On any given day I’ll ask whomever I happen to be around what kind of tea they love so that I can send them a sample. (My hidden agenda is to convert as many people as possible to drinking whole loose leaf tea.) As you can probably guess from the title of this post, the most common reply is: “Chai” at which point I stare blankly into space wondering, “Why Chai??”
I can trace the moment when my distaste for Chai began…
It was back during design school in New York City, when two of my close girlfriends, both from India, would have me over to their little apartment on 34th Street. One of them (from Delhi) could not go a day (it seemed) without making Chai tea…from scratch. The aroma of this soupy, milky “potpouri” was really lost on me. I’d watch her labor over the pot, stirring and stirring for what seemed like hours. Then, she’d sit and sip as if entering into a state of pure bliss. I could not understand the love. The smell of this concoction was deeply imprinted on my olfactory system. It was indeed the beginning of my non-tealove for all things Chai.
Fast forward to June 2008. The Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas and a bunch of tea professionals at the World Tea Expo sitting around for 3 hours learning to create their own tea blends. I was excited. Especially because Steven Schwartz, owner of The Art of Tea was leading the class. Our first blend was a tropical, fruity tisane that was just as flavorful as it was aromatic. I was happy.
And then came the chai. We were given the task of creating a chai blend two different ways: The first was a natural blend (tea leaves, herbs, spices) and the second was the natural blend combined with a chai flavoring. We blended and then cupped. And then? I had my Oprah Winfrey “Ah ha” moment.
I realized that what I had been reacting to (ie: hating) all these years was “chai flavoring.” Seems most chai teas have this added flavoring to bring out the “chai” taste. For me, the natural chai was the clear winner. The true nakedness of the tea blended with exotic herbs, was very pure. The flavor profile, rich. I turned to my “tea peeps” (who are well aware of my chai-version) and announced: “It’s not that bad!”
Does that mean you might catch me with a cup of chai, relaxing on the front porch? Or curled up by a roaring fire in the dead of winter? Probably not, but I have a new found understanding and appreciation of the complexity of flavor in this wildly popular tea.
Currently, we carry 2 Chai’s at Pearl Teas: Chai Chai Christy (an herbal blend) and Masala Chai Spice. Admittedly, these two are top sellers. We are in the process of testing and cupping some new Chai’s as well as creating a chai blend of our own for the holidays. I’ve got my official “chai tea tasters” standing by to offer up their expert chai opinions: my darling niece Christy, age 4 and my sister-in-law, Roseanne — both chai tealovers. I’ll post here when it’s available.
I’ve taken some big steps with regard to Chai and often hear myself say “Why not try a Chai?!” when asked for samples.