Arts, Culture & Media

If you've never seen a tea wallah, here are photos fresh from India


Bishwanath Ghosh - Kolkata.jpg

Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

Bishwanath Ghosh has been perfecting his pour at Kolkata's Ghosh Cabin for over 40 years.

“The word wallah in Hindi means a person who makes or sells a certain good,” reads a sentence on the blog of Resham Gellatly and Zach Marks. That makes a chai wallah someone who makes or sells tea.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Two years ago, Gellatly and Marks met each other while on a Fulbright Scholarship in India. During their time there, they became entranced by the tea vendors, or chai wallahs. So, they decided to travel the country, talking to the wallahs and their customers.

Tea stalls, they say, provide the perfect atmosphere for people from all walks of life to talk and connect.

"At one stand, you might find a businessman next to an auto rickshaw driver, next to a college student, and... that’s very rare to see such mixing. It’s a very stratified society otherwise… but a chai stand is one place where all of these differences melt away over a cup of chai,” says Resham.

And the chai wallahs, say Zach and Resham, are usually busy people.

“The chai wallah, around the clock, never really stops working… they’re quickly churning out cup after cup of milky sweet chai.”

They say that some of these tea vendors sell up to 600 cups of chai a day.

But, these days, the chai wallahs have new competition. 

Recently, Starbucks opened in India. So far, according to Zach and Resham, it hasn't been able to win the hearts of many Indians.

"We had an interesting encounter where we went to the Starbucks here in Delhi," says Zach. "And we asked the waiters there whether they preferred the chai at Starbucks or the ones outside, and they said 'oh, it's no question, we take our chai breaks outside.'"

So they, along with the Starbucks waiter and the store manager, went out and got a cup of freshly-made chai, from the hands of a chai wallah.

You can see some of Resham and Zach's images here. You can also follow them on Instagram.

  Editor's note - this story was updated to include additional information.

  • Chachi - Karnal, Haryana.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    Chachi makes chai the traditional way in Hathlana, a small village in Karnal district, Haryana.

  • Chai stand - Baghbazaar, Kolkata.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    A chai stand at Baghbazaar, Kolkata does brisk business during Durga Puja, the city's biggest holiday.

  • Ganesh - Patna.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    Ganesh, a chai wallah at the Patna train station, brews one of his last pots of the night.

  • Meenakshi - Kolkata.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly , Zach Marks

    Meenakshi serves chai outside of Metropolis Mall Hiland Park, Kolkata. She represents a strong tradition of Bengali chai walis.

  • Shivnat with cup - Kolkata.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    For most of his 73 years, Shivnat Rai Jadav tended a herd of cows and buffalo in Bara Bazaar, Kolkata. When forced to move his herd outside of the city ten years ago, Shivnat took up a new profession, using his milk to brew thick masala chai.

  • Jhumka - Delhi.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    Jhumka, a chai wali at Delhi's Nav Yug School Peshwa Road, makes her traditional Nepali recipe for teachers and staff.

  • Munna at NaMo chai stand.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    Munna, a chai wallah in Patna's Mandiri district, makes chai at a NaMo Tea Stall, part of Indian opposition leader Narendra Modi's campaign to sway voters through his humble past as a chai wallah.

  • Shobhan Barwa - Kolkata.jpg

    Credit: Resham Gellatly, Zach Marks

    Shobhan Barwa's chai stand sits in the heart of Alipore, Kolkata. During the week of Durga Puja, he stays open until 5 AM serving chai and French toast to pandal hoppers who need a caffeine kick to keep them going through the night.