When I first started The Chai Cart in 2010, I offered two simple flavors: ginger and cardamom. Ginger chai was an obvious choice, as I grew up drinking it. It was the first thing I ever learned to make in the kitchen from my mom. Cardamom, another very common spice used for chai, was another obivous flavor option.
If variety is the spice of life, then our Masala chai definitely gives it all its zest. Our signature Masala spice blend has an array of tastes, ranging from the floral, sweet and aromatic notes from cardamom to the licorice taste of the fennel and the spicy, woody tones from dried ginger and black peppercorns. Not only do these spices provide an abundance of flavor, they’re brimming with powerful antioxidants and various healing properties.
Here are a few facts I dug up on some of the spices we use in our Masala chai.
We brew our chai with either organic whole milk or organic soy milk (for customers who do not drink/eat diary). Almost everyday, we get a customer requesting chai with non-fat milk or 2% milk. As much as we would like to give customers exactly what they want, we cannot. Mainly b'coz we don't make chai on-site; all our chai is brewed at a commercial kitchen in the Mission and we transport it to the chai carts downtown in insulated containers that keep it hot for several hours.
I've heard many people say that one of the main reason they don’t drink chai is b’coz it is way too sweet. This is true if the only chai you’ve had is at cafes. Most cafes use a chai concentrate as a base to make their chai or chai latte - which is always loaded with sugar. I looked for unsweetened chai mixes, but didn’t come across any. I started to wonder why that was the case. There could be several reasons; here are the most likely ones:
I always raise my eyebrows when I hear or see “Chai Latte”. As I described in my previous post, “chai” is hard wired in my brain to mean a certain drink – hot black tea boiled with milk (spices optional). So what is this “Chai Latte” stuff anyway – it combines two words from 2 different languages and the drink doesn’t event taste like chai.
Having grown up in India, "chai" is hard-wired in my brain to mean steeped black tea and milk. Sugar and spices are optional, though commonly added. However, here in the US, “chai” has morphed into something else. Increasingly, it is presented as black tea with spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
If you've been to The Chai Cart, you know that I always carry two flavours of chai - one is always the traditional Cardamom-Ginger and the other depends on my mood and my creativity that particular day or week. Every now and then I come up with a flavour that surprises me and my customers. Lemongrass-Black Pepper chai was one such flavour last summer. The Malt chai took a few tries, but it did find some fans.
Omnivore Books had booked Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) to come sign his book at their bookstore on Dec 6th. The lovely owner, Celia, had contacted me a couple months ago and asked me to come sell chai to her patrons while they waited in line for Keller. Today, Dec 6th, I was all excited to take the Chai Cart all the way to Omnivore Books - not only will San Francisco foodies be there, maybe Keller himself may fancy a cup of chai.
While I was looking for a distributor of organic black tea, I realized I had a lot to learn about tea itself.