The shelves in Jiten Suchede’s kitchen are teeming with jars. They are filled with different tea leaves, sweeteners and garnishes. There are coffee beans in the refrigerator and more tea in the cupboard. Everything he needs is at hand, but the tea experience is incomplete without one crucial ingredient – the street.
Since he couldn’t bring the street home, the 32-year-old graphic designer decided to take his tea outdoors with Jugmug Thela, a mobile tea and coffee kiosk. It is a fitting homage to the numerous tea stalls that have shaped this city’s character and fed his, and thousand others’, addiction.
“I know plenty of them, and I keep discovering more. If you give me a choice between a café and a tea shop, it would be a tea shop every day of the week. If I could have my business meetings in a tea shop, I would. Unfortunately, they have to happen in cafes,” Suchede says. Operational since February this year, the thela is rolled out during events.
It has, however, been in the works for at least 15 years. “I don’t remember this, but a friend from design school tells me that we were sitting at a tea shop and I complained about the tea and said ‘one day I’ll open a tea shop’. I am not very convinced, but it’s not unlike me to say this,” he remembers with a laugh.
Suchede moved from teenage daydreaming to thinking about it with a degree of seriousness when in the U.K. in 2005/06. “It was miserable for me because you get coffee everywhere, and I was not yet a coffee person. You get teabag tea, which you can survive on, but not live on.” He visualised setting up a stall near the busy Piccadilly station, with a view to serving fellow addicts. That didn’t work out either. But earlier this year, when Dastkaar Nature Bazaar came calling, the idea had undergone considerable gestation and was waiting to be realised.
Jiten built the thela in less than two days, with the help of two friends, out of used shipping pallets. Since then, he has been perfecting its design. In the early days, it was just an extension of his kitchen, where all the ingredients and equipments used were from home. Now a full-fledged menu has come up comprising five teas and coffees each. The teas on offer include the 12 spice secret masala chai, plain chai and the chatpati (Inspired by hajmola tea of Kolkata, and Sulaimani tea of Hyderabad) among others. There are beans from Karnataka, Wayanad, Costa Rica and Vietnam. Homemade cakes, granola bars, cookies, matthi, and salads are also served. All these are priced between Rs. 50 and 150.
The thela has been an instant success, bringing with it a flurry of requests from other cities and countries for it to be set up there. But given Suchede’s commitments to his full-time job, he is not able to attend to it as seriously as he would like. He is also wary of taking it too seriously. “When you try too hard to turn your passion into your profession, you lose the love,” he warns.
Through the thela, he wants to initiate a conversation about tea vendors in Delhi. “People drive into five star hotels and if there’s a chaiwallah somewhere in the corner, they treat him as filth. They don’t realise that their drivers are dependent on him. I want them to become part of the urban consciousness, where they are seen as an essential part of the city and not something to be afraid of,” Suchede says.
On the Jugmug Thela Facebook page, he has been uploading photos and stories of chaiwallahs in the city. There’s the one outside Apollo Hospital on Mathura Road who plays music on his tablet, and the one outside Hanuman Mandir in C.P who serves tea in kulhars. But his favourite? The one in Qutub Institutional Area who continues to serve chai religiously despite having seen his shop demolished 26 times.
(Jugmug Thela will be up and running at The Plaza Mall Gurgaon on May 24, 25 and 26)