Oregon Chai  is a company that markets a line of chai beverage products. Oregon Chai’s primary product is a concentrate designed to make a hot, tea-based beverage prepared with steamed milk, vanilla, a sweetener (usually sugar or honey), and other spices. It is distinct from chais deriving directly from the Indian subcontinent because the dominance of spices like cardamom, pepper, and nutmeg is muted. Some would say that Oregon Chai defined the taste of chai to westernized markets because they were the first to produce this type of sweet, milk-based chai that is now very popular and has since been mimicked by various other companies, although Oregon Chai still controls over 60% of the chai tea market share.
Oregon Chai – The Company
Oregon Chai the company started in 1994 by co-founders Heather Howitt, Tedde McMillen, Carla Powell, Brian Ross and Lori Spencer Woolfrey, and quickly grew out of its relatively small market in local Portland cafés. They quickly realized that they had stumbled onto a hit product; sales in 1996 rose by 469%. By 2000, sales were over $15 million and accounts ranging from its original Portland connections all the way to Saudi Arabia.
Story Behind Oregon Chai
It all started when Heather Howitt was hiking through the Himalayas. She bought chai (in many Asian countries, “chai” or a variant therof means "tea," and therefore the term "chai tea" is redundant) from a village because there was no latte available. Twelve cups later, she had completely fallen in love with the drink. Initially, she was able to buy a similar product in Santa Cruz, California where she was attending school, but could no longer find it at any local cafes or stores in Portland, OR. After looking at “tons and tons of Asian chai recipes” says Howitt in a 1997 issue of Portland Business Journal  and experimenting for three years, had developed what she thought to be perfect blend of vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and honey in a concentrate designed to be mixed with equal parts of milk. It had a more “dessert-y” taste than she originally had tasted in India, but thought it would please her American market, which was in the middle of the coffee-shop explosion.
Howitt took out a $3,000 loan to pay for expenses and teamed up with her mother and family friend Carla to help produce the tea concentrate. Their first commercial production took place in a church kitchen, but at the end of 1994 the company, Oregon Chai, had accumulated $20,000 in sales and more importantly started building a strong loyal fan-base.
By the end of 1995, revenues were over $200,000 and continuing to rise. The fastest growing coffee business in the world, and currently the largest coffee related chain in the world, Starbucks offered to buy the company's recipe, but Howitt declined on behalf of Oregon Chai, according to Inc. magazine.
A more sophisticated business structure had already been implemented from a mother-daughter team working from a bedroom, but when the new employee, Brian Ross, saw triple digit revenues by the second full year, he knew that an even more bold business plan would have to be developed. A board of directors including Joel Lewis, an advertising executive, and Dwight Sinclair, a broker, made it clear they were not content to see this company tread water when massive expansion was possible. Shortly after the board was established, the distributor list grew from six to 130.
Oregon Chai Values Community and Society
Oregon Chai has participated in numerous community events. The seventh annual celebrity spelling bee was held on Jan 25, 2007 where all proceeds from a cocktail hour, silent and live auction, and a spelling bee featuring local Portland celebrities were given to Portland Public Schools. They also support Schoolhouse Supplies, which is a non-profit free store filled with classroom supplies for schoolteachers in Portland.
Oregon Chai also supports SOLV, which is a program that gives citizens of Oregon a medium in which to volunteer on projects aimed at connecting the health of communities with Oregon’s renowned natural beauty. SOLV (originally Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) was started in 1969 by former Governor Tom McCall, but has recently redefined their objectives to encompass a broader range of goals.
On top of community involvement, Oregon Chai is also dedicated to protecting and conserving the natural environment whenever possible. All dry mix cartons are made with recycled cardboard. Using far less material and using less energy to manufacture, fill, ship, and store, aseptic packaging is at the core of their efforts. Organic ingredients are also used in every product line in order to discourage the use of harmful pesticides, both for the consumer’s sake as well as the ecosystem’s.
Oregon Chai – the Product
The company of Oregon Chai is very successful, but their success is primarily centered on a single product – a special recipe of chai. Some would argue that this recipe has redefined the way the United States envisions the taste of chai. Much sweeter than that of the typical Indian blends, it uses mainly honey and vanilla to sweeten the black tea.
Chai Tea Latte concentrate is the first way that Heather Howitt delivered her recipe to consumers. It is a concentrate designed to be mixed with equal parts of milk, and should be steamed with an espresso wand (also should be refrigerated when not in use). The ingredients of the original blend are water, organic evaporated cane juice, honey, organic spices, organic black tea, ginger, organic vanilla, organic natural flavors and citric acid and has 30–35 mg of caffeine per serving (same as a lightly brewed cup of black tea). Since the creation of the company, many other blend variations of the Chai Tea Latte have stemmed from the original.
Oregon Chai mixes were designed to taste like a milk based drink but by only adding hot water to a powder mix. These can be used in places where a concentrate cannot be kept cold or when milk is not accessible. The ingredients of the original blend Oregon Chai mix are sugar, dried whole milk, dried nonfat milk, dried honey, tapioca maltodextrin, natural flavors, dried black tea, and salt. Variations of the original blend have also been created, however the list is not as extensive as the concentrate option.
The newest addition to the Oregon Chai line of products, Chai Single is a powder, similar to the mixes, but is sold individually. A single serving of chai tea designed to be mixed with a bottle of water offers an option for those who not only do not have milk but also have no way of heating water. All three flavors are calorie-free and sugar-free.
- Oregon Chai - Delicious From Concentrate, Mix Or Bag
- Oregon Chai, Inc.: Information and Much More from Answers.com
- Oregon Chai brews growth plan - Portland Business Journal:
- Oregon Chai, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Oregon Chai, Inc
- Schoolhouse Supplies
- SOLV | Volunteer to Preserve This Treasure Called Oregon!
- Aseptic Packaging Council
- Oregon Chai - Products - The Original