Picture yourself next to a street vendor’s cart in India. Your chai tea (or Masala tea as its commonly called in India) is served in an earthenware cup. Standing by his cart, you drink your chai over conversation, then when done throw your cup on the ground and crush it with your foot. In India, this is how it’s done. Chai tea has deep roots and is a key part of the locals’ culture.
We started serving chai at Wild Goose twenty-some years ago. Back then I’d researched chai and written a story in our Goose Call newsletter about the origins of the tea, and how it was often served by street vendors in India. Last month I returned to twenty years ago, when our family was lucky enough to travel to India for our daughter’s wedding. The chai story had seemed almost too charming to be true, but there we were: drinking chai by the roadside in earthen cups, and seeing the remains of other cups scattered about the ground. I had to ask ‘why the earthenware cup?’ The single use cup (or maybe twice used for those customers wanting a refill) is made of a terracotta like clay and simply dried. The cup subtly enhances the flavor of the spices and tea. That’s a sensible reason, but sorry we aren’t going to start making earthenware cups for your chai at Nest!
Chai is as common in India as coffee is in the US, and just like our coffee, Indians each have favorite ways of making it. My daughter’s mother-in-law makes chai from scratch each day, and since she loves ginger, she includes quite a bit in her recipe. Her sister prefers to use cardamom instead of ginger in her chai.
Like many good things, good flavor comes to those who wait. Making chai from scratch takes time--45 minutes to an hour. Start by boiling water and fresh ginger root in a pot for five minutes. Add sugar, and boil another 25 minutes. A secret tip? The longer this mixture boils, the more spice the chai will have. Next add the black tea. Authentic chai uses a black tea that looks more like tea grounds than tea leaves. Boil the tea and the ginger sugar water for another 15-20 minutes, and then slowly add whole milk until it bubbles over. The chai is ready.
At Nest, we dearly love our chai tea. We want to thank Ellen, one of our Goose family members and her friend Sue, who years ago found the chai we currently serve. Our Spiced Chai is closer to authentic Masala chai tea (which literally translates to spiced chai), and our Vanilla Chai adds a sweeter American twist to the traditional tea. Each version has their loyal followers, and a few of our customers have created their unique twist by adding a bit of Hazelnut or Raspberry to their chai tea.
Twenty years. It seems impossible that I’ve been enjoying chai that long. But like our wild geese who long for adventure, I’m delighted my travels led me to India and a street vendor’s stand where I could taste what I’d once written. ‘Cheers!’ or ‘Chai!’ to distant travel, great adventures, and long-lasting favorites.
As a self proclaimed “retail nerd”, Sue has been in the retail business for over 20 years owning and managing specialty gift stores in west central Minnesota. She and her husband love to travel and explore unique destinations. While doing so, they also gather ideas to bring home. Sue and Doug have three grown children and live in Perham, Minnesota.