Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chai Wallah: Coming Soon to a City Near You

Photo credit: Arian Zwegers
In India, chai wallahs are everywhere.  Chai is the word for tea in Hindi and a wallah is the person who makes or sells it.  In busy cities like Delhi, chai wallahs call out, “chai! chai!” and sell tea in their make shift cafes at markets, train depos, bus stops, and street corners.  Ritwik Deo, writer for the New Statesman, describes the chai wallah phenomenon, ”The tea-boy (chai wallah) is to Delhi what the cab-driver is to New York.”[1]

Photo credit: Pratheeps
The chai wallah meets the enormous demand for India’s favorite beverage – spiced tea with milk, known in the west simply as “chai.”  Spiced chai is primarily made with black tea, strong spices, and sugar mixed in milk.  Flavors vary but one of the most traditional and well known outside of India is masala chai.  Here in the U.S., when people use the word chai without specifying a flavor, they are usually referring to masala chai.  Masala chai can include spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns or cloves, although recipes vary regionally, kitchen to kitchen, and even wallah to wallah.

Will chai wallahs set up shop here in the U.S. to meet the U.S.'s growing demand for tea?  I found these chai wallahs selling in the streets of San Francisco.  The Chai Cart began to sell cups of chai from a bicycle trailer in 2009.  It's about time!

[1] New Statesman, November 28, 2012 -

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