Today we turned the tables on our Chai Crusader, Kayla, who is normally the one writing the blogs. We decided to interview her!
Chai Walli: What are 5 words that describe you?
Kayla: Traveller, empath, foodie, sensible, creative.
CW: What ignited your love of tea?
K: I was lucky enough to start my tea career working for a large Australian tea retailer. It was here that I got my first taste of specialty Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Taiwanese and Sri Lankan teas. I was hooked. I was also able to gain an understanding into the world of sourcing teas, buying and blending. I have since travelled to all these tea-growing regions and love nothing more than finding an amazing single origin tea and taking the time to taste + appreciate it. It was through a chance encounter meeting Uppma over 7 years ago that I was shown what true masala chai is all about - and I have been a convert and preacher ever since!
CW: If you were a tea blend, which Chai Walli blend would you be and why?
K: Ohhh good question! There's something special to me about the Caffeine Free 11 Spice Chai. It's sweet and smooth but a little spicy! It's a comforting brew but it still has a surprising kick!
Those at Chai Walli also know that I am a little obsessed with our Skin Glow Ayurvedic herbal blend. I've been known to sprinkle it in my bath! I'm not sure that Skin Glow and I share too many similar traits though - maybe it's that we both like roses and organic ingredients?
CW: You have a unique role that might be foreign to a lot of people. Can you share a little insight into your world and how Chai Walli fits in?
K: Like Uppma's 11 Spice Chai - there's a lot of different flavours to my role but they all blend beautifully! I like to think that I assist the business in the areas of growth, strategy and relationships. Each week I work from my laptop and (quite religiously) over Whats App, working on projects that may cover new product development, customer relationships, website updates, blogs, newsletters, stock management... so many different areas - which keeps things fresh and exciting!
I am very grateful that Uppma was open to having someone work remotely for her. My partner and I live life a little differently - we house & pet-sit full-time when we are in Melbourne. We move from home to home in the country and the city, looking after peoples houses & their pets. We also have a converted van so try to spend time in campgrounds and within nature. And, we are WEAK when it comes to Winter, so aim to be living and working in Asia for at least 3 months each year! Travel is such a big part of my life!
Kayla's work set up, overlooking the Nam Khan River in Luang Prabang, Laos, 2019.
I have been able to do all this whilst still working for Chai Walli for the past 2 years. I'm not sure that many bosses would be open to this and the flexibility that it sometimes requires (from both parties), but Uppma is a modern day boss lady and I am very grateful for that!
Kayla working for Chai Walli whilst infront of her van, Buster, somewhere along the Murray River in Victoria.
CW: How has COVID-19 impacted you?
K: I feel very grateful for the situation that I was in when COVID hit. Because my partner and I were both already set up and working online, we were able to maintain this without too much disruption. Tara is a Naturopathy, and meets with clients over Zoom (shameless plug: check out Walking Nature's Path). All of our house & pet sitting jobs were cancelled however, which was stressful for a little while, but we had some amazing friends reach out and offer us some assistance. We have had to cancel our 4 month overseas trip this year, which was a hard pill to swallow, but we are seeing the silver lining by planning a stay-cation within Australia. We will soon get in our van and start travelling along the east coast.
I have many friends in the food industry + also the arts in Australia, so it has been hard seeing those areas affected so badly. I try and do what I can to help. What has been beautiful though is seeing how small business is adapting, and what creative ways people are reinventing or redirecting their energy and business over this period. I take my hat off to all small business owners!
CW: What has been your fondest tea (or Chai Walli) moment?
K: There's probably two. #1 was meeting a man named Mr. Leaf (seriously) in a small rural town in Taiwan. He had a small tea shop, and offered special guests the chance to create tea time capsules. You pick your favourite tea (Taiwanese teas age very well), and then write a letter to your future self. I had two friends with me, and they had to write a poem for me. We put all these things in a beautiful tea canister, wrote my name in Taiwanese characters on the canister, and Mr Leaf placed it on a very high shelf in his store. I made the promise to him to return in 20 years, and drink the tea with him. The mayor of the town also had a tea time capsule next to mine!
#2 was when I planned my best friends hen's party before her wedding. Before I was even working for Uppma, I asked if she would come and hold a chai workshop at the event, for all the women there. My best friend, Cynthia, is Sri Lankan, and we wore the most beautiful saris and had a henna artist there as well. Uppma was amazing, my best friend loved it, and the chai was on pointe!
Uppma teaching her Chai Workshop at Kayla's friends Hen's Party, 2016.
CW: If there was one thing you want the world to know about anything (tea related or not), what would it be?
K: Get out and see the world! Experience new cultures with an open heart and humility. Empathise with people before you judge or get annoyed. Everyone should be treated equal and it's much easier to be kind to people and smile. And if Nonna offers you more food, always say yes!
CW: Uppma and you became friends many years ago, how is it working with someone you’re also friends with?
K: There's so many wonderful things that come from working with and for someone that is already a friend of yours. I have such a drive to see Uppma succeed and for Chai Walli to smash all it's goals. I have a deep respect for her as a business woman as I've seen how she's grown over the years. We also laugh a lot, and I can probably be more honest with her than if we weren't friends. We probably get a little too distracted sometimes talking about life outside of Chai Walli, but then we are also both very focussed so it's not too hard to get back on track. I'm visiting Sydney soon and Uppma has promised to cook me one of her famous Indian meals - that's not something a regular boss would do for you!
Uppma & Kayla drinking chai in Bombay (Mumbai), India. 2019
CW: Any other things you’d like to share?
K: It's not that hard to make proper stovetop chai! Practice makes perfect, but once you've got your recipe right - brewing a delish masala chai in the morning will only take you 5 minutes and it's worth every second. And the flavour you get from the brew is 4,000 times better than any teabag!
Oh, and you can pop tea leaves and spices in the compost once you're done with them.
FUN FACT: Uppma's nephew, Arjan, renamed Kayla's name to CHAI-LA when he was 3!