What happens when IIT engineers make chai? The process is broken into five elements; each step calculated to deliver the Indian beverage in 180 seconds
Tepidophobia is the fear of a badly made cup of tea. And two IIT graduates are getting ready to ensure Mumbai never has to face this fear again.
Having helped Gurgaon and Delhi (where they have nine outlets) conquer their fears, this week Raghav Verma and Nitin Saluja will open Chaayos — a go-to chai haunt that served customised tea in under three minutes — in Bandra with an eye on Juhu Tara Road for the second outlet. We speak to the two over the phone about the journey from “engineer to chaiwalla”.
A server at Chaayos, Delhi. The outlet opens on October 23 on Chapel Road, Bandra. Pics/Rajeev Tyagi
A piping hot idea
In February 2010, Saluja, an IIT-Bombay graduate, had stepped out with his wife when a deep craving for a cup of desi chai took over. Then an employee at an analytics firm in Houston, US, Saluja realised that the kind of tea café he wanted didn’t exist even in India, much less in a coffee-loving nation like America. “That’s when I realised that this might be a business idea,” says the 32-year-old in a heavy Punjabi accent, that we hear is deepened by a daily dose of nine cups of tea.
Nitin Saluja and Raghav Verma offer 12,000 variations of tea
“Most restaurants will serve you dip-wali chai. The plan was to create a friendly neighbourhood café, for people who were finicky about their chai and wanted it served in a particular manner,” says Saluja. He returned home in 2010 and met business partner Raghav through a common friend. Interestingly, the two had worked for the same company in US, but hadn’t met during their employment as Raghav was posted in New York.
Plan to action
The first road block came when the duo tried convincing real estate agents the worth of their enterprise. “The first six agents we met refused to lease space to a chai shop. ‘Chai ki dukaan se kya paise banayenge? You will go bankrupt and we will have to find another tenant’, they told us,” recalls Saluja, who invested his life’s savings of Rs 25 lakh into the venture.
When they did eventually land a space in Gurgaon’s Cyber City, the contractor disappeared on the fifth day. “Parab, our present VP of operations, had to take on the role. And, he’s an IIT-B alumni,” laughs Saluja, whose relatives were shocked that “an engineer was going to be a tea vendor.”
With teas starting at Rs 49, there’s also munchies — sandwiches and desserts — on the food menu for which the duo hired an external consultant. The tea, however, has been their own labour of love.
Since the ‘andaze se’ method was not going to work for their venture, like true engineers, they started deconstructing their recipe. “Chai has five elements — water, milk, sugar, tea leaves and add ons and the challenge was to create a process that would deliver the same taste every serving,” he says, adding that from 2010-2012, they did their own research on various teas and experimented with different brews.
In Delhi, their popular blends include Darjeeling first flush, orange pekoe and rose cardamom. Add-ons include ginger, cinnamon, tulsi, mint, cardamom, masala, black pepper and carom seeds, making it possible to make tea in 12,000 different ways.
While the focus is on desi chai, Chaayos also serves international teas including Moroccan mint, jasmine and chamomile blends. “But, our main focus is Indian tea. Our latest addition is the thandi chai, a take on the frappe. This recipe took three years to master,” says Saluja.