Friday, August 18, 2006

Chai: The Good, The Bad and The Newly Trained

I don't drink coffee. I feel a bit left out culturally, but I just don't like it. And I firmly believe you shouldn't have to work so hard to make yourself like something. Although that may be why I'm single. But, I digress. So, I drink tea. Copious amounts of it, really. And when the Starbucks phenomenon hit I went and bought tea - ah, the glory of people who understand that for a big cup of tea, two bags are needed - and felt a bit smug that my drink was under two dollars.

Well then came the chai latte. Now I had an opportunity to buy a drink that was more than hot water. It required some actual prep. (Sort of - depending on whether it was hot or cold.) I believe I first tested out the chai at the now defunct Borders Cafe. And it was good! And while my drink did not contain coffee, it allowed me to feel more part of the experience. And is was delicious - sugar and caffeine in one handy package - er, cup.

And shortly after, Starbucks had chai. So, I got some of theirs. Now for the uninitiated, chai (which means tea) is basically black tea with spices (usually cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and pepper). For the lattes they use a mix that has been sweetened and then add milk. The Starbucks chai had a lot of cinnamon. Such that it was like trying to drink a Big Red. Well, I thought, perhaps the person was new or the mix was off. So I went to a different Starbucks - same result. So, I stopped getting chai at Starbucks.

But then Starbucks changed their teas. So, I thought maybe that included their chai mix, so I ordered it again. Yay! It didn't taste exactly like the Borders Cafe stuff, but it didn't taste like Big Red gum either. It was good!

Now, I won't tell you I never had an issue at Starbucks. Every once in a while someone will use the wrong amount of syrup or the wrong syrup, but when you balance it against the numbers of times I go there, we are talking minimal issues. And every time I've had an issue, they've fixed it.

Well, then enters a new kid (at least around here). Named after an elk. My first trip or so, chai wasn't on the menu. Well at a recent trip to a shopping mall, they did. So another chai fan and I each got one. Big Red. Yuck.

Then I went to a bookstore with a new cafe. I saw hot chai on the menu but not cold chai. So I asked if I could order it and was told sure. Except the person making drinks had never made one. And couldn't find it in the recipe book. I was tempted to offer to show him how to do it. Or to show him that the Tazo mix they sell has instructions on the back. But I held back. Wrong decision.

I did eventually get a chai of sorts. I got chai mix over ice and water. No milk. I added milk but it was still so-so, since the water and the milk made it a pretty weird tasting chai. (I know Starbucks cuts their mix with water, but much less). I know their new and just learning. But that's two bad chai experiences in about ten days. Yuck. I may have to go to Starbucks to feel better.