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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chai Cola

The arrival of autumn is a joyous time for me. As a young Quaffmaster, I lived in Topeka, Kansas. Now, for many people, the words "Topeka" and "Kansas" elicit mental imagery of Dorothy, tornadoes, and endlessly flat grasslands. I will admit that Kansas does contain more than its fair share of the latter two, although the beauty of the plains is underrated. However, for me, Kansas is associated with many other things, such as chicken-fried steak*. But that's just one of its many appealing aspects.

Another is weather.

Now, you may respond to that by saying "Quaffmaster, to mention tornadoes in one sentence and then to imply that Kansas has good weather seem somewhat inconsistent." I understand the objection, but please allow me to raise one point of contention: I did not say that Kansas has good weather. In fact, much of Kansas's weather is of the unpleasant or destructive variety. That being said, though, it is undeniable that Kansas does have weather. As opposed to some other locations, such as Southern California.

SoCal does get warmer and cooler, and it usually doesn't rain in the summer (although to a Kansan, the gentle drifting down of water droplets here wouldn't really qualify as "rain"). We here in semi-coastal SoCal are, indeed, blessed with a remarkably pleasant climate the vast majority of the time, ranging between "cool enough that I might wear a long-sleeved shirt" to "hot enough that I might, if pressed, perspire". It's one of the reasons that many people like to live here. It does have the drawback, though, that the turning of the seasons is something which you can fail to notice if you're not paying close attention.

The advent of autumn in Kansas produces a spectacular show of color as the trees shed that summer chlorophyll for the racier pigments underneath. One morning, you wake up, and the air has suddenly gained an unmistakable crispness. The sky turns a deeper shade of blue, somehow, and suddenly you bust out the sweaters and turtlenecks. At night, you're no longer lying on top of the bedsheets, with your naked body pressed against the screen window in a vain attempt to allow a breeze to strip the centimeter-thick layer of sweat from your skin; suddenly, it's time to put on the jammies and snuggle in a bed against that just-right bite in the evening air. It was always my favorite season, as a child. It still is, even though now it manifests for me as an almost imperceptibly lower angle of sunlight and more students pestering me in office hours.

Today's Weird Soda review is inspired by the coming of autumn.

I am a soda quaffer, and tea has never been a favorite of mine. I like my drinks cold and bubbly, not hot and tasting of bark. However, an event which occurred a few months ago may have opened up a new path in my beverage worldtrack. My wife and I were out on a date, and we stopped at a tea shop. While there, she obtained a cup of some sort of steaming concoction which smelled...well, fascinating.
I had a sip.
Spices...cinnamon...cream...and pepper...
"What is this divine mixture?" I asked.
"Chai," she said.
"More," I said.

The taste of this stuff was the brick hearth in front of the fireplace on a cool autumn day in Topeka. The blue sky, the brilliant trees, the heat and sweater; it was all there. She assures me that this Chai was not like all other Chai, that most chai is simply spiced and tasty. This was chai of times past, chai of idyllic days when chai could only be found at Indian restaurants and certain coffee shops run by the Illumina-tea, and obtainable only by the exchange of coded passphrases, obscure hand gestures, and making certain unmentionable and disquieting sacrifices in mountaintop stone rings shunned by wholesome folk above witch-haunted Pomona.
Or something like that; it might be that she said "This isn't the usual chai," and the rest came from my just having read a bunch of Lovecraft at 3 am after eating cold pizza.

So now I like my drinks cold, bubbly, and sweet...unless they're chai.
So what do I do in this case? Tonight, we're trying something called Chai Cola, by Taylor's Tonics. I'm going to assume it's not hot and peppery, but I'm truly not sure what else to expect.

Chai Cola is pictured here next to my favorite tea-drinking mug. It seemed appropriate.
Pictured here is my favorite tea-drinking mug with my second-favorite tea-drinking mug (which I picked up in South Miami Beach). They go rather well together, don't you think?

Where and when: I think I picked this one up at a BevMo.
Color: Slightly lighter than I expected, with a foamy head more commonly seen on root beer. Definitely in the dark brown family, but without the unplumbed dark red depths.
Scent: Hmm. The spices are more reminiscent of cola than anything else, but there is a faint bit of something slightly more acrid. Imagine some cola with a fair bit of cinnamon and cumin, sprinkled lightly over a campfire.
K-i-C: "Smells vaguely like chai root beer."
Taste: Huh. It's actually pretty nice--tastes of caramel, cinnamon, maybe wintergreen, a bit of coriander, and cola under it all.
K-i-C: "Tastes vaguely like chai that somebody poured some Pepsi into. Tastes like Chai when you breathe out, on the roof of your mouth."

Yep. Interestingly, this one's taste has a distinct physical location in my mouth: the roof, right at the back of the hard palate. About 40 seconds after drinking, there's a distinct peppery burning at that spot, which I have never experienced with a soda before.

It's pretty nice. The cola and caramel-spice-pepper-coriander of the chai go well together, and are well balanced. We get a nice, cool brew with pleasant, heady vapors. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite manage the fireside on a perfect autumn evening. Actually, with the temperature, volatility, and spiciness, it has an almost noir-ish feeling. I feel as though I should be wearing a trenchcoat.
But it's a good kind of noir. This one will probably end with me getting paid, rather than bleeding to death in the gutter, watching the beautiful autumn leaves swirl by.

Quaff rating: 3.5. Unusually nice! Especially noteworthy for good balance.
Cough rating: 0.5. A slight burning sensation.

*It should be noted that, among the many reasons on which my decision to marry the lovely and eloquent Kibbitzer-in-Chief was based, not least was the fact that she can make a darned fine chicken-fried steak.


  1. couldn't have said it better myself! thank you for the thoughtful review and genuine insights. thorough, perceptive, and accurate. we area micro-craft brewery and love it when those in the know get what we're up to. cheers! taylor (brewmaster)

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed the review. You made a very enjoyable beverage! I'm hoping to try more of your work in the future.

  3. Oddly I found that I enjoyed this drink more at room temperature than I enjoyed it chilled.

    1. You are right about room temp. You should with also make a float with it. Yummy!

  4. What do you think, which one tastes better? chai cola or red espresso tea? I usually prefer red espresso, but chai cola is also cool.

  5. No doubt, chai cola is very yummy and healthy tea. What are your reviews about oriarm tea, is it also healthy and yummy?

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