Chai Ghai cafe serves authentic chai in the heart of Vancouver

KPU alumni Sunil Ghai wants to bring Indian culture to the downtown core, while giving back to the community

KPU alumni Sunil Ghai opened Chai Ghai on March 1, an authentic Indian chai cafe located at 562 Granville St. in Vancouver. (Suneet Gill)

KPU alumni Sunil Ghai opened Chai Ghai on March 1, an authentic Indian chai cafe located at 562 Granville St. in Vancouver. (Suneet Gill)

Before Sunil Ghai opened Chai Ghai on March 1, an authentic Indian chai cafe in downtown Vancouver, he was unhappy working in the tech industry.

“I had all these ideas that no one was listening to, and I got to a point where I decided it was time to rewrite my path and to do something meaningful and not just money-oriented,” Ghai says.

Ghai, a graduate of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s business management program, first began Chai Ghai as an online Shopify website, where he sold chai blends around the world for two years. He started the business to honour his grandmother who introduced him to chai and the idea of seva, the spiritual practice of selfless service.

“… [I wanted to do] something that delivered our Indian culture intact, that wasn’t watered down, [that] wasn’t overly traditional, [but] something new, something hip,” Ghai says.

After opening Chai Ghai’s online store, he travelled to India.

“I toured all the chai locations again and again,” Ghai says. “I’ve been to Darjeeling many times, and it was then that I decided ‘Let’s start a cafe. Let’s do this the right way.’”

Ghai chose the cafe’s downtown location not only because it’s a “big stage,” but because chai can already be found in places like Surrey, Abbotsford, and the Punjabi Market in South Vancouver.

“I felt like there is a lack of identity [downtown] that I wanted to reintroduce, and I also felt like there [were] a lot of international students here that weren’t having their needs met.”

The cafe serves chai that is made traditionally, using pots. In one pot they steep tea, masala and spices like ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon. They boil milk in a separate pot.

“We add the boiling milk to the already steeped tea and masala spices and have it all come to a boil a few times … to extract as much of the flavor as we can,” Ghai says.

Beyond the rich taste of the spices, drinking chai also has health benefits.

“Tea itself releases caffeine much slower than coffee, so there’s no spikes and there’s no crashes,” Ghai says. 

“The other thing tea has that coffee doesn’t is it has an amino acid called l-theanine. And l-theanine is actually clinically prescribed to people with anxiety.”

The spices in the different chai blends also have their own benefits. Cardamom reduces cholesterol levels, while ginger helps the body’s immune system, according to the Chai Ghai website.

Not only is chai a healthy alternative to coffee, but it also has cultural significance.

“Chai is so much more than a drink in India. It’s a way of life, really, and it’s a way of showing seva — just in cooking a cup of chai for your wife or your daughter [or] your son,” he says. “It’s a way of expressing love.”

The business also donates two per cent of their proceeds from sales to various charities and organizations like Foundry, Sawa World, and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

“I have some friends and family that have gone through mental health struggles, addiction problems,” he says.

“I felt it was very close to my heart to help the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. I feel like that’s a part of Vancouver [people] want to turn a blind eye to.”

Chai Ghai will be donating $1 from every order to the organization on Mother’s Day.

Visit Chai Ghai at 562 Granville St., or to learn more.