The search for the perfect cup of chai is like the search for perfect love, you endure many, many bad, painful, frustrating and downright demoralising experiences in your search for The One. You promise yourself after every ghastly cup that you'll abandon your search, close your heart off to hope forever, but the human spirit is too strong, on and on it plods, yearning and searching until that moment when the soul can rest true in the knowledge it has found itself. I knew when I tried the signature Gertrude and Alice blend of chai that my days of looking were over, i'd met my match, and i've remained loyal ever since. Slowly sipping a good infusion of this in some nicely frothed and not overheated bonsoy, with or without some good raw honey, is the perfect way to steal a few serene, solitary and magical moments from an otherwise neurotic world. I love to stop by a couple of times a week and sip some of this gorgeous tea all alone, but that was before I introduced myself to the experience of Chai a la Kieran.
Kieran prides himself on being a man of few words and very simple pleasures, a modern day Spartan with a penchant for the Chili Peppers. He lives in the inner west and he stays close to his roots and to his jack russell Zoe, who he thinks is pretty cool as girls go. Kieran's tastes are very simple, but he knows when he tries something he likes. I've had a lot of fun introducing him to very Eastern suburbs experiences, I have taken him to a few cafes that are so yuppie-ish i'm surprised he didn't rock up wearing a disguise. I had raved to K about the tea at G and A, he's never tried chai before, and I wanted his first experience to be amazing, he loved it. And so he should, Gertrude and Alice is probably the only place in Sydney, if not Australia, that sells more chai than they do coffee, and their coffee is bloody great as well. So wonderful is this blend, that they are currently working on packaging it for sale to those of us who want to recreate the brew at home.
Chai is a beautifully warming tea from India that you find sold by street vendors. 'Chai' means tea, so the the term chai tea is a bit of a tautology, but with all the syrupy and powdery imposters that blob around in bad pots of heated milk and latte glasses these days, it's a good idea to specify what you mean. Chai is a spicy blend of black tea, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, sometimes nutmeg, sometimes ginger, and in the wonderful punjabi version, a grounding dose of lovely vanilla. Chai is aromatic, comforting and reviving. Ayurvedically, it's considered to have very warming properties for the body, it promotes energy, digestion and eases sluggishness. The blend at Gertrude has a slight amount of brown sugar in the mix, it really balances the flavour well without standing out too much itself. What's more, in this blend you can taste the actual tea, most chai is too overcrowded with spices or sweetness for the tea itself to come through. It really is a masterpiece of balance. People think chai is a simple tea to make, but it's exceeding hard to do it very well. You have to balance spicy with sweet and the tea with the creaminess of the milk. If it's all about getting the proportions right, then this is a liquefied Sophia Loren.
And then there is the Gertrude and Alice grilled haloumi salad with lentils and sweet potato. Jesus. This salad is divine, everyone goes gaga over it. It's light and zesty meets salty and creamy, a wholesome and moorish lunch that is just as good on a sunburnt Bondi day as it is when the weather is drizzling outside. The soups, crumbles, muffins and other specials look amazing, but i've never been able to not order the chai or haloumi, so you'll have to try other things out for your adventurous selves.
Cindy is a regular for coffee at this place, she likes the flat whites, Mum and Dad love the capuccinos as well. In summer time, you also have to make room for a statuesque pineapple/mint frappe, which Bella introduced me to, that is alive and kicking with zesty, fruity exuberance.
Gertrude is always open when i've dropped by, even later at night. It is always busy and the tea and food always consistently good. The cosiness of sitting cloistered within heavy shelves of colourful books is unmatched. Most eateries in Bondi are too hung up on the mod look, this is one place that capitalises well on its quaint, charming and booky atmopshere. They have a lovely emerald green couch that you have to pounce on the second it becomes free.
The owner is a lovely lady and all the staff are very relaxed, i've sat for hours at times and read or written, and they never make you feel like you are not welcome to linger. Those are the adorably mismatched teacups and saucers which are lovely vessels for the sacred chai. I can't bring myself to drink out of them for some reason. I always get a paper takeaway cup to pour my chai into, even if I am drinking it in house. Something about the texture of the warm paper cups feels nicer than cool porcelain against my hand. But I did get a blast out of watching Kieran take his tea from the dainty little cups with the pretty flowers on them.
Get to Bondi and chai it out. My friend Amanda drives over an hour from Dural for this tea, so know you're in for a treat. You'll never drink bad chai again, and why should you. Gertrude and Alice: cheap books, delicious treats and divine tea by the beach.
A special thankyou to the shy Mr Finnegan, let's hope none of your friends see this, you'll never live it down!
Gertrude and Alice, Bondi.
At: 40 Hall Street, Bondi.
Ph: 9130 5155