North Fork Chai Co.

North Fork Chai and North Fork Coconut Chai Concentrate can be combined with milk or your favorite alternative. Photo by Lou Manna

Driving up I-80, you could easily miss North Fork Chai Co.’s café. It’s tucked into a small strip mall at the Newcastle exit, thus it is frequented mostly by locals. Here you’ll find siblings Chelsea Bruce and Joshua Hendrickson brewing up their specialty chai concentrate, North Fork Chai, after the café operation shuts down each day.

If you’re wondering which enterprise came first, it’s the chai. Bruce had been working on a chai recipe for almost a decade when her brother returned from hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in 2016 and said, “Let’s start a business together.”

Each of the siblings had their own experiences to bring to the table. Bruce had long been interested in food and attended the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, graduating from its pastry program in 2007.

Sister and brother team Chelsea Bruce and Joshua Hendrickson.
Sister and brother team Chelsea Bruce and Joshua Hendrickson. Photo by Lou Manna

“I wanted a product for later in life that I could sell, would be shelf stable (versus refrigerated), and with less competition in the market,” Bruce says.

Hendrickson had a decade of experience in specialty coffee as a brewmaster. He had been wanting some sort of a shop but knew that the coffee business was already too competitive.

In late 2017, they launched North Fork Chai. While the name would imply proximity to the north fork of the American River, in reality it was more about the name’s positivity.

“You usually like to go north, rather than, you know, south,” Hendrickson says. “Plus, it’s outdoorsy.” 

“It also implies moving forward,” Bruce chimes in.

What differentiates their chai is not only the spice blend, but also the concentration. The proprietors use the strongest and best quality spices. An example is the cardamom sourced from Guatemala.

“We’ve sent shipments of bad quality cardamom back,” Hendrickson says. “Ours is very potent; when you open a bag, the odor is so pungent it actually can make you a little nauseous.”

The concentration also is a big selling point. Competitor brands contain a lot of water as filler and often call for equal parts of concentrate and milk when making a chai, whereas North Fork Chai’s is one part concentrate to eight parts milk. In fact, its 16-ounce bottle makes 16 servings, while most competitors’ 32-ounce cartons only make five servings.

“We’ve got it down so that it only takes one ounce of our concentrate for an eight-ounce drink,” Bruce says. “That also makes it ideal for use in cooking.”

Front door at North Fork Chai in Newcastle.
Front door at North Fork Chai in Newcastle. Photo by Lou Manna

Adding products and services helps to propel the siblings forward. In 2019, the pair opened the café, serving breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, pastries, and beverages until 1 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. In the afternoons, they work on brewing and bottling batches of chai as well as packaging their own spice blends, sauces, jams, and more.

What’s next?

“Ultimately, the future is to have a microbrewery situation with a bigger footprint,” Hendrickson says. “An industrial building with the active brewing and automatic bottling on one side and a small café on the other.”