I don’t take caffeine generally but a year ago, I broke down and had a cup of Samovar’s Masala Chai with almond milk, their vegan chai. I had only walked by the Mission location, which is gorgeously minimal, allowing focus on the elaborate concoction of various brews. I had resisted going in for a long time, but after seeing a picture, a mere picture, of their roiling copper cauldrons of chai, I hightailed it in there the next chance I got to finally partake.
I had opted for a cup of the masala to drink in the tea bar and was rewarded with a hand-crafted ceramic cup of muddy milkiness. Though the cup was just a tad too hot to hold comfortably with my bare hands, I made due by pulling down the sleeves of my sweater and enjoyed the warmth emanating from the ceramic. I wasn’t that familiar with chai though I knew I’d had bad ones and hadn’t been much interested since . But this cup was different…of course it was different. It had to be…because it came out of a copper cauldron of roiling, bubbling elixir that had cast its spell over me from the 2D pages of a newspaper.
Tentatively, I took a sip - expecting a burning hot liquid and after that, I wasn’t sure. But after a few more less tentative sips, reward. This was spicy! And I found that I really liked the heat coming from the combination of spices - the cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and most of all, black pepper. Yes, it was spicy and delightful and I started asking to have meetings at Samovar, just to have an excuse to partake in the chai.
In the meanwhile, Chai Bar by David Rio had also opened and I took note of it. Samovar in the Mission is so much more convenient for me than popping over to mid-Market so Chai bar has always been on my list of get-to’s. This week, I had a meeting in that area and planned to have a chai as I had read that they had soy, various nut, and coconut milk options and was excited about a spicy chai with coconut milk. They no longer have the coconut milk option but do have the others. I got what they listed on their menu as the boldly spiced chai with almond milk, which they describe as a very spicy drink.
Samovar in the Mission is a sliver of a tea bar and has spare seating with no room for tables to match the aesthetic. Chai Bar is expansive with an actual bar so you can see the drinks poured/made as well as generous and comfortable seating, with tables. There are a number of 2 and 4-tops as well as a 8-10 person community table. It was very welcoming and certainly encouraged lounging.
When my chai was ready, I picked it up and first noticed the paper cup it came in. There had been someone drinking espresso at the bar with a proper cup and I had made an assumption that I would get something other than a paper cup. There was no reason for me to assume this, other than that I look forward to sitting still with my ceramic hand warmer at Samovar and was disappointed that I wouldn’t have a similar experience at Chai Bar. Still, I had my first sip to contend with, hand and soul warming aside.
That first sip was a good one, which led to another sip, which was a pensive one. I sat for a bit with those first tastes of Chai Bar and thought about how it compared to Samovar. Yes, it was similarly spicy-hot but this was a little different. At Samovar, I definitely enjoy the flavor of those individual spices I listed above. This chai had all of that and it even had something of a floral/vegetal note to it. It wasn’t unpleasant, just different and a bit amplified because it was different. I liked it as well and am glad to know that I don’t have to find Samovar to be the end-all and that Chai Bar is another great option.
I may have to try my hand at concocting this at home. I can save myself a lot of mark-up and I’d like to experiment with that coconut milk option. If that coconut option can work with either David Rio’s or Samovar’s chai blend, it could put an end to frequent visits to either. I can only dream.