How it all got started: Farah was raised in Atlanta, Georgia by two parents who had immigrated to the United States from India. heir twice-daily ritual of consuming chai tea became the inspiration for One Strip Chai. But more about this to come…
Shortly after she completed college, Farah found her way to New York City and employment as an IT consultant. But she hated the work, the travel, and the lack of passion she had for the whole experience. Obviously not a good fit.
The 3rd wave coffee climate in New York had captured her interest. Seeking to learn as much as she could about coffee became her passion. She really wanted to know why on earth would someone spend $6 for a latte: “after all, it was just a coffee bean”. Though she had never worked in the food industry, she found she had a strong desire to open a coffee shop. On a whim, she decided to check out Portland, Oregon. She had no intention of staying—her plan was to learn all she could about coffee and then return to Atlanta or New York to open a coffee shop. But when she arrived, it didn’t take long to get hooked, not just on the coffee, but on the whole entrepreneurial food scene.
As a barista intern at TABORSPACE in 2015, she met Josh, her manager and mentor, and soon to become her business partner. During her coffee education, she frequented local coffee shops. Her encounters with the chai tea served was consistently awful—not at all like the chai which her parents religiously drank twice daily. In her family and community, chai was always the first thing served when visiting someone’s house. Even at her Mosque, friends would often say, “let’s get together at the chai station.”
Portland’s chai was often too sweet, watered down, too milky, with weak tea, and void of the spiciness found in authentic chai tea she grew up with. What would people tasting chai for the first time think? More so, what would all the experienced chai drinkers think—that Portland was not the place to have an excellent chai tea experience.
Knowing she was on to something that she was really passionate about, Farah asked Josh what TABORSPACE did for their chai. Ironically, he was trying to come up with his own chai concentrate. Like Farah, he didn’t like anything on the market and didn’t want to serve it to his customers. But she wanted to know, “why would you need to make a concentrate? It is easy, you just make it on the stove.” Though it sounds easy, there are a few issues coffee shops have when trying to make chai using traditional methods.
For starters, coffee shops typically don’t have a stovetop. Second, really fabulous chai usually takes about six hours of slow cooking. Concentrates allow coffee shops to offer chai without the necessary labor of love required to make a great tea.
For over six months, Joshua ground and blended spices looking for the right formulation. Farah tested and provided feedback until they came up with a spicy chai tea that met Farah’s standard for a great chai tea. Using fresh ground organic spices, local honey, jaggery (a sweetener often used in East Indian cooking), and black Assam tea, the drink started to gain popularity with their customers who loved a good spicy chai tea.
It became obvious that they would be great business partners, both with an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for providing their customers with an excellent product. Joshua suggested that coffee shops would love to have a really authentic tea for their own customers. In November 2015 One Stripe Chai Co. became official. Josh contacted baristas that he had trained, and they quickly had two regular clients.
At first Farah, barely reaching 5 feet tall, was hand-delivering the cases, which she says was a sight to see. Soon it was decided that Josh could handle the deliveries—much stronger. It did not take long for them to outgrow TABORSPACE. By January 2017 they needed a larger space and a larger brewer. Josh had connections with a brewing company in Colorado who built a custom brewer that could brew up to 40 gallons at a time. They also found a great space in Southeast Portland for their expanding operations.
Wouldn’t you know it! In January 2017, Portland was experiencing one of the heaviest snowfalls the city had ever seen. In some areas, the snow had accumulated 15 inches, and the city was at a standstill. It was at this time that Farah and Josh moved their operation, while still trying to keep the deliveries flowing.
They anxiously waited for their new 40-gallon brewer. However, it arrived with parts broken or missing. It was not only a challenge to get the new brewing equipment set up, but the spices-to-tea ratios also changed as the brewing amount increased from 6 gallons to 40 gallons. Each brew takes about 6 hours, and they wouldn’t know whether they were successful or not until the end of the process. They threw out at least four batches during the experimentation. And all the time they still had to make deliveries. It was necessary to continue brewing in the spaghetti pot at TABORSPACE. The snowstorm made going back and forth treacherous.
Snow, delayed deliveries, and a dwindling checking balance left them feeling a little stressed. But once the snowstorm passed and coffee shops were ordering again, it didn’t take them long to overcome the temporary setback.
How does a military ranking become the name for a chai tea business? As a kid, Josh’s dad had been in the Air Force and taught him all the rankings starting with the completion of basic training when a person received one stripe. During his college years (architecture) when he finished a project and didn’t have a name for it, it was filed into a folder labeled “one stripe”. For this duo, One Stripe Chai Co. is all about taking something really simple, or “basic” as far as it will go in terms of quality.
All spices are freshly ground before each brew- giving the tea an extra deep flavor. They come from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene. When they first started, they were using a prepackaged tea from India, but Farah and Josh wanted to directly source the tea. They found an Assam tea from a farm in India where they now source their tea. Farah was able to visit their farm and cement the relationship.
Considering the future growth of One Stripe Chai, Farah and Josh plan to develop chai using different types of teas and additional spices such as fennel. Currently, Josh hand grinds ginger, black pepper, green cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves before each batch. They are personally developing expertise in tasting teas so they can add variety to their offer. Each week they brew around 100 gallons of chai, and every bottle of One Stripe Chai is currently bottled by hand. They are also investigating using a better source for doing the bottling. In addition, for drinkers that prefer an unsweetened version, look for One Stripe Chai—Unsweetened coming soon.
When mixing the concentrate, they recommend heating it on the stovetop and adding milk at a ratio of one to one. If half and half is used, use a two to one ratio of chai to half and half. Over ice, One Stripe Chai is a non-traditional way of drinking chai. The product comes in 16 (Grenade), 32 (Howler), and 64 (Growler) ounce sizes. The 16-ounce bottle yields four 8 oz cups of tea.
In addition to the Hollywood Farmers Market, One Stripe Chai is in about 50 coffee houses in different cities around the country as well as New Seasons, Market of Choice, and additional farmers markets. Even though they didn’t think selling the chai concentrates would be suited for a farmers market, they have exceeded their wildest imaginations. They love the markets, and started a bottle exchange which their customers really appreciate. Hollywood Farmers Market has proven to be highly successful, with a growing fan base and repeat customers.
Even with the business growing so rapidly, Farah was able to take time off to get married—a week-long affair. Josh even closed shop to attend. Stop by their booth on Saturdays at the Hollywood Farmers Market, and say hi, and of course sample their amazing chai tea.
By Susan Gibson, HFM volunteer