Starbucks plans to open its first café in India by year's end, so it is only fair that we get some tea out of the deal.

The Chai Cart first debuted in San Francisco 2009, peddling cups of the milky tea beverage from a bicycle trailer. Lacking proper permits, it closed, only to reappear--legally this time--on the scene six weeks ago.

The Cart now parks downtown on weekdays--and weekends in the Mission--dispensing hot cups of its signature brew, the Masala chai ($2.75 for a small; $3.50 for a large).

Made with Assam black tea, milk, sugar and a spice blend that includes ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and fennel, it's a kinder, gentler alternative to espresso.

The cart also carries two other varieties of chai: mint and rose. In the rose iteration, rosewater stands in for the spices; in the mint one, fresh mint and ginger. Plans to add a ginger chai and a malt chai are in the works.

The Chai Cart also sells bottles of the brewed Masala and rose chai ($7 for 32 ounces), ready to be blended with milk. They are available at the cart, a handful of local markets, and online.

Just as India readies for a coffee-culture invasion, we're gearing up for tea.

The Chai Cart, 545 Market St. (at 2nd St.), weekdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and 560 Valencia St. (at 17th St.), Sat. and Sun., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or thechaicart.com