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It’s a bitterly cold winter evening and as I step into Empress of India at the top end of Queen St, my senses are exposed to the inviting aromas of South Asian spices.
The purpose of my visit is to poke my nose into a love affair that has been slowly brewing in Melbourne – chai tea.
Suhasini Seelin from Chai Junction and Ankit Agrawal from the not-for-profit Chai Chai have organised a chai tasting session – a first of many more to come.
They are looking for the best chai tea in town, but they also recognise how events like this can help bring people from all cultures and walks of life together to network and engage in interesting conversation with each other.
There are 35 people here tonight, six brands of tea to taste, and plenty of fodder for participants to talk about.
“The relaxed setting is great for these kind of interactions”, says the good host Ankit as he floats between tables, eavesdropping on all the chatter going on.
Masala chai translates literally to ‘spiced tea’, and is typically a combination of two or more spices that include cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper.
The drink originated from India, but has really caught on as a drink of choice for people all around the world looking for an alternative to coffee or just ‘plain’ tea.
Chai is traditionally home cooked, so taste can vary substantially from city to city, or for that matter from household to household.
On the drinks menu tonight are Arkadia Tea, Chai Mamma, Madame Flavour, Love Chai, Empress of India and Chai Chai’s own chai blend (see Chai Chai’s recipe below). Participants vote for their favourite tea in a blind taste test.
Having never met anyone prior to entering the room on this night and as a self-confessed newbie to the world of chai, there’s certainly no lack of friendly faces willing to strike up a conversation around our newfound similarities.
Former international students Minu, Rupa and Srishti tell me you can judge a good chai by the subtle balance of flavour, aroma and heat from the spices.
It must be true, what a good cup of chai does for you – it leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Chai Chai’s signature Masala Chai (Serves 2)
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 peppercorns
- 1cm3 of ginger
- 2 cloves
- (For plain chai omit spices)
- Boil 1 cup of water in a saucepan, add spices
- Add 2 tsp of black tea and simmer (1-2 mins)
- Add ¾ cup of milk and bring to the boil
- Simmer (2-3 mins)
- Strain into a cup and add sugar to taste
PS – the overall winner of the night was Arkadia Chai Tea, and is available from many independent supermarkets and gourmet retailers.