Sugar, spice and everything nice: MOVE’s guide to chai in downtown Columbia

Whether you prefer your chai sweet or spicy, we know the perfect cup of chai for you.

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While coffee is the beloved beverage of America as a whole, some people (like me) love the drink I like to refer to as “fall in a cup,” commonly known as the chai tea latte. For those who also prefer to caffeinate with the delicious sweet and spicy chai, you might get incredibly bored only getting your fix at Emporium Café throughout finals season. I tried four cups of chai from downtown to find out which coffee shop is the best for you.

Kaldi’s Coffee 29 S. Ninth St. Even before you take your first sip, Kaldi’s has a lot of pluses on its side. The shop is quite spacious, especially considering the small coziness of most Starbucks. It has a good atmosphere with a very modern café feel. The chai itself was very foamy — if you love foam, Kaldi’s has got you covered. It started out mostly sweet, then gave way to a spicy homemade-tea flavor. It was spicy not in the “hot and spicy” way, but spicy in the way that it definitely tastes like a tea that was made with a variety of spices. This is the best cup of chai for someone who loves that sweet-spicy balance.

Lakota Coffee Company 24 S. Ninth St. Lakota is located across the street from Kaldi’s and has a Northeastern log cabin theme. While waiting for my chai, I appreciated the cute touch of their bookshelf; You can browse through any of the books while at the shop, or buy one if you’d like to take it with you. The tea starts out with some fluffy foam, but doesn’t give way to a very strong flavor at any point. If I were to pick a side, it leans more toward sweet than spicy, but didn’t present a strong sensation of either. I’d say this chai is the best for someone who wants something very mild.

Coffee Zone 11 N. Ninth St. This restaurant and coffee shop combo is a Middle Eastern-themed joint, which is reflected in both its decor and its food menu. When I ordered my chai, the cashier brewed it in front of me right before I paid. It was a nice touch both because I got my drink quickly and because there’s something special about watching your drink being made. Considering its Middle Eastern focus, it’s not surprising that their chai leaned on the spicy side. While more spicy than the average cup of chai, it still wasn’t overwhelming. Coffee Zone also offered some great bang for your buck, as its small size was a similar price to the other locations but was significantly larger. This is the best chai for someone who loves the spicy side of the drink.

Starbucks 304 S. Ninth St. You’re likely familiar with Starbucks’ cozy, coffee shop feel. Unfortunately, the one on Ninth Street is especially cozy in the way that it is also incredibly tiny. As far as the actual chai goes, it can be wonderful. However, Starbucks tends to be a little inconsistent. Some days, it’s sweet and yummy; other days, it’s throat-burningly spicy. Every now and then it lacks flavor. If you hit Starbucks on a good day, you can get a great cup of chai. This chai is the best for someone who wants to stay close to campus and has some gift cards to kill.

On-campus locations If you don’t want to go downtown, there are plenty of on-campus locations to grab some chai:

  • Bookmark Café

  • Catalyst Café

  • Emporium Café

  • Infusion

  • J Café

  • Starbucks in Memorial Union

  • Vida Coffee Co.

Edited by Katie Rosso | krosso@themaneater.com

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