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Chaiwala (Tea-seller)
A chaiwala in Varanasi pouring a cup of chai.
Occupation type
Activity sectors
Education required
A chaiwala prepares masala chai on a coal fire in a street of Kolkata.

A chaiwala (also transliterated as chaiwalah or chaiwallah; Urdu: چائےوالا, 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 vendor of tea.

Chaiwalas, as an entrepreneurial group, tend to move from different regions of India to run their small business in major cities. They typically prepare the tea by boiling a mixture of water and milk, often with a spice mixture called chai masala, and then add tea leaves and sugar, and then strain the drink into containers or a tea kettle. They usually serve tea in a small glasses or unglazed clay teacups (kulhar) but have started to use plastic cups. Traditionally, tea was made in brass vessels.

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1955 film Shri 420, the hero (portrayed by Raj Kapoor) takes the heroine (portrayed by Nargis) to a roadside tea stall. The chaiwala insists on receiving a payment of two annas (anna is 1/16th of a rupee) for the two cups.[2] This 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 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire, the lead character, Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel), is a chaiwala in an Indian call center.

UK TV sitcom It ain’t half hot mum. Chai Wallah Muhammad (Dino Shafeek) Muhammed the char wallah walks around the camp all day, selling tea from his urn. He also sings the musical interruptions between the scenes, which are mostly American hit songs, accompanied by a sitar. At the end of the credits, he starts to sing "Land of Hope and Glory" only to be interrupted by the Sergeant Major shouting "SHUT UP!!!". After Rangi leaves, he takes on the role of Bearer to the concert party, as well as still being the Chai Wallah.

In literature[edit]

The 2021 children's book Chaiwala![3] by Priti Birla Maheshwari "Sweetly captures a slice of Indian life."[4] It tells 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. Archived from the original on 26 October 2020. 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.
  9. ^ "He started this business in 2017 with an investment of 8000 rupees. Presently his business turnover is around 4 to 5 crore per year. Prafull Billore is a successful businessman and motivational speaker.". Web Gyan Hindi. August 4, 2023.