One sip is all it took to hook me. Intent on feeding my caramel fixation one recent morning, I stopped by the La Cocina stall at the Ferry Plaza farmers' market for some alfajores. As I made my purchase, culinary director Jason Rose handed me a miniature paper cup filled with steaming Morning Glory Chai.
Cue the (food) porn soundtrack: boom-chicka-bow-wow chicka-bow-wow. The chai was spicy with a soupçon of exotic sweetness, and almost unbearably creamy. It was, hands down, the best chai I've ever tasted. I had to learn more.
Chai means tea in several languages, including Turkish and Russian, but it also refers to the intoxicating blend of warm milk, black tea, and aromatic Indian spices that has become a familiar drink on coffee shop menus. Most chais incorporate cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, freshly grated nutmeg, and pepper into the mix; Morning Glory adds all of those, as well as less common seasonings like vanilla bean, coriander, and orange peel. But what really sets Morning Glory apart is the inclusion of Chinese herbs, which give new meaning to the term "pick me up."
According to Laura Smailes, a certified clinical herbalist and the San Francisco manufacturer of Morning Glory Chai, there is astragulus to build the immune system and galangal to increase circulation. Gotu kola is good for the brain and, in conjunction with ginkgo, adds oxygen to the blood. Foti is added for longevity. "The Chinese say it will keep your hair black," she explains.