I once read, coffee is about taste and aroma and chai (tea) is about relationships and conversations. I couldn’t agree more! Come to think of it, I drink coffee because I like the aroma and the bittersweet taste. But chai, is more than this. It’s a beverage that’s a step ahead of coffee. It’s more than simply stepping out once in two hours for a quick sip.
If you associate Mumbai with vada pao, you cannot overlook cutting chai from the invisible menu that’s served by the street side. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘cutting’. The portion is divided into two halves to serve two different people so that they can take a quick sip and hit the road again. Suggests a lot about the city, doesn’t it?
Over the last five years, I didn’t realise how much I love chai, until last week when I was in Goa. My day follows a pattern — a pattern including four to five chai breaks every day. Sipping chai is not about killing drowsiness or a way of procrastinating. It’s about taking a swift break from work and having a nippy chat with a colleague or two. It’s not only about refreshment, but also about building healthy relationships. When I was in Goa, my mum served me a mug of coffee. The moment I sipped it, I realised I wanted tea — my regular masala chai. And I wanted it at least once in every two hours. I missed chai.
Chai ties back a lot of memories. Those good ol’ memories! As a student, I completed an internship with a national newspaper and used to cover crime related stories in Mumbai. Every time I entered a police station to ask a cop a couple of questions, I was greeted with chai. It used to always appear on my table in a tiny glass. Over chai, the cop (at times more than one) and I would discuss the crime scene, progress of the investigation, anything and everything so I could flesh out a good story. And chai at every police station came in different flavours.
Be it masala, adrak (ginger) or elaichi (cardamom) flavoured chai, every tapri (stall) has a unique recipe. No chai will taste the same at any given street stall in Mumbai. The best way to judge if you’re around a tapri is to sense the strong aroma of Indian spices, hear the hiss of a stove and the clanking of vessels. And voila! You’ve followed your senses to find yourself a cuppa chai. Sometimes, the chai is very sweet and otherwise, just perfect. But no one complains.
Before I conclude, cutting chai has nothing to do with class, race, gender or anything else that might pop up into your head right now. It’s a sip of relief for everyone. Cutting chai is a way of bonding. And once you’ve taken your first sip, you are already lured into becoming an addict.