Café Outfitter: Chai


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[I]n South Asia, chai is a slow-brewed drink, one that crams as much flavor into a liquid as it can hold. At coffee and tea houses looking at a line of customers, a new way to make the drink needed to be found. And several—concentrates, powders, loose spices—were. What method you decide to bring into your café depends not just on your taste preference, though that’s paramount, but also on what balance between ease-of-use and performance your café requires.


1. MAYA CHAI Like it’s Original sibling, Devi is a super-concentrated chai but it brings enough heat to satisfy customers who like their chai with more kick than sweetness. Maya Chai built its two blends on a recipe brought from India by owner Manish Shah’s mom. Concentrated to eleven to one, just a single ounce is needed per drink. It’s remarkable that such a potent, legitimate flavor can come from a medium that’s so easy to use.

2. PRANA CHAI This is a rare non-concentrate that delivers the flavor wallop of slow-brewed chai. Prana Chai pulls this off by amping the masala half of masala chai, packing the blend with chai’s traditional spices plus whole pieces of ginger. Honey is then blended with the dry goodies, giving it the right level of sweet. The gooey blend is a visual pleasure, as is the process of straining the decoction.

3. DAVID RIO With a lineup of nine chais, David Rio both honors and plays with the traditional flavors in masala chai. These chais attain their depth of flavor by grinding the mix of spices just before it’s packaged. That provides a pop of flavor different from a concentrate. When it’s scooped into milk and steamed, the powder unleashes all the sweet, warming goodness you could ask for.

4. CHAI CO. There’s no single recipe for masala chai, and the tea part of the drink was a late-comer, so why not trade it for another tasty leaf? Chai Co., maker of a great traditional chai, does that with its rooibos chai. The leaf from South Africa’s fynbos offers a sweet, silky addition to the robust spices of masala while leaving out the caffeine. A three-to-one concentrate, the rooibos chai is a breeze to use.

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Cory Eldridge

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