Sure, the Kerala fried chicken and waffles gets all the press, but there's another item at Cardamom Hill that fills my dreams. It's a simple cup of chai. A wonderful cup of chai. If there is a better cup of chai anywhere in the world, I just might be willing to hop on a plane to try it.
Part of what makes Cardamom Hill's chai so compelling is how different it is from the typical chai that Americans have come to know through their Starbucks or other chain coffee shop - a few pumps of syrup, or a scoop of instant powder that gets mixed into steamed milk. The difference between that and Cardamom Hill's chai is like the difference between a push-button "cappuccino" from the machine at the local gas station and a carefully constructed beauty of espresso and milk from the likes of Dancing Goats or Octane.
Cardamom Hill's secret recipe manages to hit the perfect balance of rich, dark Assam tea and earthy cardamom spice and sweet whole milk and sugar. A biscotti-like tea cookie on the side is perfect for dipping. But somehow, it's the experience of this cup of chai that makes it magical. It is liquid comfort, capable of putting you into a tranquil moment of calm intoxication within seconds.
When I asked chef/owner Asha Gomez about the origins of her love of chai, that same notion of the experience of it all came through loud and clear:
4pm in the afternoon. As I waltzed back home from school I was greeted with the scent of cardamom and black tea being brewed in my mother's kitchen. It was chai time. No matter what the day was like, it was a reason to pause for comforting respite. And, while it was common at tea time around 4 or 5pm, it was also the perfect way to end a meal in my home - it almost made it easy to skip dessert.
Actually, the chai does make a perfectly good "dessert" at Cardamom Hill. There's certainly enough sugar that any itch for something sweet is easily satisfied. But there's also that rich tea, that robust spice, that... wonderful sense of calm. It's a quick and pleasant trip to India in mere minutes, all for $4.50. As for the typical cup of chai you can find elsewhere, Gomez remarked, "Imitation is the sincerest form of tribute, and American chai is a convenient approximation. However, chai the way it's enjoyed in South Asia is something worth trying." Indeed.
Get in Ma Mouth is a look at delicious things around Atlanta. It all started with a fig and mascarpone doughnut "slider," but knows no bounds other than that of eager hunger - sweet or savory, solid or liquid, homemade or store-bought. Click here for an archive of "Get in Ma Mouth" temptations.
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