Hip Sips


Chewing on Chai

    The place, the company and how dishes arrive at the table all contribute to the enjoyment of what one eats or drinks, don’t you think? I got to mulling this over while gazing out the window at Thomsen’s Garden Center Café (1113 Lincoln Ave., 510-522-8489) and downing a hot low-fat chai latte ($2.99). From inside Thomsen’s café area, or from the wooden deck outside, what one’s gaze falls upon is the garden—one that is always well watered, trimmed and blooming. What a good idea, it seemed as I sat sipping, to have a commercial nursery double as your yard.
    The chai experience was a case where the setting (the garden view), the company (my own) and the serving ware (my tall glass came in a wicker holder with handles, which was a nice change from a paper jacket) all added flavor. It was a masala chai latte, if one wished to be accurate, as it was spiced. Regular chai—the Indian drink of choice for hundreds of years and the inspiration for what is now served frothed, flavored, whipped, iced and so forth—is not spiced.
    My chai latte really needed sugar to add robustness and flavor to the spices. But I hadn’t wanted a sweet drink. Taking it straight, I tried to identify what it was that was making me think I should drink this on the rocks on a warm day—and hot next time I had a sore throat. There seemed to be cinnamon and possibly cloves, nutmeg and cardamom. Café owner John Watson confirmed these ingredients, adding that while he doesn’t know all the mysteries of the secret recipe—his Chai Baba Chai comes from a small company in Forestville—there is also ginger, bergamot, some honey and, he thinks, an English breakfast tea base. My thirst quenched, a stroll through the café’s small gallery, filled with collectables and vintage jewelry, added a final dash of flavor for me to savor.
—Wanda Hennig
—Photography by Lori Eanes

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