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Rains in Mumbai is not just a season. It’s like an actual person, swishing and swaying and soaking and splattering everyone in its path. But the Mumbaikar is not an easy one to subdue. Treading all kinds of water-bodies, from puddles to potholes to ditches to even ponds, he arrives at a roadside ‘tapri’ or tea stall and reaches out for a rain-soaked version of that hot, thick, sweet and milky ‘cutting chai’, served in a small ribbed glass.
Every Mumbaikar worth his Vada Pav will have his or her own favourite roadside tea-stall, close to work, or home, or located on the daily route between the two. And every Mumbaikar worth his Pav Bhaji will swear by that tea stall, fiercely defending it in heated debates on ‘Mumbai’s best tapris’. Truth be told, some of the best teas are those that emerge magically from little cut-away tin windows at construction sites, that entice passers-by next to key railway stations like Dadar and Chembur, that mollify men in khakis at police stations and chowkies, and that get the seaside walkers flocking towards the casks clanging on the side of bicycles for the iconic ‘cycle chai’. But not everyone can stomach the drenching, much less the hygiene standards of these places. Does that mean you will be deprived of this all-important monsoon initiation ritual? No!
Thankfully there are a few special tea places away from the torrential rain that I can nudge you towards, and the reason why you should visit them is as varied as the monsoon itself.
My first pick is Irani Chai served at the Iranian cafes and bakeries that dot a large part of South Mumbai. There’s Yazdani in Fort, Kyani and Sassanian in Marine Lines and Koolar & Co in Matunga. All these places offer milky tea with the inimitable combination of ‘brun-maska’ - liberally buttered, crusty bread rolls. But at Koolar, you will find the even more decadent Honey-Cheese served with your brun-maska, to bite luxuriously into along with little sips from your hot tea. Pick a marble-topped table close to the doorway, lean back into one of the curved antique wooden chairs of Polish design, and stare out into the rain, and life, as it scurries by.
Poush in Thane West or Phoenix Market City gives you a taste of pure Kashmiri tradition. Drink in the heady aromas of the Kahwah tea, fused with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and honey, served with slivers of almond. The herb-brewed tea is a great way to toast your bones, making you feel warm and fuzzy inside when the rain refuses to let up.
At Prithvi Café in Juhu, soaking up the culture is as important as sipping from a glass of the Suleimani Chai, a black tea with lemon and mint. Slip into one of the tables close to ‘Guruji’, flautist Suhas Joshi, and soak up the soulful notes of the flute drowning out the chatter of thespians and fledgling actors alike, rising above the drumming of the rain on the temporary roof.
Tea Centre in Churchgate is an old darling. The feel is completely and undeniably colonial with silver bells to call waiters, a selection of ‘Tea Fancies’ like scones and crumbles, and, of course, a long, long list of teas from all over the country. But the one to definitely try here is the Hot Buttered Apple Tea. The delicious taste of the cloudy concoction lingers on, and long outlives the slow ‘tea room’ style service. Perfect when you are in no hurry to jump into the deluge outside!
A small place called Tapri Tea Lounge in Sion has recently joined the city’s tea bandwagon, offering a surprisingly good selection of specialty and exotic teas, including one that’s for glowing skin! If you pride yourself as a seasoned tea drinker, take up the challenge of the Truck Driver’s tea. It’s a strong and robust brew, guaranteed to keep you going through a few soaking showers!
And finally for a taste of distant lands, head to the tiny Tea Trails in BKC for international teas like Japanese Sencha and Taiwanese Bubble Tea. Pick a table facing out through the large glass windows, wrap your palms around the hot cup, and stare out at the skyline of the business district. The rain-washed glass facades of the towering buildings will stare right back at you enviously, collectively craving a ‘chai break’!