Think of an Indian chaiwalla and the following images come to mind:


In an interesting twist, a cousin of Shari's, Neil Sanyal, decided to upmarket the idea and open his own version in tony Hampstead, London. I found mentions of it in a bunch of places including The Telegraph in Kolkata:

BREWING MAGIC: Chaiwalla, the teashop

Tea, anyone?

A challenge to the Starbucks coffee culture has been mounted in Hampstead in north London by Neil Sanyal, who was born in Britain and educated at St Paul’s School but whose parents and grandparents come from Calcutta.

In March this year he set up Chaiwalla, a teashop which has just been named runner-up by Time Out London in its “Best Tea Room” competition.

Neil, who is 19, has sought to create the atmosphere of adda in Calcutta. “When walking into Chaiwalla it is like stepping straight into a part of Calcutta from the bustling streets of Hampstead Village.”

Whilst searching for ideas in India to bring back to London, he was drawn to the chai drinking culture in Calcutta. “Here, many millions of people drank chai, purchased from road-side chaiwallas, in disposable clay cups that are smashed after use. My idea was to create an Indian alternative to the western coffee shop, as well as importing hand-made clay cups from West Bengal.”

Ah yes, those clay cups. Where would desi tea be without them? Here's how they're made:

Here's what some final versions look like:

And here's how they're recycled:

This is the UK version:

Neil's brainchild has a website and offers much more than just masala tea. You can find free wifi, sisa, an extensive breakfast and lunch menu (including biriyani), kulfi, desi sweets and fruit smoothies. Oh yeah, love the external setup as well:

Though I don't drink tea very much myself (or coffee for that matter), I find the whole endeavor extremely interesting starting from the way we heard about it. We first got word about Chaiwalla from internal family sources and not in a particularly effusive way either. As in what's the son of bhadralok (Bengali term for middle class gentlemen) doing opening a tea store? Shouldn't he be slogging his butt off in engineering or medicine or something?

This is something I've heard throughout my life - if you walk the chosen path of computers and doctorhood and engineering, the Goddess Laxmi will shower her largesse upon you. You'll get all that and a 500SEL Benz. However, woe betide you if you stray. The Lord Vishnu himself cannot save you from the Bengali middle class "chee chee" styled derision. Sometimes I wonder how we produce any artists or entrepreneurs at all. So, it's great to see someone bucking the trend and going their own way. Looking forward to Chaiwalla going international and opening a branch in San Francisco, preferably next to the Bollyhood Cafe in the Mission district. It's only fitting. Bangla represent!

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- November 2, 2008 3:14 PM // Bangla , Diaspora , Food