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December 19, 2014 | 2 minute read

The sweet flavor of popular chai drinks makes me wonder, are they high-calorie?

Q: The sweet flavor of popular chai drinks makes me wonder, are they high-calorie?

chai glasses and spices

A: Chai is usually black tea, though sometimes green tea, flavored with sweet spices including cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. However, that sweet taste also comes from one or two teaspoons of sugar or honey added to each serving, usually along with a few tablespoons of milk.

Chai latté as served at coffee bars contains steamed milk and added sugar. Typically, a twelve-ounce coffee bar chai latté drink contains 160 to 200 calories with four to six teaspoons of added sugar compared to a twelve-ounce unsweetened coffee latté, which contains around 100 to 150 calories, all from the milk. On the other hand, a chai latté is no higher in calories and sugar than many of the specialty coffee lattés sweetened and flavored with caramel or other syrups. The mixes available to make chai lattés at home typically include about four to five teaspoons of added sugar per serving, so made according to package instructions, each cup contains from 90 to 160 calories. Lower calorie sugar-free mixes made with artificial sweeteners produce a beverage with only the calories of added milk, about 20 to 60 per serving. Some coffee bars offer a “lightly sweetened” chai latté, though even these weigh in with about 130 calories and at least 3 teaspoons of added sugar in a 12-ounce cup.

You can enjoy a chai latté with even fewer calories if you simply make chai tea and add milk but no sweetener; top with some extra cinnamon if you like. At a coffee bar, you can ask for an unsweetened latte made with chai tea and nonfat milk. If you want it slightly sweeter, add a dash of sugar yourself; total calories and added sugar will be much less than when a sugar-based mix is used.

To find out what’s in tea and the cancer tea-research, visit AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer: Tea.

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