Spilling the Tea: Meet Two Brothers Giving New York City Authentic Indian Chai

Kolkata Chai Co. is a mirror image of Kolkata's dynamic streets, inspired by its vivacious street food culture
Kolkata Chai Co. is a mirror image of Kolkata's dynamic streets, inspired by its vivacious street food cultureKolkata Chai Co.

As an Indian, there's a word that sends shivers down our spines: "Chai Tea". Why say the same word twice? It's like saying "chai-chai", which just doesn't add up. Fortunately, living in our country, this isn't an issue. India boasts a plethora of different, delectable chais, each with its own unique blend of ingredients. It's simply chai — whether infused with ginger (adrak chai), spiced (masala chai), or fragrant with cardamom (elaichi chai), countless more, but never chai chai.

This peculiar phenomenon of "chai tea" predominantly exists beyond India's borders, especially in the bustling streets of New York City. Ani Sanyal took it upon himself to change this; to bridge the gap and deliver authentic South Asian beverages and street food to the heart of NYC. In an interview, he pointed out, "Despite hundreds and millions of people consuming it every day for its wellness benefits, caffeine content, and flavour profile, the chai that you get in America is terrible. We have created a chai mix and an ecosystem of products that allow people to make the best cup of chai at home."

Their vision is refreshingly simple — to make authentic, street-style masala chai accessible to everyone. Although born in America, their childhood summers were spent in Kolkata.  For them, the street food was more than a culinary escapade; it was a portal to their heritage in its purest form. They recognized that chai, unfortunately, had been somewhat misconstrued in the Western world and stripped of its context. So, they set out to reclaim it, ensuring their culture and traditions were portrayed with precision and integrity. The Kolkata Chai Co. emerged from a fundamental question: how could they extend the authenticity, respect, and tradition embodied in a cup of masala chai to the bustling streets of NYC?

The cafe has garnered attention from notable South Asian celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Hasan Minhaj, and Poorna Jagannathan. The Sanyal brothers started from a grassroots effort, an endeavor to introduce authentic Indian masala chai to the locals of New York. Having left Kolkata in 1987, their family's annual sojourns allowed them to steep in its rich traditions, turning chai-drinking into a cherished daily ritual. Embracing their first-generation Indian-American identity, they launched Kolkata Chai Co. and brought everything that goes into a cup of masala chai to both the locals of NYC and to a Brown community yearning for a taste of home.

The cafe itself is a mirror image of Kolkata's dynamic streets, inspired by its vivacious street food culture. It's not just about chai; it's about the entire experience. They serve up an array of street food-inspired snacks, evoking a sense of nostalgia and bridging the geographical gap between Kolkata and NYC. From their signature oat milk masala chai to their delectable egg rolls, the menu caters to the worldly and the inquisitive. Kolkata Chai Co. transcends its status as a mere chai company; it's a vivacious celebration of tradition, heritage, and cultural exchange.

As Ayan Sanyal, the founder of Kolkata Chai Company, aptly puts it, "For a lot of people, it is a new understanding of what chai is in this country, for others it’s a refreshing reminder of home, family and tradition. Ani and I consciously wanted to bring chai out of the South Asian household and immigrant neighborhoods and into the mainstream of Manhattan and SOHO. We wanted to take this meaningful drink and make it big, but do it responsibly.”

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