Let's talk chai, shall we? And let's start at the very beginning, with a question a lot of people ask.
What is chai?
Traditionally, chai is a combination of black tea, honey and spices -- a combination that comes with a long and storied history. While it originated in India thousands of years ago, it has also been a well-loved drink in American coffee shops and restaurants for a long time.
Its ubiquity on beverage menus across the nation means that customers have specific expectations for what chai should taste like -- and that those expectations can vary dramatically because there are so many variations on that standard combination of black tea, honey and spices. While there are infinite twists on the ingredients, ratios and preparation methods for chai, choosing the right chai drink for your drink is about meeting your customers expectations and offering them a consistent experience. Here’s how you can do that.
Types of chai — choosing the right flavor profile
If your customers are accustomed to getting their chai from national chains (you know the ones), they’re going to be looking for a less spicy, more sweet flavor profile.
Oregon Chai offers a neutral flavor profile with brand recognition across the nation -- perfect for customers like these. Additionally, Oregon Chai’s wide range of products, ranging from sugar-free to extra spicy, offer you plenty of flexibility in addition to the familiarity your customers will find comforting.
For more complex, premium chais, we recommend Rishi or Sattwa chais. They offer spicier, more nuanced flavor and uniqueness for customers looking for something special. We often recommend that coffee shop owners who feel like their customers don’t have one consistent chai profile preference stock two chais -- a more familiar Oregon chai and a spicier, more premium chai as well. That way you’ll be able to please everyone and offer your customers some variety of choice.
Deciding which chai formulation is right for your business is a matter of understanding your own brand, the needs of your staff and the limitations of your shop layout. With four different types of formulations available, you’ll be sure to find an option that works well for you.
Chai concentrate (black tea, sweetener and spices simmered down to a thick consistency and then boxed or bottled) offers quality and flavor comparable to chai you make yourself because the ingredients are exactly the same. The only difference is that chai concentrate comes in an easy-to-store container that lasts a couple of weeks once opened, making them the easiest chai formulations to store and use.
Chai concentrates can be measured with portion pumps, ensuring consistent portion sizing no matter which staff member is making the drink. It’s also shelf-stable until opened, opening up more storage options than a refrigeration-only product would offer.
Chai concentrates are also completely dairy-free (unlike powders and blended chais). Made with a dairy alternative instead of milk, a chai drink made with chai concentrate offers dairy-free delight for vegan customers or customers. with allergies or intolerances.
Like chai concentrate, chai syrups offer consistent, concentrated and dairy-free chai flavor in a shelf-stable format. However, drinks made with chai syrup may have a less traditional chai flavor than drinks made from chai concentrate. (Chai syrups do work extremely well in baked goods and other less traditional applications.)
First off: all chai powders have some form or derivative of dairy, so if someone is truly lactose intolerant you shouldn’t serve them powder-based chai drinks.
Because they have a creamy, dairy element built in, chai powders are a great product for situations where you don’t have access to dairy (if, for example, you want to serve a creamy chai at an outdoor festival in a location where you don’t have access to refrigeration). Chai powders also work well for situations where you want customers to be able to mix their own drink or for shops where chai drink turnover is low and you need something that will stay shelf-stable for long periods of time.
Blended chais are designed for use in frozen drinks. They include thickening agents like xanthan gum or guar gum to hold the drink together, which make them a better option for frozen drinks than chai concentrate, which require the addition of a separate thickening agent if used in frozen, blended drinks.
Loose leaf chai
Loose leaf chai blends do exist and, while making chai drinks with them is more work than using other chai formulations, they’re the right choice if you’re interested in offering your customers a highly-customized, premium chai drink. Rishi’s loose leaf organic Masala Chai offers a nicely balanced flavor profile with a distinctive spiciness.
Chai-ing to figure out the right choice for your beverage program?
We can help. Our beverage experts can provide you with all the knowledge you need to develop the right chai program for your restaurant or cafe. And our extensive catalog of chai products provides you with every product you’ll need to provide an exceptional tea experience for your guests.