To the average Pakistani, chai is more than just a morning beverage. It is a string that ties everyone together, no matter their cultural backgrounds. For many immigrant families like mine, the practice of having chai twice, sometimes three times a day, has followed them wherever they go. This is exactly what The Chai Spot hopes to represent.
The Chai Spot is a tea lounge and social enterprise located on Mott Street in lower Manhattan. You can’t miss it. Right outside the cafe, you’ll spot their distinct outdoor set-up consisting of charpais — traditionally woven beds — perfect for an iced chai on a pleasant day.
Founders Khalida Brohi and David Barron are a Pakistani American couple who sought to create a space that represented a bridge between the East and the West. When Brohi and Barron decided to get married back in 2014 , their families were skeptical of the match. However, after over a year of meetings between the families — many over a cup of chai — they found harmony in their differences. Soon after, Barron and Brohi married, uniting their two worlds.
Coming from a tribal village in the province of Balochistan, Brohi has been heavily involved in advocacy work all her life. She brought the essence of that spirit with her to America, and it has become the very essence of The Chai Spot’s mission: 50% of profits support the socio-economic empowerment of women and children in Pakistan.
Upon entering, you walk through a small marketplace of handcrafted goods, such as traditional clothing and embroidered cushions — the fruits of the company’s collaboration with rural communities in Pakistan. The Chai Spot’s indoor seating is just as eye-catching as its outdoor area. Unlike a typical coffee shop, there are no tables, chairs or stools. Instead, they have set up mattress beds around the perimeter of the back room, with embroidered cushions and beaded ottomans over Kashmiri rugs, all for optimal comfort. The aesthetic pays an homage to Pakistan’s people and culture as much as the traditional menu does, from the flavors to the colors and music. A mix of upbeat Western and South Asian music plays in the background, such as “Saiyaan” by Qurat ul Ain Baloch, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire and “Bewafa” by Imran Khan.
The Chai Spot’s wide selection of freshly made, traditional chai offers something for everyone. Vegan guests can enjoy a sip of Coconut Rose Chai. Coffee lovers can try Dirty Chai, an espresso-chai mix complete with flavorful spices like cardamom and nutmeg. Those who prefer something more authentic can go for the Traditional Cardamom Chai. They offer a selection of iced options as well, such as their Thai Iced Tea and Hibiscus Iced Tea. CAS junior Laibah Faiaz, a Pakistani student who visited The Chai Spot with her family, loves Butter Chai, a classic Kashmiri delicacy. For snacking, they also offer Veggie Samosas and Kurkure, a spicy and crunchy puffcorn treat.
“I was really drawn to The Chai Spot, as it was a really new and exciting concept for a coffee shop in how it was able to integrate Desi culture into a metropolitan area,” Faiaz said.
Many customers work on their laptops — courtesy of the free Wi-Fi — as they would at any other cafe. Others choose to socialize over the perfect cup of chai, in either a colorful glass or a to-go cup. However, the beauty of The Chai Spot is its versatility and spontaneity. Plenty of board games like Chutes & Ladders and Ludo, two South Asian classics, were beside novels by South Asian writers, some of which are in Urdu. I even saw a copy of Brohi’s own memoir, “I Should Have Honor “ about tribal life in Pakistan.
No matter what your interests in visiting may be, The Chai Spot has you covered. The spirit of chai lives fiercely within this tiny cafe in lower Manhattan, a place where everyone, regardless of their cultural background, can participate in the communal practice of chai-sipping and spilling, one we can all find a little bit of joy in.