“Have you ever had a dirty chai latte?” my new friend, The Antipodean, asked me recently while we were online and talking about a story I pitched to a publisher a couple weeks ago.
“A what?” I asked. Oh, I’ve encountered the term before: mostly from back-issues of Delicious-UK and Delicious-Australia, but no one has explained it to my satisfaction.
“You mean, you don’t get those where you are?” The Antipodean exclaimed. “Um, how do I put it? Well, you get a mug of chai and you drop a shot of espresso into it.”
Okay, I got the picture at that point. It would probably be most similar to a yuanyang – a popular beverage at Hong Kong’s cha chaan tngs (tea shops / cafes) which mixes three parts brewed coffee with seven parts HK-style milk tea. This one, however, is spicier due to the cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, white pepper, and cloves used to flavor the tea.
It’s one of those “secret menu” offerings at both Starbucks and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: order a chai latte and tell your barista to drop an espresso shot into it. The end result: a creamy, smooth, spicy, bittersweet drink that goes down amazingly well and is perfect for soothing frazzled nerves in the middle of a work-day even while keeping you alert enough to finish what needs to be done.
When I first had one, I went and reported directly to The Antipodean; he was pleased that I liked it. Then I told him I planned to try making one at home. This caused him to stare at me in disbelief.
“You have an espresso machine, yes?” he asked.
“Nope,” I declared in full confidence.
“You don’t?! Then, how…?”
“Watch, kid; watch and learn…”
In a fit of [temporary] madness, I added pinches of cinnamon, pepper, cloves, ginger, and cardamom to a quarter-cup of milk before tossing in instant coffee and instant milk tea. Add hot water, et voila – what would pretty much pass for a cheap-arse dirty chai latte at home. It was a touch sweeter and the coffee seemed to overpower the tea, but I found it most fortifying a few mornings ago when the weather turned stormy despite the impending summer heat.
“You’re fearless,” The Antipodean conceded, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
“Nope,” I replied. “I just like a good challenge is all.”