MamaSita's Tiny Tea House

A site-specific installation and a diminutive, donation-based, masala chai stall, MamaSita’s Tea House is a project inspired by the desire for connection. Masala chai is a relatively new concoction; the tea was introduced by the British to India in the mid-1900’s but the masala was an Indian addition. While visiting the United States in the 1960s, MamaSita’s Bengali grandfather craved nothing more than a cup of masala chai in the afternoon, and her Japanese Colombian mother quickly learned to make it for both of them, despite a few misunderstandings (see Aliciafor more on the history of chai & miscommunication).

MamaSita’s, chai is usually served from little glass cups and factory-made plates, but in the fall of 2013, at the Montalvo Arts Center, MamaSita met with the Dignicraft media collective who supports artisans in Michoacan, Mexico. MamaSita had always wanted to use handmade, ceramic cups as these were the original disposable cups still used in many chai stalls across India. In these roadside shops, the biodegradable clay cups are smashed to bits after drinking its contents.

When MamaSita shared this story with ceramic artists Inés Leal, she liked the idea of collaboration but objected to the destruction of the cups. Why destroy something made with so much care that still had life in it? After all, Inés’ success as a ceramicist finally enabled her to visit the United States and reunite with members of her family.

In the past two years, MamaSita, dignicraft, Inés Leal, and her family, have worked together to produce handmade cups for the Tiny Tea House and transport them safely across the border.

These events are chronicled in an equally tiny book; MamaSita's little librito documenting the journey of dignicraft ceramics across a big frontera (2016).

Since then, MamaSita has led chai workshops in museums, galleries, classrooms, and sidewalks in partnership with Stanford University, the San Francisco Art Insittute, The Claremont Food Justice Summit at the Claremont Colleges, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 

For more info about Dignicraft visit