A year ago, we heard about an interesting project underway by Minnesota-based graphic designer and potter, Archana Srinivas. She was working on what she calls a ‘tea-table book’ titled ‘A Cup of Chai’. And it’s a book full of photographs of cups of chai. We had to, of course, track her down, acknowledge the love she must have for our favorite beverage, and ask why she chose such a grand tribute to it. What followed was an email exchange where Archana reveals her love for chai.

Archana Srinivas - Blogger at Rang Decor
Archana Srinivas

On memories and teas

“My earliest memory of tea is walking into the kitchen as a toddler, seeing this huge stainless steel flask being filled with scalding chai every few hours by my mother or grandmother, and then being devoured by family members along with homemade savories and bakery butter biscuits.

I don’t recall if it was the first time I had tea, but the experience is pretty much etched in my mind as the earliest ‘tea memory’.

There’s another one where my mother’s having chai and she pours some for me in a shallow steel glass and puts a handful of muri or puffed rice in it. I sit watching the gentle crackling sound of the puffed-rice in the chai with utter delight and then slowly scoop out the now-soggy delicious muri before glugging down the tea!”

chai in jaisalmer

Teacups and photographs

Archana grew up to become a graphic designer, and potter. She began authoring a design blog, Rang Decor and developed a deep interest in photographing and styling interiors. Tea, she found, was making a frequent appearance in her pictures.

Around 2006, Archana first began photographing her daily cup of chai. They made their way to her Flickr page and soon she was doing it with a committed regularity. Dressing up both, her morning and evening cups of tea, photographing and showcasing them.

From the daily milky brown CTC placed in ceramic kulhads to delicately flowering teas in cutting chai glasses, Archana’s pictures remind me of proud mama dressing up her baby for an indulgent photo shoot. On one, you spot a butterfly-shaped cookie perched atop a teacup, on another, there’s a scattering of garden fresh tomatoes. Steam rises from the cups always, and food surrounds and completes the pictures.

In 2007, she found she had collected many—too many—photos, she set up a photo blog called ‘A Cup of Chai’.

Hot cup of chai

Story of a journey

“I like to capture the moments of having tea in the most spontaneous manner possible. I believe that spontaneity is the key to personal projects. So while a daily ritual of a cup of tea might seem monotonous, with spontaneity and creativity you can break it. For me, creative compositions are important as they can bring the mundane to life.

We have tea everyday and most of the time not much thought is given to the whole process of brewing, being mindful of the pounding of the spices, the cups in which it is served, the beautiful steaming emerging from the mug. When photographing the everyday cup of chai and capturing these beautiful details the ordinary cup is elevated to a beautiful experience”.

She does confess that she is always prepared for a photoshoot whenever a cup of tea is around. “There have been occasions when friends have walked into my house, and found me precariously standing on a chair, trying to shoot a top-angle view of chai,” she admits. 

Most of her pictures display pretty mugs nestled in intricate trays accompanied by snacks and often a hand block printed napkin. “I am drawn to unique and creative patterns, frames and compositions in whatever I come across in everyday life—even when I shoot my everyday cups of tea. So whenever there is an occasion for a cup of chai, I ensure that my camera is always nearby. You never know when an interesting composition may come up.”

Hot cup of Chai

 

Almost a natural culmination of a project like this, Archana published her photographs in a book. A Cup of Chai is a very visual record of Archana’s tryst with chai which celebrates chai in a fabulous way. And she’s thrown in her special family chai recipe.

Meanwhile, Archana’s deep relationship with tea continues to inspire her and she still dresses and photographs her daily cups of tea for the blog. She calls it an ‘ongoing project’; clearly a longstanding love for that mug of that perfect golden brew. 

All photographs by Archana Srinivas

(Visited 3,505 times, 1 visits today)
Author

Leave a Reply