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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tea-shops in India: Shrinking and Vanishing

The colours on the wall have faded but the arches still retain the same old grandeur and the teashop is impressive at first sight.

But that's half the tale. Customers are declining and the sale of tea has gone down over the years. And this is the same story at most of the tea-shops you go.

Tea is perhaps no longer a much-desired drink, especially for the upwardly mobile Indian youth.

It's cheap and probably not chic to drink tea, sitting on weak wooden benches or standing by the side of a kiosk, unless you are an unemployed youngster.

In the age of Barista and Cafe Coffee day, it's tough to run a tea-shop. In urban India, space is difficult to find and old 'chaai ka hotels' find it tough to resist the offers of huge money to sell the land, to those who come up with chic showrooms or shops selling cell phone accessories or property dealing offices in these premises.

I spoke to Major (no armyman) who used to earn enough to sustain a family of eight and even build his own house with the earning of his 'chaai ki dukaan' in the 70s and 80s. But the rate of chai hasn't gone up as fast as other things.

It costs Rs 3-5 in urban India, from Lucknow to Ludhiana, and it's tough to make more than Rs 100 a day for any ordinary chai-wala.

"After paying the electricity bill and the boys, I get Rs 80-120 per day as profit", says Ram Lubhawan, whose father had started the shop 45 years ago.

Six years back he sold half of the space and now has barely adequate space for keeping the goods. In his neighbourhood there was another teashop, who was once his busiess rival.

The person, Itwari (he must have been born on Sunday), sold his shop for Rs 35 lakh three years back. Still, Ram Lubhawan's business hasn't picked up. He has no plans to sell the shop but there is tension writ large on his face.

Selling tea is not much profitable. It's manifold more rewarding to sell gutka or pre-paid cell phone vouchers. Even if the chai-wala puts ginger and adds the 'tea-masala' to the 'chaai', nobody is willing to pay more than Rs 5.

Tea-culture dying!

For several years I have been watching this trend of shrinking teashops. In old days, there used to be 'chaai ka hotels' or 'chai-khanas' where one could ensconce oneself in any corner on the benches and spend time with friends in cosy comforts.

Now, it's tough to find shops where you have place to sit, let alone sprawl. Shops have been replaced by kiosks. Is the tea culture dying? Has it become just the drink for the class that does physical hard work--like masons, white washers, drivers, mechanics, handcart pullers, labourers & hawkers, and need tea to keep them refreshed?

Or the chai-walas need to reinvent themselves?

Past posts on Tea [On this blog]
1. Morning tea cups in Hyderabad
2. Huzoor Chai Pijiye: Lucknow's Kashmiri tea


asma said...

When I was younger I used to see a lot of tea shops and would laugh at their names : dilpasand tea corner, etc. They're definitely vanishing but I've still seen them thriving in predominantly Muslim areas, where men still gather together and sit on creaking wooden benches to have their chai. If there's one thing you can't take out from any Indian actually, its tea.

Kalpesh said...

Interesting rightup on tea. Tea pilao bhaijan.

Manish said...

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Anonymous said...

i love tea, more so from one of those tea stalls that you mention. It is correct that Barista's and CCD's are taking over but in college that I study, IIT, it is still a matter of great fun and relaxation to have a tea at a dhaba than to go to a Barista/CCD.
I think it is upto us tea enthusiasts to find new ways to help the teastalls flourish :)

Anonymous said...

Dont know about Tea stalls
par agar daftar mei chai milna band ho jaaye then the economy will come to a stand still :D

kings said...

yeah, as you said. Might be the upwardly youth think in that way. But what is their percentage of the general population. I agree tea is priced less and you cant probably increase it overnight. Nowadays,depending upon it costs between 3 to 5 rupees. The more big city, the more costlier, the more the rural area, the cheaper and guess what, this is for the pricing part but mostly the quality and taste of tea is opposite, worse in cities, and its best in villages and towns.

