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In search of good chai on Sydney's north shore...

Jenn Shallvey

I feel the need to document and share a quest of mine. This is not a deep and meaningful or socially inspiring one. Sorry for that. No I just want to enjoy a good experience when out at cafe's.  The beverage of choice for me these days is freshly brewed chai tea. 

A bit of background...

For the past 28 years I have been an absolute connoisseur and fan of coffee. This started the minute I landed at university in UC Berkeley. Luckily I embarked on my studies at the same time the roasted bean cafe culture took off in the USA.  I quickly adopted espresso coffee in all forms as my favorite beverage. Well maybe given it was University days other beverages may have been in competition.  

I have to admit at first I went for coffee as the all night study aid. A giant 16oz cup next to me on my desk always kept me going. Then I acquired the taste and appreciation for the different roasts and brews. Pretty soon I was in search of the best beans, perfect grind and combinations of serving options. I selected my favorite study cafes based on the coffee served. 

Since discovering my love of coffee I would say I have not gone long without a cup. I have switched between caffeinated and decaf but really kept up the love for my favorite brew.  The only time coffee didn't agree with me was during each of my two pregnancies. But then nothing much agreed with me then.

A change in me, a change in beverage

Fast forward to my life now.  Of late I have noticed a change in my physiology.  Being one to focus on everything else other than my physical state I have avoided noticing that some things were out of whack. The biggest out of whack for me seemed to start occurring when I had too much coffee. I cut back. I noticed a little change but not much. Then I cut out coffee completely. I noticed an enormous change.  This is simply how MY body is changing and reacting, not based on any suggestions.

What I noticed the most was a settling in my stomach and evening out of energy levels and a change in my need to get my fix. Yes I have to say that though I enjoyed coffee for the taste, experience and ritual I was also enjoying this experience a bit too much.

It has been 4 months now since I last had a coffee.

In replacement of coffee I rediscovered tea. Most of all I discovered chai tea.  To really enjoy the experience I reacquainted myself with brewed chai tea with frothed milk (soy these days) added in the pot or cup like a latte.  At home I like to brew it myself more traditionally on the stove or make a latte as well.

Now firstly I did not stop drinking coffee to be a poster child for health. I have a lot more to do in that department. I simply started listening to my body.  What I also noticed through my conversations with other coffee loving friends and family is that my change is uniquely mine for now. Most people I know don't have the same challenges I have developed with coffee.  I also am able to still use my barista skills to prepare lattes, cappucinos and espressos at home for others. I have no problem doing this and really enjoy sharing. 

Good chai criteria

After years of searching for cafe's that serve good, well not just good, great coffee I am now on the hunt for places that offer good chai.  Mostly my search has been limited to my local area.  What I am learning about this experience is that chai tea:

1. blends are unique and vary depending on the creator of the blend.

2. takes patience and knowledge to get the brew right and flavor balanced.

3. involves a bit more of a ritual in preparation and therefore can be fun making and develop your patience.

4. is available in many types and styles in markets so no excuse at home to have this option.

5. can be home made (though more out of appreciation of others' talents in this area, I have yet to get to this stage)

6. is steeped in culture and history (sorry could not resist the pun) so I feel like I am not part of a fad.

Now I know traditional chai is sweetened. I like my chai more on the bitter side. But I do enjoy when I add a little honey to round out the flavor. 

So why share all this? Well just because...And also I wanted to enjoy cafe's that serve chai.  I thought I would share a few I like in case you are out and about. Please feel free to share your favorites. For now here's just my contribution from places I like to visit in Sydney's lower north shore.

Crows Nest

Sparrow Cafe. Brewed on the spot. Experimented with the powdered variety for a breif second in time. Thankfully returned to the real stuff.  This is my saving grace for the Chai Tea on the go. Made strong.  I will make an effort to stop for a cup to go whenever in the area.

Wrapido.  Make their own. Roast and grind. Roderick the owner vouches for the process.  Serve brewed in pot (make sure you ask for it this way) with steamed milk. Enjoy here when want to sit down for a midweek breakfast which is always tasty and good value.


Cream. steamed milk.  Add to this a quirky tea spoon, super friendly service and nice atmosphere. Always worth a visit.

Forsyth Coffee and Tea.  Really my stop for fresh roasted beans (for the coffee connoisseur in the house)When passing through it is always nice to get a freshly brewed chai tea latte. They take their time to make sure it's right. More on the tea side than the spice side. 

Neutral Bay

Thelma & Louise in Neutral Bay serve a flavourful pot of hand made chai in a cheery and uplifting ceramic pot and cup.  The friendly service and great view make enjoying a cup of tea or more extremely relaxing.  Their version comes pre-sweetened with brown sugar and honey. So it is quite sweet.  I call it indulgence.  Usually I have only honey but with a meal this goes down very well.

I am getting used to asking the question...1. do you serve brewed REAL chai tea? and 2. how do you source and make your tea?  I may sound a bit fussy but then it's always worth it.

Well here's to enjoying the next cup of chai tea.