Sharing the vanilla chai love

The first time I ever took a sip of chai tea, my sister and I exchanged puzzled looks.

“It tastes . . . rancid,” I decided, wrinkling my nose. I took another sip to be sure of my findings, of course; yep, still weird. Unusual. Spicy.

“It doesn’t taste like tea,” Katie agreed.

I’ve come a long way from the skeptical, just-straight-coffee-and-cream-thanks girl I once was. Furthermore, I’m no longer the Red-Rose-black-tea-until-I-die lady I was in my early twenties. (Sidenote: I can now say “early twenties” because I’m in my mid-twenties. Lord.)

When I worked at Borders and the newspaper, juicing up on some sort of caffeine was a nightly requirement. No one can work 14 hours a day without some sort of jolt. A friend reintroduced me to chai tea when I was a wee little bookseller — and then, to my great astonishment, suggested adding vanilla syrup to it. Delicious.

I was at Dunkin’ Donuts yesterday getting gas and trying to break a $20 bill before going to the gym, where I needed $5 cash to get past the fitness center guard who seems skeptical that I would want to pay as I go — once or twice a week — rather than invest in a monthly payment plan and itmakesmereallymad because IjustwanttodowhatIwanttodo without being questioned. Every single time.


So I went into my local DD and perused their beverage board. I’m used to ordering my gingerbread latte or, when I’m feeling randy, a peppermint mocha, but neither option is available now.

But then I saw something better.

A vanilla chai latte.

I’ve never seen a vanilla chai latte pre-made, friends! I thought it was . . . well, that it was something special my old Borders buddy had made up. I have vanilla chai tea bags in my desk, true, and they’re awesome, but they don’t compare to the creamy, milk goodness that is a chai tea latte. With vanilla.

So I ordered it and it was fantastic — seriously, so good — but I burned my tongue until eternity on the scalding hot milk. When will I learn to give hot beverages the prerequisite 20-30 minute waiting time before sipping them? Seriously. You’d think I just got here.

But I didn’t. Hot tea has been a staple in my life forever.

Growing up, my mom was a huge tea drinker — and Red Rose was her variety of choice. My favorite part of any tea-making habit was peeking in the Red Rose box to see which of the Wade Whimsies was buried inside with the teabags. The tiny animal figurines were favorite trinkets of my sister’s and mine, and Mom would help us place them all in a little cabinet. I used to cup them in my hands and admire the smooth feel of the porcelain. We still have most of them.

January is National Tea Month, y’all. Americans drink more than 50 billion cups of tea each year, one website claims, and I have a feeling that number is far higher in places where teatime is actually a ritual. Like England. Where I’m going in April. (More to come on that soon!)

If you’ve never tried chai tea (or a chai tea latte), make that your first order of business. It’s a taste of warmth and comfort in a cup. In fact . . . well, I need to brew some now.

And how do you take your tea? Or do you hate tea? One commenter will get a note from me (oh, the joy!) and some of my favorite teabags. Just make sure I have your email! Random winner will be selected on Saturday, Jan. 29 and emailed by yours truly.

Updated Jan. 30: Congratulations to Patty, my randomly-selected tea winner! I’ve sent you an email.

28 thoughts on “Sharing the vanilla chai love

  1. You know I always wonder why it’s called ‘chai tea’ in the West since both chai and tea mean the same.

    Tea is my staple drink, I need at least 2 big cups everyday. I’ve never tried vanilla tea but my favorite is chocolate tea and ginger tea, yum.


  2. Believe it or not, I just started drinking tea (although it is the boring Red Rose kind). But enough about me! You’re going to ENGLAND??????? I’m so jealous and fascinated. Can I come in your suitcase? I promise to be good- you won’t even know I’m there!


  3. I love tea. I am such a tea girl. Like you, I have come a long way from my Lipton, Tetley and Red Rose days and I have done a lot of experimenting with it over the years. I started out with just a ridiculous amount of sugar and nothing else. Then almost no sugar. Then I started playing with milk, then went to soy milk. Then dropped that and had tea with lemon. My favorite is peppermint or a peppermint/ginger combo with a little bit of maple syrup. Yum!


  4. We are such tee pots over here in England. We definitely drink it more than coffee, although we are not as adventurous as you guys over there. We are happy with milk and two sugars!


