Lancaster Online: Try these chai-inspired beers and learn more about the spices

“When I worked in my first coffeeshop, I developed a deep love for coffee. Watching beans go from green to skillfully roasted and then being dropped into the cooling bin, spreading a comforting aroma as the sweeper arm rakes the still-hot beans into furrows was almost a sensual experience.

We also sold a wide variety of teas, all displayed in wide-mouth glass jars to show off the delicate contents. There were black teas like Assam and English Breakfast, green teas like jasmine pearl and genmaicha, and there was even one called Arctic Fire, a black tea speckled with vibrant blue flower petals.

Then there was chai, of course.

We didn’t offer the traditional spiced chai that’s sold loose and sweetened with sugar, with milk or cream added. Instead there was Oregon Chai, a pre-blended liquid concentrate that we’d mix with milk and froth until hot or serve over ice.

It always felt like a shortcut to me, considering the attention to detail paid to roasting coffee beans. I’ve always sought out authentic experiences and appreciate businesses that do the same.

Shortcut or not, it was the beginning of a fondness for this kind of tea.

Call it chai, not chai tea, as the word chai means tea in its Chinese origins. It’s just silly to call something tea tea.

It’s just chai, or chai masala — masala meaning spices.

What we know as chai is a black tea that has had spices added. Chai originated in India, where every tea blender and family has their own proportions of ingredients comprising their house tea.

Common spices added to chai include cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, star anise, fennel and clove. These spices combine to create a warming beverage that reminds me of a steaming pan of gingerbread in a cozy house with a winter storm raging outside the windows.

You’ve likely seen chai-flavored beers recently, too.

I tried two chai-inspired brews that take different approaches to the tea experience.

Chai High

Avery Brewing Co. Chai High tastes like a brown ale mixed with actual chai; it’s more tea than beer. It poured a murky, chestnut brown and was topped with a tan head. In aroma I smelled boatloads of nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cardamom and vanilla. It’s similar to what you might think of as pumpkin pie spice.

 The flavor was packed with spices: bold cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, the earthiness of turmeric and ginger. It started out creamy, but tealike tannins hit in the middle and it finished somewhat dry. If you like both chai and beer, you might love the 5.2-percent alcohol by volume Chai High.

Chai Yeti

One of Great Divide Brewing Co.’s Yeti family is the seasonal Chai Yeti, an imperial stout brewed with chai spices. It poured inky black and dense in my glass with a dark brown head looking like spoonfuls of chocolate mousse. The aroma had heavy roast, dark chocolate and mild spices compared to Chai High; it carried hints of brown sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger.

Yeti imperial stouts are always the opposite of abominable and the Chai version follows suit. In flavor, I got baker’s chocolate, dry coffee beans and subtle spice notes of cinnamon, cardamom and ginger that blended with the background to enhance and not overpower the experience.

Chai Yeti is one creamy and luxurious 9.5-percent alcohol-by-volume beer. I appreciate that it is chai-spiced, but those spices aren’t its defining quality; the base is an exceptional stout.”

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