Well well well. What a crazy few months it has been knocking about London reviewing Chai Lattes! I have had the secret insider scoop on the chai latte from a barista, been given free drinks as apologies for bad drinks, and moments of pure sweet spicy joy in a fictional Indian train station round the back of Kings Cross. It has been a journey!
But here are the results, including the Gold, Silver, Bronze Awards and the Broken Cup Award for the worst Chai out there.
Best Corporate : STARBUCKS
I know what you’re thinking, Starbucks is a soulless corporate giant who have aggressively taken over high streets all over UK and put numerous independent cafes out of business. They also make a really lovely chai latte. Two things can be true at the same time, you know! Morality aside, this one is delicious. A syrup mix with hints of ginger, cinnamon and black pepper, with a very sweet taste (though, possibly too sweet for some). This was always my favourite. This is my go to drink if I want cheering up or if I’m treating myself, so there is a strong psychological element to my fondness. I reviewed this one last to see how it stood up against all the others, although EAT’s Chai is a very worthy contender and I’ve even grown to like Costa’s strange powdery one (so long as it’s made well) the Starbucks Chai is the best one you’d be able to buy on any high street almost anywhere on earth.
Best Independent: YUMCHAA
Yumchaa in general is a beautiful experience, they have a handful of shops in London but are still very Independent in ethos. They have a huge array of loose leaf tea to get through, as well as lots of lovely cakes. Chai wise they have both a black tea and a rooibos blend, I sampled the black tea and it is delicious and flavoursome. It is made using the proper tea blend of loose leaves and hot milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg on top. You can taste the cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and ginger, it’s spicy but not particularly sweet which might be odd for fans of Starbucks or EAT Chais. I can’t recommend this enough, try it!
Worst Corporate: CAFFE NERO
Oh Nero. What have you done? In a way this awful drink is what gave birth to the Chai Olympiad. It was so bad it moved me to start reviewing. A sloshy powdery nightmare, with gobs of gummy unmixed powder floating about in the mix like unwelcome jellyfish in the sea. Even more unpleasant when combined with the milky froth. Unpleasant all around. What are you DOING?!
Worst Independent: STORE STREET ESPRESSO, LANTANA, FLEET KITCHEN
I do not wish to disrespect or disparage independent cafes. Independent shops are important and vital to London and the rest of the UK. However, this sorry bunch of lattes were a waste of my money. What’s the Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenina?
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
It transpires this applies to these three unhappy chai lattes, they are all unhappy in their own ways. Store Street Espresso was the worst of the worst. I had to throw it away. This was the only chai I didn’t finish of all of them. It was just off milk and bitterness, no flavour at all. What makes it even worse is this cafe is round the corner from my work, I could have been a very regular customer! Fleet Kitchen on the other hand was syrupy, but the syrup tasted like it had been left on a windowsill for five years. It tasted of sour old cloves and horror. Lantana was bad because they need to learn from their mistakes. It was made so poorly (even though the service was lovely!) I paid 3.40 for a “large” cup of hot milk, there was no flavouring at all. As one of the most expensive drinks available, this made the disappointment even deeper.
To be fair to all three, I bet they are great for coffee, but please do NOT get a chai latte from any of them!
Best Service: GAIL’S
When I finally did have a Gail’s chai it was nice enough, nothing too exciting but not bad at all. Better than the drink was their reaction to my first review, their first bland offering, it turned out, had been poorly made. The same day I was contacted by Gail’s on twitter, emailed an apology, a promise to retrain staff and a recipe for their chai latte! Later on in the week I was sent two fully stamped loyalty cards in the post which meant two free drinks to try again, which I did! What a brilliant service! Praise should also be steeped (tea pun!) on Yumchaa, whose wonderful and kind service made the tea all that better. Starbucks, though the service can often be patchy, consistently seem to make my chai lattes to the same standards as well, so praise is due here as well.
Worst Service: FLEET KITCHEN, STORE STREET ESPRESSO
I am afraid to report that it is the independents who have been awarded this again. Fleet Kitchen were particularly odd when it came to customer service. First off on the chalk board it was spelled “Chai Lattee”. I ordered my drink and paid as per usual, then the person serving me walked off without communicating my order to the other person making the drinks. I stood about as the person making the drinks made a coffee for the person before me and two cappuccinos for the people behind me. I continued to stand about and watched the person who served me return, tell the man making the drinks what I’d ordered, to which (for whatever reason!) he rolled his eyes. I had quite a similar experience in Store Street Espresso, not only was the drink undrinkable, but the two baristas were standing about talking about their paychecks while I was waiting around for my drink. I experienced this a few times during my noble quest, I felt like some baristas were not particularly excited or interested in making the drink. It wasn’t exciting or particularly skilled like making a coffee but it was more involved than just plonking a teabag in a cup and pouring water on it. In drink preparation terms it is, perhaps, the worst of all worlds, a bit fiddly and ultimately quite annoying, no surprise that I would be drawn to it…!
The Special Achievement in Chai Award: DISHOOM
Of all the chais in all of London, this felt like the most authentically Indian, because it came from a wonderful Indian restaurant. It was sweet, spicy, hot and filling. Delicious and wonderful. You could tell it was made to a traditional recipe in a traditional way. It was amazing and in itself almost a completely different drink to all the others. It gets the special achievement award because it is better than all the chai lattes, it is a chai, not a chai latte. It is the source material that all the others are riffing off with varying degrees of success. I recommend it incredibly highly!
Over the past few months I have been keeping a spreadsheet of the running tally of chai data. Here are some relevant graphs.
The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Broken Cup Awards
The Broken Cup Award: FLEET KITCHEN
“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.”
“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!”
“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!”
“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!!!!!!!!”
Thank you so much for reading my chai reviews! Do not fear, I will be back soon with another series of beverage reviews!