Viva Caj!

I could start by noting that I am sitting here, as the sun comes up over the Mediterranean in the cool Menorcan air; and quite frankly wherever you are or whatever you are doing; I’m enjoying it more.

I could mention the amazing size of the leaves in the tea tumbler next to me; they are not only a first rate Nepali black tea, but they are twice-steeped, and the result is filling a large mug next to my laptop.

But I don’t think I will, because there’s enough in this post to cause you envy anyway.

Here on Menorca, I get access to the internet once a day if lucky, so I guess that means I should be better able to craft thoughtful and accurate blogs for later updating. I’ve now had two days to think this one through. Still struggling for words.

I might say up front that any inaccuracies herein are mine. We spent an enchanted hour two days ago in Caj Chai, and there is a lot of detail to remember.

Caj Chai was recommended, and it was also recommended to go there during the afternoon between Wednesday and Sunday to meet the owner, Antonio.

Even though we tried hard to get there before Wednesday afternoon – because we had a flight out on Wednesday afternoon – it worked out that we finally lobbed through the open doorway of Caj Chai at 2pm Wednesday. To me, that is Wednesday afternoon.

Not so in Spain (and the not-quite-Spain of Catalunya). The morning shift finishes at 3pm.

But by a stroke of luck, shifts had been changed and Antonio was on deck.

We had just come from the fantastic food markets off La Rambla. We love the Gothic Quarter, and we could not imagine a better place to spend our last few hours in Barcelona.

We were in that excitable state between the exhaustion of days on the go and anticipation of our next destination. Upbeat is putting it mildly.

I had clutched to me the four packets of tea mentioned in my last blog. All was good.

Caj Chai only had to be “just OK” and we would have loved the experience. It was far from “just OK”.

Tea in Spain in Cafés and restaurants is about where it is in Australia. Mostly supermarket tea bags; a few “premier teabags”, a few more who think a plastic tetrahedron with minced semi-good tea is the pinnacle of tea, and a precious few who are committed to getting every aspect of the tea experience perfect.

Caj Chai is the latter.

It is really two tea shops. It is a chai house, serving well blended and crafted chai. This seems to be the money maker; the cash cow; the source of ready dollars.

And it is a speciality tea shop; with first rate teas from just about everywhere.

At this point; had you been about to learn that I indulged in a Japanese tea from the dozen or so available, I would give you fair warning to sit down and prepare yourself for a shock. I can assure you, no such warning is necessary.

As we walked in and took it all in – the wonderful decor, the Middle Eastern music, the tins THE TINS THE TINS THE TINS OF REAL TEA – we were quite warm. It being over 38 degrees and having walked a few blocks.

There was a chalkboard with iced teas listed in Spanish; and after eliminating the ones with citrus, I ordered tea flavoured with a combination we have been experimenting with  ourselves – lemongrass and liquorice.

Our experiments have centred on subtle flavouring, so I expected a nice iced tea with a hint of sweetness and richness, and a mild tang.

WRONG. This was an iced tea that drove at you like a Spanish taxi driver at a pedestrian crossing where the lights have just changed – it severely wanted to put a dent in you. 

Lady Devotea’s “Oh, I’ll just have a sip of yours” turned into the glass never leaving her side of the table. We didn’t gulp it down – it was way too good for that – but took turns easing it down.

My strongest thoughts at that point were to order another, but no, that would not be right.  I browsed the shelves, before a menu was produced. A comprehensive menu that would make many certified tea nerds week at the knees.

The fact that they had a superb Temi excited me, but we have well over a kilo of that at home, so that didn’t get a run.

In the end, I decided it had to be from one of two of the three countries whose tea was represented on the menu that I am yet to try.

Given how much so many of the tea nerds I know love Korean tea, I decided I would be contrary and ignore the four or five offerings from there.

That left Georgia (a tea name I don’t recall at this moment but that will replace this text when I remember or get access to the internet in a meaningful way) and Turkey (Rize). Deciding to drink one and buy the other to take with us, I consulted Antonio.

