“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.
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.