Authentic chai has been part of Indian culture for centuries, but it’s also been a part of Matt Pohle’s lifestyle for more than 12 years.
Each Saturday, Matt would frequent St Andrew’s market in the foothills of the Yarra Ranges to sell spices and serve his hand-made chai. The sweet aroma of blended exotic spices would help customers drift in his direction. Before long, Matt didn’t just gain a long line of customers and a loyal following as “Matti Chai”, but many friends along the way.
“After the market I would invite between 20 to 60 people back to my place to play drums and sit around the fire while I served them chai,” Matt recalls.
“I just love the process of making it. In the ‘old-school’ way, I crush the spices by hand – a combination of cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, bay leaves, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, and cardamom, sourced from Sri Lanka, Guatemala, India, Vietnam, and Egypt. I boil the water and add the spices. I leave it to simmer over the course of a day before adding milk, straining out the spices, and serving it fresh with honey or raw sugar. It’s a long process but well worth it. I love the fact that something that tastes this good can be good for you.”
Matt describes his foray into chai production as “purely accidental”.
“I wanted to eat and drink cheaply and well, and then I discovered chai, a delicious spiced milk tea. There wasn’t a good quality chai on the market, so I tried making my own and kept developing recipes until I perfected it,” Matt says.
“Most powdered chai has unnecessary artificial flavours in them, additives, powdered dairy products, corn starch, and other processed things. It’s so disappointing. My chai range contains real spices, which are far easier to work with, more cost-effective, last longer, and taste better. You wouldn’t make food with added chemicals so why would you serve a chai product in that way?”
After years of selling his product to community markets, and a small portion of the café market, Matt met café Owners Abdul Bey and Maroun Raffoul in 2015 after they reached out for a quality chai product.
“I was looking for a chai solution and someone told me to give Matt’s product a go. What can I say? I did, and I haven’t looked back. In fact, Matt and I hit it off. He custom-made a chai spice mix for my café,” Abdul says. “I believed in his product so much I decided to become a business partner and help take his product to the masses.”
Along with Maroun, the two converted chai lovers and dedicated chai wallah formed a business partnership 18 months ago, aptly called Matt, Abdul, Maroun (MAM) Beverages.
“The reaction couldn’t have been better. People are craving a quality chai product, and we can deliver it,” Matt says. “In the short amount of time we’ve been established we exhibited at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo and are already working on custom blends for the international market.”
Matt was used to perfecting his blend at his Chewton and “sometimes” Byron Bay home, but unveiling MAM Beverages called for production on a much grander scale. For months, Matt researched and developed his recipes until he got them exactly as he wanted. The result is a collection of Authentic Chai, Instant Chai, and Chai Concentrate products. Each are available in Original, Bush Spice, and Chili blends, which are 100 per cent caffeine-free.
“The Original combines traditional chai spices, while the Bush Spice blend has highlights of unique Australian flavours such as wattleseed and mountain pepperberry,” Matt says. “When I used to live in Chewton, a cottage industry, a friend owned a herb shop. That’s where I’d source the locally harvested wattleseed, known as bushman’s coffee, years ago. It’s also my favourite spice at the moment.”
For cafés after a quick but authentic chai solution, Matt says Chai Spice’s sugar-free Chai Concentrate is a great option. It contains no artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or caffeine, and is made from whole spices and ginger.