Choosing the Right Chai For Your Coffeeshop

Let's talk chai, shall we? And let's start at the very beginning, with a question a lot of people ask.

What is chai?

Traditionally, chai is a combination of black tea, honey and spices -- a combination that comes with a long and storied history. While it originated in India thousands of years ago, it has also been a well-loved drink in American coffee shops and restaurants for a long time.

Its ubiquity on beverage menus across the nation means that customers have specific expectations for what chai should taste like -- and that those expectations can vary dramatically because there are so many variations on that standard combination of black tea, honey and spices. While there are infinite twists on the ingredients, ratios and preparation methods for chai, choosing the right chai drink for your drink is about meeting your customers expectations and offering them a consistent experience. Here’s how you can do that.

Types of chai — choosing the right flavor profile

Chai flavors

If your customers are accustomed to getting their chai from national chains (you know the ones), they’re going to be looking for a less spicy, more sweet flavor profile.

Oregon Chai offers a neutral flavor profile with brand recognition across the nation -- perfect for customers like these. Additionally, Oregon Chai’s wide range of products, ranging from sugar-free to extra spicy, offer you plenty of flexibility in addition to the familiarity your customers will find comforting.

For more complex, premium chais, we recommend Rishi or Sattwa chais. They offer spicier, more nuanced flavor and uniqueness for customers looking for something special. We often recommend that coffee shop owners who feel like their customers don’t have one consistent chai profile preference stock two chais -- a more familiar Oregon chai and a spicier, more premium chai as well. That way you’ll be able to please everyone and offer your customers some variety of choice.

Chai formulations

Deciding which chai formulation is right for your business is a matter of understanding your own brand, the needs of your staff and the limitations of your shop layout. With four different types of formulations available, you’ll be sure to find an option that works well for you.

Chai concentrate

Chai concentrate (black tea, sweetener and spices simmered down to a thick consistency and then boxed or bottled) offers quality and flavor comparable to chai you make yourself because the ingredients are exactly the same. The only difference is that chai concentrate comes in an easy-to-store container that lasts a couple of weeks once opened, making them the easiest chai formulations to store and use.

Chai concentrates can be measured with portion pumps, ensuring consistent portion sizing no matter which staff member is making the drink. It’s also shelf-stable until opened, opening up more storage options than a refrigeration-only product would offer.

Chai concentrates are also completely dairy-free (unlike powders and blended chais). Made with a dairy alternative instead of milk, a chai drink made with chai concentrate offers dairy-free delight for vegan customers or customers. with allergies or intolerances.

Chai syrup

Like chai concentrate, chai syrups offer consistent, concentrated and dairy-free chai flavor in a shelf-stable format. However, drinks made with chai syrup may have a less traditional chai flavor than drinks made from chai concentrate. (Chai syrups do work extremely well in baked goods and other less traditional applications.)

Chai powder

First off: all chai powders have some form or derivative of dairy, so if someone is truly lactose intolerant you shouldn’t serve them powder-based chai drinks.

Because they have a creamy, dairy element built in, chai powders are a great product for situations where you don’t have access to dairy (if, for example, you want to serve a creamy chai at an outdoor festival in a location where you don’t have access to refrigeration). Chai powders also work well for situations where you want customers to be able to mix their own drink or for shops where chai drink turnover is low and you need something that will stay shelf-stable for long periods of time.

Blended chai

Blended chais are designed for use in frozen drinks. They include thickening agents like xanthan gum or guar gum to hold the drink together, which make them a better option for frozen drinks than chai concentrate, which require the addition of a separate thickening agent if used in frozen, blended drinks.

Loose leaf chai

Loose leaf chai blends do exist and, while making chai drinks with them is more work than using other chai formulations, they’re the right choice if you’re interested in offering your customers a highly-customized, premium chai drink. Rishi’s loose leaf organic Masala Chai offers a nicely balanced flavor profile with a distinctive spiciness.

Chai-ing to figure out the right choice for your beverage program?

