I know that making one's own fancy hot drinks is a strategy common to frugalistas near and far, but I think it's a habit that's only proliferating in the face of the current state of the economy. People are starting to measure the actual return on investment of $4 drinks, and wondering if they might not get a similar ROI with their own brews and concoctions at home. Even better, most find that they prefer their own drinks because of the ability to control flavor aspects and ingredients to their liking.
Which brings me to the homemade chai latte. Back in my college days, my student union introduced chai lattes, and at around $2/cup for the largest size, I was instantly hooked. Even though it initiallly had to be explained to me as "pumpkin pie in a cup", once I was in the chai-buying groove, I felt so hip and cosmopolitan - not to mention warm and sugar-sated.
But folks? Even $2 for a drink can add up quickly if it's a habit, and mine was quickly becoming one in my college's colder climate. Then one semester, my longtime roommate and chai-loving bosom buddy came back to school with a revelation. Over the break, a friend of hers had taught her how to make chai lattes from scratch at home. What's that? Chai whenever you want - in the comfort of your own dorm room? No cross-campus treks through the cold to spend money on chai? I was mesmerized as she laid out the method (posted here with her permission):
Ingredients for one homemade chai latte:
- 1 bag plain black tea (you can use decaf black tea for a decaf chai latte!)
- 1 mug full of milk
- 6 or 7 cardamom pods, cracked open with any mortar/pestle type method (but not completely crushed)*
- 3 or 4 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick (or ground cinnamon)
- Sugar or Splenda to taste
My chai master says:
Aficionados would demand that you cook the recipe on the stove, starting with slowly boiling the milk, tea, and sugar, then adding the cardamom pods, the cloves, and the cinnamon stick and simmering the mixture for about 10 minutes. They would also say that Splenda is a horrible product.
You can also dump everything into a mug and microwave it. [...which is exactly what we would do in our dorm rooms...with Splenda!]
OK, so we were not chai purists - but my roommate's recipe removed the aura of mystery from chai lattes - and to this day I see how far I can break down fancy drink concoctions by myself at home. Other ingredients I have been known to add to my homemade chai lattes:
- Fresh sliced ginger
- Ground ginger
- Ground cardamom
If you're having a gathering of friends over and want to impress with fancy drink options, you're in luck! This is the time of year when hot drink mixes and ingredients are marked down for holiday sales - and coupons for them are everywhere. Here's what you need to host a barista gathering on the cheap (I put "couponed!" next to items for which I've seen coupons in the past):
- Regular ol' coffee (couponed!)
- Milk (lots)
- Half and Half (lots)
- Cans of whipped cream (couponed!)
- Black tea (couponed!)
- Cinnamon sticks/ground cinnamon
- Cardamom pods
- Sugar (couponed!)
- Honey (couponed!)
- Artificial sweeteners, if desired (couponed!)
- Flavored syrups (couponed!)
- Hot chocolate mix (couponed!)
- Bittersweet chocolate shavings and/or caramel syrup, to sprinkle/drizzle on the top of whipped cream drinks along with cinnamon
If you'd like to make flavored coffee to rival expensive flavored gourmet coffee, check out our classic post on making your own flavored coffee in your coffee pot at home.