Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots in Tempe on Why the Term "Chai Tea Latte" Is Wrong
This is part two of our interview with Sasha Raj, owner of 24 Carrots in Tempe. The Arizona State University graduate started 24 Carrots as a juice bar more than five years ago and since has grown the business into a full restaurant and bakery. On Monday, she dished on why she always tries to accommodate her customers' dietary restrictions. Today, she's schooling us on the real meaning of "chai tea latte."
Lauren Saria Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots in Tempe.
These days, you can get 100 percent vegan, largely gluten-free, and mostly locally sourced food at 24 Carrots. The menu includes staples such as the Smokey BLT Club with house vegan bacon, avocado, onion, greens, tomato and garlic aioli, in addition to a handful of salads and entrées Raj creates each week. She takes her cues from whatever fresh produce she can get from her vendors and picks up her greens every morning from a nearby farm.
Lauren Saria Chai masala, or spice mix.
"It started as pure juice, and now it's pure food as well," Raj says.
But that doesn't mean you have to expect strictly vegetable flavor at 24 Carrots. Raj lets her creative juices flow freely, creating vegan alternatives to everything she can dream one up for. My fellow meat eaters might be hesitant at the sound of vegan coconut "bacon" (especially considering it's created by a chef who's never actually tasted bacon) but Raj somehow imitates the smoky, slightly sweet flavor profile just about perfectly. And the texture's not bad, either.
The self-taught baker also can whip up vegan or gluten-free cakes -- and if you have your doubts about vegan pastry, one bite of her frosting-less chocolate cake should quell them. She's working on some interesting ideas like a vegan eggs Benedict, with a runny "yolk" you'll be able to crack yourself. And eventually she'd like to add dinner and alcohol to the mix.
There's a lot on her plate for sure, but when Raj is feeling stressed, she reaches for a cup of chai.
"Chai is a very distinct way of saying 'tea'," Raj says, adding that saying "chai tea latte" is like saying "milk tea tea milk" to anyone familiar with Indian culture, where chai can only refer to spiced milk tea.
Lauren Saria A cup of chai.
So the chai experience at 24 Carrots isn't anything like that box of chai tea bags you picked up at the grocery store. Because at 24 Carrots the chai masala, or spice mix, is made in-house, a special blend of spices including cardamom, cloves, and black pepper. And though the spices are mixed in advance, your cup of Assam tea will be brewed to order and then carefully topped with a layer of foamed milk (Raj will suggest a mix of almond and soy).
The restaurant recently moved from its original location in Chandler to the Tempe strip mall that houses Changing Hands and a Trader Joe's. The additional 2,000 square feet of space has given Raj plenty of room to continuing growing. She's already working on adding a strictly gluten-free baking space -- even then, she'll still have room to spare.