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Thursday, September 29,2011

Chai time

Drink connects community for Boulder family

By Christie Sounart

For the Rawats, chai is the glue that holds their family together.

This summer, the Boulder residents had an idea to take their chai out into the community with the hope that their drink could make an impact on bringing people together. The idea flourished, and Rachna Rawat and her husband Rajeev Rawat watched as their two children, Radhika, 19, and Rishi, 21, took their family recipe and formed Hanuman Chai.

The family knew that they wanted the company to be as authentic as possible. Their chai recipe comes from Rachna’s family and is four generations old. Rachna, who grew up in India, says that chai was present constantly in her household. Their “chai time” would be a time where the family would share stories and relax.

“One cup of chai was never enough,” she says. While raising her children in Boulder, Rachna says she would bring a carafe of her chai into their schools and would tell her family’s story about chai’s ability to knit them together. She says that the teachers always loved the chai and encouraged them to bring it to market.

“Teachers have had a very large role in our lives,” Rajeev adds.

Today, Radhika and Rishi both attend the University of California, Berkeley. Nevertheless, Rachna says they were both excited to start the business in Boulder, and the two of them worked hard every day of their summer break to make their vision of a chai business come true.

“I just watched this thing evolve,” says Rajeev. “In two weeks, they had the concept. They wanted this to take off.”

Despite being back in California, the two remain very involved with the company and designed a company website and Facebook page. Within weeks of the family’s initial planning for the company, Hanuman Chai was rapidly becoming known in the Boulder community. The chai has been sampled and featured in four events since July, including the Boulder Green Streets event on Pearl Street on Sept. 18.

According to Rachna, chai is a drink that has been used for health, energy and community for 6,000 years. Yogis and sages from India originally drank chai as a way to promote optimal living, and depending on the time of year, would brew different herbs and spices to create a product that would invigorate the mind and body. She says that this tradition serves as the foundation for Hanuman Chai.

Rachna explains that they are very committed to serving only fresh batches of chai, which means that no preservatives or sweeteners are added. She oversees the production of the chai — which usually happens two to three times a week — from their commercial kitchen. Rachna is committed to making Hanuman Chai of only the highest quality. She also will only drink her chai from a clear cup to ensure that it was made correctly.

“Our chai is made in small batches for the maximum flavor and maximum health benefit,” she says. “We want to keep the potency of the spices and the flavor.”

Hanuman Chai is made with a combination of black tea and karha, which is the herb and spice component. The proportion of spices used depends on the season. Rachna says that spices can have altered effects on the body in different seasons, because some spices have more of a warming or cooling effect than others. There are usually around seven or eight spices in Hanuman Chai, and the proportions of them are always changing to maximize the health benefits, she says.

Rob Quesenberry, owner of the three Vic’s Espresso locations in Boulder, was instantly sold when he tried Hanuman Chai after Rachna told him that she was unable to find good chai in the area. He began selling it in all three of his shops and began strategizing ways to move the company forward.

“He has been a great mentor to us,” Rachna says. Hanuman Chai also is sold at Lafayette’s Back to Basics Kitchen and at Cannon Mine Coffee. The chai can be bought in bulk at the locations either in a concentrate or dry form. Rajeev says that their chai has been selling rapidly online as well.

Rachna says that her dream is to have chai be a regular part of people’s lives. She envisions families having their own “chai times,” just as she has known her whole life.

“[Chai] will be a change in the community because it connects people,” she says. “It gives time to have a moment to laugh and spend time with family and friends.”

For more information about Hanuman Chai, visit them online at facebook.com/hanumanchai.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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