Swadesh Shrestha and Rajee Aryal, the husband and wife duo behind Chiya Chai, share a passion for chai tea, community building and Nepalese-Indian cuisine.
Chiya Chai (2770 N. Milwaukee Ave.) opened in Logan Square in June 2016, bringing a fresh perspective and aromatic flavors to the neighborhood. This fairly new café has been a favorite among customers looking for a quiet space to work with a cup of chai, indulging in the popular food items like savory pies or chicken Masala, or looking to book the backroom for community or neighborhood events.
For the couple, opening an Indian and Nepalese café with a focus on chai tea was both “risky and exciting,” according to Aryal, but it seems the risk is paying off. Even the Chicago Reader has caught on to the magic of Chiya Chai, naming it the Best Indian Restaurant in their Best of Chicago 2017.
“The reception to chai has been amazing,” Aryal said.
The owners are excited to spread their passion and knowledge about chai tea with local Chicagoans.
“Most people only know the one variety of chai that is typically available in coffee shops, which is different than the authentic chai we serve,” she said.
She described having a close relationship with the chai tea products, since Shrestha’s father exports the 20 varieties of chai tea the café offers directly from Nepal. Her hopes are to help customers immerse themselves in the culture of chai tea, which centers on community connection and hospitality. The focus of Chiya Chai as a restaurant has been to facilitate the same idea of community connection in Logan Square through the sharing of conversations over cups of chai.
“We have received an overwhelming amount of interest in our workshops” Aryal said. “We hope that our upcoming events will allow us to showcase our products and have our customers interact with one another while learning about chai tea culture.”
To do just that, Chiya Chai is hosting a Make-Your-Own Chai workshop March 24 in which each participant will learn more about the history of chai tea, the health benefits, and how to craft his or her own blend of chai to take home.
The three chai tea blend options are Masala Chai, Ginger Cardamom, and Vanilla Nutmeg Chai and the variety of milk options include whole, skim, soy, almond, and coconut. In addition to the chai, the duo are providing a delicious buffet of some of Chiya Chai’s dish highlights: samosas, spicy fried potatoes, bhel, and both sweet and savory pies at the event.
This event is sold out but Aryal provided reassurance that there are more events on the horizon including spice workshops, cooking workshops, and promotional deals. She added that the café may also feature a customer favorite chai blend on the menu to show its appreciation for its customer base.