Good chai is transcendent. Strong black tea is sweetened by rich boiled milk and given a pleasant bite from a handful of spices. In South Asia it’s a way of life. Every person has their method of preparation — a ritual after years of boiling and reboiling the ingredients until they coalesce into the drink.
Gaurav Chawla, founder and CEO of Chime, had his own method but sometimes worried he spent too much time watching the chai boil and not enough time doing other things, so he cracked open a few home appliances and rigged up his own automated chai maker. Then he realised that he’d just done something people haven’t done in generations — reinvented the chai wheel. He found a happy medium between the careful and time consuming method of prep for “real” chai and the sugar drink sold in coffee shops everywhere.
Places like Starbucks sell something that is, technically, chai, but it’s usually an overly sweet mess of boxed pre-brewed black tea and spices mixed with some milk and steamed. You can’t taste the tea, just all the added sugar and cloves. That’s not completely terrible (sugar and cloves are great), but when you’ve had real chai it’s hard to go back to the pre-made stuff.
The Chime brews real tea with real spices, and it boils real milk and then boils it again after the tea and spice mixture is poured. And it’s all automated beyond the initial set up.
You pop the tea pod (similar to Nespresso coffee pods) into the machine, pour your milk into the milk pod and walk away. A few minutes later you return to a steamy mug of frothy chai that tastes damn fine. Chime has even included a “smart” feature, and while 90 per cent of smart appliances are terrible gimmicks, Chime actually does something worthwhile, and stores all of your personal chai settings. That lets you customise your milk-to-tea ratio and strength of your tea brew, and you can take your customisations to another Chime with a tap of your phone to the device.
It’s all pretty effortless — even if the device itself is still large and clearly in a pre-mass production stage, with cheap looking finishes and a milk pan that still requires scrubbing to clean (Gaurav assures me that the production model will be non-stick for easier cleaning). The next step is taking Chime to the crowdfunding world. The first 500 units sold will go for $US250 ($346), while all other units, and retail units, will go for $US300 ($415).
Unfortunately it’s a US campaign only. When asked why he was starting in the US instead of the much larger chai drinking market of South Asia, Gaurav chuckled. “America is our test market. We can start small here.”
It takes a lot of chutzpah to call America a test market, but if the taste of Chime’s chai is anything to go by, Gaurav might have earned it.