From the print edition
Ligia Salazar has two passions that sound funny together: Tai Chi and chai tea. She teaches the Chinese martial art during the day, then she goes home and mixes inventive, flavorful tea concoctions.
In the evening, when the inspiration strikes, Salazar will toss around some combination of ginger, cloves, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, peppercorns and anise – most of which are organic and locally grown – hoping to create a new and delicious tea. The idea is that when it drips across the tongue, it will stimulate both taste buds and curiosity.
“I hope that people work a little more in the kitchen, learning to understand these spices,” Salazar said.
Her tea business, which she runs out of the Feria Verde in Barrio Aranjuez and Kilometro Cero in Escazú, got its start almost by accident. Salazar had always been fond of blending spices to create teas, and friends often asked her to bring the chai to their parties. Last Thanksgiving, upon being asked to create tea for yet another party, Salazar instead opened her own line of chai materials. Since then, her business has grown to the point where she creates holiday specials, including a chai liquor for Mother’s Day.
In addition to set mixes of spices, Salazar sells individual spice packets for people to create their own combinations. “Not everyone likes anise, or the peppercorns,” she said, “and so many dishes can be enhanced by a little chai inspiration.”
For instance, Salazar prefers and creates chai without black tea or sugar. But she encourages customers to buy those separately and add them to taste. She also suggests making a hot chai tea with coconut milk and cold one with lemon. Chai can also be used to spice meats and desserts.
In addition to teaching Tai Chi and mixing chai tea, Salazar also dedicates some of her time to Project Curubanda, an initiative in the northwestern province of Guanacaste to preserve heirloom blue corn. “This is an incredible food in its nutrition and tradition that could be lost soon,” Salazar said. “People are growing this crop less, not because it’s more difficult to cultivate, but because of a lack of demand.”
Salazar sells a corn pudding, atole, from the blue corn and hopes to expand to other recipes that her grandmother passed down. With her family roots in Guanacaste, Salazar wants to see this native seed around for many more generations.
There are three phases, she says, in which interested blue corn growers should be educated about organic cultivation. Then they will work for organic certification from the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry and then create a cooperative to market the corn.
Both the chai and blue corn products have recently received the Health Ministry’s approval and a commercial number, enabling Salazar to sell her products in stores and restaurants.
Visit Salazar on Saturdays at the farmers market Feria Verde in Barrio Aranjuez and Kilometro Cero in Escazú. Learn more about her products at http://chaideligia.blogspot.com or http://curubanda.blogspot.com.