Anand is one of the many people you can find at Maushi’s Chai stall at 6am eagerly awaiting the day’s first cup of freshly brewed tea. He is one of the several dozens of early risers that cannot begin the day without this perfectly infused tea. Located on a side street, only one turn away from one of Pune’s busiest streets, there is only standing room. Maushi has a chair but she rarely uses it during the busy thirteen hours her tea stall is in operation. Her name is Nirmala Kadam but she has been called Maushi, which is the local term for aunt, for many years by most of her customers. Milk and newspaper delivery boys, taxi drivers, early morning walkers and joggers, and college students all make up the sunrise regulars at this place. There are chai stalls all over the city, even one around the corner from Mausi’s in front of a busy park but the crowd in front of Maushi’s is sure sign that this tea is by far the best brew for miles around.
“I boil the milk separately first and then add it to the water to make tea,” Maushi says proudly. “Most people take a shortcut and add the milk directly without boiling it first. This method lets out an oily feel to the tea.” This along with the perfect mixture of water, milk and sugar brought to a boil and then infused with the right amount of tea flakes make the perfect cup of chai. But there are deviations requested and even in th e midst of a busy morning Maushi will make the tea the way you like it, whether it is without sugar, extra strong or with cardamom.
Nirmala took over the tea stall 20 years ago when her husband had a paralysis attack and could no longer work. She had already acquired trade secrets from her husband but the trick was to get people, especially old fashioned working men to accept that a woman could run a tea stall on her own. Now Nirmala has not only proved her mettle but has a huge fan following. Her regulars rarely let her take a day off as her brew is essential to completing their morning routines.
“The regulars are not happy when I take a holiday but I work hard and really need time off to recover,” she says modestly. When Nirmala took over the business tea was being served on a hand cart. After 2 years she was able to reinvest and buy a small stall. She also sources fresh samosas, cream rolls and biscuits for her customers so that they need not stop anywhere else for a quick bite.
On an average day she serves 200 cups of tea at the stall. In addition, Mausi’s tea is delivered to eight nearby offices offices serving another 100 people.
“Now I am 61 years old and ready to retire, how much longer can I be on my feet for twelve hours a day, she laments. But my customers have become my friends and I enjoy meeting them every morning. None of my three kids want to take over the stall. The working hours are too long and the rewards are not what the young expect today,” says Maushi. And thus Maushi’s chai lovers need not give up their favorite cup of tea just yet.