With the weather turning colder and the sun setting at 4 PM, sipping your favorite warm drink both warms you up and puts a little pep in your step as we trudge toward finals. But with all the options in and around Columbia’s campus, finding the best option of putting liquid light in your life can be hit-or-miss. Luckily for all you chai fans out there, Bwoggers Jenny Zhu and Isabel Sepúlveda did all the heavy lifting.
Starbucks ($5.06 with tax)
Our first destination on our quest to find the best chai tea latte in MoHi was Starbucks, a classic baseline for hot drinks. The cashier was incredibly nice and helpful, joking around with us that he wanted a feature after we explained we were writing an article. After receiving the drink (in a very aesthetically pleasing holiday cup), we noticed the large amount of foam covering the top of the latte – indeed, our first few sips consisted primarily of froth rather than the drink itself. Once we fought past that barrier, we found ourselves sipping a drink of the perfect temperature, warm enough to offset the windy day outside but cool enough to drink immediately after receiving it. In terms of the drink itself, we found it to carry full-bodied flavors of sweetness and creaminess, lacking the spice typical of chai. It was a hint of a hint of a flavor, like a whisper of chai from the next room over, a too-loud song from a party down the hall. Indeed, we compared it to be more like a flavored milk-based drink than a true chai latte. It was exactly what you’d expect from Starbucks: decent, but perhaps nothing special.
Oren’s ($4.52 with tax)
Trading sips of our first latte to stave off the chill, we headed over to Oren’s for our next. We didn’t have high hopes for the experience, as Jenny had recently tried their iced chai and was Not a Fan. Still, we approached the hot chai latte with open minds and open hearts. But, you know, sometimes that doesn’t work out. After fighting our way through a veritable blockade of foam, we found a latte that was lukewarm at best with a flavor that straddled the line between bitterness and spiciness. Completely overpowering any sweetness that might have been lurking in its murky depths, we realized this flavor was exactly what we imagined eating potpourri, a cinnamon broom from Trader Joe’s or a full-on tree would be like. To make matters worse, the aftertaste of this unfortunate experience lingered for at least 5 minutes after taking a sip. Unless you’re desperate, turn literally anywhere else to get your chai fix.
Joe’s Coffee ($4.40 with tax)
This was hands down the best chai that we had on our trip. The drink started out with just the right warmth and struck the perfect balance of flavor. The spice was subtle enough, just bold enough offset the sweetness really well. Not only did the spice possess a good classic chai flavor, and not taste like air freshener or plant material, the drink as a whole also had a really robust creaminess that added the complexity of flavors. We also gave Joe’s brownie points for having super nice, colorful, and plush seating and potentially the nicest ambiance out of all the stores we visited. Just like Joe’s as a whole, the classic blue Joe’s cup that the chai tea latte came in was also a cool aesthetic. While we don’t support the Joeopoly on campus, we do support their amazing chai.
Blue Java ($3.76 with tax)
Though we were certain nothing could live up to Joe’s, we knew our journey wouldn’t be complete until we stopped by another Columbia staple. Blue Java was definitely the most convenient of the four locations we went to; like Joe’s it’s in multiple campus locations and has a decent amount of seating and, unlike Joe’s, also accepts Dining Dollars. The latte itself was the hottest we’d gotten all day, and will burn your tongue when you first take a sip if you’re not careful. It was topped with a slightly yellow foam, which we attributed to the notes of maple we tasted. The spice itself almost tasted sweet, as opposed to being balanced by it, leading to a latte that seemed more spice adjacent. Though it didn’t seem to have quite the flavor we’d become accustomed to in the past hour, it was honestly kind of refreshing. If you’re on the go or looking to get rid of some dining dollars, this is definitely a respectable choice.
Photo via this recipe for your own chai!