CUPPA CHAI

An Indian engineer in Silicon Valley has invented a machine to brew the perfect masala tea

Quartz india
Quartz india

For the last two-and-a-half years, Gaurav Chawla has had one obsession: Making the perfect cup of masala chai.

Since quitting his engineering job at cloud computing giant Salesforce.com in 2013, 39-year-old, Chawla has spent all his time—and expertise—on designing a machine that can dispense freshly-made tea in under three minutes. Now it’s finally ready.

Chime, which costs about $250 (Rs16,800), uses fresh tea pods (infused with strands of ginger and other spices) that cost a dollar each. The pods are released into the tea brewing chamber to steep, while the milk simmers below. The brewed tea is then released into the hot milk below, which can be dispensed in a cup.

But the beginnings of this experiment weren’t so flawless. The Indian-American entrepreneur’s first attempt to brew tea occurred in a “very expensive” $5,000 coffee machine, he recalled.

The Chime machine
The Chime machine

“I thought I could replace coffee with tea leaves. I was wrong,” said Chawla, who grew up in the western Indian state of Gujarat before moving to the US.

After the first prototype was designed in 2013, it took Chawla—who studied engineering at Gujarat University and Texas A&M University—another year-and-a-half of research and development to finally build Chime. “What we did is basically replicate the entire tea-making process on the stove and automated it,” he explained.

The Chime machines are currently being manufactured in China, and Chawla is taking pre-orders. He is also talking to investors to help fund the business to move it beyond San Francisco, where he is currently based.

Chai is cool

Globally, tea, the second most widely consumed beverage in the world after water, is getting more attention.

In India, young entrepreneurs are discovering their love for chai through cafes such as Chaayos and Chai-Point. Affluent customers, on the other hand, are embracing the native drink and paying a premium to savour it in chai-cafes.

Starbucks, the four-and-a-half decade old global coffee chain, has also shown some serious love for the beverage whose origins date back 5,000 years to ancient China. In Dec. 2012, the world’s largest coffee chain bought over specialty tea retailer Teavana for an estimated $620 million.

Starbucks is now trying to sell more tea in emerging markets such as China and India, apart from serving up “Chai Tea Latte” in the West. But Chawla wants to introduce a coffee-drinking, non-diaspora population, to more authentic tea.

“The coffee shop kind of chai latte,” he put it bluntly, “is not a benchmark of how one should drink tea.”

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