Chai Latte Vs Dirty Chai (Key Differences Explained)

Looking to switch it up from your regular latte? Then chai tea lattes and dirty chai lattes and two drinks you definitely need to try. 

Both of these drinks are sold in cafes around the world and have a spicy sweet flavor.

They have some similarities, but they're actually quite different drinks and this article will give the full chai latte vs dirty latte breakdown.  


Let's start by looking at the coffee recipes behind these two drinks. 

A chai latte contains:-

  • A mix of ground cinnamon, ginger root, cardamom, cloves, and peppercorn
  • Strong black tea (usually from a special black tea bag)
  • Steamed milk 

A dirty chai latte contains:-

  • A single shot of espresso
  • A mix of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and peppercorn
  • Strong black tea (usually from a special black tea bag)
  • Steamed milk

As you can see, the main difference with a dirty chai vs a regular chai latte is the espresso.

A dirty chai latte has espresso added to it, giving it a bolder coffee taste and a higher than average caffeine level.


The dirty chai latte and regular chai tea latte both have their origins in famous Indian masala chai tea.

Chai flavored pure tea actually dates back around 9000 years ago where it was allegedly created by the King of Siam as a healing beverage. 

The healing qualities of chai are debatable, but the fragrant and slightly spicy flavors really took off and they form the basis of a modern chai latte and dirty chai latte. 

The chai tea latte came to the West in the 1960s, and became a regular order in the 1990s when Starbucks began offering a chai tea latte on their menu.

This modern version used Western flavors which made it quite different from the traditional spiced tea of the far East.

The dirty chai latte was allegedly first served in the 1990s in England. The story goes that a barista was making a chai latte and accidentally poured in one shot of espresso to the drink.

This changed the taste and created the first dirty chai latte!

We'll never know the exact history of a dirty chai latte or a regular chai tea latte. However, what's certain is that a chai latte came first because the dirty chai latte is a twist on the original. 


Like all modern drinks in coffee shops you can customise both a dirty chai tea latte and a regular chai tea latte. 

Popular dirty chai latte variations include:

  • An iced dirty chai latte - a cold dirty chai served with a cooled single shot of espresso, mixed with cold whole milk and poured over ice 
  • A blended iced dirty chai lattes - blended dirty chai lattes mix the ice together with the spice and shots of espresso to give the drink a thicker consistency
  • A double dirty chai latte - a dirty chai latte with an extra shot of espresso
  • A filthy chai latte - this is made with a third shot of espresso and is an espresso drink only for real coffee lovers
  • A faux dirty chai latte - this is made using tea leaves, boiling water, and one shot of espresso. It's very similar to a regular dirty chai, but has a slightly different flavor 
  • A green tea dirty chai - this dirty chai latte is made with a green tea chai tea bag rather than regular chai spices
  • A cardamom latte - this is a spiced beverage where you combine chai flavors with a regular latte to give you a frothier version of a dirty chai
  • Chai charger - this dirty chai latte alternative is made from spiced masala tea bags and then poured over 2 shots of espresso
  • Vegan/dairy free dirty chai - this espresso latte is made with a oat milk, almond milk or any other dairy free milk alternative in the base 

Popular chai latte variations include:

  • An iced chai latte - served cold with ice as a refreshing low caffeine drink
  • Vanilla chai latte - made with extra vanilla syrup to sweeten the taste
  • Cinnamon oat chai latte - with extra spices and cinnamon syrup to give it a more unique taste
  • Vegan/dairy free chai latte - made with oat milk, almond milk, or soy milk instead of dairy
  • Masala chai - this variation is made with hot milk instead of steamed milk, but uses the same chai concentrate or chai syrup for a similar taste

There are more variations on a dirty chai tea latte because you can customise the espresso content in the base, and one of the most popular variations is to have two shots of espresso instead of one.

Many of these variations (like the double dirty chai) are only available on the secret menu so you'll have to ask your barista to make them specially.

Just remember that every coffee shop will serve chai tea slightly differently, so you should expect some variation in their chai tea leaves. 


Chai teas and dirty chai lattes both have a uniquely spiced flavor. They're often chosen by those who want something different from a regular coffee, but don't fancy a spiced tea. 

A chai latte has a spicy and sweet flavor from the various spices used in the recipe.

A dirty chai latte is similar to a chai tea latte, but has a slightly bitter taste from the shot of espresso.

A chai latte gets its unique flavor from the various spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.

Its taste varies depending on how the coffee shops prepare it, so expect it to taste differently from place to place.  

