Ever since I watched Violet Beauregarde describe the three-course meal in Willy Wonka’s stick of gum, I’ve fantasized about the same multi-dimensional taste. I found it at Kiran’s in just one sip of tea. And although Violet didn’t fare too well (she turned violet!), I was fortunate to be drinking Kiran Verma’s carefully crafted masala chai.
After years of being asked by patrons where they could purchase her popular blend, Verma decided to make the leap to packaging and is now offering tins of the tea at her restaurant and on her website. (She hopes to be in Central Market, Whole Foods and Williams-Sonoma soon.)
Savoring each well-balanced taste of indulgent comfort, it’s no wonder that Verma’s chai satisfies even the most discerning tea drinker: It has been sourced and sent back to the drawing board over the course of ten years while she perfected her combination of spices and once to twice-flushed leaves.
The result is a flowery mixture of Earl Grey, Borengajuli, Sri Lankan Lover's Leap and Margaret's Hope Darjeeling, each full of antioxidants and calming aromas that entice with strong floral, citrus and cardamom notes.
“Sometimes it would have too much black, sometimes too much orange. This blend is the perfect mix,” Verma says. “I wanted big leaves and big aroma.”
She uses this blend as the base of the masala chai served at the restaurant, adding cold water, slivers of fresh ginger root, whole milk and brown sugar. The milk tempers the sharpness of the spices, and the petite macarons with which it is served are subtle, so as not to compete with the flavors.
Though the tea is served all day long at Kiran’s, guests are in for a treat if they join for high tea on the second Saturday of every month from 3 to 5 p.m. Verma assures me this is the loveliest her restaurant ever looks because customers arrive donning elegant dresses and hats.
" This blend is the perfect mix,” Verma says. “I wanted big leaves and big aroma.”
The event offers live music and a menu of different teas and bites, including the famous masala chai, paired with potato and mushroom samosas, which are served with mint and fig chutney. (The sweetness and spiciness of the dish compliments and enhances the flavors in the tea.)
The ornate, wood-paneled banquet area of her restaurant made me sit up straight and mind my table manners, but her firm-yet-gentle reminder to drink my tea while it was hot put me at ease — I felt like I was in my mother’s dining room. Which makes sense, since drinking chai is a daily ritual she has had with her daughter for fifteen years and for decades before that, too.
“When I was a young girl I would offer to make my mother and grandmother tea in the hopes of listening in on their conversations,” Verma says. She would also sneak tastes of the tasty beverage, since children in her culture are usually only offered the caffeinated drink when they’re sick because the spices are said to be medicinal in nature.
When she had her own daughter she continued the tradition of making and sipping chai while catching up on each other’s day. The label on the black tin reads “Kiran’s Daughter,” paying homage to her teatime ritual with daughter Puja Verma.
Though tea time conversations once covered high school issues, the mother and daughter duo now discuss their business plan and marketing strategy. Kiran supplies the creative energy, innovating and teaching in the kitchen, while Puja runs the business end. Although their conversation topics have evolved and they are growing their local brand, Verma assures me that their tea ceremonies continue to reinforce their personal bond.
“We still have our tea together. Even when we’re just watching TV, we have a cup of chai in our hands.”
Verma’s Masala Chai is available at the restaurant and online, $12 for 4 ounces and $20 for 8 ounces. Each tin stays fresh for about six months.