I had made it my mission to find the best local chai in Denver (because it’s pretty well-known how incredible Starbuck’s chai is), and I found it Monday night. Let me first review the places I went before discovering The Perfect Chai.
1.) Peet’s Coffee and Tea. Peet’s is on 16th Street, across from a Starbucks at the end of the mall, a few blocks away from the light rail station. They offered a nice atmosphere inside, with hues of orange, beige, and bronze. However, there was not enough seating for more than, say, five individuals (maybe seven couples–they’ll sit at small tables together), and the music was far too loud to concentrate on my reading about the Hijras in India. The staff was very friendly, but when I ordered a small chai latte with a shot of almond, I received a pumpkin chai latte. I’m not usually a fan of pumpkin, and although this chai wasn’t bad, it wasn’t what I ordered. Overall, I scored Peet’s a 5.5 out of 10.
2.) Ink! Coffee Company. I’ve passed this place quite a few times, as it is located maybe fifty steps from the light rail stop on 16th Street. Ink had a lot of seating, and the music wasn’t overwhelming or distracting. What was distracting, however, was the ever-present possibility of people-watching (which is completely my own fault, not Ink’s). I loved the idea of hanging out in a Denver-based coffee shop downtown, but it was simply too distracting. Regarding the chai: I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed. The chai lattes tasted watered-down and took me a long time to get past the taste. One thing my friend Ally noted was that they only offered one size cold drink, and because of this, her chai was almost $6. Overall, I rated Ink! Coffee Company at a 6 out of 10.
3.) Kaladi Coffee. Conveniently located just a few blocks from campus, my friends and I headed over to Kaladi’s on Sunday morning at 11. Even though it was a Sunday morning, the place was packed. The four of us could barely find a spot to sit together, although we eventually did. Because the cafe was so loud with people chatting, jazz music blaring, and instruments clanging behind the counter, it was very difficult to concentrate on my Spanish homework. The two major disappointments at Kaladi’s were 1) they only offered Bhakti chai (click on the link to learn more), a popular form of chai in Denver that is an extremely strong, spicy, ginger-y form of chai. I didn’t like it the first time I had it because it was too strong, but I thought I’d try it again. Here comes the second disappointment: My 8-ounce chai was $4.50. The Bhakti was incredibly strong (even my friends who enjoy Bhakti chai agreed it was too much) and too expensive. Overall, I rated Kaladi Coffee a 3 out of 10.
4.) The Backstage Cafe. My friends and I went downtown at 5 pm on Monday night, forgetting that most local places would close at 5 or earlier. So when we arrived at the place I had in mind, half a block off 16th Street, they were already closed. We tried to think of another place to go, and Ally found Backstage Coffee on 14th Street, in the Theatre District. We walked there from 16th Street, which took about fifteen minutes. Upon arrival, we could already tell this place would be different. There were eclectic pieces of art covering the brick walls, and the chalk-written menu hung above the counter. The glass counter was also plastered with posters for upcoming performances, including Idina Menzel’s If/Then and The Lamont School of Music’s (at DU) Guys and Dolls, which I have friends in. I asked the worker if they offered chai other than Bhakti, and she told me about 3rd Street Chai, which was sweeter and frothier. My 12-ounce was $4.25, and it was so good. Backstage also offers chocolate chai, which is possibly the best invention ever. There was a lot of seating and the wi-fi worked really well. Backstage closed at 8, so we stayed for a while and then walked back to the lightrail station at 14th Street, which was only five minutes away. Overall, I rated the Backstage Cafe a 8 out of 10.
I drafted this post about two weeks ago and I’m revisiting it now, and Backstage is still the best chai I’ve found. Not to mention it’s in a beautiful, downtown location and it’s far enough off-campus to have the motivation to write a ten-page paper in one sitting. The workers there know me now (which I suppose is possibly a good thing?) and I can’t wait to spend the next twenty-something weeks drinking chai and working.