I dont think there would be decline in drinking, it is as much as staple diet in the mornings, noon and the evenings across the length and breadth of india. Especially in all the offices,govt or private albeit bigger companies have italy make coffee vending machines.. ;)

I am teak drinker and i love my cuppa. Where ever it may be, how ever it may be or how ever affluent i may become, i wont forget my refreshing cup of tea :)


SmartAleck said...

I am not a big tea drinker but I know of tea shops near kolhapur which charge ~Rs.6 for masala tea and are still having good business. So I do not think that it is correct to say that people will not pay more than Rs.5.

Election wala anon said...

effects of urbanization where new generation prefers a barista or CCD over a not so hygenic looking tea shop...well may b....

Lucknowite said...

"A lot can happen over a cup of coffee", This goes true for tea as well in many parts of India as coffee is not as popular as tea there, except south India. Tea shops had been conspicuously present in every corner of localities, at roadsides, opposite colleges, near cenema halls, in the market etc. Where one would hear people rythmically chanting 'ek chai malai mar ke'. Where concoction of tea would be brewed in front of you. The seller would proudly show his skills by lifting the pan away from heat repeatedly to control the froth just when it reached the brim! People would sit there for long discussing on many petty and important issues. In Lucknow there used to be a tea shop which would run a crossword contest. Crossword puzzles (Mu'amma) were given in Urdu and people would struggle to solve it for long as they kept sipping from the porcelain cups. All this was happening since ages.
Suddenly we discovered these shanty style shops un-hygienic, old fashioned, not gelling with our lifestyle etc etc. Something which had never struck the minds of people who have been drinking there for long! Was hygiene not important for them? Were they not concerned about other factors? I think its our lifestyle in 21st century which has afflicted us to think so. That is the reason why these tea shops are on a exit mode from the market. Its not that the habbit of drinking tea is reduced, its the way we drink tea has changed, courtsey the so-called fashionable lifestyle! There are very few Irani hotels left in Mumbai today. There is an economic factor as well. The tea shop owner's earnings do not suffice any more to him due to inflation. So they are choosing alternative sources of income.

PyRo said...

tea shops.. i jus came back from one. I jus adore it. The chennai tea, hydrbad tea, bangalore coffee.. its jus peaceful! :)

indscribe said...

Asma: True, there are more teashops visible in Muslim localities.

Anon: Ya, I also studied at an engg college and can't forget those days and the tea at such joints-dhabas.

Anon: Valid point. Without tea in offices, it is impossible to work. In offices where they don't serve tea or vending machines aren't installed, the staff gets a good bahana to go out and take 20-25 min for their cuppa.

Kings: In rural areas they put more milk in the tea. My experience of tea in rural areas is limited though in qasbas (towns), I have had fantastic tea.

Smart Aleck: I like the masala tea, once in a while. Have you tried Lamsa? That's a different flavour from Hyderabad.

Lucknowite: Ya, with the Shama magazine having stopped publication, the craze of muammmas (Crosswords) also disappeared. Of course, the sole newspaper in shops in ghettoes changes so many hands within the day. There is sher like 'banT raha huuN subah se shaam/ urdu ka akhbaar ho gaya huun'.

Election wala anon, Pyro, Kalpesh: Thanks for your comments.

How do we know said...

oh the chaiwala outside my office seems to be doing brisk business.

One thing that they can most certainly do, and at little cost, is be aware of hygiene. Tea preparation cannot by itself be very unhygenic, but the cups and the glasses... and the benches... thats what stops me from stopping and drinking at a chai ki tapri.
If they give us the choice of disposable glasses, i m gud.

Faroha said...

these days, of course, it's just not chic to drink tea. However, I agree, tea has a certain charm over any thing else. I don't know about India, but in Pakistan, the tea business thrives. Everyone is simply addicted to tea and no business seems to be complete without it. Someone once said that Pakistanis are addicted to three things; discussing politics, cricket and tea and it remains true even now. I think that there are some parts of our culture that are worth retaining; so for me, a cup of tea winds hands down over coffee every time.