According to market research firm Euromonitor International, Americans are increasingly attracted to bold, spicy, exotic flavors. Specialty tea sales also continue to rise at retail, with chai being one of the most popular flavor profiles in the category.
But of course, it’s been popular for thousands of years in India. Many families there have special recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation—consisting of a blend (also called a masala) of freshly ground spices that are steeped with black tea. Common spices in the masala include cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorn and ginger—usually a simple mixture of one or two of these spices. The steeped beverage is strained, combined with warm milk and sweetened with sugar or honey.
In the U.S., chai is more like a latte-style drink made with black tea, several spices, milk and a sweetener. It tends to be much sweeter than the Indian version. It’s up to you whether you want to offer your customers a less-sweet chai, or one the sweeter version that many Americans expect.
Two things are important to consider when choosing a chai product to serve at your restaurant or coffeehouse:
1. Liquid concentrate or powder? Because chai is time consuming to make from scratch, liquid concentrates or powders are almost always used in coffee shops and restaurants.
a. Liquid concentrate comes in 1:1 or 7-9:1 concentrations. 1:1 products call for equal parts milk and chai, and require refrigeration before steaming them with the milk. 7-9:1 concentrates are gaining popularity because they are shelf stable, don't need to be steamed with the milk and cost less per serving.
b. Powdered chai has the lowest cost per serving—and there are plenty of baristas who prefer it! It can also be made with hot water—though milk gives it a richer taste. Find a powder that has a smooth texture and be sure to mix it well.
2. Flavor profile. Whether you go simple and not-so-sweet, with a nod to chai’s Indian roots, or with a sweeter, American-style chai, it should have balanced flavors and a pleasant aftertaste. Blind taste test several chais with your staff to find a favorite.
Will my steam wand stand up to chai?
Chai is no worse for your steam wand than milk—which itself contains sugars, fats and proteins, and spoils when left at room temperature.
Train your baristas to keep steam wands clean and rest easy. Purge before steaming, wipe the wand immediately after steaming, and purge again after. Soak the tip in hot water periodically throughout the day to remove any buildup inside the tip.
What if I can’t keep up with the demand for chai?
You’ve got a few options:
- Use a standalone milk steamer for making chai.
- Use a shelf-stable concentrate that can sit on the counter near the steam wand—and then add it to the milk before steaming.
- Keep the chai concentrate warm on an induction burner.
- Have an airpot full of warm chai on the ready, so you can dispense it into the steam pitcher, then add the milk.
Contact us for samples of our chai products, or if you have any questions about which type of chai is be right for your operation.