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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Why I hate ‘chai tea’

Traditional chai will always outclass café “tea tea”


By JENA TUFAIL — jjtufail@ucdavis.edu


On one fine early morning before this quarter’s midterms, I walked into a cozy local café (Peet’s) to order a cup of energy (coffee). Gazing at the menu, I wondered to myself, “What lovely drink shall I waste my money on for the third time this week?” And it was only Tuesday. 

Suddenly, while waiting in the rather long line, something caught my eye. I squinted to get a closer look, reading the words Chai teaaloud. I was instantly confused. “Doesn’t chai literally mean tea?” I asked myself. 

Since I’m Pakistani, I already knew the answer to that question; “chai” does indeed translate to “tea.” But every time I read the words “tea tea,” I still feel confused. 

Instead of getting a caramel frappe for the millionth time this quarter, I decided that on this fine rainy morning before I sat down to take a long, difficult midterm, I would indeed order a “tea tea” for the first time in my life. 

My stomach turning, (because of my impending midterm?) I got excited just to be disappointed. All my life I’ve drunk “traditional chai,” which I love. I love not only its sweetness, spices and aroma, but also that, depending on the ethnic group, state, towns and families making it, the recipe and taste will never be exactly the same. 

As I waited for my drink, I tried to be open-minded. The taste of chai always varies, so I made sure to remind myself that this one wouldn’t be like anything I’d tasted before. Hearing them call my name, I excitedly walked to grab my drink. It was my first “tea tea,” and I was excited to become more “cultured.”   

I grabbed a straw and sat down to do some studying. Slowly, I brought the drink to my lips. I took a sip and gasped. I’m not kidding when I say that it was the worst thing I have ever drunk in my entire life. All I tasted was cinnamon! This was nothing like the chai I had drunk before. I was astonished. 

I took a few more sips and it still didn’t grow on me, so I let it sit and simply looked at it while I studied instead (it looked pretty at least.) 

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with liking cafe “chai tea.” If I had a good experience with it I probably would have ordered it again. However, I hope that this dramatic story of my experience drinking chai tea for the first time will inspire you to one day try traditional chai.

Recipes differ across South Asia, so there are numerous options, and TikTok is a great way to find easy at-home recipes to try. Although chai is traditionally made with whole milk, oat, almond, soy and water are great alternatives to use as your liquid base for chai. Most traditional chai does consist of black tea and traces of cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla, but to me, it has always been faint. The “butteriness” of the tea is universal, however, and it is a perfect warm treat for winter. 


Below is my family’s own quick and easy way to make chai.


  • ¾ cup of milk of your choice 
  • ¼ cup of water 
  • Black tea (we use the Brooke Bond Red Label tea brand) 
  • Cardamom (optional) 
  • Sugar 


  1. Start by bringing the water and milk mixture to a boil (you can use only milk as well) 
  2. Add the tea and cardamom to the pot 
  3. Use a ladle (or spoon) to mix the tea as it heats (make sure to adjust the heat as you continue stirring so it doesn’t overflow). This step will ensure that your tea will have a smooth taste.  
  4. Continue to boil until the color of the tea turns a deep milky-brown color. 
  5. Add your desired amount of sugar.
  6. Stir and enjoy! 

If you try it, I hope you enjoy it, and remember, it’s “chai”, not “tea tea!” 


Written by: Jena Tufail — jjtufail@ucdavis.edu


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.