Could This New Homegrown Invention Forever Change The Way South Asians Make Tea?

Images of the Loka Chai Maker being used and sitting on a kitchen counter top.
The Loka Chai Maker has been engineered to create the perfect cup of chai every time, without all the hassle.Loka Chai Maker

“How can you come home, and leave without having chai?” is a question that must have been asked to, and said by almost every South Asian. Beyond the bounds of language and geopolitics, this is a sentiment that has echoed. The mark left in our collective psyche by chai is indelible. It both signifies home, and visiting loved ones, but most importantly, "Shall I make tea?" is a declaration of love from a mother to a tired daughter; a husband to his wife; to anyone we’ve opened our homes up to. But that is the reality of it as well: the good milk tea that we know and love requires some labour. Those who know their chai with a passion would tell you how it has to be the right hue of brown; with just the right sweetness and combination of spices. 

Images of the Loka Chai Maker being used and sitting on a kitchen counter top.
Watch Shehzad Malik’s Thoughtful Dissection Of Chai As A Cultural Phenomenon

But in the rush and din of our daily lives and the demands of most modern-day jobs, making chai for oneself has become a rare, romanticised experience. For some, it has become akin to making biryani or dressing up in saree; an act reserved for special occasions or a slow, lazy Sunday. But for Anish Shonpal and Nikhil Shah, the chai became a point of convergence for their love of championing South-Asian heritage, problem-solving, and product design. 

London-based Anish and Nikhil are a duo whose friendship goes back to their time at the University of Cambridge, where they bonded over their shared heritage and love for music. But during the COVID-19 lockdown, when Anish was diagnosed with cancer, Nikhil would accompany him for much-needed socially distanced walks, armed with the chai that Anish had brewed up. The conversation around how this beloved drink, with health benefits to boot, has become a rare treat, instead of the daily staple it once was, is what paved the way for the 'Loka Chai Maker.'

While Nikhil had experience developing products over the years, Anish is a lawyer by day. When brought together, their relentless passion to create a device that could make the Chai an everyday reality and not an occasional indulgence meant that Loka began to take form. There are a million products to perfect a coffee - from the V60 and Aeropress to the humble South Indian filter. Despite this, good old chai continues to be made in the same old pot is a thought that many chai-enthusiasts would've thought of at least in passing.

“We find it curious how coffee has thousands of innovations, with a new one launching each day. Each of them delivers tiny, marginal improvements whereas chai is still brewed in a humble pot. So there’s a huge opportunity to improve the experience for one of the most popular tea drinks in the world. That’s a fun problem to solve!”

Nikhil Shah, co-founder, Loka Chai Maker

While the idea lit an ember of inspiration in the founders, they still needed to know if there was a market for a dedicated chai making device. They tried all the tricks and tips of perfecting the chai - from keeping a wooden spoon on the brim of the pan to simmering it at low temperature for longer periods. Anish and Nikhil even mentioned how they tried using pressure as a variable factor to see if they could make better Chai but to no avail. But all these failures, which were even explosive at times, are what made the duo more resolute in their vision to develop a product that not just solved the woes of saving time, but also simplified the post-chai clean-up. 

To that end, to create a product that married design and engineering seamlessly, they started working with the team at global design agency Pentagram, who used an intuitive design approach and a multitude of engineering innovations to create the proprietary Loka Chai Maker. Andrew Aitken, the engineer and production partner Jon Marshall at Pentagram became key to creating this piece of kitchen equipment, akin to the Moka Pot, that addressed the key problems of someone who wanted to have ‘good chai’ every day, every time. Through this single product, they figured out a way to reduce the time and need for constant monitoring, to prevent the mixture from boiling over, to ensure easy pouring and straining, and to minimisize the clean up too.

Through the rigorous testing and resultant iterations that the combined team of Loka and Pentagram experimented with, they came up with a way to create a ‘chai fountain’, where the chai boils from the outside inward inside the kullad-shaped vessel with a conical top. This method addressed the primary concern of the chai boiling over but also added to the brewing process by allowing both the flavour of the chai and the nutrients from the essential spices to be enhanced. Not to mention, this feat of engineering is what has created Loka’s almost hypnotic feature, which the internet has already dubbed the ‘infinity chai.’ 

Simply by pouring milk, water, and chai mix into the top of the device and placing it on a hob (whether that is gas, electric or induction), one can make chai. Once the mixture reaches boiling point, the user can monitor the brew and stop when desired. The built-in strainer and rounded top makes it possible to filter the drink out immediately, and this makes the clean up easier too.

To further simplify the cleaning process, the chai maker is a two part product with a half-twist, crafted from stainless-steel but coated with a ceramic coating, so that it can simply be rinsed out after use, while the strainer is dishwasher safe.

By design, the product was created to fit seamlessly into most modern kitchens and it's appealingly sleek. Anish during our conversation to discuss all things ‘Loka Chai Maker’ mentioned how he would leave the prototype on his kitchen counter to simply see the reaction it would create without any context. Suffice to say, it started up a lot of interesting conversations and questions from the get-go that made them stay the course. 

Once the product design was finalised, the duo confessed to having been both anxious and excited before going live on Kickstarter. But in working with the best agency to capture their story, and pairing with partners like Diaspora Co., they had started the right conversations with the right people. In barely 18 hours of going live on Kickstarter, the Loka Chai Maker generated more than $170,000 (£135,000) from their backers. With 17 days still left to go in the campaign while I write this feature, the product has already garnered over 3600 backers and the interest of many more.

As the heat gets turned up and the Loka Chai Maker's continues to recieve immense support, the founding duo mentioned how they are focusing on doing this one product for the foreseeable future, but doing it well and delivering on the promise they have made. While what they are offering what may yet be just another piece of kitchenware, the Loka Chai Maker has been engineered to create the perfect cup of chai every time, without all the hassle. In doing so, they are perhaps also inspiring a generation of South Asians to start making the good old cup of chai an everyday affair once again. 

You can follow Loka here.

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