I have fond memories of standing in the falling snow outside of Big Dipper’s in Missoula, MT. While my dad and I took our time determining which flavors we wanted to try, he asked what cardamom ice cream was.
Cardamom is the dominant spice that makes the smell of chai tea so incredible. (There is no single recipe for chai, so the spices vary. Commonly used are the equally aromatic anise, cinnamon, clove and ginger.) But all tea, including chai, just tastes like hot water to me. I realize this puts me in the minority. Happily, chai has been embraced as a flavor worth exploring in other mediums. I present to you, the best of chai:
1.) Located on Portage Bay between Lake Union and Lake Washington, Seattle’s Agua Verde rents kayaks in addition to serving Baja-style Mexican food. Some of my favorites are their mango quesadilla, veggie burrito (with sautéed yams!) and their Mexican Chai. This warm beverage is like traditional chai tea, except they use horchata instead of hot water. This is a great way to warm up after paddling around in the Northwest.
2.) In Chicago, brunch doesn’t mean having something light to tide you over; it means shoving as much food in your face as possible since you’re skipping a meal. And with M. Henry, Ann Sather’s and Orange, Chicago has no shortage of tasty brunch spots. Orange’s menu runs the gamut from cute (their appetizer fruishi, fruit presented to look like sushi) to bizarre (complimentary water flavored with cucumber might be good with a salad, but not with breakfast) to delicious (everything else, it seems). Their award-winning dish is their Chai Tea French Toast, served in a chai tea latte reduction and topped with caramel apples and honey. This rich and filling brunch is not for sissies.
3.) Being that I am neither a coffee drinker nor a screenplay writer, I am not a man who hangs out in coffee shops. (Were it not for my love of hot chocolate and apple cider, one might think me a hater of warm beverages.) But if more coffee shops were like Kopi in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, I might have a change of heart. Their atmosphere is colorful, worldly and comfy—I’m told this is the Californian approach to coffee shops—as opposed to chic and lodge-esque—which, no thanks to Seattle, is what coffee shops are like everywhere else. The dessert menu at Kopi includes two favorites: frutti di bosco, a short Italian cake with ricotta whipped cream (think cannoli) and topped with berries, and their Chai Milkshake. As I mentioned in my review of Haagen-Dazs’ Sweet Chai Latte ice cream, chai lends itself better to being a milkshake than hard ice cream because the smoother texture better reflect the essence of chai. At Kopi, you can taste the proof.