  5. You made me want to trudge over in this weather to hit up Starbucks for a chai latte. I have never been a big coffee drinker, but I’ve definitely always been a tea drinker. I adore some of the Yogi teas (stress relief is delicious), and chai, and jasmine and then, when I’m feeling sentimental, plain old Lipton. Mmm, I’m going to go boil some water and make a cup!


  6. The Red Rose Box sounds so fun! I like the trinkets it comes with. I started to get into tea when I studied in London, where I drank a lot of english breakfast or earl grey with milk. I soon discovered that I couldn’t have that much caffeine (it gives me the shakes and a headache) so I turned to herbal teas. Then, I got into loose tea for a while when I discovered a famous loose tea shop nearby called McNulty’s, but I have to admit that the tea bag is much more convenient. My favorite is peppermint tea. I recently tried an apple peach that made me really happy.


  7. Yummy! I haven’t had a chai tea latte in a long time. I love most tea, but my favorite is the lipton triangles with the caramel….I don’t know what it’s called though!


  8. I love tea (and coffee, go figure)! The person who turned me on to chai (and it was vanilla, as it so happens) is my husband. We were in the early days of our relationship and he took me to a little hole-in-the-wall place he knew of for lunch. When we were leaving he asked if I wanted a vanila chai to go. It was around this time of year and cold. He was shocked that I didn’t know what it was and said I just had to try it. Well, let’s just say I was hooked; on him, on the vanilla chai, on the little restaurant we still go to. Yeah, vanilla chai carries wonderful memories with it. My favorite tea is still English Breakfast with milk and sugar, though. 🙂

    Thanks for a post that made me think of a wonderful memory.


  9. I’m a complete tea addict. I usually drink about 6 to 8 cups a day, black tea, green tea, flavored tea, English breakfast, etc, I do drink coffee, but only latte’s, cappuccino’s or as we call it in The Netherlands ‘koffie verkeerd’ (that’s a latte without foamed milk, just hot milk).

    I do have a little bag of Chai Tea but I just can’t seem to make it right like Starbucks or like they do at a little place I discovered in Amsterdam. Seriously, their Chai Latte is heaven!

    Your post made me carving for a nice cup of tea, so I think I’m going to try a new flavor my dad brought home from London. It’s called “teapigs; sweet treat”. But please tell what you’re going to do in England, I’m already jealous :]


  10. So much love for this post. So much love. I’m a tea-a-holic! Though I’ve cut back since I’m pregnant, just to be on the safe side. However, I just can’t give it up entirely for 9 months!

    I love chai. It’s one of my favorites! I get the boxes of Oregon chai latte at the grocery store and make my own lattes at home on the stovetop. It’s so much cheaper than the coffee shop variety, but just as good. I’m also a big fan of black tea with milk and sugar ala the English. I love a good Assam/breakfast tea.

    When I was in London last summer, I had to bring some tea back with me, of course. My current favorite is a blend called Notting Hill from a tea shop I found in Covent Garden called Tea Palace. It’s a blend of black teas with pieces of bourbon vanilla from Madagascar with gold marigold petals for color. It’s both delicious and pretty! If you find yourself in Covent Garden this spring, be sure to check out the Tea Palace. I loved just walking around the shop!

    I’m sure you will love England. I want to move there! If you’re interested, I did a bunch of posts about our trip on my blog. Just look under Travel. I love forward to hearing about your English adventures this spring!


  11. I LOVE vanilla chai, but I’ve had some disgusting ones- you definitely have to make it right and when they do, it’s oh-so-good. That is so funny that you wrote about Red Rose and the little Wade Whimsies that they put in the box. I was JUST telling my husband and a few friends about Red Rose and how much I loved it as a kid and they looked at me like I was crazy. They never heard of it! Love this post– It makes me want to enjoy a cup of tea right now, especially since I am snowed in!


  12. Honest to goodness, I was just about to get up to make myself a mug of chai tea. I never ever thought of adding vanilla syrup to it. And a vanilla chai latte? Sounds almost too good to be true. Chai lattes are my go to “mehhhhh I feel siiiiiick” drink, but next time I’m going to see if they can vanilla-up that sucker.


  13. Last fall I was on a huge tea kick, I heated water in the microwave in a mug, and took it with sugar and coffee creamer. Then we moved and I have no microwave and no tea kettle and I dislike heating water in a sauce pan so- no tea. I miss the ease, so much easier than making a pot of coffee. I am considering buying a Hot Shot water heater though.


