CHENNAI:At 4.30 pm on Women’s Day, passersby on the street leading to Kapaleeshwara temple, Mylapore, were drawn to the aroma of ayurvedic tea brewed at a stall near Gandhi statue. Vendors from shops around the area, women on their way to the market, and girls returning after school, stopped for a sip of Uppma Virdi’s ‘golden chai’. It was a 11-spice special blend, a recipe passed onto Uppma by her grandfather.
Uppma is 26, and an ex-commercial lawyer based in Australia. She quit her job to turn her passion of recreating remedial chai blends into a business. In a year, her humble cup of chai grew into ‘Chai Walli’ — a brand that received many accolades including ‘Best Chai’ at Royal Hobbart Fine Food Awards in 2017, and she was a finalist at Australian Food and Beverage Health Food Awards. Getting here was an uphill task, she shares. “Everyone would ask what was a lawyer doing, making chai. My parents too had their concerns, but now they see how happy I am. So they’ve been helping with the business too.”
Most Indian homes smell of chai, and Uppma believes it has a unique way of bringing people together. During her stay in Austria for education, where temperatures were as low as 21 degrees, making her own blend of chai helped keep her warm and connect with people in a new city. “We were all students from different nationalities who missed home. I used to make my grandfather’s chai for all of us, and we formed a special bond over it,” she shares.
When she moved back to Australia, the basement of her home became a warehouse to brew different blends of tea. It was stocked with black tea leaves bought from farms in India. And her free time was spent drying and grinding fennel, cardamom, cloves, elaichi, and other spices with her mother’s mortar and pestle. “We slowly started selling it, and people came back for more. That was a good sign. So, I turned it into a business, and also conducted workshops on the art of making tea.”
One thing led to another, and today, ‘Chai Walli’ is a company she runs single-handedly. She shares that it’s more than enough to keep her content, and sustain her financially. At present, Uppma imports tea and spices from organic farms in Assam. She is looking to connect with and support other organic farmers across the country too.
The perfect chai
● Make sure your milk is fresh and unhomogenised. Avoid milk that is spun.
● Buy unadulterated black tea.
● Add tulsi and saffron to make your tea refreshing.
● Get the proportion of spices right. Use cardamom sparingly, and more of fennel.
● Don’t add too much ginger to your tea. It can add to the heat in your body, especially if you’re from a hot place. Cut, dried ginger is best.
For details about Uppma Virdi’s Chai Walli, or to buy her blends, visit www.upmavirdi.com or connect with her on Instagram at: @chai_walli