I was informed that since there were limited stocks of the Georgian, I could only have it in-house, but that Rize was plentiful and could be packaged up so as to be squeezed into our alarmingly full cases.

Lady Devotea ordered the standard house chai, which to be honest, I have very little hope for when it arrived. It seemed too thin; not milky enough. However, it had a slice of one of my very favourite things – crystallised ginger – on the rim. So I made a note to steal and scoff that as soon as practicable.

Meanwhile, my tea.

Antonio told me this was a tea that was worth an extended steep, so of course, I went straight in and siphoned off some barely steeped.

And it was delightful. It had cinnamon notes and unusual bread notes. Almost like a cinnamon doughnut. And I love cinnamon doughnuts.

As it steeped, it developed, but I liked it at all stages. Just great tea.

I then took a slurp of Lady Devotea’s Chai, and it was superb. So very different from the creamy, milky lush honeyed Aussie Ginger Chai with which we lure the unsuspecting public, but a lively spiced dance on the tongue.

As the glass was very hot, I assisted Lady D buy drinking the top 12.5%. Chivalry is not dead.

The slice of ginger was also delicious.

OK, full of tea but unwilling to leave, I chatted to Antonio for a while. We talked tea and all aspects of it.

He mentioned that they made a chai sorbet, and so, I asked for some of that. Normally they add it to iced chai, but we had it neat. It was placed in front of Lady Devotea, and through some sort of evaporation process it virtually disappeared before I got to it. I was scoffing a gajjar barfi and talking tea, so I was quite distracted. All of it was superb.

Next post, I will review the three teas we bought to take with us as well as the four we had from elsewhere, but now a couple of thoughts.

Every town has its revolutionary tea places, and we all have a duty to patronise them as often as possible. Let’s make sure places like this exist in ten years’ time. Or better still, even more of them do.

Now, as regular readers know, I infrequently review tea shops, but like all good Association of tea Bloggers members, I use a scale to convey my thoughts. Those with long memories will recall that I pioneered The Devotea Scale of Arsonistic Deservability, where I award petrol (gasoline) cans depending on how badly a place needs to be burnt to the ground. That scale is of no use in this review.

Instead, I am inventing a new index for tea shop visits. It’s simple.

It relates to the sum amount of happiness to be found in a tea shop. The tea, the décor, the company. How much do you want to be there?

A score of 100 means a visit to a tea shop is deemed to be nothing sort of an excellent and faultless experience; the hour or so you spend there is simply the best possible use of your hour at that time. So 90 is pretty good, 50 is if mediocre and 105 would be certainly better than anywhere I have ever been.

And I am calling it “The Caj”. As the baseline reading, Caj Chai scores 100 Caj, and will now be the standard on which I judge all other tea shops.

And with 64 of them on the London list, I might be doing a lot of judging. Luckily, I am extremely judgemental.

Robert Godden

Certified Tea Nutter. Blender. Author of "The Infusiast" and Tea "Stories"

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6 thoughts on “Viva Caj!

  1. You judgmental? Never! Perhaps you’ve just had a little too much sun. Anyway, I’ve heard of both Georgian and Rize teas. I believe @lazyliteratus has thoughts, if not phantasies of the former. I’ve never tried either. I thought Rize teas were mainly broken leaf, and used for tea bags. I think I might have chosen one of the Korean teas but your Georgian one sounds wonderful. Looking forward to hearing what you think of the Turkish leaves.
    Interesting how chai varies so much from country to country, or maybe from continent to this one Spanish cafe.
    Once again, I much enjoyed sharing your afternoon via your posts.
    By the way, I really like your new rating system a lot better than the old one. It’s much more upbeat. Your vacation must be doing you the world of good.

  2. Good choice on the Georgian. I have yet to encounter a Georgian tea I didn’t like. I’ve had one that was aged, one hand-crafted by an old woman, and one that’d been smoked like a Lapsang. All could take whatever punishment you dealt it like a former Soviet would.

    Rize is – on the whole – cheap all around. I don’t understand why, but I would guess it’s because the leaf size is pretty similar to Daintree – just shy of being fannings. I still like it, though, and it makes one hell of an iced tea.

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