What is a Chaikhana

Young Hong Kong Chinese women drinking tea, ca. 1880s.

Young Hong Kong Chinese women drinking tea, ca. 1880s.

“A Chaikhana, or a teahouse, was a place to rest along the legendary Silk Road, a pilgrimage and a trading route, linking China to the Middle East and Europe. These Chaikhanas were the places of rest, to sip tea, and to gather together to sing the songs of the Divine…”

Mentioned poetically, a Chaikhana also means “A Tea Treasury”. This reflects well our ambition to preserve, refine and perfect the Asian and the European cultural traditions of drinking tea, both in taste and in aesthetics.

The birth of Chaikhana

Tea, the celestial drink, was once available only in the southern part of Imperial China. Gradually, over time, people in other countries of the world also came to know about tea.

When the news of tea first reached a country known as the “the country of believers”, people there easily believed its existence. The high priest immediately arranged for his group of wise men to fetch samples of tea from China.

After a long journey, the ambassadors reached China and there the Chinese Emperor gifted them a cart load of tea leaves. This, they brought back to their own land with much fanfare. On reaching home, they built huge temples of tea all over the land and people started worshipping tea as sacred of sacreds. But nobody had ever tasted the tea.

When an old man of the country pointed out this simple truth to his fellow countrymen and asked to boil the tea leaves and taste the brew, people condemned the old man as non believer and drove him out of the country.

There was another country, known as `the country of logicians. This country was crowded with intellectuals and thousands and thousands of various learning institutions. When the great news of the discovery of tea reached there, hot debates on existence of tea took place among the intellectuals. They kept discussing about tea for great many years. When they could not reach any conclusion, the highest body of the academicians finally decided that there could be no such thing called tea. So the people consequently abandoned the search for tea totally.

Llamas Drinking Breakfast Tea, Mongolia

There was a third country, known as `the country of scientists´. Here, they started creating tea in their own laboratories. Thousands of different plants and herbs were gathered from wild forests and hundreds of experiments performed. Many lost their lives or fell seriously ill while tasting their versions of tea. When nothing succeeded, scientists declared that `discovery of tea´ was nothing but a rumor spread by ignorant people. So there was no reason to for continuing research for tea anymore.

And finally was the fourth country, `the country of unbelievers´. When the news reached here, they immediately sent their philosophers and thinkers to visit China to confirm the matter.

After reaching China, they approached the great Emperor for some samples of tea, the celestial drink. The Emperor of China gave them gifts of the finest quality teas.

But the philosophers and the thinkers from the country of unbelievers observed that even the poor villagers of China drank tea. And they thought – whatever could be consumed by the masses and ordinary people cannot be celestial drink and the Emperor of China has fooled us. So while returning to their country, they threw away the Emperor´s gifts, carts full of the finest tea into the river.

“Whosoever drank his tea got initiated into the taste of real tea. And his Chaikhana or tea-house became Mecca for tea lovers.”

In the meanwhile, the old man driven away from the `country of believers´ managed to get supply of tea from China. He set up a small hut, right at the border of the four countries, and started offering tea to tired travelers with their caravans passing by. Whosoever drank his tea got initiated into the taste of real tea. And his Chaikhana or tea-house became Mecca for tea lovers.