“Hi, my name is [insert your name here] and I am a self-proclaimed ‘chai snob’.” Okay, I got the hard part out of the way. Now, it’s time for the story of the long road to chai snobdom. Well, the road wasn’t that long, more like a short jaunt.
First of all, “chai” means “tea.” Here in the U.S., though, it means a particular style of tea, usually with lots of milk and various spices (often, there is an over-abundance of cinnamon for my taste).
Once upon a time, I would buy a chai latté at one of the many local Starbucks and think it was the ultimate, the end-all be-all of chais — sheer chai nirvana. Boy, was I ever living in a chai fantasy world! Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that this chai was not only very different from the chai I would get at our favorite Indian restaurant (with the lunch buffet where I could totally sate my curry craving), but it was also SOOOO heavy on the cinnamon. Then, I asked the Indian restaurant manager how to fix the chai he served and started fixing it at home, using the traditional stovetop method. Then, I got totally hooked and couldn’t even stand the SMELL of the Starbucks version. Then, the Twinings chai plus several other brands we had in the tea pantry were unacceptable. Then, the realization hit me: I’m a “chai snob”!
Recently, hubby and I engaged in a chai-tasting extravaganza, to the consternation of our inner “chai snobs.” (Yes, it’s contagious. Hubby has joined me in the ranks of “chai snobs.” Live around a “chai snob” long enough, and you’ll become one, too.) The snob in us kept saying, “If it doesn’t taste like what we get at the Indian restaurant, it’s not chai.” Our tastebuds, though, were much much much more open-minded.
Those tastebuds have learned a lot recently. Several months ago, we tried an unusual chai (at least unusual to us) made with green tea instead of the usual Assam black tea. The first reaction was, “Green tea? We can’t add milk to that. How is this a chai?” I guess the snobbery was taking root already. Well, it was tea with spices and it tasted good, so we accepted it into our arsenal of chais.
Another chai, though, definitely did not make the grade. It was as heavy with cinnamon as the kind from Starbucks. My inner “chai snob” grew from an infant to a teenager that day, metaphorically speaking, and loudly proclaimed, “Too much cinnamon!”
An Indian Spiced Chai Black Tea we tried was much better. The Indian spices in it (including coriander, cardamom, ginger, and cloves) were more in line with what that growing (now adult-sized) “chai snob” in us expected. Since it was made with black tea, we were able to add milk to it as we were accustomed to doing.
What these chais and the ones we tried during our extravaganza showed us is that yes, we are “chai snobs” but we are still flexible. It also led us to assign various categories to the chais we’ve tried thus far:
- Traditional Indian — A balance of black pepper, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in black tea (usually CTC Assam).
- American style — Leaning toward the cinnamon and nutmeg side, with subtler notes of traditional spices like black pepper, cardamom, ginger, and cloves in black tea.
- Excessively spiced — Overboard on one or more spices traditionally used, usually black pepper, cardamom, cloves, or cinnamon.
- Downright “manic” — Containing such things as white chocolate, fruits, flowers, and other non-traditional spices and/or made with a tea other than CTC Assam.
- Pathetic — That tea-dust-and-spices-in-a-bag kind.
Of course, that’s just our assessment as “chai snobs.” You might develop your own categories as you nurture the “chai snob” in you. It’s a journey worth taking. Enjoy!
To read more of A.C.’s confessions, visit her blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!