Not Starbucks Chai Tea Concentrate

This past Saturday I went out for early brunch, and it was still a long time until dinner so I stopped at Starbucks for a snack. Since I was working on a chai tea concentrate recipe (inspired by Maggy’s post earlier this year) for an upcoming article, I ordered one to remind me of the flavors.

That first sip produced four words, “Sweet Pumpkin Pie Spice.” This drink led with sweet. Other than the hint of spice, it was relatively characterless.

I headed to the kitchen to see if I could do it better.

Round 1: I started by brewing tea with whole spices, followed by another batch with toasted whole spices, and a final version with toasted whole spice that I ground before brewing. All of these methods delivered a subtle chai concentrate. I wanted something with more flavor and character. Another problem: whole spices are expensive and not readily available.

Round 2: To really infuse the flavor I brewed tea with ground spices. Oddly this concentrate wasn’t especially flavorful either. It was time to get bold. I doubled the spices and gently heated them before adding water. Finally I was getting somewhere. But, there was still something missing, what?

I headed to my local coffee shop, espresso NEAT in Darien, CT, who makes a very good chai, from a concentrate made by Intelligentsia, a high quality coffee roaster. Before making my tea they gave me a sip of the concentrate. I also checked out the ingredient list.

There were two pronounced flavors in the brew that I hadn’t thought of: molasses and lemon juice. That was it. The drink needed a touch of dark sweetener to match all those rich, heavy spices. It also needed a squeeze of lemon juice which, like salt, enlivens flavor.

So here it is. My chai tea concentrate’s got the right amount of sweetener for me. If you want more simply add it along with the milk.

Make a batch for yourself for the holidays. With concentrate made it’s easy to invite someone over for impromptu tea and cookies some afternoon. Or make some to give away… so much better than a Starbucks gift card!

Not Starbucks Chai Tea Concentrate
Serves: Makes 16 cups
  • 4 teaspoons each: ground ginger and cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground
  • 2 teaspoon each ground black pepper, cardamom, and coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ cup loose black tea such as Earl Grey
  • ¾ cup blue agave
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  1. Stirring constantly, heat spices in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant and the first wisps of smoke start to rise, a couple of minutes. Add 4 cups of water and the tea, bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for flavors to blend, about 10 minutes. Strain out tea and spices. Stir in agave, molasses, vanilla and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be covered and refrigerated a couple of weeks.
To serve, blend ¼ cup of the concentrate to either ¾ cup hot or cold milk or water.


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  1. says

    Love this! – both the process and the end result! Can’t wait to make a batch (I’ve become addicted to the Starbuck’s version and am going broke because of it!).

  2. says

    We had a missionary friend from India come and stay with us. We asked him to show us how to make Chai authentically. We went to a local Indian store, bought the ingredients and had the best cup of Chai ever! Just thought we should share!
    Have a wonderful holiday season!

  3. Cheri says

    I have tried this twice and have only been able to get about a cup of concentrate and a big glob of spice goo. i let it sit in the strainer overnight with no results. I watched the video and followed along and got the same result. Not sure what I am doing wrong, any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • says

      Hey Cheri,

      One other person has written me with a similar issue and I just don’t know what’s going on. I’ve made it several times and it hasn’t happened to me, so it’s hard to direct you. Once I add the tea and spices I remove the pot from the heat and do not let it return to the boil. I’m wondering if maybe that has something to do with it?

      Keep in touch. I want to help figure this out!

  4. nuts4knits says

    If I did the math right ( I figured 720 for the agave + 120 for the molasses), this concentrate works out to just 53 calories per serving. If one doesn’t mind sacrificing a little of the richness, vanilla soy could be used in place of whole milk for a great low-cal tea time treat!

    Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Rebekah says

    Thanks for the doing the leg-work for us. The final product is delicious (so she writes as she sips her intoxicating chai tea latte).

    Also, an FYI for Cheri: I used to create only spice “goo” until I switched from ground cinnamon to cinnamon sticks. Just a suggestion.

  6. Renee says

    If it’s a 2-1 ratio of concentrate to milk…Shouldn’t it say Makes 4 cups of concentrate and 12 cups of Chai Latte (not 16)?

  7. William Koster says

    I tried this recipe last eve and did not find much success but that is not due to the recipe! Steadfast and enamored by your instructions and video, I am excited to continue working towards that lovely result you crafted.
    My problem? The “Spice Goo” others have referenced after the tea steeps in the pot and you try to strain it. That said, two things I’ve found that create the spice goo of melancholy: Rebekah is correct that ground cinnamon is partly to blame. The dryness of cinnamon and the fineness of the powder allow it to create a paste in the water and gum up the recipe. The other is if you use tea from tea bags that you’ve cut open because of how fine the tea leaves were crushed. Similar to the cinnamon problem, the finely powdered tea bits will also gum up the water. (I had both of these effects working against me last night to the point I felt I could create chai sculptures with the spice goo, or at least recreate set pieces from “Alien.”)

    With greatest appreciation for your recipe,

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