I’ve already written on how much I love Di Bella in North Melbourne. But there is another, important reason why I’m a devotee – the chai latte. Big call here, but I think it is the best in Melbourne. Below is my humble appraisal of the chais of North Melbourne, no apologies by my biased views and frothy writing (pun intended).
Great froth for a start, sometimes bordering on a little too much froth to milk ratio. Quite sweet – you definitely don’t need to add sugar or honey – and a perfect balance in the spice mix. I’ve had some that are way too gingery and then quite a lot which just taste like cinnamon in sweet milk. This tastes spicy, but the spice is a coherent flavour rather than a mix of identifiable and overpowering flavours. Damn, I sound like a wanker don’t I? I don’t drink coffee though, so I have to get precious and pretentious about something. It was actually my sister who introduced chai lattes to me, I only started drinking them about a year ago. She ordered one at Di Bella and it smelt so good when it arrived that I asked for a sip. A sip became my own cup and then an at least bi-weekly chai stop at Di Bella. It might be that since Di Bella was my very first chai latte I have a biased fondness for it (it’s like a first love), but I’m pretty confident this is the cream (non fat, soy or otherwise) of the crop.
Grigons & Orr Corner Store
This comes in a cute teapot replete with knitted cosy. It’s not just a chai tea though, as I’d feared. It is milky and latte-y to a point, but there’s a distinct lack of froth. The flavour’s good, a fairly strong chai taste, but a bit bitter for me, too much like black tea. I added about three teaspoons of sugar to mine and I probably won’t order it again. The corn fritters at Grigons, on the other hand, are a-ma-zing! I would seriously like to take a bath in their homemade hollandaise sauce.
Auction Rooms, I love you, but really, your chai just doesn’t do it for me. It’s trying (or should I say chai-ing?) to be cooler than it should be. Chai should not be minimalist. For Auction Rooms the coffee is the money-maker. I’m pretty sure they could serve dog food for breakfast and the line for coffee would still be out the door and past Fandangos. The super rich hot chocolate with or without milk looks pretty good though. I keep meaning to try it but I’m always so full at the end of brunch!
So, technically not in North Melbourne, this little café is tucked away in the CBD on Little Collins street. I love their salted caramel slices. I used to work really close to Little Wish and a caramel slice from there was my hump-day afternoon treat to get me through…until I went again on Thursday and possibly Friday. They are so addictive. A beautiful buttery base, great gooey salty caramel, decent quality chocolate on top that’s not super hard and then a sprinkling of nuts and salt on the top. Crunch crunch nom nom.
But the chai, sadly, failed to impress. I wouldn’t write it off for others, but for me it was just way too gingery. It was just like hot milk and ginger powder. I wasn’t sure if I was drinking a chai or a curry. However, if you love ginger and you added a good whack of sugar, this might be a chai for you. The froth, I have to admit, was up to scratch.
The French Quarter
Good, possibly very good and probably my favourite in North Melbourne after Di Bella. The flavour is warm and nutty and the froth is good. My only complaint is it tends to be a bit milky tasting, the chai flavour could be stronger. I love this chai with one of their chocolate brownies. So rich but so delicious. Because of the milkiness of the chai it’s kind of like you’re a kid again having a chocolate brownie and a cup of warm milk before bed.
At home: Tetley Chai Latte Powder Classic
I think I bought this powdered stuff after a particularly shitty day at work. Somewhere in my tired brain I decided that buying chai powder and making my own chais both at home and at the office would be a good idea. I could save money! I could have a chai whenever I wanted, even if I was stuck and work or it was after hours. This would solve everything, I told myself, maybe even world peace.
Three months on and most of the little sachets are still sitting in the box in my pantry. It’s not terrible, it’s just not that good. For starters, it creates its own froth, which freaks me out. I mean, what do they put in there that means that when you add hot water to the powder it froths up like some chemical experiment from year nine? Second, the sachets seem to be made with jumbo mugs or mega US-style beakers in mind. For a normal 250ml of milk or water, I think there is enough chai powder in one sachet for two cups. Otherwise, I discovered, it’s quite overpowering and bitter. Finally, and maybe most fatally, I detected a faint fatty feel in my mouth after drinking it, a nasty kind of hydrogenated fat residue that just really closed the door for me on commercial chai powders. I did discover, however, that some of the chai powder in cupcake mix with a bit of ground cinnamon made really yummy chai cupcakes, so all was not lost with this purchase.