Not unlike Hanuman’s great leap of faith across the ocean, Rachna left her home in New Delhi to move to the US and start a family. Leading an extremely busy life, a “marathon of never-ending to-do lists”, a skiing accident and herniated disk brought “everything into focus: back to the core, back to Ayurveda.”
On the road to recovery, she strengthened her body while teaching Ayurveda to her children. Watching her amazing recovery, the family started Hanuman Chai “to spread awareness, consciousness, and the importance of listening to one’s body.”
Rachna, her husband Rajeev Rawat and their children Radhika and Rishi have been producing Hanuman drinks locally in Boulder, Colorado for about 5 years with many people “hearing about Ayurveda for the first time and being surprised by the power of a balanced, conscious lifestyle,” says Rachna.
Through their products – a sip of Pure Karha- they urge one to taste all the spices -the Organic Ginger, the Organic Cardamom, the Organic Saffron, the Organic Turmeric, and the Organic Tulsi.
In this interview with CSP, Rachna talks about Ayurveda being the inspiration for Hanuman Chai.
Are there many tea drinkers among non-Indians? Who are your main clients?
Yes, many varieties of tea are consumed and sold in America. That does not apply to chai though. The local teas which are like the railway station or street chais in India are made primarily of tea, ginger, and maybe cardamom are sugary, syrupy, have a ‘pop taste’ and have created a ‘sizzle’ among consumers.
Whereas the authentic chai, chai in an ashram which uses a combination of different herbs, spices and roots is not so well understood.
When consumers learn about the authentic chai, the sizzly brands lose lustre. Hanuman Chai’s primary consumers are health conscious, yoga practicing, well-travelled, and educated people of all ages, because the ingredients are of highest quality and health focused. Our youngest customer is 7 months old and the oldest 93 years!
How did you come up with the name Hanuman chai?
Hanuman Ji has been an inspiration in our home as is customary in many Indian homes. When starting on a new journey, taking an exam, participating in a competition, or starting a new project, we always invoked Hanuman ji’s name to give us courage, strength, perseverance, and devotion for which he is known. When we started to brainstorm names for our company, as soon as Hanuman came up, suddenly there was an air of calm and a sense of, of course, how could we name our venture anything else. Hanuman Ji stands for selfless service to all. Our venture was founded ‘in service’ as well.
About 12 years ago, I had cured my inflammation, pain, and brain fog from painkilling medications that masked a ski injury by the use of Ayurvedic blends. Both children, interested in pursuing medical careers saw the proof and miracles of the healing aspects of Ayurveda. They encouraged me to bring the Ayurvedic knowledge in the form of Chai, in its original form to people, focusing on healing and a mission of service first before prioritizing profit.
This required courage. Neither the children nor I had any experience in the food business but it was a compelling mission. We needed all the courage and strength we could get. We always tuned to Hanuman Ji in such moments. It was inevitable that we would invoke his inspiration again.
Has the word chai got currency in the US? Is it something people are familiar with?
As Chai is a curious drink for most Americans, it has created a lot of confusion as well. Many people are not familiar with the real chai is. Is it sugary, syrupy, gingery drink?
Also, the word chai is understood differently in the Middle Eastern countries. Many versions; strong in caffeine, high in sugar, overbearing milk or overwhelming ingredients.
People have no idea, or they may have a little concept of it but, there is no one understanding of what real chai means. In fact, even in India today, we wonder how many children are familiar with Karha, the need for blending ingredients by the seasons or to suit one’s metabolism, or how it is connected to the Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Today, America is still a beer drinking and coffee consuming nation more than it consumes chai. Flavoured drinks are far more popular than chai.
What are your memories of chai in India? Have you tried to recreate that in the US?
In my home in India, children were not given caffeine, which is now a potent part of the modern version of chai. We were given Karha (100% caffeine free) the blend of different herbs, spices, roots and berries to promote natural energy or to balance the constitution, or to heal an ailment. As growing up in a multigenerational family, Karha, the children’s Chai was enjoyed together among siblings and adults in the family. The experience of joy, laughter, and teasing which created affectionate heart-warming bonds, was deeply yearned when I came here to the US.
In our Indian culture, Chai brings people together; it builds a community of caring and positivity. I created similar chai gatherings among neighbours and friends, which has built deep bonds for me and my family here.
What are the values in your branding that resonate with westerners.
Our branding is all about Hanuman and his core values that we follow; Strength, Courage, Devotion, and Perseverance: in service of others. The authenticity and the purity of highest quality ingredients is used in our chai. The story and the mission behind Hanuman Chai, is making of Ayurvedic Karha which is the pure core of chai before the British added the black tea (caffeine) to what modern India sees as chai. Our loyal clients value the authenticity and no-sizzle approach.
What are the varieties and main ingredients? Were they born of your experiences in India?
Authentic Ayurvedic chai is blended by the seasons or changes by the geographical regions to balance different body types. Even though, if the same ingredients are used, their proportions and combination with other ingredients change. For example, in hot deserts or in heat, ginger root and turmeric roots are used very sparingly but are combined with fats for better absorption whereas, in cold temperatures, the ingredients that give natural warmth like Saffron, Nutmeg, Javitri are consumed.
This knowledge was broad-based and was deeper than just making chai. It was all about balancing your lifestyle in a healthy, balanced way by reducing inflammation, increasing circulation and improving immune system naturally. The major ingredients are Saffron, Amla, Cardamom, Turmeric and Tulsi but they are all balanced.
The milling of ingredients, blending, and complimenting came from my family’s multigenerational lifestyle, which included a family Vaidya whose family was like our extended family for generations in the core of old Delhi.
Is tea drinking associated with meeting friends and chatting in a social setting or is it a pick up beverage on the go?
American culture is not a tea-drinking culture. People watching popular events in person or on television go for beer, alcoholic beverages, cola, or flavored drinks, or coffee before thinking of tea or chai.
Some years ago when Oprah Winfrey collaborated with Starbucks to popularize the Teavana brand, there was a possibility of a shift to more tea drinking. That campaign lost steam and most Teavana stores closed.
Mainly, American culture is ‘on the go’, ‘fast and quick’! Those who fall in this category, they always prefer ‘on the go’ varieties. However, times are changing. Those who are realizing the quality of lifestyle; time with families, friends or after yoga, or just sitting by themselves with a book, will enjoy a fresh brewed cup of Karha in the true Ayurvedic way!
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