This month's Human's of Chai is Eugenia! We absolutely loved her descriptive, scene setting messages about her love of chai. We are so excited to hear about her chai journey in India and her Chai Walla (Male tea maker). We hope you enjoy Eugenia's story as much as we did!
So Eugenia, do you remember the first time you tried chai? What was your experience?
The first time I tried chai was probably around 10-12 years ago. It was in a little village near Byron Bay. I can’t remember if it was Bangalow or Lennox Head but I recall it was in a small artsy style café with hand crocheted rugs and lots of indoor plants. Not being a caffeine drinker I was always on the lookout for a comforting warm drink and I found that many cafes offered a very limited range of hot drinks for the coffee agnostics. If you were lucky you might find a choice of peppermint or chamomile tea on the menu which I would reluctantly order more out of desperation than desire and to feel part of the social occasion. However, I never felt satisfied in the same way that a coffee connoisseur would savour a good brew of roasted beans. It was here that I came upon a drink called a ‘chai latte’ and I decided to give it a try. To be quite honest it was rather disappointing, a lukewarm sickly sweet concoction served in a glass wrapped in a paper serviette. The only hint of spice was the cinnamon sprinkled on top. Made with a highly processed syrup or powder and not a tea leaf in sight, I followed it with a chaser of water to wash away the suavity. My search for a ‘real chai’ made with tea leaves continued for many years, however it always ended in disappointment. And then a couple of years ago I visited India and this was where my love affair with ‘real’ chai began.
Eugenia and her family visiting a tea plantation in Margherita, Assam 2019
I was on a heritage walk with a local guide in a small village called Delwara located in the Aravali Hills of Rajasthan just outside Udaipur. Delwara is known for its landscape of 14th Century Jain temples, Haveli and ancient stepwell, however it predominantly offers a glimpse of authentic small town rural life. It was here whilst wandering the narrow muddied streets of Delwara that we came upon a charismatic chaiwala and were offered a cup of authentic chai. Reluctant to oblige at first, as we had been forewarned about partaking in street food in India, however encouraged by our local guide and not wanting to offend by declining the wala’s kind hospitality, we entered his little kitchen with trepidation and watched mesmerised as he went about the ritual of preparing us a bona fide pot of chai on his little gas stovetop. Whilst I was not oblivious to the abundance of flies landing on the cooking utensils, and milk that had been sitting out in the warm sun, I watched as he poured from a good height, the steaming hot tea from a well worn metal teapot with a spout that was shaped like the neck of a graceful swan. The chai was deeply coloured and as I slurped away I enjoyed the boldly flavourful warmth with just the right amount of sugar added to offset the toasty bitterness. I was pleasantly satisfied and didn’t hesitate when the chaiwala offered to top up my glass. It was from this day forward that I sort out a cup of chai all over India, culminating in a visit to a tea plantation just outside Dibrugarh in Assam where, in the convivial atmosphere of the plantation owners home, I enjoyed kind and welcoming hospitality, endless cups of chai and good conversation. My love affair with ‘chai’ had begun.
Eugenia's chaiwala in Delwara, Rajasthan, India
How did you discover Chai Walli?
Encouraged by my recent visit to India I came home looking for a good chai? I wasn’t prepared to settle for the sickly sweet ‘fake chai’ powders and syrups offered up in cafes all over Sydney. Whenever I came across a ‘chai latte’ on the menu I always enquired as to whether it was made with ‘tea leaves’ brewed on the stove with milk. Most of the time my enquiry was met with a blank stare from a confused barista that had little knowledge of chai and it’s preparation, and more commonly than not was advised that the latte was made with the highly processed sugary powder or syrup. With disappointment after disappointment I would politely decline and end up asking for a bottle of water instead. Occasionally I would be offered a little pot of frothy steamed milk added to a sticky chai base, which although it was more satisfying than the powdery/syrupy option, it was never the same as the original chai I had savoured in India and come to love. Whilst I toyed with the idea of making my own chai blend, I continued with my search for an authentic chai and that is where I came across Chai Walli on Instagram. Upon further investigation on their website, and a tad excited by what I had found, I continued to seek out their brand in cafes and shops without success. When they advertised an ‘Art of Chai workshop’, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the ritual of making chai and immediately became a convert to the high quality Chai Walli 11 spice blends. My search was over and I finally found the authentic chai I had been looking for.
What is your daily chai routine?
My chai ritual is well established every morning. Every day as soon as I get out of bed, the first thing I do is prepare a pot of chai on the stove. The house is quiet as I am an early riser, and the process of preparing the chai in a dedicated saucepan on the stovetop is relaxing and meditative, first watching the water slowly come to a boil, the addition of the tea and watching the colour of the water darken as it bubbles away, whilst I breathe in the uplifting aroma of the spices, I then add in a good slosh of full cream Jersey cows milk and watch carefully as the dark cinnamon coloured frothy brew rises to the top of the saucepan, not once, not twice, but three times. I carefully lift the saucepan off the gas flames between each rise to avoid having a spill. Once brewed to my personal satisfaction and frothy delight, I pour the creamy yumminess out of the saucepan from a good height and into a hand pottered black tea pot, filling it to the brim before stirring in a teaspoon of runny butterscotch flavoured red gum honey before placing on the hand crafted duck blue coloured lid of the teapot. The teapot is my exclusive ‘chai’ pot and never to be used for anything else. It keeps the Chai piping hot and I enjoy watching the steam rise as I pour it into the matching handle free pottery cup, enjoying the warmth as I wrap my hands around it. Sitting in my favourite comfy chair at the window, I look out into the stillness of the morning occasionally spotting a pensive kookaburra on the fence and watch as the morning light make little furnaces on the rusted leaves of the Little Gem magnolia as it streaks across the garden at a certain angle. Whilst staring out into the world from my cocoon inside, I enjoy the serenity as I savour the warm comfort of my morning cuppa. It’s pure bliss.
More often than not, I return to my ‘happy place’ in the mid afternoon and after going through a similar ritual to my morning chai preparation, I enjoy another cuppa with a book in hand before fading off to sleep in my armchair.
So Eugenia, could you tell us your favourite Chai Walli blend and why?
I have three favourite chai blends. In the morning I enjoy the signature 11 spice blend with the boldness of black Assam tea, in the afternoon I choose the caffeine free 11 spice blend as I like to wind down and relax before dinner. I love the way the flavours of Ceylon cinnamon and aromatic green cardamom shine through the more earthy flavour of the rooibos. In the evening, I enjoy the calming warmth of the Chai Walli turmeric milk, a perfect blend of subtle spiciness and sweetness to send me off happily into the land of the zzzz’s.
Last of all, what is a piece of advice that has stuck with you all your life?
My father was a wise man and being Italian he always enjoyed the simple pleasures in life. The most important advice my dad passed onto me was to always live my life with integrity. He passed on his love of good food which he believed was best when it was shared in the company of others. Kindness was ‘king’ and it was free. He encouraged us to spread it around liberally and to everyone. Finally he always said that “we were born with two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in the same proportions.” To listen was the greatest gift we could give to another person.
Thank you so much Eugenia for being apart of our "Human's of Chai". We absolutely loved reading about your chai discovery and journey through India. We hope to hear more stories about your chai-ventures!