Incorporating Chai into western office culture
Chai’s conquest of the West
When winding through the bustling streets of Kolkata, or attempting to weave between train carriages on the platforms of Hyderabad, bursting to the seams, wails of, “Chai! …Chai!” can be heard near and far.
A drink deeply rooted in Indian culture, the spiced tea has alleviated stress and lifted the enjoyment of social interaction in India for close to a century. With its Ayurvedic ingredients having revitalised the region’s ancestors for millennia.
Yet, in the new age of the interconnected world, it is no longer just the Asian continent that gets to reap the physical and spiritual benefits of Chai. As though Ganesh had himself poured a golden chai over the world, chai has been seeped and strained into the far reaches of the globe’s continents.
Now commonplace in markets and festivals in the West, Chai’s popularity is growing larger and larger, as audiences with no cultural connection to the drink begin to recognise its authenticity in comparison with the popularised stalwart “Chai latte”.
Chai comes to the West as an exotic, glamorous revolution to a crown belonging to coffee: the second most consumed drink in the world, after water, consuming the gentrified high streets of the Western world, playing puppet master to an audience hooked on caffeine fixes. Whereas Chai is not just a drink; it is a culture in itself!
How Chai can replace coffee for a slow-burning caffeine fix
Chai, as a catalyst of productivity, is immensely embedded in the Indian office culture. From taking a break to order chai from a favourite nearby spot, to having someone come and deliver chai twice a day, corporate professionals look forward to their daily chai fix as they work under tight deadlines, talking and sipping.
It is a ritual in the Indian office culture, without which there is a vague feeling of lingering incompleteness. The following questions can be asked: can Chai provide a better alternative to coffee for some? Can it improve productivity in workspaces? What social benefits does a cup of Chai usher in?
For Arun Srivastava, Partner at Paul Hastings, a daily lunch break in Old Spitalfields Market turned into a discovery of a go-to chai fix at Chai Guys. Seeking nostalgia of the clove and cardamom inspired Punjabi chai of his youth, and intrigued by the authenticity of the Chai Guys Chai, he decided to incorporate Chai into his workplace, believing that chai is not only delicious, but a key factor in socialising in the office.
Law firm, Paul Hastings, takes up Chai Guys
Chai in the office
Speaking to the Chai Guys team, he expressed: “Chai is about family; it's a drink which has its roots in relaxing and socialising. Not only has it contributed to people being in the office, but in the post pandemic world, it has provided a reason for gathering around and talking again.”
But what is it about chai that creates such a social quality in comparison to its other more caffeinated counterparts? Srivastava believes the answer lies in the cumulative result of the drinks' fresh ingredients on the body and mind.
“It’s the gradual effect of the tea and the freshly ground spices coming together which makes chai unique. There is no crazy rush or instant boost; chai burns gently and invigorates you for a longer period of time,” he conveyed.
“What’s so special about having chai, is that it encourages a feeling of diversity. Chai is deeply cultural, but it’s so accessible to everyone because it’s healthy and it tastes good! Not everyone in the firm knows about real chai. People therefore learn about a culture when they come to drink it.”
Every Wednesday and Friday, fresh chai is lovingly crafted by Chai Guys and delivered from Spitalfields Market to the law firm’s London location in Bishopsgate. It is in environments like these where chai has found itself a new audience, and perhaps a new way to enter the consumer mainstream as people of all cultural backgrounds gradually become more and more exposed to the Indian spiced tea.
Sylvie Paquet, Director of Business Operations, values chai greatly and believes it makes a significant difference in the office.
“It's a wonderful incentive for people to be here,” she said.
“The chai deliveries on Wednesdays and Fridays are the most popular delivery we have here, because anyone can drink it. Not only is it a great alternative drink, but its ingredients are fresh, without the powders you find in lots of store bought drinks. Chai is a win for the alternatives and 80% of the people in office love it.”
Paquet has been familiar with chai ever since her travels to India, and from the spiced tea’s fragrant aromas, she can tell the best chai from the bad.
“It’s just everywhere in India, everybody is on the streets drinking chai. The essence and fragrance in the air awakens your senses. It's a great feeling to integrate into the office, especially on a dreary London morning - and when I’m not here, I know what I’m missing!”.
Trainee solicitor Ioanna Dooussioutou agrees, expressing: “I was not familiar with chai, but chai lattes, a confusing concept in a coffee shop.” However, since being introduced, authentic Indian Chai has become her go-to and provides encouragement to venture into the office. “As soon as I tasted this chai, I knew this was the real deal, as it tasted so natural and original. It really rejuvenated my senses in a way that a drink like coffee couldn’t. It’s slow moving, I don’t feel rushed. Having a chai in the morning with everyone is one of the highlights of my day, although it’s very filling, so I could only have one or two a day!”, she adds.
A view from Paul Hasting's Bishopsgate location
From cramped roadside stalls on the lively streets of India to corporate law firms atop glass London skyscrapers, the expanse of chai now reaches far and wide. As new audiences across the globe discover and unearth the drinks' rich flavours, it is evident that the chai revolution knows no boundaries, invoking a feeling of warmth, comfort, and energy. Although no drink can give the instant boost of a good cup of coffee, chai encourages a world and society addicted to instant gratifications to relax, chill, and have a chat.
Researched and written by Charlie Lau and Jessica Gohil