Nosh Hunt: My chai latte love(s)

It’d be safe to say that I have a thing for chai. I drink chai hot, I drink it cold. I drink it alone, or with milk (or alternatives) as a latte. I’ve pondered chai in class, on weekends and have even written poetry about the drink (twice). So it only makes sense that I would be the one member of The Ubyssey’s Culture staff tasked with hunting down and reviewing some of the chai latte options on campus.

One Culture staff writer. Three UBC locations. Three chai lattes.

Starbucks

As a Vancouverite, I’m quite well-versed in Starbucks etiquette, so I was sure to order a tall (as opposed to a small) chai latte from the Starbucks in the Life building. (I did, however, make the cringe faux pas of calling it a “chai tea latte,” which technically means “tea tea latte” after translation. Whoops. Anyway).

My nose hinted at a cinnamon-y scent as I opened the lid to this hot beverage, admiring its frothy top. The taste was exquisite; the balance of milk and chai was perfectly executed. Some might find this iteration of the drink to be a bit too milky, but I thought that the ample dairy made for a smoother and richer chai latte. And, in spite of the milkiness, the little kick of the chai spice never ceased to hit me after each sip, not even after my drink had cooled considerably (whilst I scrambled to get to my next chai latte location).

Starbucks Chai tea latte.
Starbucks Chai tea latte. Shane Atienza

Blue Chip Cafe

Following my quick chai run at Starbucks, I of course endeavoured to grab a drink from this classic UBC bevvie location. Even in pandemic times, the line to the cashier was a bit longer than I had hoped. Eyeing the famous Blue Chip cookies while I waited, I pondered how an old, now-graduated friend had once told me about the time long ago when Blue Chip Cafe in the Nest was called Uppercase (which had a smaller sister cafe called Lowercase). Almost forgetting what I had lined up for in the first place, I finally made it to the front of the queue and ordered a small chai latte (from a barista who was actually wearing a black Uppercase apron).

This drink was markedly different from the Starbucks version, as my cup included a little tea bag. After my first sip, my first impression was that it seemed to be fairly weak at first. Like a good wine, however, the chai latte taste seemed to ameliorate as time went on, letting the tea bag’s goodness seep into the rest of the drink. That said, even after some time had elapsed to let the chai flavour intensify, this chai latte definitely tasted more thin and watery compared to the Starbucks chai. This drink’s wateriness aside, the actual chai flavour was unique and earthy; for some reason, I judged the taste to be more of an authentic one. In the end, this chai latte was a good choice.

Blue Chip chai latte.
Blue Chip chai latte. Shane Atienza

The Boulevard Coffee Roasting Co.

I know that a lot of folks proclaim The Boulevard to be a God-tier coffee house on campus, but hot take, I don’t really get it. For instance, I remember finding it weird as hell that my POLI 100 (*shudder shudder*) TA held her office hours solely at this establishment. That being said, I do appreciate The Boulevard’s interior vibe and I tried to leave my biases at the door before ordering a small chai latte. (For which I was charged five dollars. WTF?!)

Unfortunately, The Boulevard’s immaculate vibes couldn’t save this one for me. The sweet yet spicy, smooth yet flavourful chai taste that I had come to expect was puzzlingly absent from this rendition of this sacred beverage. To add insult to injury, this drink had a bitter aftertaste that dissuaded, rather than intrigued, the taste buds. Sad-face emoji. Oh well — you win some and you lose some.

Boulevard Coffee chai latte.
Boulevard Coffee chai latte. Shane Atienza

The Verdict

Like any members of a journalistic enterprise, I cannot say that I am immune from being intrinsically biased, in this case, in regard to hot beverage outlets. However, I still present my findings here, which you can take with as many grains of salt as you’d wish. For me, the Starbucks towers above its competition with its milk-full, spice-full and beautiful rendition of the chai latte. In a close second would be Blue Chip Cafe’s chai, which was also very pleasing (and intriguing). As for my thoughts on The Boulevard’s version, I’d suggest sticking to ordering coffee.

Following this episode of hot beverage noshing, I needed to alleviate my chai high with something carb-based. Maybe cookies would’ve been good? In any case, I certainly do NOT recommend that anyone drinks this much chai in one sitting! I was on a “chai high” for days!

If you have any other food ideas you’d like us to compare and review (or if you’d like to do the comparing yourself), send an email to culture@ubyssey.ca. Be on the lookout for the next nosh hunt!