I don’t like coffee and the tea in Australia is not up to my ‘needs to be so strong it will melt a spoon’ British standards. As such, if I meet someone in a cafe, I’m a bit stuck on what to order. My recent solution has been chai latte, which sounds like it should be healthy, but I note is kind of sweet – which made me wonder is chai latte healthy? And what’s the difference between a chai latte and chai tea? And if there is one, is chai tea healthy and should I drink that instead?
If you’re as confused as I am, here is the answer…
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What is Chai Latte?
Well, despite what you might normally associate with the name, it’s got nothing to do with coffee.
A latte in the coffee world is officially a shot of espresso with warm milk and topped with foam. Chai latte replaces the espresso with black tea and a mix of spices. Steamed milk is then added and the whole thing is topped with foam.
The exact mix of spices varies but it can include ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper.
That’s pretty healthy but, to save time, many cafes use premade chai latter powders which contain the spice blend, powdered milk and tea and these can also contain sugar or other sweeteners.
Is Chai Tea the Same as Chai Latte?
Not exactly. They use the same ingredients, but in a slightly different way.
Chai tea when made from scratch is made from a mix of fresh spices ground together into a powder. This is then added to milk, often with a little sugar and salt and boiled on a stove. Black tea and water are then added before the whole thing is served.
The drink is originally from India where it’s known as masala chai.
You can also buy chai tea leaves or bags which have the same spiced tea taste but are made by steeping in water (just like plain black tea) and drunk with or without milk.
So now you know the difference let’s look at them in terms of health. Starting with a Chai Latte.
Is Chai Latte Good for You?
There’s a lot to look at when it comes to analysing how healthy chai latte actually is – so, let’s get started…
How Many Calories Are in A Chai Latte?
It’s going to vary depending on where the chai latte is made, how big the serving size is and, most importantly how much sugar the drink contains – but, to give you an idea from some of the main chains…
Starbucks – UK
A short Classic Chai Tea Latte with skimmed milk has 103 calories – this goes up to 131 if you have whole milk.
If you upgrade to a Venti size you’re looking at 271 calories for the skimmed milk version, 355 if you have whole milk.
Starbucks – US
Starbucks US’s nutrition guide only adjusts the calories per drink size, not by choice of milk, but as a rough guide, a short Chai Latte has 120 calories
Upgrade to a Venti and it will be 310 calories
Costa Coffee – UK
A small Chai Latte made with skimmed milk (the ‘drink in’ size) has 113 calories, this goes up to 190 if you have whole milk.
If you upgrade to large this increases to 211 for the skimmed milk version and 364 to the one with whole milk (both drink in)
Cafe Nero – UK
Only offer one size which has 232 calories when made with semi-skimmed milk and 295 when made with skimmed milk
Gloria Jeans – Australia
A small Chai Tea Latte has 210 calories and it goes up to 389 if you have a large.
A homemade chai latte like the one in this recipe, will have around 100 calories.
How Much Sugar Does a Chai Latte Contain?
Potentially a lot!
In fact, back in 2019, the UK group Action on Sugar actually analysed how much sugar was in some of the chai latte drinks from the common chains and found that the worst offender had 54.5g of sugar – that’s nearly 14 teaspoons of sugar.
The good news is that since then some companies in the UK have slashed their sugar content so now you’re looking at more like the following…
Starbucks UK: A small chai latte in Starbucks UK has 21g of sugar (it varies a tiny bit by milk choice but not much except if you choose oat milk where it’s 27g).
A Venti however has 55g of sugar (except if you have oat milk where it goes up to a whopping 72g of sugar!)
Cafe Nero has 25.5g of sugar in their option made with semi-skimmed milk
Gloria Jeans in Australia contains 7.2g of sugar in a small chai latte and 8.2g in a large.
Starbucks US has 21g of sugar in a short and 53g in a large
Obviously, individual cafes will have different levels of sugar depending on how they make their drink.
To give you an idea of what all that means, the NHS suggest that you consume no more 30g of free sugars (their name for added sugars) a day. Some of the sugar in the drinks will be from the milk though.
Does Chai Latte Contain Caffeine?
Yes, because tea contains caffeine.
One cup of black tea has around 50mg of caffeine – and the tea used in chai tea and chai latte is generally on the stronger side.
The caffeine in your cup will be determined by how strong the tea you use is (different leaves have different amounts) and how long you brew it for but, as a rough guide….
A Short Classic Chai Tea Latte has 46mg of caffeine at Starbucks. The Venti version of the Classic Chai Latte has 115mg. All the other sizes are somewhere in between!
Most of the other companies don’t list a direct caffeine content for their chai lattes but assume it’s between 40-50mg per 8 fl oz serving.
Do the Spices in Chai Latte Have Any Health Benefits?
Most spices contain antioxidants that help neutralise harming compounds called free radicals in the body. And cloves, which you find in a chai latte, contain some of the highest levels.
On top of this, just 1g of cinnamon a day has been shown to play a role in reducing blood sugar levels and may improve heart health and brain function; ginger is anti-inflammatory and black pepper helps aid digestion.
However, the amounts you consume in a chai latte are small so, while there may be some benefits of chai tea from the herbs it contains, it’s not medicine!.