In a dirty chai, the flavor comes from the espresso and other spices like cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, which are also added to this drink to give more flavor. 

Caffeine Content  

Chai teas and dirty chai lattes are often regarded as low caffeine drinks, but that's just because the unique flavors disguise the strength. 

Chai tea bags are more potent than your regular spiced tea and a traditional chai has more caffeine than a regular tea latte.

A dirty chai latte has this double whammy of the concentrated tea with the extra caffeine from the finely ground coffee beans. 

  • A 12 ounce cup of Starbucks chai tea lattes contains 70 milligrams of caffeine
  • A 12 ounce cup of Starbucks dirty chai latte has 160 milligrams of caffeine. The caffeine content of dirty chai is noticeably more because of the extra espresso shot

Dirty chai lattes have a higher caffeine content than traditional chai tea lattes, and you can even add extra espresso shots to make the drink stronger.

This makes them the caffeinated elixir of choice for those who appreciate a strong coffee. Just remember that a regular chai latte still has more caffeine than a good cup of black tea. 

Calorie Content 

The calorie content of coffee shop and espresso drinks can vary massively depending on the ingredients.

Chai lattes and dirty chai lattes both have similar ingredients so there isn't very much between them. 

A Starbucks chai latte tea drink has 190-200 calories. A Starbucks dirty chai has 200-220 calories. 

Both chai teas and dirty chai lattes are made with a black tea leaves, spice mixture dry ingredients, and milk.

The black tea leaves have very few calories, but the milk will. Some recipes also require significant amounts of sugar, which will also add to their overall calorie content. 

The shot of espresso in a dirty chai only adds about 10 calories (depending on how you brew coffee), which is why there isn't much difference between these two drinks. 

chai latte vs dirty chai

Chai Latte (Overview & How To Make It?) 

A chai latte is a tea-based drink that is composed of black tea, steamed milk, and chai spices like cinnamon or cardamom.

Some recipes add foam to it to make it more unique. The recipe for this drink varies depending on each cafe.

Some use their own signature spice mix and secret ingredients, while others only use instant or powdered versions of chai syrup to make a cup quickly.  

Many people often think that chai latte and the traditional masala chai are the same drink, but a chai latte has some a long way from the old tea gardens of northern India.

The traditional masala chai mix is slightly different, but the real difference between the two drinks is that they use different types of milk. 

Both traditionally use sweetened condensed milk, but for a masala chai you add hot milk, whereas for a chai latte you add steamed milk.

This is why chai latte has a foamy and lighter flavor than a masala chai. Over the years a chai latte has proved more popular with tea lovers than a masala chai.

In fact, many coffee shops won't even have a masala chai on the menu despite it being a much older drink.

There are more hot versions of this popular drink, all made with boiling water, but you can also order an iced chai.

This still has the foamy texture but cold versions tend to disguise the Indian ingredients more and leave you with the taste of whole milk, rather than a delicate flavor blend. 

If you want to make your own chai latte at home, follow the recipe below:  

Chai Latte Recipe 

Chai Latte Ingredients 

  • Black tea 
  • 1 ¾  cup non-fat milk powder  
  • ¼ cup powdered cane sugar  
  • 1 ½ tsp natural sweetener (coconut sugar or stevia) 
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Spices (you can use all or any of the spices below, depending on what's available and your preferences) 
  • 2 tsp ground ginger 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder 
  • 1 tsp white pepper 
  • 1 tsp cardamom 
  • 1 tsp dried cloves 
  • 1 tsp nutmeg 
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 chai concentrate (if you don’t want to make your own tea mix) 


  1. 1
    Mix cane sugar and vanilla together in a bowl and allow it to dry. Once dry, divide them into lumps.  
  2. 2
    Gather all available spices. Note that the taste may change if you leave out one or more spices. Don't worry; it'll still taste okay. If you use whole spices, don't forget to grind them using a blender or food processor.  
  3. 3
    Using another bowl, mix all the spices, dry milk, and natural sweeteners. Mix well, and the chai latte mix is ready.  
  4. 4
    Then, brew your black tea and add 2 tsp of the latte mix. Top up with hot water as needed, and enjoy!   
  5. 5
    If you're using an instant chai mix, just brew the black tea and the chai mix, and you’re all good. If you want it cold, just add ice! 

Note: This recipe can make about a quart of chai latte mix.

Make sure to store it properly in a tightly sealed container so you can use it again for your next tea, or give it as a gift to your friends who love chai.

Also, if you don’t like vanilla, you can leave it out.  

