Sep 012014

From Chaiwala to Tea Ceremony in Japan

With the Japanese Prime Minister Shinjo Abe hosting a traditional Tea Ceremony for our PM Narendra Modi, who started his illustrious career as a ChaiWala, life has come a full circle. I normally refrain from political comments on this blog, but we travelers own a lot to our desi ChaiWalas. On every road trip that we take, we eagerly await for the next Chaiwala, stop the car, order an invigorating fresh ginger, Chai, chat with the ChaiWala and ask about the road conditions ahead.

As the chaiwala adds fresh tea leaves to the ever boiling pot, and the vapors infused with the aroma of tea leaves flirting with a whiff of ginger rises and meets your olfactory nerves you rub your hands anticipating the hot glass in your hand. You know the cup is hot, yet you just blow some air into the cup and take your first sip, instantly cursing your impatience and smiling simultaneously, for a burnt tongue is a small price to pay for a hot cup of tea. If you are real tea connoisseur like me, you are never satisfied with one cup of tea and you always order two cups in quick succession, sometimes actually ending gulping down multiple cups in a single session as there is a long drive ahead and you don’t know when the next Chai Shop would be.

Thermos ? What is that? No Sir jee, real Chai is never had from Thermos that is for water for baby food, asal kadak desi chai is  sipped from a hot cup, as soon as it is served to you. Thermos!!!! …hmm baat karte hain !! We may not have an elaborate Tea Ceremony like Japan, but our way of drinking tea is also unique just like or must masala ginger Chai sold by countless Chaiwalas across India.

Clichéd it may sound but from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Guwahati the Chai Wala is a familiar smiling face working round the clock to serve the tired travelers. I strongly recommend you read Rishad Saam Mehta’s Chailougue – Hot Tea Across India, where the humble Chai Shop is the center of many refreshing and humorous stops across our highways. (Available here on Flipkart )

But don’t scoff at the humble Chaiwala, for he and in some cases she is a smart business owner.  As of today a liter of toned milk in the poly pack comes for around 40 Rs, and a liter of milk at Chai Shop is good to make 5 liters of Tea. Each tea cup approximately is around 50-100 ml, depending on the size and place and retails for 5-10 Rs. I will take simple calculations 5 liters of Tea and 50 ml for 5 Rs each cup, that gives you around 5oo Rs sales for every liter of milk bought, add the cost of sugar, fuel, light, and protection money paid to local cops and thugs and you still get a decent margin. No wonder Chaiwala is thriving and smiling from every highway of India.  The power of desi Masala chai can be gauged from the fact that in late 90s that epitome of desi Tea Brands Taj Mahal from Hindustan Lever, had put there hoardings at dhabas across GT road from Delhi to Amritsar, branding them as Taj Tea stop, where you could order a cup of tea made from Taj Mahal Tea and say Wah Taj! I am sure Guru C. K Prahlad would have approved.

If the business smarts of our Chaiwala is to be taken into considerations the country is in safe hands, after all, how many people start a career as a ChaiWala and become Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world?

I am pretty sure our desi Masala chai has some magic potion in it, so in honor of our ChaiWala across the country let me give you 3 portraits of Chaiwala that I clicked in different parts of the county.

The first one is of a woman Chaiwala or should I say ChaiWalee? She runs a small Chai Shop in Mahbubnagar district of Telangana in a nondescript village, near the abandoned Koil Konda Fort, this picture was also used in my post on Women entrepreneurs, I met during my travel on occasion of Women’s Day

A Women ChaiWalee in Mahbubnagar Telangana

Chai Shops are not a monopoly of Men: A Chaiwalee in rural Telangana

This Second picture is of a chai shop near the palace of Royal Family of Trivandrum, and he serves both coffee and Chai as our Malayalee brothers and sisters alternate between Tea and Coffee just like they do for government between the Congress and Communists. This  Chaiwala was clicked during my Kerala Blog Express trip.

A Chaiwala in Trivandrum Kerala

Kabhee Coffee Kabhee Tea- Keralites switch between the brews just like they do for government

This third one was clicked on a recent trip to Spiti Valley in Himachal, on a photography tour with ace lensman Arun Bhat of Darter Photography. (Hint: A series on Spiti is coming soon, how about subscribing to desi Traveler to get the updates.). This particular chai shop is in a literally one man village called Chatru the first Chai Shop after Rohtang Pass and one of the only two pit stops between Rohtang and Kunzum Pass.  The next pit stop, cum chai/lunch type Dhaba on the Manali Spiti National Highway 22 ( also called Hindustan Tibet Road or NH 22) is the famous eatery at Batal run by an old couple simply known as Uncle and Aunty of Batal 🙂

Chaiwal serving hot tea Chatru Spiti Himachal

A Chaiwala in Chatru in Lahaul Spiti

Well, wait for more on Spiti as I work on my pictures etc. Till then enjoy a hot cup of tea and don’t forget to dunk your biscuit in the tea in true desi style.

Three cheers to the three ChaiWalas, may your tribe increase and rise to the level of Prime Minister of India for who can stop a man who started his life as a Chaiwala or Chaiwalee?

And finally here is a picture of our PM in Tea Ceremony in Japan hosted by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

Narendra Modi Tea Ceremony Japan hosted by Shinzo Abe

Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe -Tea Ceremony in Japan (  pic courtesy @MEAIndia twitter handle )

Other Posts in Chai / Tea series

You may also want to read this post Evening Aarti in Varanasi 


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  9 Responses to “Portrait of a Chaiwala”

Comments (9)
  1. interesting post. I am not a tea drinker but whenever I travel I look forward to have a cup of hot tea especially the ones served in clay pots or “khuri”

  2. Ha ha! Mals do switch between Chaya and Kaapi just like that.
    Such a fun read. Lovely post idea too.

    I remember reading that book review and adding to my wishlist. Haven’t gotten down to reading Tea across India yet.

  3. We had a cutting chaiwala outside our MBA college in Mumbai. His strong cutting chai was very popular and after long lectures all students headed there :).

  4. Well said Prasad… Btw, this second tea seller looks more like an IT guy 😛

  5. Nice post… reminds me of all those Chaiwala/ walis I,ve met on my journeys and have asked for the road conditions, weather conditions and all other trivial information that only they can give 🙂

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