Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How do I Love Chai? Let Me Count the Ways...

It's almost 7 am here in Texas and I have been awake for nearly 3 hours. Yes, you read right. Still laid up sick and, apparently, my body has decided 4 am is a much better wake-up call than 6. Go figure! The hardest part of getting up really early, for me, is trying to be quiet so my boys can sleep until the alarm clocks go off. Often this means doing some computer work, session plans, etc. (since laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc. is clearly a bad idea) but some mornings I have to risk a pre-dawn cranky husband by using the microwave. Some mornings I really need my tea.

I have a long, tangled relationship with tea...well, with beverages in general. As a child, I refused to drink tea, cola, pretty much anything besides orange juice, lemonade, 7-up and water. Hot drinks were for when you had a sore throat and your mother made you drink them, as far as I was concerned. Then I went to college. A small, private, liberal arts college in Washington state, to be exact. I declared as a music major. Suddenly, I was surrounded by other young people even more hippie than myself, and that included their taste in food and drink. A vegetarian, I fit in in the cafeteria. But in the coffee shop, where *everyone* seemed to hang out between classes and on weekends? Not so much. What's a fussy drinker to do? Then a friend introduced me to chai.

Oh, chai. Even saying the word sends a little flutter through my heart and sets my mouth to salivating. What is it about the combination of green tea and spices that just makes this drink perfect? Throw in a little soy milk and I'm in heaven! One of my friends once described drinking chai as "a kind of religious experience," and I would be apt to agree with that description. The best chair I've ever had was on the campus of Naropa University, a Buddhist insitution in Boulder, Colorado, when I was checking out grad school programs. It was dry and freezing, typical Colorado winter day, and the chai was boiling hot in our little china teacups. We drank it outside, bundled in layers of sweaters, scarves and sleeveless mittens, with the steam fogging our glasses as we talked and laughed. Ah, memories :-)

Chai tea is a spiced, aromatic tea from India. It traditionally consists of a mix of several spices (cinnamon, ginger root, allspice, nutmeg, clove, cardamom and pepper) blended to suit an individual's taste and preference. The spice blend is added to loose leaf tea (black, red or green), then often blended with milk. Commercially, I've tried three different brands over the last decade. First, Oregon Chai. A delicious blend of seasonings, Oregon Chai goes down smooth. It has the benefit of coming in several different flavors and being available in mix packets and in liquid concentrate (great for ice chai lattes), but it has the drawback of being fairly expensive down here in Texas. I guess folks in DFW drink more iced tea than chai!

General Foods International, from the makers of Maxwell House, carries a Chai Latte Mix which is decent. It does seem to have more artificial ingredients, though, and is owned by Kraft, which is a bit of an ethical dilemma in itself. It does taste amazing when blended, in equal parts, with raspberry-infused hot chocolate. Yes, I am strange :-)

My newest adventure in chai is Stash Premium Green Chai Tea, an organic, all natural product that was introduced to me by a coworker (I know, it's cliche for a librarian to have the tea hook up, but what can I say? The woman is a tea goddess!). I am officially hooked on this one. It comes in a neat little teabag, so I can take it with me to work (much easier to put in my purse than a little tin of loose mix) and tastes *amazing* when mixed with my Silk Soymilk (original flavor, not vanilla). My only complaint is that I cannot get as many strong cups of tea out of these teabags (3 if I'm lucky) when compared to other types of tea. But I highly recommend it, especially if you are a chai virgin.

So where can you get it? First, check your local grocer. I picked up a package at my local Market Street and the price was fairly reasonable (read: I don't remember what I paid and can't find the receipt, but it must not have been too bad or I wouldn't have bought it ;->).

Amazon.com carries Stash Premium Green Chai Tea in a pack of 6 boxes, with 20 individually wrapped tea bags in each box. At $15.32, that comes to about 13 cents per teabag, before shipping. Of 19 customer reviews on this site, 19 out of 19 gave this product 5 stars (on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest).

You can buy Stash Premium Green Chai Tea directly on Stash Tea's web site, with options of packages of 30 teabags for $5.45 (18 cents per teabag), 80 teabags for $13.95 (17 cents per teabag), 120 teabags for $19.95 (16 cents per teabag) or 240 teabags for $34.95 (15 cents per teabag). While that is slightly more than Amazon's prices, when you buy direct from Stash there is also the option to buy the tea loose in 50 gram or 100 gram packages. 50 g will run you $4.50 (9 cents per gram) and 100 g costs $7.50 (8 centers per gram). So if you're a loose tea fan, then the Stash site it your best best. Of 76 customer reviews on this site, the average rating is 4.6 stars (again, on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest).

If you'd like to read more about chai tea, you can find a really funny review on the Tea Amigos blog. Dessert Comes First includes a recipe from scratch for homemade chai. The Frugal Girl also has a recipe, which she credits to AllRecipes and several other sources. She also references Oregon Chai in her post. Finally, if you need a snappy way to keep your tea packets organized and clean in your voluminous purse, check out Ann Kroeker's post on tea wallets by Megan Dunham of Half-Pint House. I totally want one!

Now I'm off to drink my morning chai and wait for your comments...


  1. I'm very glad that you have made peace with tea, and that chai has brought you around to being a tea enthusiast! I like chai, too, but my favorite is just good black tea, like Irish or English Breakfast tea. My all-time favorite black tea is PG tips. My sister-in-law and a colleague are committed to Earl Grey.

    Anyway, I'm delighted you discovered the tea wallets and hope you get some to carry around your Stash premium tea bags. You must always have some on hand!

  2. I too have had tangled relationships with beverages :) Got the single cup Keurig machine for my b-day. I'm having so much find trying all the different teas and coffee.

  3. I too love chai--in fact, I like to remember that I discovered chai before the rest of the country did! Haha!

    I first discovered it in Indian restaurants in Osaka, Japan (in the late '80s), and then enjoyed drinking it when traveling in India as well (although I learned to ask for it unsweetened, because it was VERY sweet!).

    When my husband and I got a cat in 1992, we named her Chai (she was a British tortoiseshell, so that name seemed to fit her).

    Here's to a great cup of chai!