I have an affinity for chai lattes. They’re spicy, they’re sweet, they’re hot, they’re rich; what more could you want? Most coffee shops around town make them, but I have stopped ordering them—it’s too risky. See, I have very high chai latte expectations, and am too often let down. I decided to cruise around the neighborhood in search of a chai latte that did not bum me out.
Almost all coffee shops make their chai lattes using some brand of concentrate they combine with your choice of milk. So, you may think, how could the lattes vary from shop to shop? Couldn’t she just review different brands of concentrate? No! There is much more that goes into the perfect chai latte than just the flavor. Firstly, the ratio of milk to concentrate must be perfect. I refuse to spend my money (and the effort it takes to leave the house) on a drink that just tastes like hot milk. I simply refuse to do it. Secondly, the drink must be hot. If I can’t burn my tongue on it, I don’t want it. Those of us who wish to ruin our tongues for a couple days should be given the opportunity to— the rest of you can just blow on it for two minutes and then burn your tongues anyway (we all know you’re not that patient). Next, froth! The perfect chai latte has some nice froth at the top to give you some flavor before you hit heat. The final requirement is the coffee shop/barista experience. Unfortunately, due to this lovely pandemic, I could not sit and vibe-check each coffee shop. However I will be honest: I probably wouldn’t have done it anyway.
Anyways, now that you’re caught up on the height of my expectations, let the chai search begin. I chose four coffee shops (well, one is a bagel place) all within two miles of Franklin. This is how it went:
Stop One: Speedboat Coffee (52nd and Foster)
I will admit I began this journey with really low expectations, and a genuine concern that I would not find the perfect latte. Speedboat did not raise my spirits. I probably should have mentioned earlier that I prefer spicy chai to sweet. I decided to bend for this experiment and ignore my preference. However, concentrates, and therefore lattes, are not always just sweet or just spicy, and a perfect example was Speedboat’s chai.
The flavor was good. The initial spice faded into sweet honey. Unfortunately the latte was not rich, which indicates a terrible ratio! I promise I will not rate everything out of ten, but this ratio gets a three. Plus, it lacked foam, which made me sad. Even though the latte lacked strength and foam, it was hot! I burned my tongue which made me smile, and the barista gave me a twelve ounce instead of an eight ounce cup. Usually I am a sixteen ounce woman, but let’s not pretend my bladder can handle four sixteen ounce lattes within the span of an hour and a half.
Overall, my latte experience at Speedboat was better than my parking job, which says more than you’d expect. Would I go back? For sure! However, I would not go simply for their chai.
Stop Two: Henry Higgins Bagels (64th and Foster)
Next I headed a little further up Foster to kill a few birds with one stone; I was really hungry, we were out of bagels at home (in my house this is as serious as being out of toilet paper), and, of course, the chai! This chai latte was not disappointing at all. It had a great flavor but it was sweet— really sweet, which would have been a problem, but it complimented the savory bagel perfectly. If it hadn’t been for the bagel, I probably would not have continued to drink it. I then reminded myself I was biased against sweet chais and started to go through my requirements on the adorable panda bear notepad I brought with me. The ratio was not perfect— but surprisingly close. It was rich, and it had a nice froth at the top. Sadly it was lukewarm, not even hot enough to agitate the burn on my tongue from Speedboat. While I would not order this chai by itself (although I highly recommend it to those who prefer sweet chais), I would definitely order it again to accompany a bagel. Feeling the wonderful feeling one gets after eating a good bagel and a decent chai latte— I moved on.
Stop 3- Albina Press (50th and Hawthorne)
I can safely say that Albina Press was the best overall experience, even though it was the worst chai of the day. I got a killer parking spot and there was no line. I walked in and received the warmest greeting from the best barista ever. I give them this title because they complimented my orange nail polish, which normally would not have made me feel that amazing, but my mom had literally shuddered at it that morning. Classic. In return I complimented their sparkly nail polish and I ordered my little chai latte.
The latte gave me really mixed signals, because everything was perfect except for the flavor. It was hot hot hot, and I happily burned my tongue. There was a fantastic froth on top, and the ratio was top notch. I have never met a chai latte with a bad flavor and a near perfect ratio, but there I was. It was very confusing, to be quite honest. I don’t think I would return, as I want to remember it solely for the wonderful human interaction, and not for the weirdest chai latte I have ever had.
Stop Four- Rain OR Shine (I think we all know where this is… 60th and Division)
I will admit that in my years at Franklin I never really went to Rain or Shine that many times. It is a favorite study spot or lunch destination amongst students, but I pretty much ignored it. That’s why I figured it would be a great place to put on the list’ plus it is under new management so I won’t be describing a chai many have tasted (assuming it has changed). The day I visited the other three coffee shops, Rain or Shine was closed, so I returned later with my four year old friend. She didn’t have much to say about the hot chocolate—but there was a huge smile under her mustache of whipped cream.
The chai was delicious, and just what I needed as it began to rain. It was as sweet as it was spicy, and the ratio was incredible. Each sip had the right amount of froth, checking almost every box— but I will say, the latte could have been hotter. Rain or Shine’s chai wiped the floor with the other lattes, leaving me satisfied with my journey.
While it is loads of fun to order lattes left and right, my most honest recommendation is to find your favorite concentrate and make them at home! Save some money, save some plastic lids, and save yourself from the heartbreak of a yucky drink. You are welcome.