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Top Five Los Angeles Chai Lattés

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The sweetened, spiced tea drink we know as chai originated as a hot drink in India. Traditionally it’s a combination of looseleaf black tea, spices, sweetener, and hot milk. The chai latté has become a recognized staple in restaurants and hipster cafés throughout the western world these days, served hot or iced. There are many ways to make a chai latté, and the ubiquity of readymade pre-sweetened mixes makes a chai composed of unprocessed ingredients a rare treat.

Among the top five on the list, three are made from scratch and two use mixes that taste far better than most. First, a word about the big chains. Starbucks chai latté is steamed milk mixed with Tazo brand liquid concentrate, which you can buy in stores. The concentrate is a drinkable but overly sweet mixture of brewed tea, spices, honey and sugar. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s chai latté starts with a looseleaf brewed tea spiced up just right (it includes cinnamon, cardamom seed, ginger, and clove) but is overpowered by the same french vanilla powder they put into their entire roster of blended drinks.

1. Urth Caffé
8565 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood
With locations in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills

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Urth is known by coffee enthusiasts for its line of organic fresh roasted beans. Their owner-created recipe for a chai latté is a "secret" combination of ingredients, including certified organic tea leaves brewed with spices, then honey, plus milk. It is mellow, the spices so subtle you have to think hard to fully taste them, and milky like any latté should be.

2. Chado Tea Room
8422 ½ W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
With a second location in Pasadena

The chai latté at Chado begins with their looseleaf black tea blend including cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger, steeped for three minutes. Then hot milk is run through the tea leaves, and sweetener is optional. It is the spiciest of the top five, and has the truest tea flavor. You must make a reservation for a table at Chado's semi-formal tea room, or get your drink to go.

3. Hugo's Restaurant
12851 Riverside Dr., Studio City
With another location in West Hollywood

Hugo's is a restaurant committed to sustainability, with vegan dishes and a large selection of teas. Their black tea chai is steeped loose tea with organic spices, cane sugar, and the steamed milk of your choice. Much like the chai latté at Urth Caffé, it tastes milky and real, but subtle. There is nothing processed here.

4. Mäni's Bakery Café
519 S. Fairfax, Los Angeles

The hot chai tea latté at Mäni's is one of two on the list made from mixes. They use a local company as their supplier, Brigdit's Chai, The mix includes honey, spices, brewed black tea, and vitamin C. Once they add the steamed milk, you have a chai that's smoother and not as sweet as most made from a mix. The founder of the chai company is a competitive triathlete and nutritionist who created the mix as the result of her disillusionment with existing chai options, so it has the integrity of unprocessed ingredients as well as being a labor of love.

5. Peets Coffee and Tea
12215 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
With locations all over Los Angeles

Peets makes a chai latté which is smooth and on the sweet side, combining brewed masala looseleaf chai tea, their proprietary liquid chai mix containing corn syrup, and steamed milk. It surpasses most other mixes, and has a touch of a smoky flavor. With locations all over, its ready availability makes this the chai I drink the most often.

Photo by Coco Halverson/LAist