“I think chai is what keeps us going every day,” said Raghav Verma, one of the co-founders of Chaayos, a chai cafe, in a chat with us at the newly opened Mumbai outlet. Never has a truer truth been spoken; most of us Indians begin brewing a cup of chai minutes after we wake up, have a cup or two with a mid- morning snack, enjoy a glass during high tea and then another while we’re winding down in the evening. Students share notes over a cup of canteen chai, while colleagues use their tea break to trade gossip about other colleagues. Chai is an inherent part of most of our days.
It’s surprising then, that there’s a paucity of places to relax in, with a cup of chai across the city. While there’s a Starbucks, a Cafe Coffee Day or a Costa Coffee at almost every corner, chai lovers have very few options aside from chai vendors at street stalls to enjoy a good cup of tea. Chaayos, which was founded in Delhi in 2012 by Verma and Nitin Saluja, is looking to change that, having just opened two branches in Mumbai.
“Chai in Bombay is a no-brainer; there are so many people who prefer chai (to coffee), but don’t have many options,” said Verma, as we’re presented with an earthen cup of saffron tea, subtly spiced and enhanced with milk. Along with that, we’re given a plate of lightly buttered bun maska; soft, yielding buns that are the perfect accompaniment to the tea. Verma, who hails from Mumbai himself understand the city’s fascination for bun maska and reveals that they’re working on bringing some new, innovative bun maska options to the menu.
Experiments With Chai
Indeed, some items on the food menu include Verma’s own innovations; we find that he loves to bake in his free time. Of course, the main focus at Chaayos is on the tea menu; it offers 25 different teas and allows customers to customise their teas in over 12,000 different ways.
As we lounged in the cafe, we were treated to a variety of teas including the God’s chai; a green tea infused with herbs made from tea leaves from the Kangra region in India, the hari mirchi chai and the unique aam pappad tea, which is a concoction of papad dissolved in tea and tastes tangy and refreshing. “We’re constantly experimenting with tea creations,” said Verma, (perhaps) inadvertently reminding us of Chaayos’ tagline ‘Experiments With Chai.’ He reminisces on a few wilder creations like orange flavoured chai with chilli flakes and a hajmola chai (yup, we’re serious) adding, with a wry grin, that they didn’t manage to make their way onto the menu.
My Desi Chai
Aside from the innovative types of teas, another aspect that sets Chaayos apart is that they’re devoted to the desi version of tea. “A lot of people are doing non-milk chai, and are especially focused on green tea. Eighty per cent of our chais are desi; we try to innovate with milk-based chais’, he said which explains why most of the chais you’ll get at Chaayos are brewed with milk.
This effort to retain elements of traditionalism is also seen in the decor of the cafe. “We used chai as our inspiration and for us the idea is that if you have a place that’s derived from chai, it can’t be overly fancy. It has to have that rusticness; it has to be very Indian.” said Verma on the attitude in which they approached the decor. The cafe is decorated with filled wood and jute textures to retain traditionalism but these materials have been used in a contemporary way.
The staff, similarly (and naturally), have been trained with a focus on chai. “We choose people who have the right attitude, the right energy, the right confidence, the right presence and who can express themselves very well,” said Verma, adding that staff members are educated on the nuances of chai after joining Chaayos. We see that the employees develop a loving, knowledgeable attitude toward chai as we interact with the manager, Virender Sharma, who has been serving us our chai and explaining the background, taste profiles and appropriate pairings for each chai. This level of customer engagement is something that Verma also enjoys. “The most interesting part is understanding what the customer is enjoying, what they’re not enjoying, and building a brand that the customers enjoy. We make it a point to regularly be on ground and even manage the counter at times,” he said.
In terms of customer satisfaction, we think that Chaayos is ticking all the right boxes, from the free Wi-Fi to the relaxing surroundings to the helpful staff. In terms of the chai, we enjoyed the flavours we tried and strongly appreciated the flexibility that allows customers to select a chai that works best for them. Head to Chaayos and pay tribute to tea, which, as Verma said, is one of the major factors that propels us as Indians.