Chai has a rich history, spanning countries and cultures across the globe. Masala chai is most commonly associated with India, where it first originated — but chai wallahs, who deftly ladle fragrant chai into small clay cups for passersby, are a fixture of bustling city streets in many South Asian countries, from Bangladesh to Pakistan. Karak chai is popular in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and other gulf countries, and spiced tea is enjoyed across East Africa, from Kenya’s tangawizi (ginger) chai to Somali shaah. In the United States, chai often takes the form of a chai latte — typically a pre-packaged, spiced concentrate blended with steamed milk — but there are certain cafes and makers whipping up time-tested traditional chai, brewing creamy cups with aromas of cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. To find fresh-brewed chai in the Twin Cities, look no further than these four spots.
Red Wolf Chai
Founded by the Abdusebur siblings (Azhar, Mayzer, and Sumeya) and their two friends, Mohamed Yousif and Mowafag Mohamed, Red Wolf Chai has been making the rounds at Minneapolis farmers markets since 2021. Red Wolf’s blend of East African chai is made with a Kenyan tea base, sweetened with honey or brown sugar, and brewed over 11 hours with cinnamon, cardamom, and other spices. Flavorful and richly aromatic, it’s no wonder that it’s been a farmers market hit. During the winter market lull, sip Red Wolf Chai hot or iced at all Dogwood Coffee locations, at Ninth Street Coffee for the winter, and at pop-ups around the Twin Cities. Keep an eye on Red Wolf Chai’s Instagram for updates.
Rashmi Bhattachan and Sarala Kattel have been serving Indian, Tibetan, and Nepali specialties like chyau tarkari and chicken thenthuk out of their Northeast Minneapolis kitchen since 2010. Gorkha’s masala chai is brewed fresh daily with a black CTC tea grown in the Assam hills of India — the acronym stands for a cut, tear, curl method of processing tea leaves. The tea is first boiled with crushed cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, and then gets a frothy addition of whole milk. It’s left to simmer until the color develops into a rich reddish brown. There are few better complements to a plate of Gorkha’s crispy veggie samosas.
Hamdi Somali Coffee at Karmel Mall
Hamdi Somali Coffee serves a legendary cup of chai — or shaah, as Somali spiced tea is also known — at Karmel Mall, just a block off Eat Street. Hamdi’s chai mavens keep two lustrous aluminum chai kettles boiling all day, first pouring white sugar into the water and following it with a scoop of black tea leaves. Next come cardamom, cinnamon, and spoonfuls of ground ginger. After the mixture boils, it’s combined with steamed milk for a rich, creamy finish. Pair a cup with some malawax — sweet cardamom crepes — or nafaquo, hard-boiled eggs rolled in spiced mashed potatoes, then battered and fried.
Helmed by chef Saujanya Shrestha and his wife Nadine Schaefer, Namaste Cafe is a dining staple of Uptown Minneapolis. Located in a renovated Victorian-style house, Namaste has made its name serving not only flavorful curry dishes and roti wraps, but exceptional masala chai. To make their chai, Shrestha and Schaefer source three types of black tea from eastern Nepal, which they blend to use as a base. Then they add an amalgam of spices: cardamom and cinnamon, of course, but also clove, ginger, star anise, vanilla, black pepper, nutmeg, and fennel. Customers can opt for whole milk, oat milk, almond milk or soy milk. The duo also recently started Chiya Chai — available in masala, ayurveda masala, sugar free masala, and ginger cardamom varieties — for anyone looking to bring a growler of Namaste Cafe’s proprietary chai blend home.