Final Verdict: Is Chai Latte Healthy?
Let’s start with the positives.
The main ingredients in chai latte all have health benefits.
Tea is good for us, milk supplies essential nutrients like calcium (and, even the fat in dairy might not be as bad for you as the fat from other sources) plus the spices in chai latte all have proven health benefits (even if the dose used might be a bit small).
However, the big chain coffee shop chai lattes contain a bit too much sugar to be considered completely healthy – especially in the larger servings.
NB: IF you do want to find lower calorie options in Starbucks, check out our guide to all the best choices in Starbucks in the US here – and, if you’re based in the UK, your guide to Starbucks calories can be found here.
How to Make/Choose a Healthier Chai Latte?
Homemade chai latte can be healthy – especially if you can reduce the amount of sugar you use, or replace the taste with a healthier sweetener like stevia (just remember to put less in than the recipe suggests as stevia is much sweeter than sugar).
If you want to use a ready-made powder, then try and look for a sugar-free version (there’s some ideas below)
If you’re drinking your chai latte out of the house, then pick the smallest serving size on offer which quickly reduces calories and sugar.
You could also use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk to reduce calories and fat further – skimmed milk actually creates more froth than full fat but the latte will have a less creamy, more watery taste if you use it.
If you prefer alt milk, almond milk seems to have the lowest sugar levels and oat milk the highest.
Where to Buy Healthier Chai Latte Powder
While many chai latte powders contain sugar, there are a few unsweetened ones out there.
In the UK: Hmmm, I can’t find a totally sugar free Latte Powder in the UK. Drink Me used to sell one, but it seems to have been discontinued. Their normal Spiced Latte Powder has 9.7g sugar per serving and their Vegan one has slightly less at 9.1g.
I did find Royal Chai’s Unsweetened Masala Chai which looks like it could work.
In the US: Look for Oregon Chai Sugar-Free Chai Tea Latte Concentrate which replaces the sugar with Splenda. It’s available in Walmart (including for home delivery) and Kroger.
In Australia: Arkadia sell a low-sugar chai tea that can be turned in to chai tea or chai latte. You can find it in Woolworths.
Right that’s enough about whether chai lattes are any good for you, so now let’s look at the potential benefits of chai tea.
Is Chai Tea Healthy?
As we said, chai tea is slightly different from chai latte and, that difference does mean that chai tea is generally healthier than chai latte. Here’s what you need to know…
Calories in Chai Tea
A fresh chai tea blend with no added sugar, and just made with water contains no calories.
Any calories will therefore come from the milk – a 250ml serving made with skimmed milk (and no sugar) would contain about 100 calories. The same size made with whole milk will be around 150 calories.
Note, in the recipe below they say only to use whole milk as it brings out the flavour of the spiced better
How Much Sugar is in Chai Tea?
Most fresh chai teas won’t have a lot of sugar – this family recipe for masala chai, for example, includes 1-2 teaspoon per cup around 16-32 calories.
Exact recipes will vary though so, you might find some cafes add more sugar – or they might use honey or maple syrup to sweeten things.
If you’re watching your sugar intake ask them if they can serve the sweetener on the side.
Does Chai Tea Contain Caffeine?
Yes. As it does still use black tea.
Again, the amount your cup contains depends on the type of tea and how long it’s brewed for but Starbucks say their plain chai tea contains around 40mg of caffeine per cup.
Is Chai Tea Good for Weight Loss?
There is some evidence that drinking plain black tea can affect weight. It’s been shown that it actually alters the bacteria make up in the gut in a way that might change the way you handle calories.
It’s also been shown that people consuming dairy as part of a calorie-restricted plan lose more weight than those not adding dairy.
Cinnamon also lowers blood sugar levels which can play a role in weight control.
But that doesn’t mean that chai tea is going to make you lose weight – especially if you add sugar, or the calories within it close up any calorie deficit you might create from exercise or reducing calories in other ways.
The black tea study, for example, saw people drinking three cups a day – that’s no calories if you don’t add milk and about 50 if you just add the splash that’s found in normal tea. Three cups of chai tea made the traditional way will supply 300-450 calories – and even with a more favourable gut bacteria mix that’s a lot of calories to offset.
Ditto, the dairy study was carried out on people restricting calories.
In other words, you’re not going to lose weight simply adding chai tea to your diet (and you definitely won’t if you’re drinking large sugary chai tea lattes!).
Is Vanilla Chai Tea Healthy?
You can buy chai tea and chai tea lattes with a few different additions, but vanilla is very common.
Vanilla chai lattes are usually created by adding vanilla syrup which is going to increase the sugar and calories in the drink.
If you like the combination you’d be better off buying a fresh Chai Tea with vanilla included.
Twinings sell a Chai Tea with French Vanilla that will fit the bill.
So there you have it. We all know more than we probably ever needed about the health effects of chai. Personally, I go to cafes so infrequently I’m feeling it’s fine to keep up with my ‘new’ find, but if you’re drinking chai tea lattes daily, you might want to use some of our tips to make things healthier to help cut back on calories and sugar.
If you liked this, you might also want to check out our guide to the health benefits of instant coffee – is really good for you, or should you avoid it?