If you haven’t had enough of the Pakistani “chaiwala”, also known by his proper name Arshad Khan, whose handsome looks went viral recently, we have news of an Indian-origin “chaiwali”, one who’s just achieved a major milestone as an entrepreneur in Australia.
Uppma Virdi, a 26-year-old legal professional, was crowned Business Woman of the Year at the 2016 Indian Australian Business and Community Awards (IABCA) in Sydney last week. Her claim to fame? Not her day job as a corporate lawyer really, but her exceptional tea-brewing skills.
According to SBS, a national public television network in Australia, Virdi had walked into their studio for an interview a year ago with cups of the beverage neatly stacked in a metallic tray, like “a juvenile working at a tea stall in India”. While said juveniles in India undertake the task of distributing tea under conditions of poverty and exploitation, Virdi was doing it for fun — but, as she explained, also to spread the good word about masala chai in a country where the preferred drink for most happens to be coffee.
Over the last few months, she has made impressive inroads into the coffee-drinking monopoly, converting hundreds into admirers of the gently spiced hot drink, which, when brewed to perfection, may tempt the drinker to want to hug it. Now she runs a successful retail venture, Chai Walli, which started as an online shop and a wholesaler to a handful of local stores. Although she hasn’t left her day job, the business has grown exponentially — through word-of-mouth by friends and family, social media campaigns and hard work.
Virdi’s tea-making skills go back to her grandfather, an Ayurvedic doctor specialising in herbs and aromatic spices, from whom she inherited her gift for making the perfect cuppa. When she moved to Australia for higher education, she missed having homemade chai, which, in India, is a great social leveller, served to one and all, to celebrate any occasion or alleviate moments of stress, in times of joy and grief.
“My real aim is to educate the Australian society about the Indian culture through tea,” says Virdi, who is not only now supplying to gourmet supermarkets, health food stores, cafes, restaurants and yoga centres but also conducting “The Art of Chai” workshops to teach people how to make that dream-like cup of tea.
Initially, when she started calling herself “chai walli”, her parents were concerned by the epithet, usually considered to be a derogatory profession in India.
“My parents and family were totally against it.. they said I was a lawyer, why did I want to be a tea seller? I said I wanted to show that tea sellers can do something,” Vidi told SBS. “All the chai walas and chai walis in India are doing something entrepreneurial even if they are not well educated, at least they have a business spirit.”