It's also worth noting that in a coffee shop they'll use a milk frother for all their coffee drinks to create the smooth milk texture, and then add the steamed milk to the chai.

You can froth milk at home if you have the equipment, but it's a lot more work. 

chai latte

Dirty Chai (Overview & How To Make It?) 

Dirty chai (sometimes called java chai or red eye chai) is a latte drink which is great for those who want coffee in the morning without bitterness.

The frothed milk, chai spice mix, and coffee from the espresso machine all balance well, giving this coffee drink a good caffeine kick without the intense taste of coffee.  

Since its base drink is chai latte, you can also taste different spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger.

However, the most commonly added spice for this drink is black pepper because it produces a strong aroma when burned, apart from it being an excellent source of flavor and spice.  

What makes a dirty chai good for coffee lovers is the shot of espresso in the base.

The espresso shots are typically made with a dark roast to give a more intense taste that compliments the ground spices. 

It works well with full fat milk, or milk alternatives, and people often choose to add syrups or flavorings to give it a sweeter taste. 

A dirty chai latte can be served hot or cold and usually comes in a tall glass. The exotic flavors make it something a bit different for caffeine lovers, and most coffee shops serve it year round. 

Are you ready to drink a dirty chai latte at home? Follow this recipe:  

Perfect Dirty Chai Latte Recipe 

Dirty Chai Ingredients 

  • Black tea 
  • 1 ¾  cup non-fat milk powder  
  • ¼ cup powdered cane sugar  
  • 1 ½ tsp natural sweetener (coconut sugar or stevia) 
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • Make your own chai tea mix (you can use all or any of the spices below, depending on what’s available) 
  • 2 tsp ground ginger 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder 
  • 1 tsp white pepper 
  • 1 tsp cardamom 
  • 1 tsp dried cloves 
  • 1 tsp nutmeg 
  • 1 chai concentrate (if you don’t want to make your own black tea mix) 
  • 1 to 2 shots espresso coffee, or 2 to 4-ounces strong coffee (make sure you use good quality coffee beans and make with an espresso maker or French press)


  1. 1
    Make your chai latte by using the exact instructions above.  
  2. 2
    Once done, add the shot (or double shot for an extra dose of caffeine) of espresso to make a dirty chai latte that's ready to drink! 
dirty chai

Frequently Asked Chai Questions 

Are chai lattes healthy? 

Chai teas have fewer calories than sugary drinks like hot cocoa or sodas, especially if you drink them without sugar. Using non-dairy or low-fat milk can also make it healthier.

Some people argue that the espresso shot in dirty chai lattes makes them unhealthier, but only if you have a caffeine intolerance.  

Does chai tea make you poop? 

Yes, it can. The ginger and cinnamon found in chai teas are known to aid in digestion. This helps in passing food more quickly. 

This has also been found for masala tea which is made with similar ingredients.

The one or two shots of espresso in a dirty chai (red eye chai) can also make you poop, as caffeine is a known diarrhetic. 

Is chai latte good for weight loss? 

Since it’s a low-calorie drink, a chai latte is good if you’re trying to lose weight and the mix of spices can aid digestion (in a similar way to masala tea).

The proteins found in the milk are also suitable for weight management. However, be sure not to add a lot of sugar or go sugar-free if you’re drinking it to lose weight. 

How many shots of espresso are in a Starbucks Grande dirty chai? 

A Starbucks Grande dirty chai has 2 shots of espresso in it.  

Does a dirty chai taste like coffee? 

No, it doesn’t. When you heat milk and add it to the dirty chai it disguises the taste of the espresso.

A dirty chai tastes more like a chai latte with a little bit of kick from the espresso chai mix.  


Most coffee shops serve several types of chai latte.

A regular chai latte has a uniquely sweet and spicy flavor, but a dirty chai latte has the double whammy of spicy flavors and caffeine from the shot of espresso. 

If you just want a nice cup of spicy milk, a chai latte will suffice. But if you want a boost of energy, go for the dirty espresso chai! 

Hopefully you now know the difference between chai latte vs. dirty chai, and you can make a dirty chai, or regular chai, at home. 

Kim Fernandez


Kim Fernandez
Kim offers a unique perspective on coffee culture and trends. Kim's writing is personal and experiential, providing readers with firsthand advice on the latest in coffee. Beyond her writing, Kim is an avid explorer of new coffee trends and spots, always seeking to share the most genuine advice and latest trends. True to her love for coffee, you'll often find her in a café, immersed in a book with a freshly brewed cup of joe.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... A freshly brewed cup of joe

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