For the love of chai: High schooler conducts chai-tasting tour in Northampton

  • Nola Busansky, left, and Jane Fleishman prepare to do a blind taste test of eight different chais. Joan Tabachnick

Published: 8/12/2021 12:39:03 PM

“Once you dip your face under the surface of the ocean, you see how much ocean life there is and all the different ecosystems.”

This is what Ali Jukiro, the owner of Dobra Tea in Northampton, said about chai tea as we sat drinking one of the greatest cups of chai in her establishment.

Jane Fleishman and I began this undertaking — a chai-tasting tour — in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic through our shared love of chai. Our main goal was to conduct a blind tasting of as many different cups of chai as Northampton has to offer.

The spices, the black tea, and the other additions in chai are believed to improve your body in many ways. Black tea contains a compound called polyphenol, which can help to prevent degenerative diseases, aging and cardiovascular disease.

As for the spices, they are loaded with thousands of medicinal properties. There are five main spices in chai: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and black peppercorns. Ginger reduces nausea, cardamom helps with breathing, cloves promote bone health, cinnamon decreases aging, and black peppercorns improve brain function. There are also many other additions to chai that make it even more rich and delicious.

Discovering the wide range of chai available in our small city was eye opening. Each coffee and tea shop we went to was a different experience with its own unique setting, cup size, and very different interpretations of chai.

Our first stop was The Roost. With a nice little window outside for ordering, it was nice and easy to get our chai. The chai had a nice peppery taste and the perfect amount of subtle sweetness.

After that we headed over to Familiars. In my opinion it is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of chai. It has outdoor seating on the street, and a beautiful set up next to the bike path as well. Their chai had a strong black tea flavor, with subtle sweet taste and just a hint of spice.

We then headed into Thornes Marketplace to try Share Coffee’s chai. Neither of us had ever tried Share’s chai before (although I do love their coffee). It had less of a kick than I was expecting, but it was still delicious.

Our next tour top was Dobra Tea, a place with at least four different kinds of chai’s each day. We decided to order the Chai Chai Chai, which is simply freshly brewed black tea with some cardamom, sweetener, and milk of choice (we chose oat milk). There are many other delicious types of chai on their menu, but this was the one we chose for the tasting. It was absolutely delicious, with a little bit of cardamom in the background and a very strong black tea flavor.

Our next stop was Tart, and we ended up getting a pastry there as well. The chai itself had just the right amount for my taste buds with the perfect proportions of spice, sweetness and black tea.

After finishing up our pastries, we headed over to Haymarket. I love to go to Haymarket for their delicious smoothies, but I had never tried their chai, so I was excited. This chai had a very strong black tea flavor which was highlighted by the fact that we got oat milk with it (which I highly recommend).

The next on the list was Woodstar and it definitely surprised us with how delicious their chai was. It had so much of a gingery spice, and was sweet as well, which we later discovered was because they use a housemade ginger syrup in their chai.

Our final stop was Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, which is the place that Jane goes to almost every day to get a chai. It was definitely my favorite, although my taste buds and preferences may be different than yours, so do not rule out the others. The chai at Shelburne was probably the spiciest chai I had ever tasted, and I loved that about it.

In the backyard of Jane Fleishman and Joan Tabachnick’s house, we conducted the blind tasting. We tasted each chai individually for sweetness and spiciness, and ended up choosing Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters as the winner.

I hope this article inspires you to go out and get a chai for yourself at one of these places because, while I may not be a professional food taster, I do know that our local coffee and tea shops can make a mean cup of chai.

Nola Busansky is a Northampton High School student. Jane Fleishman is a certified sexuality educator, writer, researcher and consultant.

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