Soy, rice or other? We put dairy alternatives to the test to find the best chai


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Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2012, 1:59 pm
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By Laura Anderson Shaw
When you've got chai tea, all you really need is a good book, a warm blanket, and a place to curl up on the couch, right?

Well, sort of. After a recent taste test, our staff learned quickly that the type of milk you throw in the mix matters quite a bit, too. Traditionally combined with dairy, chai works wonderfully with alternatives like soy and almond milk as well. That got us wondering. With an ever-expanding lineup of dairy alternatives at the market, which would make for the tastiest beverage?

At our blind taste test, we sipped, discussed, praised (and in one instance, roundly rejected) the many tastes and textures revealed by the different combinations of chai mixed with soy, almond, oat, hemp and rice milk.

When we learned which was which, we had a debate on our hands. A couple of staff members were not fans of the oat milk combination because it had a bit of an aftertaste and was a tad on the gritty side, as though the ingredients didn't blend well. I, on the other hand, found that the oat milk chai was my favorite. It was very sweet and had a fullness to it the other samples lacked. I could easily get over the grittiness for the creaminess!

When it came to the almond and soy milk samples, some taste testers described the resulting chais as very smooth with a "clean taste" and "no lingering aftertaste." However, a couple of other staff members, myself included, found these samples to be flat, watery and not as sweet as some of the other chais.

There was more consensus on the rice milk. This chai was thicker and described as "nicely spicy" and consistent with a "lingering spicy aftertaste." One staff member who is in the habit of buying almond milk said the bright, spicy taste of the rice milk inspired her to make a switch the next time she was in the store.

At the very bottom of the rankings was the mix of chai with hemp milk. When it comes to nutrition, hemp milk had the second to lowest calorie count per cup of all of our dairy alternatives, behind only almond milk. It's too bad it didn't have a more balanced flavor-to-benefits ratio. Off-putting white flakes floated atop the light brown drink, and it smelled and tasted almost grassy.

Not much of a milk drinker, dairy or otherwise? Chai recipes typically call for half chai mix, half milk, but for a change of pace, you can forgo the milk completely and add your favorite apple cider. When the spices in the chai meet the slight tang of the cider, the flavors fuse together to create a flavor that can only be described as "ahh."

So which would be your cup of tea? Grab your milk — be it new or familiar — or some cider, whip up some chai and have yourself a beverage adventure.

Spiced Chai Mix
4 1/2 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
8 whole cardamom pods
3 whole star anise pods
10 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled, sliced into thin rounds
10 teaspoons of black tea (or 10 bags)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon vanilla
In a large saucepan or medium pot, bring the water to a boil, and remove from heat. Add the spices, orange zest, ginger and tea, and allow the mixture to steep for 15 minutes.
Strain the mixture into a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl, discarding the spices. Add the sugar, honey and vanilla and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the mixture into a jar and store in the refrigerator, where it can keep for up to 2 weeks.
To serve, mix 1 part strained tea mixture with 1 part milk or dairy-free alternative of choice. Heat for a warm beverage or pour over ice.
Recipe adapted from "A Wooden Nest"






 












 



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