Sunshine in a cup – real chai being made fresh in Nelson
Monique Dupuis’ sticky, whole spice, turmeric masala chai is winning the hearts of ‘real chai’ lovers in Upper Moutere and beyond
When Monique Dupuis returned to the South Island after 14 years living in Sydney, it was to a sunny home on the hillside in Upper Moutere, a beautiful country village outside Nelson. Monique answered the call of home and – along with partner Taylor Eaton and their two children, nine-year-old Hendrix and five-year-old Luna – started a new journey.
After leaving behind The Shop Next Door, their surf shop and cafe in Sydney’s beach suburb of Manly, the family were kindly gifted a protea flower farm by a friend upon their return to New Zealand. While the farm had not been attended to for a couple of years, it still boasted at least 20 protea species including waratahs, leucadendrons, leucospermums and silver dollar gums (eucalyptus).
Monique now takes care of the farm, cutting and selling to the local flower wholesaler and making up her own floral arrangements for sale – a skill she acquired during her time working for Grandiflora in Sydney. “I’ve always admired flowers and their beauty,” says Monique, “and when I was able to see how the proteas grew on the bush from their structural buds to their opening bloom, I gained a whole new appreciation.” But while her botanical babies kept Monique busy, it wasn’t long before she yearned to expand her creative endeavours further.
“I was inspired to make my own chai as I’ve always loved the chai brewing process, the warming effects and the flavour,” she explains. “The culture behind traditional chai has always captured me.” The blending of fragrant spices, medicinal herbs and Assam tea leaves is an ancient ritual of Ayurveda, the traditional holistic medicine of India. When Monique encountered the powder that passed for chai back in New Zealand, she set out to create her own blend that would be as good for the body as it is for the soul – and delicious, too.
Aiming to fill a gap in the market for whole-spice, loose-leaf chai in New Zealand cafes and homes, Sunhouse Chai was born in August 2016. All the ingredients Monique uses for her sticky turmeric masala chai – the whole spices, Assam tea leaves, ginger root and turmeric – are organic, with the exception of the South Island raw bush honey. “It is very important to me to use and offer organic ingredients as I feel your health should not be compromised,” says Monique. “If you’re going to be sipping chai every day, you want it to be good for you.” Monique explains that the blend of spices in Sunhouse Chai contains medicinal and healing properties which help to improve digestion, boost the metabolism and immunity, improve cardiovascular health and even assist with symptoms of PMS.
Monique hand-blends her chai in small batches in a commercial kitchen out the back of the Old Post Office Store in Upper Moutere, where Moutere Gold jams and chutneys are also made. The kitchen may be small but it’s fully equipped, and being surrounded by a beautiful country garden and daily birdsong suits Monique to a tee. “The local school is right next door. When I’m in the kitchen making chai, sometimes I can hear my children playing,” she says. Monique stocks her chai at the store out the front, alongside fresh cheeses, preserves from Moutere Gold, olive oils, chocolate, artisan breads and local free-range eggs.
During the spring and summer, the store is also home to a Saturday farmers’ market, which Monique started in collaboration with the Old Post Office Store owner, Joanne Costar, last November. A few local growers bring their goods along to sell, including manuka-smoked salmon, salami, biersticks, smoked tomatoes and gluten-free sausages made by local chef Miles Drury, plus authentic crepes cooked to order by a local Frenchwoman. Monique sells her flowers and sticky chai in take-home bags.
“In my eyes, Sunhouse Chai is special because of the carefully sourced ingredients, the super-duper turmeric granules scattered all the way through and the real, earthy flavour created from the whole spices I toast and grind by hand,” says Monique. She’s unashamedly passionate about her authentic sticky chai masala and insists that the tea is to be made the proper, old-fashioned way – two generous tablespoons brewed in a small pot with boiling water and milk for four minutes, then served with a sprinkle of cinnamon or turmeric powder. “I love that you can sip a cup of chai and it’s actually benefiting your health,” she says. “Sunhouse Chai to me is sunshine in a cup.”