WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE | CHAI
By Jo Rittey
Having been in a slightly different northside for the last three weeks, the north side of India, this week will be a little segue away from extolling the virtues of the many excellent cafes in the Melbourne northside. A sidestep, if you will, into a land where coffee is not the be all and end all.
After consistently waking up and not smelling the coffee, or being presented with cup after cup of a reminder that we are very lucky to live where we live and that good coffee is not to be taken for granted, I did ask one waiter what his strongest coffee might be. He shot me a confused look and offered, “Nescafe, madam?” Espresso enquiries are generally met with a firm, “No,” with a hint of a laugh behind it. Filter coffee might be possible, but generally this results in a cup of brown water that brushed past a bag of coffee at some stage and offers only a soupçon of what you might have been hoping for.
But this is India. Rajhastan, to be precise. And my coffee snobbism is a first world problem in the extreme. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and certainly, when in a country with so much history, culture, vibrancy, and soulfilling experiences at every turn, embrace it all and do not quibble over a lack of espresso.
While café culture is slowly appearing in the larger towns, the pick-me-up beverage of choice remains masala chai; literally mixed spice tea. Historically, Indians viewed tea as a herbal medicine and many of the masala blends that are still used come from Ayurvedic medical texts. Any roadside chai wallah will brew up an aromatic cup of masala chai with variants on the spices, but will generally include black tea leaves, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, milk and way too much sugar. If you plead with them to cut back on the sugar, they adopt that same quizzical look used for espresso enquiries and laugh nervously.
Sweet or not, I’ve developed a taste for the chai. Luckily I’ll be able to get a fix of it once I’m home, should I want to relive the Indian idyll, as the Northside now has a few places where authentic chai is served.
Apporv and Gauri from The Original Chai Co. are northsiders on a mission to bring the taste of their home to the streets of Melbourne. They brew their chai in the I shed at the Queen Victoria Market every weekend and they now offer an online shop so you can make your own at home.
Radhey Kitchen and Chai Bar on Brunswick Street practise food yoga, meaning that they serve sattvic food prepared in a way that brings the whole person into balance, mind, body and soul. They offer a signature blend chai that they promise will transport you to a Rajasthani tea stall in the heart of Fitzroy.
With an extensive tea list, including some organic and fair-trade exotic leaves Admiral Cheng Ho in Abbotsford applies the same attention to detail to their chai as they do to everything else on the menu.
Add a bit of spice to your life, take a walk on the Rajasthani side of the street and check out the chai. After all, 1.267 billion Indians can’t be wrong.
Jo is a French teacher, a freelance writer and needs good coffee to start her day. Armed with an exotic New Zealand accent and a winning (hopefully) smile, she likes nothing better than roaming the streets of the northside in search of new and old food-related wonders.