Meet the amazingly intelligent Uppma Virdi creator and owner of locally made Chai Walli. Her passion for natural healing remedies and appreciation of her Indian heritage is what inspired this lawyer-by-day to create her own authentic chai blend.
We’d love to know a little about you…
I’m Uppma. I recently became a lawyer and the owner of Chai Walli. Chai Walli is a Melbourne based chai business creating blends for chai lovers. I also study Ayurveda and apply my knowledge of spices into my chai. Living to me means to constantly grow. Someone once said to me ‘take baby steps quickly to reach your big dream’.
You mentioned briefly that you also practice law. It’s such an interesting mix of professions! What do you love about practicing the law?
I’ve always liked to help people. In law, people come to me with their problems – sometimes these problems are small and sometimes they are gigantic. I like researching and applying the law like a formula to help people. Legal issues are yucky, but I reassure people that I’m here to help them, which is what I love doing.
Can you tell us about your delicious local business Chai Walli. What is the philosophy behind the brand?
The idea of Chai Walli is a bit of a story. I can’t travel without my chai. I have separation anxiety from home brewed chai. So I take my chai spices everywhere I go. When I used to live in Austria, I always made chai. People from all different nationalities would smell the beautiful aromas of my chai and their noses would lead them to my chai pot.
Imagine this – living in a small town in Austria (Graz) and having your kitchen filled with a Europeans all drinking chai. We shared stories, laughed, created memories and began lifelong friendships all over a cup of chai. I quickly got nicknamed “Chai Walli” for making chai in every kitchen I found. (Chai = tea and Walli = a female that performs a specific task. So together Chai Walli means Tea Lady and Chai Walla means Tea Man.)
I love Melbourne; its diversity and authenticity ceases to amaze me. But one that thing I believe deserves more respect is chai. I rarely go out for chai because there aren’t many places that brew chai authentically here. So when I came back to Melbourne I added some spice to my law books by making chai at markets. My chai would always sellout but I didn’t think of making it any bigger or creating it into something for others to experience at home. But after becoming lawyer, I just couldn’t shake the Chai Walli out of me.
I never thought of creating chai into something more than an experience out of my kitchen, but I guess I had a moment where I realised that I needed to share my family chai blends and knowledge of authentic chai – I would be selfish not to.
Where does your knowledge of Chai come from?
My grandad has a background in alternative medicine, and so I’ve always been treated with Indian spices for any ailments. One particular concoction he was known for was his healing chai. He made a pretty mean chai. He used to live in small village in Punjab (India) where he would spend months drying spices and hand blending them to create the perfect chai. He sold his chai, along with other natural remedies, at his dispensary. His chai was used to treat many ailments from indigestion to common colds. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to drink regular black tea chai. So I grew up drinking his chai, which was caffeine-free, sugar-free, vegan etc (basically suitable for everyone).
Through my grandad, I’ve developed my knowledge of chai and spices. I’ve grown up in a spice kitchen so I guess I know spices pretty well. He’s stopped making his chai blends so I guess it’s time that I imparted his knowledge here through Chai Walli.
Why is it significant to the Indian culture?
Since I can remember, I’ve blended and made chai for my family and friends. I brew chai everyday, and I’m not even kidding. I think over my lifetime I’ve made enough chai to share with the whole of Melbourne.
Chai is a vital part of the Indian culture and is ingrained in the Indian lifestyle. The current Indian Prime Minister is a former Chai Walla (Chai maker).
In India, there is a chai stand about every 100 metres. On average, Indians drink 4 to 6 cups of chai a day. The day chai stops being made is the day that India stops. It’s a daily ritual and is drunk in groups of family and friends or alone while having your “moment”. For me, chai creates unity amongst the drinkers and symbolises community. It’s something very sacred and significant to the Indian culture.
What are the unknown benefits of Chai?
Depending on what chai blend you drink, healing properties can change. A typical chai blend will be good for indigestion or sore throats. But there are chai’s for cleansing, constipation, coughs and colds etc. There are chai’s specific for winter and summer.
Through my knowledge of chai and spices I make different blends. I currently have one signature blend which is a balance of spices that I change according to season. During summer, I reduce the hot spices and increase the cooling spices and vice versa during winter.
What do you believe is the most important change people should make if they want to be kinder to their bodies?
I believe it’s important to know what you’re putting into your body. Cooking your own meals are so satisfying and your body can benefit from the nutrients of fresh and natural ingredients. A saying that has stuck with me since I was a kid – ‘as you eat so you think, as you think so you act, as you act so you do’. When you eat clean, you feel lighter and less sluggish which enables you to be happier and more active. Be kind to your body – know what goes into it by eating fresh produce sourced locally!
You spoke briefly about your love and passion for Ayurveda. Can you explain what it is to those who have never heard of it?
Ayurveda is the first ever written medical system in the world. It is India’s 5000-year-old system of natural healing. It was developed by Rishi’s (Rishi’s were “seers”) who would turn within by meditating and fathom all aspects of their inner life to assist them in self-healing.
Ayurveda teaches us that we are a microcosm; a universe within ourselves. It helps us to achieve a balance with our body, mind and soul by learning about what our nature is and how to live in harmony with our nature. This can be through changing our diet, eating habits, daily routine or even sleep patterns. Each of us is different, no one person is the same and we need to honour who we are. By consulting an Ayurvedic practitioner, Ayurveda can help a diseased person get better or help a healthy person to remain healthy.
You have just been travelling. Can you tell us about your trip and what you learnt from your time abroad?
I was in South Island New Zealand – I can’t get enough of that place! I love what Mother Nature can create. I went there to be grounded within the mountains, lakes and waves. Some friends and I hired a campervan and then hiked for 4 days. My chai was our savior after hiking in the rain for 6 hours up a mountain in our cabins. It was great to have no internet signal for 4 days but not so great to have no shower.
When do you feel most balanced?
When I have my routine. Which usually is wake up, yoga/jog, meditation, breakfast, work and cups of chai!
As an expert Chai maker, can you tell us how to brew the perfect cup of Chai Walli?
Of course! Chai must be made in a pot over heat. It’s all about the double brew. So you first add water to the pot, add the spices and brew that for a few minutes. Then you add the milk and brew it again for a few more minutes so that the spices can be brewed into the milk.
What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to start their own business?
Be a warrior. Surround yourself with warriors. Do the warrior pose every morning!
We feel it’s extremely important to support local industry. As a growing business, what are some of the simple ways people can get behind businesses and talents?
- Shop at your local gourmet/health food shop and ask the staff about the products. You can ask them questions like what chai is made in Melbourne? or what chocolate is hand made locally? What farmer grows cucumbers? The staff will know their suppliers and their suppliers products so they will be your first point of call.
- Visit markets local to you to support local products and speak to the maker directly
- Get on to social media as a lot of local businesses are on Instagram – you can see what they’re up to and how they make their products. Following a growing business on social media is like going through the journey with them!
And lastly, what are your hopes for the future of Chai Walli?
Well, I never thought I would be at this stage which is supplying chai to retailers and online for people to enjoy in their homes and cafes. It’s unbelievable to receive emails and comments on social media from people I don’t even know telling me how much they love my chai. There is a lot more I want to do though. I want to create a movement on how people view chai and spices. I want to share the beauty of chai and the Indian culture by teaching more people its significance and help cafés give chai the respect it deserves.
Head over to People + Profiles to read 26 things about Uppma, and be sure to keep an eye out for more from this talented local…
Order some of her delicious Chai Walli here.
For delicious recipes from Uppma bookmark her blog!