Spicy & Soothing

Spicy & Soothing

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South Lake’s Free Bird Chai flies into local stores and co-ops.

Over the past decade, both Tahoe locals and visitors have filled up the 160-square-foot Free Bird Café in South Lake Tahoe seeking smoothies and espresso. Free Bird has now expanded to two locations in SLT, but the eatery has recently extended its reach even further with the bottling and distribution of its two popular chai blends. 

Each blend still is made with the same seven simple ingredients as the original chai created by Free Bird brewmaster Aaron Abrams. While traveling, Abrams was taught how to make the chai by an Indian woman, and the original recipe has not changed in more than 12 years.

“We kind of got married to it, and we feel our customers have as well,” says Derek Nicolich, Free Bird CEO. “So we try not to change a good thing.”

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Brewmaster Aaron Abrams and CEO Derek Nicolich of Free Bird Café and Free Bird Chai

Magic in a bottle

The original O.G. chai blend is made with Lake Tahoe water, raw cane sugar, black Assam tea, green cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. While the ingredients are simple and the recipe easy to replicate, years of brewing experience have made the blend unique to Free Bird.

“There is something about the simplicity of it that people enjoy,” Nicolich says. “However, it’s like making any kind of tea — it’s the steeping process and the time. It took us a while.”

The second blend option, Roots, has the same ingredients as the O.G., but with the addition of ginger, turmeric, and black pepper. Each blend can be mixed with warm milk or other non-dairy options.

“It’s more of a golden chai and a little spicier in all the good ways,” Nicolich says.

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Abrams mixes up a chai for a customer

According to Nicolich, the response to Free Bird’s “liquid magic in a bottle” has been overwhelming, and its original 55-gallon kettle of chai brewing at its newer West Side location wasn’t keeping up with demand. This fall, a new, chai-centric location opened on Ski Run Boulevard, where larger batches can be brewed.

Along with the three Free Bird locations and the website, Free Bird Chai also is available at the Holiday Market in Meyers, the Placerville Food Co-op, and the Strawberry Station General Store in Twin Bridges. The chai also is available in bottles and as a drink at the Coachman Hotel in Stateline. Early next year, Free Bird Chai will be available in Whole Foods Market stores, including the Reno and South Lake Tahoe locations.

 

Christina Nellemann is thrilled she now can have Free Bird Chai shipped to her house.

For details, visit Freebirdchai.com and Freebirdtahoe.com.

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