There’s little as satisfying as a good cup of chai to warm the body, heighten the senses and soothe what ails you. Austinite Julia Strawn wanted to find that cup. “I realized I couldn’t get a good chai anywhere,” she says with a laugh. “There are a lot of places that have commercial chai and it tastes like sugar and milk to me. I wanted something where I could taste the spices—the cardamom and the fennel and the black pepper—and it wouldn’t be so sugar-forward.”
So Strawn made it happen: In January 2014, she launched Evergreen Chai and now sells two custom blends. The Original chai blend contains cardamom, ginger, black pepper, fennel, anise, cinnamon and cloves, while the Ginger Spice blend contains hints of clove and anise, as well as fresh ginger syrup made from slices of organic ginger, pure cane sugar and filtered water. “A lot of it took weeks of experimentation,” says Strawn. “Heating water at different temperatures, steeping for different periods of time, taking one spice and processing it in ten different ways to find the right flavor.”
But achieving distinct flavors wasn’t the only goal for Strawn. “I wanted to start a small business where every little aspect was done with intention and integrity.” That’s not just chai in the sky—each step in the production of Evergreen Chai is done in a responsible way. Not only are the herbs and teas organic and sustainably harvested, but the spices are crushed using a carbon-free spice grinder powered by a stationary bicycle, and the post-brew remnants are used as compost to enrich an ever-expanding organic chai garden.
Currently, Evergreen Chai brews around 30 to 40 gallons of concentrate every week—supplying coffee shops and businesses such as Superhuman Bean, Caffe Medici, Epoch Coffee, Pacha, Friends & Neighbors, Bennu and Royer’s Pie Haven. And Strawn has high hopes for the future. She plans to launch a Kickstarter project in January 2015 to raise funds for projects like a new water filtration system that uses materials such as coconut husk fibers to eliminate the use of plastic-based water filters. She also wants to expand the herb-growing operation, so that the company’s ginger, anise and fennel can be sourced from its own gardens, and she’d like to offer local retail stores and markets a reusable glass bottle option. Talking about the future, it’s clear that Strawn’s passion is constantly evolving. “I’d also love to take herbs that are native to Texas and make tisanes with them,” she says. “I guess there’s a oneness that’s created when you intake what you’re surrounded by. It’s a pretty cool concept.” —Anne Marie Hampshire
Editor’s note: As of January 2015, Evergreen Chai is available at the Wheatsville Food Co-op South Lamar location.