By Deena Douara
“Timing is everything in life,” says Becca Moroney. It’s a theme that comes up often when speaking with the founders of Chaiwala. It means taking the time to travel and explore; taking the time to brew and enjoy a fragrant cup of tea, and taking the time to let a friendship evolve into a love story.
“If we had met any earlier in life would have walked right by each other. The timing was right.”
Their story starts fairly conventionally, before a whirlwind of adventure would lead them to start their own chai production business, built around a South Asian black tea blend that is herbed and spiced and brewed with milk.
Moroney and Eamon Fitzgerald became friends at work – a Toronto marketing company – and would often talk about exploring the world. Along with a third mate, they finally decided to take the plunge. The next three years would see them traveling off and on through Asia, South America and Australia.
“We never had a place we had to go to; never had a night pre-booked,” explains Moroney.
While they say they were “in denial” of their obvious chemistry, others would ask them how long they’d been married for. Their early “dating” experience then would be sweaty, ill, frugal and raw – “there’s nothing romantic about it but it’s so real,” says Moroney. It wasn’t long before they found themselves in love.
“If you can survive traveling with someone for that period of time, and still love each other, I think you’re in a good position.”
The three friends had planned to work professionally in Australia but after going interview to interview, they realized businesses were not interested in hiring young folk who’d be moving on within the year.
So instead, Fitzgerald worked at a café in Melbourne as a busboy. He says he had a great relationship with the owner, an older Greek man who’d been perfecting his personal masala chai recipe for over a decade with feedback from South Asian staff as well as his customers. Gaining increasing responsibilities there, Fitzgerald eventually convinced George, the owner, to make him manager. Then Moroney came in and “really stepped it up.”
They say the shop’s chai sales were special – “a whole experience.” It included a strainer and a board, a jar to smell the aroma of the tea. Tourists would ask for shipments to be delivered to them. “People who liked this, loved this,” explains Fitzgerald, who says he never liked the sweet syrupy chai he had tried at North American cafes.
Later the pair left for India and Nepal and learned more about the culture surrounding the tea. They spoke to “chaiwalas” (tea makers) and observed the ritual of it. “It’s something to be enjoyed, cherished.”
“The whole campaign of what we’re doing with Chaiwala is about the experience,” says Moroney.
Part of how they are doing that is educating servers in the process, giving cafe’s glass canisters to allow customers to see and smell what they’re getting and introducing steps into the business so that cafes serve their chai on a board with steamed milk and a strainer. “Chai is not for every café,” says Fitzgerald.
“They have to value that experience.”
Chaiwala uses a fresh blend of 10 spices that include fresh ginger, true Sri Lankan cinnamon, and honey from the Laurentian mountains. Moroney say it’s one of the healthiest teas you can drink, aiding digestion and detoxifying the body, while also slowly releasing energy throughout the day. They also rely on fair and direct trade with Indian farmers.
While falling in love with chai, and with each other, came easy, starting a business did not.
Moroney explains that before attending their first Starter Company class, they were struggling.
“We went in and Andrew Patricio says ‘Welcome to this class, it’s a place where we can talk about things. Every person wakes up at two in the morning and thinks I gotta quit my business, let’s shut this thing down.’ We had literally just had that day…It felt so therapeutic.”
She says the group was really a community: “You’re all supporting each other…It was so much therapy. You walk out newly energized and excited about everything.”
They say Patricio was “to-the-point and honest,” and so too are they grateful for their “amazing” mentor –“super successful, full of knowledge, any kind of issue you have he’s dealt with it.”
Chaiwala is in served in over 75 independently operated cafes across the GTA and is also selling wholesale through their website. Just make sure you set aside the time to enjoy it.