Chances are that by now, you've ordered a dirty chai or "golden milk" chai latte from your neighborhood coffee shop. But the truth is, chai has been around for centuries in India. With the increasing rise in popularity of Ayurveda and the clean eating (and drinking) movement that has informed a lot of it, it's more important than ever to support brands that pay homage to the true roots of centuries-old traditions.
A few years ago when I started trying to make an effort to support more Indian-owned small businesses, I came across The Chai Box and fell in love at first sip. I became an instant, loyal fan of the brand—it's been a staple in my tea drawer ever since.
"Historically, the chai industry has been dominated by non-South Asian individuals which has resulted in challenges in converting customers from 'Starbucks' chai to traditional chai," says Monica Sunny, founder of The Chai Box. "As a female, Asian-owned brand, I faced a lot of push-back. Focusing on the traditional aspect of chai was a turnoff to most businesses because there wasn't a lot of educational material available in the public eye on the origins and benefits of traditional Indian Chai. So, coffee shops just didn't know the difference.
The great news is that Monica says that's largely changed over the past several years. In fact, many of the local coffee shops she works with have seen triple(!) the sales when switching from mass-produced chai to The Chai Box's Chai Concentrate. In the past year, the traditional Indian tea brand has fully blown up thanks to her mouth-watering blends gaining the approval of Oprah herself with a highly-coveted spot on one of her Favorite Things lists. More recently, the blends were even featured in the Oscar's gift bag, so I have no doubt that the list of celeb fans is only about to multiply.
The brand features a range of 12 mouth-watering loose-leaf varieties of chai. Yup, there's not just one type of chai, like what you might see at your local coffee shop. In fact, chai simply translates to "tea" in Hindi (that's why the term "chai tea" doesn't make sense). But according to Monica, the common thread between every cup of chai is a combination of black tea leaves, cardamom, cloves, and milk. Some incorporate ginger, cinnamon, fennel, and other herbs and spices.
One of my and Oprah's favorites? The rose-infused Hill Station blend. But, when I really want to treat myself (or, tbh, am just feeling lazy), I reach for her Chai Concentrate. And, since Monica says the Chai Concentrate industry is especially dominated by non-South Asian founders, it's a product both her and I encourage everyone to support.
First things first. If you aren't familiar with what chai concentrate is, it's actually exactly what it sounds like. It's literally just ready-made chai in a highly-concentrated blend. Just add milk, and you've got yourself a fresh-tasting brew.
Here's why I'm a Chai Concentrate fan for life:
Everyone who has tried it loves it.
I'll tell pretty much anyone who will listen how much I love the chai concentrate for its taste and ease. I'll grab it straight from the fridge and top it with a bit of soy milk and ice on a hot summer day, or heat it up in the microwave to pair with frothed oat milk and a cozy blanket on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon. When I first tried the concentrate, I was staying with my parents, and I practically had to hide it from them in the back corner of the fridge because they kept drinking all of it. I know, I know. I should be ashamed, but it's just that good. (And tbh, the approval of my chai elitist Indian parents says a whole lot.)
The concentrate has all the traditional ingredients that remind me of home, sipping chai while gossiping with my mom, cousins, and aunts in the late afternoon. It has the perfect blend of cardamom, cloves, and ginger that give it a traditional rich, spicy taste. And, while I love treating myself to the OG version that's sweetened with raw sugar, the unsweetened concentrate launched just a few weeks ago and has already become a near daily staple. I even brought some to the office to share with my colleagues, and they all became instant fans.
It makes chai easy.
Traditional chai has nothing to do with a tea bag. Watch one of The Chai Box's Instagram stories to see Monica making it the real, authentic way on a daily basis—she calls it her daily chai meditation, and I love watching it every. single. day. Every morning (even while traveling), you'll catch her muddling her own cardamom and cloves to make a fresh pot, daily.
While I have the utmost respect for that, I know my strengths—and muddling is simply not one of them. However, putting liquid in to a cup is something I am great at. I simply pour about a fourth of a cup of the concentrate in to a glass with half a cup of milk (chai consists of a lot more milk than traditional tea). The concentrate has a really strong taste, so chances are that you won't want much more than that. While I do indulge in this as an act of self-care when I'm at home, I also have been loving the ease with which I can pour it in to a travel mug with milk before heading to the office or running errands without having to go to the trouble to even boil water.
The brand celebrates ethical entrepreneurship.
Monica says she founded The Chai Box to share the craft of traditional chai-making with her three sons. But, her passion goes far beyond her home—she says that she also aims to show her children how to be ethical entrepreneurs. "The goal of The Chai Box is to implement an ethical business process from start to finish," she says. "We source our spices from small-scale farmers in Kerala [a Southern Indian state] who have inherited their lands and have been cultivating their spices for generations. We also compost the mulch left over from the production of our chai concentrate."
Supporting a brand that's doing good for the world, all while sipping on some celeb-approved chai? Honestly, it's a no-brainer. Don't be surprised if you end up signing up for the brand's subscription service, too. It's a total must for chai lovers and it makes an especially amazing gift for the tea-obsessed mom in your life this Mother's Day.