One Stripe Chai Co. began when I took the reins at Belltower coffee at Mt. Tabor in Portland Oregon. I wasn’t super happy with the chai we were serving so I started trying other vendors. My efforts, however, proved fruitless- everything was very sweet or very weak, and sometimes both. I then spoke the most dangerous words in the english language. “How hard can it be?” After a bit of research I made my first attempt and the result was so spicy it made my boss’s eyes water. I kind of liked it the way it was… but it did have a nasty tendency to make children and the elderly cry so I kept at it.
After almost 6 months of tinkering, I had something that was much stronger, darker, and more authentic than anything I could get delivered to my cafe, so I started serving it. I thought that was the end of that, but a few months after putting it on the menu, I brought a new barista on board named Farah…
I have to start by explaining my relationship with chai. I'm Indian so drinking chai is basically in our blood. I have memories with chai that most people in the US have with coffee. That experience of being young and watching all the "adults" drinking this hot beverage religiously, anxiously awaiting until I was "old enough" to have a mug of my own was one of my first. I still remember getting my first cup in a small light amber mug with a matching saucer which I used to cool the chai down and slurp up. At mosque, it was a ritual to meet by the chai in the back courtyard where white Styrofoam cups flooded the scene. We dunked our Ritz crackers in the beverage as we caught up on school, life, and who-was-dating-who. In college I abandoned my chai and Ritz ritual for a new libation- coffee. Coffee was the new partner in crime through all-night study sessions and long walks across campus in the winter. I wasn't reacquainted with chai until after college, while stopping to visit an older cousin in D.C. on my way up to my new home- New York City. He offered us a hot cup of masala chai and I was hooked once again. I had forgotten how comforting chai could be, and quickly asked him for the recipe. I left with a small jar of black tea that his mom had given him and in my tiny apartment in Queens, I would make some for myself, experimenting with different spices. I avoided ordering chai lattes at coffee shop because I always found them too sweet or just tasting like nothing. Fast forward about 5 years, and I found myself trying Joshua's chai brew and blurting out "wait, you made this?!" Taste testing the brew as Joshua perfected it, the idea of One Stripe Chai Co fell into our laps randomly and serendipitously, the way most great things tend to fall into laps.
Why the name?
The name is actually an oblique military reference. My (Joshua) father was in the Air Force and for some reason he thought it was important for me to know the Air Force’s ranking system. Why he thought this, I will never know, since I was all but forbidden from ever joining the armed forces. In any case, a “One Striper” or “Airman” refers to someone with 1 stripe on their arm. You earn that stripe upon completion of Basic Training. During that training, you are called a “basic” (among other things I’m sure). One Stripe Chai Co. is all about taking something really simple, or “basic” as far as it will go in terms of quality.
When I started in coffee almost 6 years ago, I thought it was crazy to worry about a few degrees of temperature or barometric pressure change. Now, after spending the last 2 years working in craft coffee with some of the best roasters in the world (and I’ll hear no argument on this, Portland DOES have the best roasters in the world), I realized something. Great food and drink come from the boundaries of simplicity, the farthest reaches of what someone might call Basic, just before you get that One Stripe on your arm… at least that’s what my dad tells me.