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Food We Love: Making the perfect cup of chai

Welcome to Food We Love, our Sun-Times video series featuring stories about Chicagoans family food traditions, secret recipes, special ingredients and unusual favorite dishes.  Each week we’ll hear a new story about food and family and learn some amazing recipes that you can try at home. Our host is Chicago journalist Linda Yu, who loves cooking at home, as well as exploring new restaurants throughout the city.

In today’s episode: Making the perfect cup of chai with Swadesh Shrestha, the co-owner of Chiya Chai Cafe in Logan Square.


Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

From Nepal to Chicago

He grew up in the land of Mt. Everest, but Nepalese native Swadesh Shrestha had other mountains to climb. Swadesh moved from Kathmandu, Nepal to the United States 25 years ago, and found out very few people knew about the drink that was in his life from childhood, that began each day, that meant friendship, good times, conversation: chai!

Swadesh Shrestha with his parents in their tea booth at an international trade fair in Berlin in the 1980s. | Provided

Swadesh Shrestha with his parents in their tea booth at an international trade fair in Berlin in the 1980s. | Provided

Nowadays, chai is on the menus of virtually every coffee chain across the U.S., but for Swadesh, making a cup of chai in his own kitchen, using his own spices, is a tradition he wanted to share with Americans. He opened a chai shop in Minnesota where he first lived, and after moving to Chicago he opened Chiya Chai in Logan Square in 2016.

At Chiya Chai, you can order your black, rich Nepalese tea leaves, mixed with whole or skim milk, or various non-dairy milks, and spices including cardamon, vanilla, nutmeg, curry, lavender, hazelnut, strawberry and much much more. If you get hungry after sitting and sipping chai, there’s a full menu of savory pies, curries, and dumplings. I got to try a masala pie. Just as Swadesh promised, it goes perfectly with a cup of ginger cardamom chai.

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And if you ask, Swadesh will happily tell you about his first memories of chai in Nepal, watching as food stall vendors made a fresh cup of chai right in front of him, or visiting his grandfather’s village and sitting at his feet, listening as all the men of the village gathered each morning to start the day, each with his own favorite blend of chai. His father went into the tea growing and exporting business, taking Swadesh with him to India and beyond when they began to ship their Nepalese tea to European countries. Today at Chiya Chai, Swadesh still sells various blends of tea leaves grown by his father.

Coffee is also on the menu at the cafe, but Swadesh is passionate about chai, hoping his customers find it a good alternative to coffee. Join us at suntimes.com to learn why Swadesh believes chai can create balance and more serenity in our busy lives.

Ginger Cardamom Chai


1 cup water

1 cup milk or non-dairy option

1 tbsp. Chiya Chai Black Tea Mix

½ tsp Chai Masala

2 tsp sugar (add to taste)

1 tsp Freshly Grated Ginger

1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Cardamom

Linda Yu and Swadesh Shrestha making Ginger Cardamon Tea. | Sun-Times Staff

Linda Yu and Swadesh Shrestha making Ginger Cardamon Tea. | Sun-Times Staff


  • Bring water to a bowl in a medium saucepan.
  • While the water is boiling, using a mortar and pestle, coarsely grind fresh ginger and cardamom.
  • When the water boils, pour the tea and the chai masala into the pot and let boil for a minute.
  • Pour the milk into the pot, bring to bowl and let boil for about a minute stirring to make sure the mixture does not boil over.
  • Add the sugar, ground ginger and ground cardamom and boil for ½ minute
  • Turn heat off, cover the pot, letting the tea steep for 1 minute.
  • Strain the tea into serving cups and sprinkle a pinch of ground cardamom.

This recipes makes 2 cups of tea.


Meet more Chicago chefs, learn their cooking tips and get new recipes in these other  “Food We Love” episodes:

We hope you’ve enjoyed this segment of “Food We Love with Linda Yu.” Check the links below to watch Linda’s other #foodwelove videos. Each one has a great story plus recipes for you to try at home. You can also follow Linda on social media to get the latest on her CST series.

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