Chai is a vital part of the Indian culture and is ingrained in the Indian lifestyle. India runs on chai. There are chai stands everywhere in India and people drink chai 2-4 times a day. Chai is a daily ritual and is made for any and every occasion. It symbolises community, culture and togetherness. It’s something very significant to the Indian culture.
While doing her day job at a law firm,Uppma started her tea business ‘Chai Walli’ which literally means a female tea seller, a little over two years ago. But she inherited her passion for tea from her grandfather, a doctor specialising in herbs and spices.
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What's in a name? 'Chai Walli' is a term given to female chai makers on the Indian streets. Chai Walla is the male version and is more commonly known as men usually take this role. And generally it's the lower class people who sell chai. – I chose the name Chai Walli because I wanted to create a paradox between being an educated woman (I'm a lawyer at @clearpointcounsel by day) and running a chai business. I wanted to challenge the traditional Indian social norms that place us into boxes of what our future should look like. Many have made fun of me for naming this business 'Chai Walli' because it's a derogatory term and not profession a lawyer should be doing. But I celebrate it. – I celebrate women creating change. I celebrate the Indian tradition of chai. I celebrate the grandma/pa who creates the family's chai blend. I celebrate the way it brings people together. I celebrate Chai Walli because to me it represents a step towards creative growth. By being an educated Indian woman who is also a Chai Walli.
“My grandfather is an Ayurvedic doctor and he used to make this Ayurvedic tea at his medical dispensary. He taught me the art of Ayurvedic tea.”
“Wherever I go I make tea… My parents’ number one request is ‘Uppma, make some tea.’ When my brother got married, I think I would have made a thousand cups of tea for all the guests. Even when I went overseas to Austria on a scholarship, I used to make tea for everyone. It was a way of bringing people together,” she says.”
Virdi’s special blends became so popular that they’d be sold out back when she was bringing wire racks of full tea cups to offices and selling teas at the market herself.
Soon she was running an online store, wholesaling to local speciality stores and teaching ‘The Art of Chai’ classes as she built her two-year-old business through relationships, social media marketing and hard work… lots of hard work.
Chai Walli’s phenomenal growth and its founder, Uppma Virdi’s relentless passion for tea was recently celebrated at the Indian Australian Business and Community Awards (IABCA). Virdi was named Businesswoman of the Year 2016 in a grand Sydney ceremony.
She is still a lawyer by day, moonlighting as a chai-magician and unsure if she’s ready to take the leap into the metaphorical cup of tea.
Virdi is an inspiration to the young business women of the world and a blessing to tea-lovers everywhere. And if you have even half the passion Uppma feels for chai, you’re going to be just alright.