The Chai Cart: Burning Man 2019

For my sixth Burning Man, Phil Reyneri and I (along with my parents!) served ten to fifteen gallons of hot masala chai every night out of this little handmade chai cart. We ran a similar project in 2014 and 2015, but this year, we debuted an all-new cart.

Every night, as soon as it got dark, we’d brew ten gallons of chai in camp, and then load up the cart. We took turns deciding where to serve the chai — a beautiful art installation, a friend’s camp, a dance party, or way out by the trash fence (the perimeter of the event). It usually took about three to four hours to go through ten gallons (we’d serve each person a few ounces at a time). Almost everyone had their own cup on them, but we kept a few loaner mugs on hand for anyone who for didn’t. I’m guessing we served chai to around 2,000 people over the course of the week?!

My favorite night was when we found a concrete fire pit and bench way out in the middle of nowhere. We set up shop, played quiet jazz music, and served chai to the small group of folks who had gathered around the warmth of the fire. It was cozy and intimate, and it was a nice respite from the loud and chaotic burn that was happening in the distance. By the time we ran out of chai a few hours later, we had amassed quite a crowd of people. They were chatting, sipping chai, and roasting s’mores (!) over the fire — another couple had shown up and handed out s’mores ingredients to everyone. I loved creating our own little chai party wherever we went!

Phil’s favorite approach was to make the chai around 3am so that we could serve in time for sunrise. Our last morning, we served chai during the sunrise set at Robot Heart, which delighted partygoers who had been dancing all night long. They paused their dancing to enjoy a bit of caffeine and sugar as they watched the sun come up.

Over the course of the week, we delighted, comforted, and caffeinated a LOT of people. We got feedback like, “this is the best chai I’ve ever had,” “this totally turned my night around,” “ARE YOU SERIOUS!! IS THIS FOR REAL?!” “oh my gosh I think I had your chai in 2014 and I can’t believe I found you again!” “I’m sober and it means a lot to me to find a yummy non-alcoholic beverage out here,” and “I’m also Indian and this chai is the real deal.”

Even if Burning Man isn’t your thing, I highly recommend doing something unexpected and delightful for strangers sometime. It’s truly amazing. It brings out the best in them, and in you.