I stopped drinking coffee over two years ago. That statement is a little misleading, but on occasion, I will still have a cup. It might not be a regular coffee, sometimes it’s a latte, or a cappuccino, or whatever – but inevitably I will decide that I don’t really like it. I think I lied to Justin in my OkCupid profile because I stated that I liked to drink it, but even then I had basically stopped. See, when you’re training for a race like I was, you tend to read everything on the internet without a filter. And one of those things that I read (and have been reassured that is not all that crazy) is that you should limit your caffeine intake so that when you take a gel with caffeine in it during a long run, you’ll actually feel the benefits. So coffee went out the window and I never looked back.
There are other things to drink. But the only one that I love is a soy chai latte. Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood that is being quickly licked by gentrification and part of that process means that I can get to at least five coffee shops within five minutes. Crown Heights – home of the infamous riots twenty years ago -is now host to all sorts of coffee shops that take their coffee very seriously. I don’t really care to live so close to all of them, but it’s led me to my own search. A great chai is made with an actual tea – not a syrup as you’d see at Starbucks. I may bash Starbucks here, but I’m not above ordering their chai on a regular basis. When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll order a tea with steamed milk (unsweetened), which brings me a little bit closer to the chai taste, without any of the spice. I digress.
What really makes the chai are the spices. The word chai simply means tea. Of course I’m not looking for a regular tea latte (see above for Starbucks). The key for a good chai is that it’s made from a mix – either a bagged chai tea that is pre-prepared, or one that the shop makes on its own, but under no circumstances should it come from a pump bottle. A great chai should have a hint of sweetness, but the flavor should really come from cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, with a base of black tea.
Of all of the coffee shops in the neighborhood, three have served me a good chai. Crosby Coffee, located a mere block from our apartment, served me a great one once, and then insisted that they don’t have it every time since then. Little Zelda, a few blocks away on Franklin Avenue, has served some great ones, but more often than not it depends on the barista. I’ve ended up with a few made with real milk (not ideal), and others that just aren’t quite there. The inconsistency has led me to give up on going there. Over on Classon Avenue, Glass Shop, served me a great one (strangely, I don’t think it was made with tea but it was definitely not too sweet), but since then hasn’t had it. Again, a loss. Our usual coffee stop has been Sit and Wonder on Washington Avenue, which has served me some great iced chais where I can see all of the great spices swirling around.
Which brings me to the ultimate one. Two weeks ago, in desperate need of cash (keep in mind, this was right before the wedding) we walked passed Sit and Wonder looking for an ATM while refusing to pay a bank fee. We ended up on Flatbush Avenue, getting cash at a Chase bank, dropping a prescription off at the Duane Reade, when we stumbled across a new (to us) coffee shop. Prospect Perk Cafe, located on Sterling Place just east of Flatbush Avenue. The wait for the soy chai latte was well worth it. I opened up the cup and saw a large satchel of spiced tea floating. After a morning of walking around and complaining that I was too hot (the weather gods were deceiving), too hungry, and maybe just a little tired of wedding planning, this chai made everything right.
Of course, I haven’t been back since. And I know that Prospect Perk isn’t even IN Crown Heights, but since it’s on the walk to the farmer’s market, I’m considering it the best one in the neighborhood. That smaller cup in the background is the largest espresso I’ve ever seen. And no, I didn’t let Justin drink it all.