  14. I love tea but I do not like chai AT all! But then again, I don’t know, I love the tea at the Indian restaurant near my job and I believe it is chai.n But theirs do not have that bitter, burnt taste like the chais I’ve tried in the past.
    Anyhow, I like mine with lots heavy cream or half and half and plenty of sugar! Sometimes I’ll use an orange or tangerine tea with the heavy cream for a orangesicle taste.
    My email address is


  15. I have a collection of Wade Whimsies (though I didn’t know that’s what they’re called) too! My mom just got a box of Red Rose tea and asked me if I wanted the figurine. I said, OF COURSE, and now it is proudly sitting on my bookshelf. I have to go find all my old ones, but I think they’re in a box somewhere.


  16. I love tea. And I love chai lattes. So thankful to the friend who introduced them to me.

    My new yoga studio offers “yogi tea” after class. It’s chai tea with soy milk I think. It’s SO good. Makes me want to go to yoga just for the tea.


  17. I only just started getting into tea a couple of years ago. It started with hot green tea at Japanese restaurants and, slowly but surely, I’m making my way through the different kinds. My husband loves chai tea and, while I think it’s alright, I tend to like the smell better than the taste (which is true of most of the teas I try). However. A vanilla chai tea latte could just be the next best thing. I’ll have to give it a whirl. 🙂


  18. Chai is great! I admit I didn’t like it much when I first tried it, but I didn’t have it with milk… Chai lattes are even better. I think I’ve tried all the ones from every coffee shop around the university I go to


  19. I love tea, hot or cold. Recently I’ve been drinking Emperor’s White. It looks rather strange because it stays almost clear after steeping and it seems like I’m drinking a hot cup of water, but it’s very tasty. Sadly I never warmed up to Chai tea, maybe it’s the milk.


  20. I do love coffee…but I love tea, too…with cream and organic sugar if it is English black tea and with tupelo honey if it is herbal tea…my fave tea comes in these handsewn bags and is so lovely to look at…even when the bag is wet…it is heartbreaking to toss the bag away…


  21. Yum! Thank you for a delicious post. I grew up on Mama Bear’s Cold Care or Throat Coat when I was sick… chamomile… and different fruit teas… I really didn’t come back to tea until MY early twenties. Now I like chamomile and I really like Stash brand licorice tea; Earl Grey or any black tea in the morning… but you hit a nerve with me because CHAI is one of my favorites. I like a good chai soy latte (the only time I put “milk” in tea, and it’s soy for my lactose intolerance), no vanilla required. Good for you. 🙂


  22. Oh, me and my love affair with Chai Lattes. I love them. Doesn’t matter who makes them, Starbucks, Peet’s, indie coffee house…if they have Chai, I’ll take the largest they sell and nurse it all afternoon if I have to.

    I’ve always been a big tea drinker, though I haven’t been very adventurous until the last few years or so. For years I stuck with my trifecta of English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Mint/Peppermint Tea. I’d add milk when I felt like it…no sugar. My mom and I would regularly have “high tea” at a local tea house, or simply make our own at home, complete with tiny sandwiches and good conversation.

    But then I got hooked on Starbucks’ Chai Tea Latte…which I believe has vanilla already in it, because it’s pretty sweet. I discovered that by ordering a Chai latte at a local indie coffee house, though I like the straight spicy Chai so I still enjoyed it. Now at least I know that if I’m not getting my Chai at Starbucks, I should ask for vanilla if I’m in the mood for something sweet.

    And now…I’ve discovered Teavana. Oh. Em. Gee. So many teas, so very little time. I’ve barely touched the insane myriad of teas they have available, but I have to say – that place always smells divine. Hmm, all this talk about tea…now I’ll go make some! 🙂


  23. I admit I am a tea novice. I’ve never had chai tea, or green tea. I still like iced tea, and I like it sweet. When I have hot tea, I make plain old pekoe, or something from Celestial teas. Now coffee, I love coffee. Do you think it’s time I step out to more tea? Maybe I’ll win.
    I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks Meg, I’m a fellow book lover. I’m twice your age, but I enjoy following along your reading and adventures.


  24. I love tea. I never go to sleep without a cup first (sweetened with some agave nectar). I recently purchased Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Vanilla which is delicious, but I’m also a huge fan of Chai anything. Mmmm….


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