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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 (also spelled as chaiwalah or chaiwallah; Hindi: चायवाला) is a tea-seller in the Indian subcontinent.[1] They are an integral part of subcontinent culture. Chai is the Hindi and Urdu word for "tea", as in masala chai, and wala indicates the person performing the task, so chaiwala 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, often with spices or a spice mixture called chai masala, add tea leaves and sugar 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.

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1955 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.[2] 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.

In literature[edit]

The 2021 children's book Chaiwala![3] by Priti Birla Maheshwari "Sweetly captures a slice of Indian life."[4] while telling the story of a little girl's experience getting chai with her mother at a train station in India. The book is published in Canada by OwlKids Books and illustrated by Ashley Barron.

Notable examples[edit]

The press has noted several successful chaiwalas:[5][6] They include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is a chai wallah?". Chai Wallahs of India. 20 April 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  2. ^ "Raj Kapoor Proposes To Nargis On Street - Shree 420 Most Viewed Scenes". Shemaroo. February 2, 2012.
  3. ^ Maheshwari, Priti Birla (2021). Chaiwala!. Canada: OwlKids Books. ISBN 9781771473682.
  4. ^ "Kirkus Review of Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari". Kirkus Reviews. 29 June 2021. Archived from the original on 5 July 2021. Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  5. ^ Eplett, Layla (June 14, 2016). "Tea Tuesday: Meet The Chai Wallahs Of India". NPR.
  6. ^ "The chai walas of India, Showkat Shafi". Al Jazeera October
  7. ^ "Lalu Yadav claims that he is real Chaiwala". IANS. Bihar Prabha. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  8. ^ "New Delhi's most famous tea seller: Meet Laxman Rao, chaiwallah by day, author by night". Firstpost. August 4, 2015.