Mister Chai: A part of India in New Zealand

By Radhika Bhirani

Queenstown, Oct 20 (IANS) They’re not Indian. They call themselves ‘Chai wallah’ and ‘Chai waali’. Together, they run Mister Chai, bringing a core part of India — the masala chai — to tea lovers in New Zealand.

“Mister Chai brings a part of India to New Zealand,” Tim O’Sullivan told IANS as he shared how on his first visit to India 15 years ago, he was in awe of how the masala chai — – a spiced up version of milk-based tea — “levels all”.

“India is a glorious assault to the senses for a small town Kiwi boy,” added Tim, who spent six months in India in 1999, and picked nuances of making the masala chai from Kodaikanal.

He visited Mumbai before touring southern India, and his fondest memories are of sharing a chat and chai with local people.

“The sights, smells, colour, noise, people, emotions and moments of serenity interspersed with busyness – all confronted me daily. I loved it. Chai was my grounding in India. It was my safety net.”

“If it all felt too much, I’d find a chai wallah, sit back on my haunches and reflect whilst chatting with locals,” he recalled.

“For me, India is oiled on chai. I loved the fact that rich, poor, young, old, male, female, any caste, all drank chai daily. It levels all in India,” shared Tim, who is now based in Nelson, one of the cities that Prince Charles and Camilla will reportedly visit during their New Zealand tour next month.

Tim, who started Mister Chai in 2013 for the lack of “authentic chai”, says he believes in serving the “real deal” — a mix of water and thick creamy milk — and so, he just works on a variety of concoctions of the masala chai with his wife Jess, who hails from Te Awanga, a small Hawke’s Bay coastal town in New Zealand.

“All of our ingredients are organic. The spices are all from India. We use Assam tea for our masala chai; Tulsi from Madhya Pradesh; our organic jaggery and golden sugar also are from India.”

“Our spearmint is from Egypt; the Honeybush and Rooibos chai are from South Africa. The cocoa is from Dominican Republic; and our bush honey and organic milk are from New Zealand,” said Tim, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology and a Diploma in Chinese Medicine (Acupuncture) and Herbs.

What’s more?

They spread the joy of hot and cold variants of the tea across New Zealand with their chai cart, serving it up at events, markets, festivals and concerts.

The interesting facet of their cart is their lucky mascot — Lord Ganesh.

Tim says he always travels with Ganesh.

“His blessings, clearing of obstacles and enjoyment of tea was the perfect fit for us to honour him with the unique creation of our Mister Chai elephant character,” he shared.

To this end, Mister Chai has also established links with Elephant Family, a charity focused on assisting Indian elephants.