Top 5 Chais in Seattle

Eve M. Tai
Cuddly as the Three Bears: Chai at Miro Tea.
Chai, the Indian brewed black tea blended with spices and milk, both invigorates and soothes. During a trip to India last year, I relished the sound of the chai wallah calling out as he rode his bicycle around town. I'd run out and tail him much as I used to chase down the Good Humor man as a kid. The wallah dispensed tiny servings--especially compared to our mega-grande drinks--but gave me the energy and fortitude to cope with the heat, chaos, and beauty that was India. (Plus I could drink chai more often that way.)

Talk about chai to the devoted, and you will elicit opinions and passions as strong as the spices that define this drink. When I lived in an ashram, you could bribe any resident into performing any task--cleaning the toilets, debugging computers, long meditations--with the promise of homemade chai.

Like coffee, you can readily find chai all over Seattle. But unlike coffee, chai recipes call for widely varying amounts of sugar or honey, vanilla, ginger, and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or clove. Although our Top 5 chais all share a Seattle provenance, each one comes with its own distinct character.

5. Travelers Tea Company, 501 E. Pine St.

The first time I ordered chai here, the owner cast an eye askew at me and asked if I knew what I was getting into. If that didn't give me pause, the chai's peppery personality did. Travelers' chai is powered by the aroma of clove, and is highly intense on both the sweet and spicy scales. You'll taste generous helpings of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger.

4. Lama G's, Wallingford.

Yes, the owner really is a lama. Karma G. and his wife run this charming, ethereally blue café in Wallingford, fittingly located next to a Buddhist meditation center. Karma's homemade chai reminds me of his native Bhutan, where the altitude and clear light engenders a lovely contentment. The chai is light and wholesome, and might even connect you to your sweetest self.

3. Jaipur Avenue Chai, various locations.

Not that the effort isn't worth it, but chai can be a pain to prepare. You know there is a God (hundreds actually, if you're Hindu) when you find a powdered mix for chai that stands up with vigor to the brewed stuff. Seattle-based Jaipur Avenue owner Jillu Zaveri sources her chai mixes directly from the motherland, and they are astonishingly good. Just add hot water! The saffron flavor is a serene beauty, perfect for afternoon tea and cookies.

2. Miro Tea, Ballard.

This teahouse is known for its extensive collection of Chinese and Japanese teas. But Miro also features five chai blends such as masala chai and green Kashmiri chai. Perhaps most unusual is the naturally sweet rooibos chai, a blend of red tea, cloves, and peppercorns. You might wait a few minutes longer for a chai at Miro, but it's worth it. Just like your Indian auntie, owner Jeannie Liu prepares her teas fresh and with exceptional care, including steeping her teas longer and double-cooking her milk.

1. Original Morning Glory, independent cafes.

Morning Glory may be the most eclectic entry, supplying us with the usual Indian spice suspects plus Chinese herbs like astragulus to boost the immune system. Given that we're subjected to gloom and damp nine months out of the year, the extra boost is welcome. Blending this with soy milk offers a sweet counterpoint to the spices and herbs, but this now-classic Seattle chai is hearty and nurturing with any type of milk.

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