Let’s meet for coffee! I often find I get some of my best work done over coffee meetings. This is perfectly fine except for one thing: I can’t drink coffee. If I do, my normally vivacious personality becomes hyperactive to the extreme, to the point where I can’t stop still long enough to concentrate on anything. Luckily, I can drink chai latte, and luckily there are some great options in Canberra. Here are a few unique places I have visited recently, which are special not just for the chai, but also for the atmosphere.
‘First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin’, Leonard Cohen wrote. Well, I’d settle for taking a nice cup or two of chai latte at 332 Manhattan. The venue of 332 Manhattan, opposite Glebe Park, is lush. It is a great option for a pause in civic shopping, being close to the Canberra Centre. What I especially love, love, love about this venue is how feminine it is, with (fake but realistic) flowers and shabby chic decorations transporting you to an almost French provincial setting. Or more affluent New York café if that is where you want to imagine yourself.
The chai latte here is unique. No powdered mix, but rather brewed from Melbourne-based Prana Chai and frothed in its own Turkish style pot with cinnamon and other spices. I had fun pouring the milky mixture into my cup and then adding honey. It was a bit messy, but I think – I hope – I still managed to drink it elegantly.
At the back of the Dickson shops is a hidden corner cluster of cafes. The Saturday morning paper scene reminds me of my childhood growing up in Melbourne, where going to a café on a Saturday morning and stopping to read the paper was a bit of a ritual for my Dad – and still is.
A few weeks ago I decided to treat myself to a chai latte after the library run. I loved the colourful presentation of this chai latte, which is larger and more generous than it looks. This is a full-bodied chai latte, with thick frothy milk topping and a rich crust of spice on top. My only complaint was that I thought it was a bit too sweet. Well, it is something that is supposed to be really sweet – in Australia anyway. The chai is perfectly accompanied by one of their croissants or some fabulous baked sour dough bread.
Price: $3.50 small, $4.50 large.
Smith’s is a place to come for the atmosphere. The morning I went was supposed to be a Writers Bloc catch-up as part of the Noted Writers Festival. Given it was a rainy Saturday morning, I was expecting the mood to be quiet and laid back. Instead, I stumbled upon a rehearsal for a burlesque performance with popping balloons, G-strings, tattoos and devil horns that proved a bit of a distraction from the writing. No complaints though because the free entertainment was very entertaining.
Perhaps being a bit busy with all the performance happening my chai latte took a while to be made and served, but it was quite good. It was served in a glass, medium sized but generous, with a thick dusting of cinnamon. I can see that this place has the potential to become a regular spot writing spot (distracting burlesque aside).
Maybe it was because it was raining, maybe it was a sign of calming down from stress from my meeting beforehand, but I declare this is the best chai latte I had ever tasted. Perhaps that sentiment may only remain until I taste the next best chai latte, but it was pretty good. What made it so good was that it was hot, frothy, light, spicy and sweet without being sickly. I must admit that from the exterior, which indicated this was a fairly stock-standard takeaway lunch restaurant, I wasn’t expecting good things. ‘It’s actually pretty good there,’ said my friend who works closeby. She is a regular, and she is right. The moment I entered Suga Cube, a lady came and asked me – very politely – what I would like. She took my order, and hey presto, a foamy mug of chai latte (and my potato, leek and bacon soup) appeared soon afterwards. I felt like royalty, at tuck shop prices.
For an extra 50c, you can have a ‘dirty’ chai latte – this is a chai latte mixed with coffee. I believe this is the latest trend, but I haven’t tried it (as per above, coffee makes me go crazy, and not in a good way). A friend who had tried a dirty chai latte said that it was not an experience she wanted to repeat. I am not one to mix my caffeine, but if you are adventurous, please give it ago and let me know what you thought of it.
Price: $3.90 small, $4.50 mug, or $5,00 for a dirty chai latte.
Lonsdale St Roasters have a commitment to good coffee, and to making Lonsdale St cool. They have two premises along Lonsdale St, but on this occasion, I went for the address near Italian and Sons. I was expecting big things. I was hyped up with expectation. But alas, my experience fell flat.
It wasn’t all bad, but it just didn’t zing. The first thing that annoyed me was the extensive time that it took to serve my chai latte. I arrived ten minutes before my date, ordered, tried to chat with the staff about whether they had any special chai blend, sat down to act nonchalant, then I waited. And waited. And waited. My date came, ordered his coffee and, hey presto! his arrived. But I still waited. Then when it came, it was too sweet and there were no nice sprinkles of spice on top. Compared with his coffee (which smelt very good), I felt a bit second rate with my chai.
I can’t say the chai was bad. In fact, it was probably pretty good, but by now I was getting fussy. I also liked the mahogany red saucer it was served on. From my chai latte tastings over the last few weeks, this seems to be the ‘it’ thing for presentation. The vibe and the location were great as well. Just. If you are going to put that much effort into coffee, why overlook the tea experience? Chai latte drinkers have sensibilities, too, and like to ensure they are drinking only the best. They are also paying customers and are also deserving of respect.
Price: $4.50 large.
I do love a good chai latte, but even I found it was a bit of a sugar rush doing so much research. There are several other places I could have gone to, should have gone to, and will hope to get to next.
As we head into a Canberra winter, why not have Canberra known as the chai capital, the place where you can soothe and relax with a nice calming cup of chai?
Does Canberra do enough to make good chai lattes? Where is the best chai latte in Canberra?