non dairy milk alternative. Almond milk is characterized by it's creamy and nutty flavor and it's ease in frothing.

Soy milk- Soymilk is the original milk substitute and works very well in all coffee beverages. If you ask your barista to substitute soy in your coffee they will likely not bat an eye.

Coconut milk- With a heavy fat content and strong flavor, make sure that you like the flavor of coconut before you use this milk with your dirty chai.

How to order a dirty chai latte at the coffee house

Any barista should know what a dirty chai latte is. The Starbucks "secret menu" includes it under the name "Red-eye chai" or "Chai charger".

Actually, most coffee shops will include dirty chai on their menu, or at least give the option to add a shot of espresso to any coffee or tea drink. All this to say, there is no secret password when ordering a dirty chai, any coffee lover will know what it is and how to make it.

What tools do I need to make a dirty chai latte?

If you would like to create this drink at home then you will need a few tools:

How to make a dirty chai latte at home

In order to create this delicious tea/coffee hybrid at home, you will need the aforementioned ingredients and tools. Once you have gathered the items you can set up your barista station and get to work.

Dirty chai latte recipe

  1. 1
    First, make your masala chai. Combine the masala chai spices with your black tea leaves or bag with 1 cup of water on the stove top and boil, then steep for 5-10 minutes. Or measure one cup of masala chai concentrate.
  2. 2
    Second, add your sweetener to your masala chai.
  3. 3
    Third, add milk and either boil in the pot or froth with a milk frother.Brew one shot of espresso (not coffee) and drop the shot into the masala chai combination.

The dirty chai latte is easy to make at home or a good way to spice up your morning caffeine routine and shift away from the boring cup of coffee. Whatever it is that has made you decide to cook up a new idea for your coffee routine, the dirty chai is a great choice.