It seems like only yesterday that masala chai, otherwise known as "chai tea" in this part of the world, burst onto the scene and became the chic new drink on restaurant menu boards. Its unique blend of sweet and spicy flavors enchanted beverage drinkers, and after 20-plus years, it has become as ubiquitous in our industry as the café latté or cappuccino.
In some respects, the rise of chai in the U.S. is really quite remarkable. For one, the flavor is robust and often polarizing. Unlike other forms of tea, chai seems to elicit a love-or-hate reaction from chai newbies, which is an unusual attribute for such a popular and successful product. More surprising, the U.S. has only a modest Indian population that would have been remotely familiar with the product beforehand, and consumer acceptance did not come gradually; rather, chai became popular almost overnight, and it has sustained that status even today.