Chai in Bhopal

It is a crowded evening at Chai34. Groups of youngsters come up to the counter, place their orders of Chai and take a seat on carved blocks of wood strewn outdoors. A cool November evening in Bhopal means that it would be late in the night by the time the throng eases and the café staff take a breather.

Legend says Bhopal was founded by Raja Bhoj in the 11th century when one of his ministers made a pal – dam – and named the place, Bhojpal. The modern city took root around 1720 when the Afghan general, Dost Mohammad Khan built the Fatehgarh Fort with the city coming up within the fort’s boundaries. The city has now outgrown those confines. One of the greenest cities in the country, Bhopal radiates both an old world charm and the crackling energy of youth. 7 universities, multiple engineering and medical colleges, nationally renowned colleges for law, architecture and fashion mean that the whining engine of a two wheeler is now heard louder than the soft clicks of the zaradaori and embroidery needles of Old Bhopal. And where there are youngsters, can the need for tea be far behind.

Chai34  – ChaiChautees – is Madhur Malhotra’s answer to that need. Tea was very far from Madhur’s mind when he boarded a flight for Adelaide, Australia in 2006.  He completed his Masters in IT and Communication Management from the University of South Australia and went on to work on software projects in Adelaide. However, come 2009 and he was on the flight home. His mother’s open heart surgery prompted Madhur to head to Bhopal. The Campion boy had returned.

It would be 2012 before Chai34 was launched. On his arrival, Madhur joined the family’s construction business. Shelly George, a childhood friend and Madhur would brainstorm startup ideas. One thing they noticed was that half the student population – the girls – found drinking tea at shanties an uncomfortable experience. That insight formed the basis of Chai34. The plan was to offer a safe and elegant place to enjoy Chai. And ChaiChautees does just that.

The tea is sourced from a single garden in Assam and each cup is served in a kullad (earthen pot). The Adraki Chai (ginger tea) is the most popular one in the autumn and winter months but the Badi Elaichi Chai (black cardamom tea) dominates the summer. As the café gains in popularity, Madhur fields calls from cities like Surat, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Kolkata for Chai34 branches.

But for now, Madhur is focussed  on his three babies – Chai34, Stay Inn (his latest project – an inn right above the café. Stylishly designed and painstakingly executed, Stay Inn was launched in October 2016) and Adwita, his three year old daughter.

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The crowd is a steady one now. The hum of multiple conversations drowns out the sound of traffic. For a brief spell, the number of girls outnumber the number of boys. Mission accomplished, thinks Madhur.

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