Dairy-Free Chai (Chaya)
Chai (or chaya as we say in Malayalam) is one of my favorite things to enjoy on the regular, but lately I’m trying to cut down on dairy. After a lot of testing, I’m so excited to introduce my new Dairy-Free Chai recipe with you! Chai is such a cherished drink by many and everyone has their own personal way of making a cup. This recipe is meant to be a dairy-free starting point for you adjust it to your preferences.
For months, I tinkered with different nut and plant-based milks, loose tea brands, water to milk ratios, and boiling processes. I finally landed on some favorites which is what I’m sharing below.
What type of milk did I use to make dairy-free chai?
I tested a good number of milk alternatives. My tests included: Almond Breeze, Forager Cashew Milk, Califia Farms Coconut Milk, Ripple Plant Milk, and even just plain Chaokoh coconut milk. I found Oatly’s Full Fat Oat Milk to be my favorite because of it’s more neutral flavor and ability to hold up during boiling.
Boiling the tea
In my earlier tests I was attempting to make dairy-free chai like how I make a regular cup. That is, I would boil a ratio of water with my loose black tea leaves and spices FIRST. Then I would interrupt the boiling water with a ratio of milk to bring it to another boil. This almost always produced a bitter tea with broken down milk.
When I made dairy-free chai using Oatly’s Oat Milk, I combined my water and milk into the pot and brought it to a boil together. This helps make the tea less bitter and keeps the milk fats from breaking. I’ll be curious to try this boiling method with the alternative milks mentioned above to see if the process changes the final taste.
What type of loose black tea do you use?
I grew up using Red Label, but lately I’ve been liking Tea India and The Chai Box tea blends. I’ve tried more powdery teas, but feel they are bitter. I prefer boiling a more coarse tea. If you are using a more finely blended tea or end up with loose tea in your cup after straining, consider getting an extra fine mesh tea strainer like this.
What did the dairy-free chai taste like?
I found the oat milk was not too thick compared to other milks. Additionally, because it was spiced well, the oat flavor was hardly there. I think the key is to use a good balance of your favorite spices to complement the tea flavor.
Still want to make “real” chai?
If you’re still craving regular chai, check out my recipe here for how I make a regular cup of chai. You might also enjoy my chai-inspired recipes for Cardamom Pancakes with Butter Chai Syrup or my Salted Chai Donuts with Spiced Coconut Cream Drizzle.
- Oatly Full Fat Oat Milk, 1 1/4 cup
- Water, 3/4 cup
- Loose Black Tea Leaves, 4 tsp
- Fresh Ginger, 1 tsp, grated
- Green Cardamom, 2-3 pods, smashed
- Ceylon Cinnamon Powder, 1-2 pinches
- Sugar, 1-2 tsp
In a stainless steel pot (that should be reserved exclusively for making chai), combine your oat milk, water,
loose black tea leaves, freshly grated ginger, smashed green cardamom pods, and cinnamon.
Bring this to a boil, stirring often to prevent the milk from sticking/burning at the bottom and to keep the tea leaves swirling through your chai.
Bring the tea to a rumbling boil that rises near the top of the pot then move the pot away from the heat. Once the boil deflates, optionally bring the tea back up for a second high boil before finally removing it from heat.
Strain the tea into a pouring cup and mix in your sugar.
Pour the tea into your tea cup/mug from a high height to create frothiness.