A few weeks ago, a friend enlisted me on a madcap adventure to Livermore.
"It'll be fun," he promised. "I heard there's a chai place there."
Now, I am willing to go high and far in the pursuit of tasty food, as is my friend, and this is not the first time we have gone on a merry journey to find the best, the most perfect, and the most bizarre. He is the one I turn to first when I need to recruit someone for a food extravaganza, but...Livermore?
For those not familiar with the Bay Area, Livermore is an hour's drive away from Berkeley. It is beyond the reach of public transit. There is nothing there, other than an assortment of bleak office parks, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and a web of confusing streets that would stymie all but the most determined of cartographers. Even pigeons don't go there.
So I was highly skeptical about there in fact being a chai shop of any sort in Livermore, let alone one that justified such a glowing reputation. But it was a rainy day, and we had nothing better to do, so we duly set forth in the Red Menace, followed the faithful directions of the Google Lady, and arrived at a strip mall.
We grew even more deeply concerned about this chai house, but then we walked through the door. And we were immediately bowled over by rich, heady scents, the sound of running fountains, and a tiny, yet rotund, man who was determined to make us try all the chai all at once. He joyfully opened every single container of tea so we could sniff, poured us cups, told us about all his teas, and introduced us to heaven.
We had found Bombay Nick's Chai House (4010 East Avenue, Livermore, California, 94550), and we kind of never wanted to leave again. He sources all his own teas and spices, many from small farmers, and they're all organic. He also creates his own custom blends -- and he has a ton of them.
Much of the afternoon was whiled away drinking tea and playing cards, but then the inevitable came, and we had to pack up to go. Happily, Nick also sells teas through his shop (and online store, at Cardamom & Curry) and thus we ended up with large bags of tea to take home. Let me be clear: his tea is expensive, but it's worth it, especially when it is prepared as directed, which is the part of this long and rambling story that I am getting to.
If you like chai and you tend to drink it at coffeehouses and the like, it's expensive per cup. In the long run, brewing it at home is way less expensive, and way more satisfying, because you can tweak tea, sugar, and spicing levels to make a chai you love. I happen to love his Spicy Simla, but your taste buds may feel differently!
To brew chai, you're gonna need a pan. I like to use an enameled or otherwise heavy pan, because it conducts heat more evenly, and it's less prone to boiling over. You also need a fine mesh strainer, and it helps to have a whisk as well as measuring spoons.
You're going to measure out a cup of water and a half cup of milk (Nick actually recommends half and half, which is rich and amazing, but not required -- and of course you could totally use a dairy-free product too) to each teaspoon of chai. He recommends three teaspoons of sugar, although I tend to cut mine back a bit. Whisk everything together and turn the heat to medium until it starts to boil.
Watch it. When milk boils over, shit gets ugly, man. You want it to get nicely caramel colored. It tends to start to reach that color right as it's seriously thinking about boiling, at which point you can strain your chai into a cup, carafe, or teapot for serving.
Cooking chai on the stove, rather than brewing it and adding milk and sugar, creates a rich, blended, complex flavor that's just incredible. The loose tea infuses everything with delicious goodness, and you will drink it up to the last drop.