The Hindi word for tea (the drink) is chai. In India, this is the primary kind of tea (also, Hindi isn’t spoken throughout India); so, IndE speakers say “I’ll have some tea” rather than “I'll have some chai”.

The drink has become popular in the West, and is referred to as chai to disambiguate it from tea prepared any other way.

However, I’ve been hearing the phrase chai tea increasingly often. Isn’t it redundant? To me, it’s like saying cappuccino coffee.

This ngram shows that it’s a recent phrase, and is growing in usage.

Hence my question: is it correct to say chai tea in BrE/AmE, or should we simply say chai?

EDIT: I don't want the answer to be opinion-based. I'm looking for a source which explains why this usage is right or wrong.


It's a pleonasm to me, an InE speaker.

Other phrases that seem redundant because the foreign word means the same thing as the English word:

•Gobi desert (Gobi means "desert" in Mongolian.)

•Naan bread (Naan is a type of bread in many countries.)

Chai means "tea" in Hindi, so when we order "chai tea," we're asking for "tea tea," at least that's what it sounds like to someone from India

To non InE speakers, "chai" in chai-tea is a kind of spice rather than the tea.

In America the phrase chai tea has come to mean the particular kind of tea made in the Indian style. (What Americans call chai tea would be more accurately called masala chai ― masala is the mix of spices used to flavor the chai.)

Ref- Is "Chai Tea" Redundant?

  • Upvoting purely because I don't have to explain my question to you, or point out that you have to add resources. – Tushar Raj May 21 '15 at 18:41

I was always under the impression that chai tea referred to a certain blend of tea, usually lightly spiced.

Masala Chai

As opposed to the variety that would usually be drunk in Britain (I can't speak for the US) with milk - and sugar for the heathens - referred to simply as 'Tea'.

English Breakfast Tea

So while you are correct in stating that 'chai' does indeed mean 'tea' in BrE general, everyday use the two are known as referring to specific types of tea.


Many American English speakers understand chai to refer to a way of preparing tea, and for them it is natural to use chai adjectivally. If you understand chai to mean "tea prepared in the Indian manner" then chai tea can strike your ear as pleonastic.


My opinion: Chai (tea) is nothing but rechristening of the Indian chai for the export market under the name of chai tea.

  • The "chai tea" usage would be understood but frowned upon in India.

Similar usage-

Numerous United States coffee houses use the term chai latte or chai tea latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a regular latte is mixed with a spiced tea concentrate instead of espresso. (wiki)

  • Good answers do not start with "my opinion". I'm looking for facts. – Tushar Raj May 21 '15 at 13:25
  • I don't understand why people keep telling me HOW it is used. I'm aware of that, hence the question. Which is: WHY is it used that way. – Tushar Raj May 21 '15 at 14:23
  • 1
    @Area51 if you are looking for facts, why ask a question that predisposes that one particular usage is "right" and another is "wrong," an assertion that has no factual basis – pazzo May 21 '15 at 15:14
  • @Pazzo: I can't believe how you guys still don't get it. chai is right. chai tea is either right or wrong. Nowhere have I said that only one of the two can be right. – Tushar Raj May 21 '15 at 15:18
  • Chai tea does not have to be either right or wrong. Different people have different attitudes about usage. A perfectly good usage that breaks no grammatical rules is wrong only to Usage Nazis. – pazzo May 22 '15 at 16:15

English speakers do not rely on foreign word meanings. The Arabic word for (great) desert is "Sahara." So "Sahara Desert" could be thought of as a similar tautology to "Chai tea."

SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. This doesn't stop many people from saying SAT Test.

  • This answer doesn't really point out anything the questioner didn't already know. You could make the answer considerably more useful to the questioner (and to others reading it) if you also addressed the obvious follow-up question: "Why do people want to say it?" – Sven Yargs May 22 '15 at 7:59

protected by Mitch Jul 30 at 21:53

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