A cup of chai at Project Chaiwala will cost you Dh12, about six times more than a ‘regular’ cup of tea.
A hot cup of karak for many in the UAE – like in most places around the world – has long been an indispensable part of the daily life. Served in a styrofoam cup poured from a pot, the tea comes with a splash of milk for a delightfully creamy finish. Teaboys at cafes across the country then run out to hand-deliver the hot cuppa to complete this daily tea regime for thousands – from passers-by to pedestrians to motorists waiting in parked vehicles. But how much would you pay for that cup of your favourite tea that stirs you up every morning? Dh1? Dh5 at best?
Now imagine sipping a karak with tea leaves from Darjeeling, the home of arguably the world’s best tea, and spices – including cardamom, cinnamon and some secret ones – from India’s south to the Arabian Gulf. Add to it a slice of life on the lanes of India – a real tea vendor, or a chaiwala as they call them there, handing out the fresh brew suffused with an earthy aroma of a kulhad, the traditional clay cup from India (and Pakistan) and poured from a hot kettle aided by a jabberwocky song-and-dance ritual worth a watch, if not an Instagram story. It is this little storm in a teacup that makes the story of Project Chaiwala a tad different and the experience here priceless for many tea connoisseurs as we found out during a recent visit to one of their outlets in Dubai’s Al Serkal Avenue while shooting for the UAE’s Hidden Gems video series, now available online.
But what makes their tea so different? “We tried to perfect the age-old recipe for traditional chai without forgetting our roots. And for it, we chose the best and purest tea from India and mixed it with local spices and fresh milk. No toned-down versions, no artificial flavours,” says Emirati consulting professional-turned-entrepreneur Ahmed Kazim, who founded this ‘concept’ with his Indian business partner Justin Joseph in 2017.
“Through Project Chaiwala, we have tried to give the street experience an urban setting and we have done so by celebrating India’s street culture while going on a journey of discovery of traditions and rituals,” adds Joseph, who took Kazim along on a trip to the tea gardens of Darjeeling several times over before the two eventually came up with Project Chaiwala’s first permanent home nestled next to Cinema Akil in a corner of Dubai’s famous art hub.
A cup of chai at Project Chaiwala will cost you Dh12, about six times more than a ‘regular’ cup of tea anywhere in the UAE but one sip of this special karak will tell you exactly why it’s worth every penny spent.
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