A Guide to Cutting Chai, the Drink that's Mumbai's Lifeblood

Raghavan Prabhu / Flickr
Raghavan Prabhu / Flickr
Like most Indian cities, Mumbai runs on chai. Tea stalls can be found on almost every street, as can crowds of Mumbaikars gathering around for a delicious dose of caffeine. However, a drink unique to Mumbai is cutting chai, a smaller but punchier dose of chai that’s perfect for the busy city-dweller on the go.

Served in tiny paper or Styrofoam cups, cutting chai is usually just a half portion of regular street chai served piping hot from a street-side stall. But why the name “cutting”? The answer will be different depending on who you ask. For most Mumbaikars, the “cutting” relates to the size of the tea, as it is cut, or half size. Others associate “cutting” with the uniquely power-packed flavor and strength of the tea.

Usually a spice-filled concoction, chai always comes with a dose of wellness, thanks to anti-inflammatory ginger and cardamom. Brewed strong with thick milk and usually sweetened to give you a sugar high alongside the caffeine rush, chai from the streetside stalls of Mumbai will almost always cost less than Rs. 10 (US 15 cents); cutting chai can cost as little as Rs. 5.

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In most parts of the city, tea comes with a culture of conversation. Whether it is a group of colleagues on a work break or strangers bonding over politics or weather talk, chai stalls in the city are Mumbaikars’ chosen spots for a quick break from their busy days.

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While you can find tea stalls in any part of the city, and can gauge their product’s quality by the size of the crowd gathered around, there are a few institutions particularly worth visiting if you are a tea enthusiast. In South Mumbai, head to the 20+ year old Ashok Patil Tea Stall in Crawford Market for a memorable cup. Lucky Tea Stall in Kandivali is a great option if you are looking for a snack with your chai. If you’d like your tea delivered to your doorstep, check out ChotuChaiwala, a new initiative linking chaiwalas (chai vendors) with patrons around the city.