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A spoonful of Mumbai’s favourite tea-time spots

Tea lovers rejoice! Here’s a tea-side story you’ll love

brunch Updated: Dec 16, 2017 23:36 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Kitabkhana,Café Irani Chaii,Chai-time
Nothing beats the joy of sipping rich aromatic masala chai from a cutting glass on a winter evening!(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)

I’ve always been a tea loyalist. I start each day with a cup of scalding hot adrak chai. And at about 4pm every day, a gong sounds in my head. Whether I’m in an Andheri mall or on a Cape Town beach, I hypnotically head to the nearest stove, kettle or café. Some of those close to me think this is obsessive behaviour that I should work towards changing. Others see it as endearing. I myself feel if this is an addiction, it’s one I’m happy to live with. It’s a good subterfuge for more seriously worrying fixations. (Don’t get me started on dahi.)

I’m always happy to share a cup. But not all of my friends appreciate my tea-making skills. My mother, used to a very milky concoction, has in her characteristically delicate manner, branded my tea ‘gutter water’. I myself prefer to think of it as dishwater, but in a good way.

My mother, used to a very milky concoction, has in her characteristically delicate manner, branded my tea ‘gutter water’

The sceptics question my methods. I begin with water and ginger, add the leaves, and finally, the milk. When it all brews over a low flame for about a minute, I’m done. This is sacrilege to the milk-goes-first sticklers. Still others swear by the no-leaves-on-a-flame method. George Orwell, who had as strong an opinion about tea as oppressive ideologies, insisted that sugar ruins the enjoyment of tea. So what is the correct method?

There isn’t one, of course. To each her own. While making chai, I use milk more as a colouring agent than a thickening one. To those who’ve suffered my chai – you must understand that I actually intend the tea to taste that way. Clove, cinnamon and cardamom are no-nos. But at my favourite tapris or roadside chai stalls, spiced tea is the norm. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Context is everything.

Taj&Taj

Tucked away in Mount Mary, Bandra, on a road that peddles such businesses as predictive homeopathy (where they tell you in advance it won’t work) and paraphernalia for “posh pets”, is an elegant yet relaxed place to indulge the craving for tea and ceremony. The Taj Tea House boasts a two-teapot approach– once the tea is brewed, they transfer it to a fresh pot, leaving out the leaves. This way, there’s no danger of it getting over brewed. On one afternoon visit, the server scuttled for the kitchen just as he was about to pour the tea. When my companion asked where he was going, he said, “Sorry, I forgot the tea leaves.” Like this episode, the four complimentary cookies always make me smile. As does the Hindustani classical music.

For tea with serious history, there’s the Sea Lounge at the Apollo Bunder Taj. High tea involves dainty sandwiches, little cakes, scones and an array of local snacks like bhajiyas and samosas. If you arrive early enough, you can get a window seat and look out onto the imperial Gateway, cheerful sailboats and tourists enthralled by the city’s most iconic view. When I went there last, I saw twin rainbows connecting the Gateway to the sunset on the horizon. The tea itself was as it should be – hot, brewed to taste and poured by trusty old-time staff.

Maska maar ke

Not far from the Taj lies the Kitabkhana in Fort, a happy meeting place for books, authors and readers. The café has an interesting menu that has no compunctions about mixing pasta with parathas. What I love is the adrak chai, served in a kullad.

But if I were to pick one favourite chai-time spot, it would be Café Irani Chaii in Mahim. This relatively new café is everything the city used to be before the yuppie revolution. Authentic. Hybrid. Welcoming. The Irani family, represented by three generations, runs the business with a comforting mix of hospitality and casualness. They’ve put up the legendary Irani café rules like “Don’t talk to cashier” – but as an ironic in-joke. In a city that’s been almost completely gentrified, it’s a treat to walk into this little spot, where Kismi toffee and Pallonji soft drinks are regular fare, 70-something couples wander in after a walk, cats curl up at the cash counter and instructions are hurled across tables to the kitchen. The kheema pav is on point, but the chai is a bit too sweet and milky for me. I’ll take that. Chai-time is never just about the chai.

From HT Brunch, December 17, 2017

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First Published: Dec 16, 2017 20:45 IST