|"A delicious heat from the black pepper and ginger is the prize of this chai, as it lights up the finish of a lighter boned cardamom focused body."|
After tracking down their number from fast Eddie, the meeting is on. The tea has a fierce stare with a fresh look. Blackish brown CTC leaves disguise the black pepper and cardamom seeds as generous amounts of sand beige ginger and russet cinnamon pieces in an array of sizes hold one’s gaze. Not overly dusty, you can tell it's artisanal, as if freshly worked, from the jagged edge pieces and range of sizes. Plus, it brings some force to be reckoned with which is quickly revealed upon opening the package. The wave of spices has a potent headiness that only really fresh spices bring as the bouquet tickles one’s nose with its intensity. The stealthy cardamom is the most predominate, penetrating through the aroma with its flowery sweet camphoric bravado and purity. As such, the scent has a pure spicy vigor that is just as hot as its light sweetness, rather than being earthy or powdery smelling. Although the cardamom leads the pack, you can tell it brought back up from the background of rounded spiciness that brings forth ginger and cracked black pepper while the cinnamon and cloves don’t really stand out on their own. This includes the black tea which doesn’t have a strong presence but seems to add to the background weight of the scent the cardamom stands on. Thus, it’s no flabby chai and it’s quick to fire things up.
Chai Wallah is ever so kind to include the brewing instructions on the package which require one to have more in their arsenal than usual, as they recommend heating a mixture of milk and water on the stove to a boil, adding a teaspoon of tea and a teaspoon and a half of sweetener and boiling for two to three minutes. While it’s not really amenable to road trips, it’s rather understandable that the boiling will get more out of the spices. Plus, although I didn’t try it, I’m sure a plain long steep with boiling water could easily be enjoyed as well. So after boiling, the tea is certainly intimidating from its medium dark flat mahoghany brown that is completely opaque, although it settles to a slight translucency. The stare of the cup is no match for the sweetly aromatic bouquet though, which shifts from the dry tea. Full of cinnamon and ginger, it’s not an intense spiciness but it is freshly natural with a soothing energy. Along with the cinnamon spice, notes of the bark come through against the black pepper and black tea, rousing the aroma with a flinty hand to a kind of dough-like morsel substance. Yet, the tea is also packing heat which is the most compelling feature of the medium heavy body. Although the flavour is thin, held predominately by the light dry rice kind of woody flavour of the black tea, the tea has a spicy heat more than a spicy flavour. There is a light cardamom flavour to the sip but the pepper with a dash of cooked ginger comes through most, as the quick finish falls on a long aftertaste of black pepper heat, warming one’s mouth, throat and tongue. It’s not a prickly heat but a lively warmth that’s just divine. In the bulk of the sip though, the tea seems a bit heavy apart from the less potent flavour, as I find myself wanting some bitterness or dryness from the black tea just to perk up the flow and the black tea’s mellowness. Thus, the fantastic heat seems to slightly outshine the spicy flavours, like their sweetness or earthy comfort, but it does have an engaging appeal while affirming the freshness of the spices.
All of the firepower soon has one fired through the cup, revealing a bit of a cinnamon trail at the bottom of the cup which is quite characteristic of cinnamon. I’ll never quite know why it does it but it may also be part of the reason more cinnamon doesn’t come through in the flavour, as it is so much more present in the tea’s bouquet. Yet the milk and sweetener seem to help draw out the quieter cinnamon and cloves of the blend, as does chilling. Although the flavour remains more focused on the cardamom with the pepper and gingery hum, there’s a more rounded base of cinnamon and cloves spiciness that brings a finer harmony.
Since the leaves were boiled, I wasn’t sure they’d withstand a second steeping and my attempts were mixed. After a second two minute boil, the brew is still a medium brown, now much more translucent. Although the scent is lighter and starts to get noodle-like, it retains a pleasantly sweet cinnamon aroma with milder, slightly soapy cardamom and nice ginger notes. However, the flavour falls off more so, as the tea seems more like spiced water than tea. There is a lovely infusion of cardamom to the body but it also has a saltwater kind of mineral backdrop rather than a hearty footing. The pepper adds a trace tickle, surprisingly much milder that no longer carries from the quick finish as only a slight sensation follows in one’s throat rather than heat or prickle. But from the impeccable affordability of the tea, one steep per teaspoon is still dandy.
I think the heart-warming thing about chai recalls the same allure of spiced anything cooking in the oven. After trying Chai Wallah’s Chai green, I was anticipating the black but I actually think I preferred their green version. Both centered on cardamom and pepper, but the cardamom seemed more vibrant in the green tea blend over the black pepper which may be how the base highlights the spices. While Chai Wallah's Chai black has a sweet, spicy aroma, it’s main flash of fire is the pepper and ginger which have a delightful vigor but it’s not really matched by the flavours of the other spices and I think those are more of what I tend to prefer in a kingpin Chai. Even if it isn’t the go-to chai, its feisty warmth raises the roof and writes enough tasty wow-ah for the wall-ah of anyone’s cup or 'hood.
» Read more about this reviewer on Raven's profile page.
» Find a list of recent posts by Raven.