Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Hajirah Dawray-Cassiem spotted a gap in the market and pursued it. For homemade brewed tea using whole spices, look no further than Queen of Chai.
Predictably, it wasn’t plain sailing. Hajirah shared an example of a deeply unlucky incident with Queen of Chai’s first big reselling order that involved a hijacking of the courier truck. But she didn’t let the situation get the better of her and created new product to fulfil the order.
For entrepreneurs, overcoming hurdles comes with the job description. And Hajirah combines this with her passion for tea, and the legacy of her late mother and grandmothers.
“After losing my mom [to cancer six years ago], it changed the type of person I am. It made me realise that life is more important than anything else and whatever I do, it should be for the betterment of life for myself and for those close to me.”
The tea connoisseur suffers from chronic asthma as well as other ailments and explains that over the years her doctors have told her that she needs to slow down, put herself first and carefully consider the type of job she does for a living. But it was only when her full-time job started to impact her health dramatically that she decided to heed their advice. “In my last job, things just started getting really hectic. Within that period my lung capacity dropped from normal functioning to only 80%, and it was during this time that I knew it was time to make a change… to put me first.”
It was during this time that she started her side hustle with tea, something she’s always loved. “One day I was making a pot of brewed chai for myself and my husband [Taariq Cassiem]. We talked and I said to him that there are very few people who sell authentic, homemade brewed tea using whole spices, and I saw a gap in the market. Taariq told me that if I believed there was a gap in the market, the only way to know whether my idea was going to work, was to give it a try. A week later, I woke up in the middle of the night and I said to Taariq: ‘Queen of Chai’. The name literally came to me in a dream.”
Loose-leaf teas and whole spices
Both Hajirah’s grannies loved drinking tea and nurtured this love in her. “My grannies made their own tea mixes with whole spices – using old school mortar and pestles to manually grind everything down themselves. I love cooking with whole spices. I find that it gives everything so much more flavour, so it was an easy marriage between the two.”
“Tea is an experience. The reason I do loose-leaf teas and whole spices to turn my blends into chai is that its packed with flavour. I find that if you use teabags, regardless of paper or cloth, it takes away some of the flavour and taste.” However, she soon understood that she needed to help her customers navigate tea sans bag. “I realised that because I’m selling loose-leaf teas, I needed to sell the accessories to make things easier for my customers. Many people find that it’s an extra step because you have to dirty a teapot, which can be a mission to clean. But there are so many accessories [such as tea balls and infusers] that you can use and which I sell on my site.”
In addition to growing her product range with accessories, the Queen of Chai tea range has also blossomed from three blends to 10. The original chai (with cardamom, stick cinnamon and black pepper) was what Hajirah grew up with. And for those who prefer a spicier tea, she broadened her spice range and developed the masala chai, which has up to five different whole spices. The golden milk latte followed soon after she started the business in August 2019. “I was doing research and I picked up on the trend of the golden milk latte, the turmeric latte. I started playing around, did lots of research and started recipe testing.”
It’s clear that the health properties of the ingredients are important to Hajirah. As far as possible, the products are organic, preservative free and sourced direct from the farms. Her lemongrass range with natural flu fighting properties pays tribute to her maternal grandmother. “When I was younger, I would spend time with her after school or on days when I was ill. She always brewed what she called ‘goticha’ (an Indian word), which translates to lemongrass.”
Other teas include a women’s health tea (for lactating moms), a rooibos masala chai and a honeybush tea. Hajirah explains the process of developing the lactation tea: “I spent weeks researching, because obviously this is quite critical. I have to be very careful about what I add and how much I add. Several moms told me that if you add too much of a certain spice, it may negatively affect their babies. So there were many factors to consider. I started off with one mom, sending her about four or five different blends to get her feedback. Implementing this feedback, I then sent it to two additional moms and I found that they all enjoyed the aromas and the taste but, more importantly, it actually helped them produce breastmilk so I knew I was on a winning formula.”
Looking to the future, this entrepreneur dreams of a physical store. “At the moment, I run everything from home. There’s also the challenge of getting my target market accustomed to shopping online. Tea is a product that people want to see and smell, not to mention brand credibility.”
Queen of Chai is also available to service your event, whether its brewing tea for your function or a tea tasting experience for your small, intimate gathering.