Open air, good music, the amazing company of fun-loving people, and 22 delicious flavours of tea served in kulhads (terracotta cups) – welcome to Chai 34, a Bhopal-based café. Located in Shivaji Nagar, Chai 34 is known for its hygienic kitchen, convivial atmosphere, and its co-founder who left his lucrative job in Australia to return to India and sell tea. Madhur Malhotra, a 33-year-old engineer, returned to the country in 2009. Before that, he completed his Master’s in IT and Communication Management in Australia and worked with a reputed company, as well as the health department of the government, there. Madhur was earning a handsome salary Down Under but was constantly concerned about his elderly parents living alone in Bhopal. Once, when his mother fell seriously ill and Madhur had to rush back to take care of her, he began to introspect seriously. “She had to have open heart surgery and that was when I decided to return to India for good. My mother is 72 and my father is 78 years old. My sisters are now married and my parents were living alone,” he says. After returning to India, Madhur joined his family’s construction business. But he found the work monotonous and unsatisfying. The seed for Chai 34 was sown one evening when Madhur and his friend Shelly George were catching up over a cup at a tea stall in Bhopal. “We saw the server dipping his hands into the glasses, the milk, etc., and his hands were dirty. And everyone around us was smoking. We, being non-smokers, were quite uncomfortable. Another thing we noticed was that there weren’t any girls around. So we started wondering if we could do something better than this,” says Madhur. The duo decided to set up a small tea cafe that would provide a nice ambience for tea lovers to get together with friends and family. They began by selling Irani chai, but this plan didn’t work well with the customers. As they started researching and improving, they hit upon the idea of serving tea in kulhads because the terracotta cups are eco-friendly and add a great aroma to tea. Gradually, they also introduced different flavours and Chai 34 now serves 22 types of tea. The co-founders put in all their savings to start this business. They began on a small scale and put in a lot of hard work. There were days, says Madhur, when the duo would themselves prepare tea because they had no staff to help them. Chai 34 also has a fast food menu but, three years on, tea remains its specialty. Madhur says the tea they serve is of high quality and they do not stinge on adding generous amounts of milk when serving the typical milky Indian chai. Smoking is, of course, strictly prohibited at the small cafe. Chai 34 get about 50-100 customers a day during summer and this number increases to 200-400 in winter. There are regular customers who show up every day without fail and there are six staff members. “After returning to Bhopal, I used to meet up with friends daily and think about different ideas to work on,” recalls Madhur. He did not want to do something that was run-of-the-mill. So why did he pick tea? “Because depending on how you serve tea to someone, you can enter the heart of the person. And that’s what matters,” he says with a smile.