We can help. Our beverage experts can provide you with all the knowledge you need to develop the right chai program for your restaurant or cafe. And our extensive catalog of chai products provides you with every product you’ll need to provide an exceptional tea experience for your guests.

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Topics: Tea & Chai

Tea 101 For Coffee Shop & Restaurant Owners

Like the elegant fold of your napkins or the complex, nuanced flavor of the espresso you use for your Americanos, the tea you serve to your customers can provide an elevated, compelling and memorable experience. A carefully designed tea program offers your customers more than a beverage -- it offers them a unique encounter with sensation and service that they can only find in your restaurant or cafe.

Putting together a tea program that will bring customers back again and again isn’t difficult -- it just requires some strategy and a basic understanding of tea choices, storage and preparation. With that knowledge under your belt, you’ll be set to start brewing for happy customers.


Providing a Memorable Tea Experience for Customers

Developing the tea elements of your beverage program starts with understanding your customers. Who are they? Busy commuters looking for a little liquid reprieve in their busy mornings? Relaxed diners looking to savor their experience at the table? The type and size of the tea program you should offer should match the needs of your customers.

It should also match the abilities and availability of your staff. For a coffee shop with a small staff, a limited selection of teabags or sachets might be the best choice. Their pre-portioned convenience saves your staff time and reduces room for error, measuring inconsistency or wastage.

For a fine dining establishment, consider the theater that tea can offer during dinner service. Educate your servers to be able to talk about the tea selections you offer, adding delight and interest to your customers’ choices. Consider the colors of teas you choose to offer -- a vibrant orange or sunny yellow tea in a glass teapot offers a visual treat to guests when your server carries it to the table. When they set it down and tell your guest, “I’ve begun the steep for you and, when it’s finished steeping, I’ll pour it for you,” the tea experience is once again heightened, this time by the care of the server.


What Teas Should I Include in My Beverage Program?

For more casual restaurants and coffee shops, we recommend offering four tea varieties -- a classic green, a classic black, an herbal option and one unique choice that customers won’t be able to find elsewhere (for example, a super-trendy Turmeric Ginger or a tradition-with-a-twist Peppermint Sage).

For coffee shops and restaurants that want to pursue a more complete tea program, we recommend offering between six and nine tea varieties, customized to match the interests of your customers.

Known as the espresso of the tea world, matcha has a high level of caffeine and can be used just like espresso as a straight matcha shot, in lattes, and blended frappes. It's a great offer for guests who are looking for a healthful boost of both antioxidants and caffeine.


How Should I Price My Teas?

While the right tea pricing for your shop or restaurant will depend on your clientele and location, we consistently find ourselves encouraging our customers to price their tea with the same understanding of effort and ingredient cost that they employ when pricing coffee. We often find that our food service customers underprice their tea, forgetting that, while it doesn’t enjoy the same cultural status as coffee, tea is also a luxury experience that requires skill and effort to prepare and brew for the customer. Give it the pricing respect it deserves!


How to Store Tea

The other area where we commonly see tea slip ups is storage. Tea is extremely sensitive to light, air and heat and sometimes those facts get lost in the shuffle of finding storage, creating appealing displays and ensuring ingredients are easy to access.

Glass jars, which let in lots of light, are a no-go, particularly for loose leaf. Instead, we recommend copper tins, like these Rishi small and large copper canisters, which offer a lot of aesthetic appeal while still offering your loose leaf tea protection from air and light. (For tea sachets, go with this copper Rishi dispenser canister.)

Once you’ve got the right storage containers, consider where you’re storing your tea in the kitchen or behind your counter. While keeping it above or right by the brewer seems intuitive, the moist heat thrown by the brewer can often have bad effects on the flavor and quality of your tea. Instead, keep it in a dry area, out of the way of steam, direct light and excessive heat.


Looking for Guidance as You Build Your Tea Program?

We can help. Our beverage experts can provide you with all the knowledge you need to pick the right number and type of teas for your restaurant or cafe. And our extensive tea catalog provides you with every product you’ll need to provide an exceptional tea experience for your guests.

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Topics: Tea & Chai

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