In 2014, husband-and-wife duo Apoorv Sahani and Gauri Vohra first parked their colourful Original Chai Co cart at Queen Vic Market and began serving traditional masala chai – much like the street vendors they frequented as kids back in India.

Almost a decade later, the duo have secured a permanent market cafe right next door to Market Lane Coffee on Victoria Street.

Sahani and Vohra began producing their own chai when they couldn’t find any brews in Melbourne that they felt lived up to the ones back home.

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Vohra says they wanted the drink to be “a hero” of Melbourne’s cafe culture rather than an afterthought. “Chai is a classy thing, and it has to be up there next to coffee.”

The pair started out in their home kitchen in 2013, adapting their mothers’ chai recipes. Today, Original Chai Co’s signature blend is made with black tea imported from Assam in north-eastern India. The tea is combined with cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and ginger – all freshly ground by the pair in a commercial kitchen in Coburg North.

“In the cafe, you’ll see we’re brewing it in the proper, traditional way on the stovetop rather than using machines,” Sahani says.

The chai is served in hot in terracotta cups known as kulhads, as well as small glasses like the ones found at roadside chai stalls across India. The duo has also added spins on the drink, such as chocolate masala chai, iced masala chai and chai affogato (served with a scoop of ice cream).

The pair are serving food for the first time in the new space, with a small menu of snacky street food. There are samosas, smashed inside a soft buttered bun and drizzled with tamarind chutney. (“In India, chai and samosa is the thing,” Sahani explains.)

There’s also an omelette bun inspired by egg benjo – a roadside dish from Sahani’s home town of Indore – as well as buns stuffed with spiced lamb shami (a minced meat and lentil patty) and vegetarian shami roti wraps made with tofu. Both are filled with a garlicky hung curd dip, Vohra’s handmade coriander chutney, chilli-garlic chutney, pickled onions and spinach.

Between them, the couple has years of design experience – Vohra is a trained architect and Sahani is a designer – which proved handy when working with architecture firm Andever on the cafe’s fit-out. The space is a riff on India’s roadside chai carts, taking colour cues from the terracotta cups. There’s also a light-filled courtyard with room for 20 or so, plus a few stools to perch on inside.

You can also now buy the chai in tiffin-style tins, which separate the tea and spices into two separate compartments. Pick between the classic masala chai or a more cooling afternoon blend, made with mint, holy basil and fennel.

Original Chai Co
Queen Victoria Market, 87–89 Victoria Street, Melbourne

Hours:
Tues to Fri 7am–3pm
Sat to Sun 8am–4pm

@originalchaico