This Punjabi woman settled in Australia, a lawyer by profession, never thought her love for a hot cup of chai (tea) would take her places. She thought she loved chai as much as most other Indians obsessed with the beverage. But, boy, was she wrong!
This week, 26-year-old Uppma Virdi, hailing from Jalandhar and living in Melbourne, received the ‘Businesswoman of the Year Award’ at the India Australia Business Community Awards held in Sydney, for taking the aroma of fresh Indian tea to Australian households.
Her hobby of making special Ayurvedic tea with dash of spices like ginger, cardamom (elaichi), jaggery (gur), dalchini (cinnamon), saunf (fenel), etc., coupled with the expertise of her 96-year old grandfather Pritam Singh Virdi’s recipe gave birth to a start-up ‘Chai Walli’ in 2014.
The name Chai Walli met with a lot of opposition from her parents, as expected. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Virdi said, “In Australia, a country which lives on coffee and soft drinks like India lives on tea – finding a good cup of tea in a day is a tough task. My grandfather back in India is an Ayurvedic specialist and he serves this herbal tea blended with eleven spices to his patients. I started making it in Australia for friends. They never tasted anything of this sort. What started as a hobby became Chai Walli.”
Virdi stuck to Chai Walli despite the opposition. “I do not find anything degrading in being a chai wallah or chai walli. Selling tea on roadside in India is seen as degrading but for me it is not so. Every Indian home has a ‘chai walli’, that is, our mother. She makes tea for everyone at home every few hours. So does that mean it is degrading? My parents were opposed to this name but I was firm on it. I am yet to break the award news to my old grandfather. He will be ecstatic,” says Virdi.
She is now running an online tea store, which sells herbal tea blends in various flavours, such as caffeine-free chai, black masala chai, organic black masala chai imported from Assam etc with herbs from southern Indian states and even small glasses used in India by roadside tea vends.
“We are selling everything related to chai now,” she says.
“It is probably when you move from home that you realize what you miss the most. For me it was the chai of my grandfather,” says Virdi. Chai Walli also supplies Indian tea to Australian cafes, stores, supermarkets etc now.
Virdi is also holding ‘Art of Chai’ workshops and ‘Chai Bars’ in Australia and also documenting India chai wallahs on her trips to India. “People can taste chai and learn to make it at our workshops. We are also looking for steel kettle pots and racks used in India now,” she said.