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A chaiwala prepares masala chai on a coal fire in a street of Kolkata.
A chaiwala in Varanasi pouring a cup of chai.

A chaiwala (Hindi: चायवाला, IAST: cāyavālā) is a person who prepares, sells or serves tea on streets or small roadside shops in the Indian subcontinent.[1] They are an integral part of Indian tea culture. Chai is the Hindustani word for "tea", as in masala chai, and wallah indicates the person performing the task, so chaiwalla is a street seller of tea.

Chaiwalas, as an entrepreneurial group, tend to move from different regions of India to run their small business in major cities. They boil a mixture of water and milk, add tea leaves and then strain the tea into containers or a tea kettle. They usually serve tea in a small glasses or unglazed clay teacups (kulhar) but, in the modern era, they have started to serve tea in plastic cups. Traditionally, tea was made in brass vessels. The hygienic safety of tea prepared in this manner is disputed.[2]

Chaiwala in popular culture[edit]

In the 1955 classic film Shri 420, the hero (Raj Kapoor) brings the heroine (Nargis) to a road-side tea stall. The chaiwala insists on receiving a payment of two annas (anna is 1/16th of a rupee) for the two cups.[3] The scene serves as a prelude for the famous song "Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua", during which the chaiwala is shown sipping the tea from a saucer (which was common among the unsophisticated people). In the 2009 drama Slumdog Millionaire, the lead character, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel), is a chaiwala in an Indian call center.[4]

Notable Chaiwalas[edit]

The press noted several successful chaiwalas as examples of humble people who are capable of rising.[5][6] They include:

  • Arshad Khan of Islamabad, became a model and singer[7]. He was later revealed to be an Afghan from Kandahar, living illegally in Pakistan.[8]
  • Former Chief Minister of Bihar and RJD Chief Lalu Prasad Yadav also claimed to be a former chaiwala.[9]
  • Laxman Rao of Delhi, author of 24 books[10]
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claims that in his youth he worked as a chaiwala for his father, and used to serve tea to the customers of his father's tea-stall outside the Vadnagar railway station.[11][12] The Indian government while responding to a RTI query that asked "whether there was any record, registration number or official pass issued to Modi allowing or entitling him to sell tea on trains and at stations", responded stated that no such information is available.[13]
  • Navnath Yewle of Pune, who makes a living running a tea house.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is a chai wallah?". Chai Wallahs of India. 20 April 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  2. ^ Tripadvisor Delhi Is it safe to drink coffee or tea?
  3. ^ Raj Kapoor Proposes To Nargis On Street - Shree 420 Most Viewed Scenes, Shemaroo, Published on Feb 2, 2012
  4. ^ IMDb Slumdog Millionaire Quotes
  5. ^ Tea Tuesday: Meet The Chai Wallahs Of India, NPR June 14, 2016
  6. ^ The chai walas of India, Showkat Shafi, AlJazeera, Oct 2016
  7. ^ London calling: The rise and rise of 'chaiwala' Arshad Khan, Rida Lodhi, Express Tribune
  8. ^ Pakistan’s blue-eyed chaiwalla model belongs to Afghanistan, say authorities, Hindustan Times, Jul 11, 2017
  9. ^ "Lalu Yadav claims that he is real Chaiwala". IANS. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  10. ^ New Delhi's most famous tea seller: Meet Laxman Rao, chaiwallah by day, author by night, Aug 04, 2015
  11. ^ Narendra Modi: from tea vendor to PM nominee Archived 15 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Zach Marks (28 October 2013). "Narendra Modi and the Calculus of Tea". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  13. ^ "No official record of Modi being tea-seller: RTI reply". India Today. 21 February 2015. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  14. ^ This Pune chaiwala makes Rs 12 lakh a month. Yes., India Today, March 4, 2018