How to make chai in office without getting fired

At the cost of sounding like a snob, Indian chai is very different from the black English ‘dip’ tea bags, the Keurig K cups of Indian Spice Chai or the famed Starbucks Chai Latte. It needs the tea leaves to be boiled in water, along with spices like ginger or cardamom, and then milk added to the mixture and boiled again.

How do you achieve this in your office without violating fire-safety norms and getting fired?

Our facilities manager.

The breakout area in our Mountain View office has a couple of microwaves, a refrigerator stocked with supplies (including milk), a fancy coffee machine, even an electric water kettle. All I had to figure out was how to get chai in here.

I started with the obvious — the microwave. After googling around, I realized the microwave alone wouldn’t cut it. I wanted to see the tea leaves and water boil together to judge the color and strength of the brew.


My eyes fell on the unassuming electric water kettle. Word got around my team that I was experimenting with real chai. A couple of Indians on my team jumped in to help.

I got some tea leaves. Another team member got some ginger. We put in the water, tea leaves and sliced ginger into the electric kettle and turned it on. By ‘jugaad’ing the thermostat of the kettle, we could control for how long to boil the water. We had got the brew going!

The trick is to blame someone else when it spills.

We couldn’t really add milk to the kettle without completely destroying it. So we cheated. We added the hot brew and cold milk together in a paper cup and put it in the microwave. And then, in true chai wallah style, I took another paper cup and ‘mixed’ the hot chai till it had a nice froth on top.

The ‘Chai Wallah Mix’

That first batch of four cups tasted divine! We had an extra cup left and I asked my designer who loves green tea whether she would like some. She loved it! Her only request — could she get a non-sugar one?

The operation suddenly had gone from Indian to multi-national, from standard to customized, from experimental to legit.

The electric kettle could make six cups of chai brew. Which meant we could make 12 cups of chai. Word spread quickly in and out of the team. Soon we had a full house, with 5 of them going to folks who never had chai before in their life.

There is a waitlist. And our Chief of Staff is on it. Power trip B-)

We make chai every day now. It’s a daily ritual — a great way for the team to come together, have some fun and take a break.

Culture. We got it.

Moral of the story: You can take a chai-drinking boy from Mumbai and put him in the Valley, but you can never take the chai-wallah out of him.

For those trying to make chai for the first time, here’s the recipe for 12 cups of chai:
1. Add 6 cups of water to the electric kettle (preferably one with a lid that can remain open)
2. Add 7 teaspoons of Indian tea leaves (we use Society Tea).
3. Cut a thumb-size ginger root and smash it without breaking any furniture (we ordered this).
4. If you want to go crazy, take 6–7 cardamom seeds and crush them with the ginger.
5. Add the crushed stuff to the kettle.
6. Don’t close the kettle lid. Stir occasionally with a spoon as the water starts to heat up.
7. As the water starts to boil, try to keep it boiling for a while by turning the kettle on and off, or breaking the thermostat ;)
8. Depending on how strong you want to have the brew, you can continue boiling. I boil it for a couple of times.
9. Take 12 cups and add 1.25 teaspoons of sugar to each cup (or none for the non-sugar ones).
10. Pour the brew equally into 12 cups (half a cup each), filtering it with a strainer.
11. Add 2% reduced milk in the same measure as the brew (half a cup each).
12. Put the cups in the microwave — ours fit 6 in one. Heat them for 3 and a half minutes.
13. Get the cups out of the microwave. Stir the mixture with a spoon. If you are adventurous (and I suggest you be!), take another empty cup and transfer the contents of a full cup into it. Go back and forth, increasing the distance between them till you get a layer of froth on top. (The ‘Chai Wallah mix’)
14. Serve with laughter and cookies.
15. Ask your boss to clean up.