In the 21st century, the Dirty Chai Latte might be Dirty Harry or James Bond's politically correct daytime drink of choice. It's the non-alcoholic, caffeinated version of the drink made to keep the hardest-working cop, spy, or regular company stiff going all afternoon long. And this March, you can find a notable Dirty Chai Latte featured at the deli counter of Art Mart in Lincoln Square Mall.

Like a complex wine, Art Mart's Dirty Chai Latte boasts an array of flavors and a very different initial character than the drink's finish. Art Mart's recipe for the drink combines a regular chai latte containing Intelligentsia Authentic Chai Spice Black Tea and steamed milk, then adds a shot of Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso. Rose Homma, the barista featured in the photos, created the pictured Dirty Chai Latte.

The unique ingredients in the Intelligentsia Chai may contribute to the Dirty Chai Latte's addictive qualities. You could literally call the Intelligentsia Chai a well-seasoned drink. Like other chai teas, it contains black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and cloves. But unlike some other chai teas, this one also incorporates vanilla, molasses, and a touch of lemon juice.

At first impression, the espresso combines with the key spices from the chai, cardamom, and cinnamon to create an earthy flavor, which is most likely where the drink earned its "dirty" moniker. The last of the unusual Intelligentsia Chai ingredients — the tangy citrus — shows up in the finish of the Dirty Chai Latte, leaving you craving another sip of the drink even when the last drop is gone.

As a featured drink, the price is $2.29 (small), $2.79 (medium), and $3.29 (large). Cheaper and tastier than any really froufrou drink at Starbucks. The featured drink will still be available after it is off the specials board, but will return to its normal, slightly higher price.

Sometimes Art Mart associates these feature drinks with holidays, occasionally with special ingredients acquired from suppliers, and currently, they feature their employee's favorite drinks. The Dirty Chai Latte is the pick of employee Brian Trout. To give you an idea of what's around the corner, recently featured winter drinks at Art Mart were the gingerbread spice latte, pumpkin latte, and Mexican hot chocolate.

This drink may be a little rough to duplicate at home unless you happen to own high-end barista equipment, but you can acquire the Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso at Art Mart for $17.19 a pound, and it's worth every penny. The Intelligentsia Authentic Chai Spice Black Tea is not officially on sale, but may be available if requested. The steamed milk you can make on your own.

Also at the Art Mart deli, you'll find refrigerated sandwiches, some hot lunch specials, and seasonal cookies and pastries. If you're interested, take some time to peruse the dozens of imported meats and cheeses, and be on the lookout for the occasional appearance mozzarella and burrata cheese made by one of the owners.

You can find Art Mart tucked away in the south side of Lincoln Square Mall, just west of Tang Dynasty. The physical address is 127 Lincoln Square, Urbana. Art Mart's hours are:

  • Monday–Friday, 9:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, 12:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.

Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!