I love chai. Not tea, chai. Not the chai that is served in unnecessarily expensive coffee shops, but chai. Chai as it was originally and has remained so pretty much in most of India. In homes like yours and mine, and in the ubiquitous chai tapris in India. Tapri doesn’t have an exact English-equivalent, though you could say it is the same as a “road-side, makeshift stall” – but this phrase construction doesn’t do enough justice.
Some of my friends like tea, I prefer chai. Tea, for me is hot water lightly infused with tea-like flavour with a hint of milk (optional) and the almost absence of sugar (often always). Chai, is a concoction that arises of a process. The tea characteristic is subtle in one and dense in the other. One is not better than the other – they are branches of the same family.
There’s good conversation with a chai ka gilaas (a glass of tea, not a cup, mind you) and a cigarette. Conversation isn’t the domain of a coffee; tea and talk go equally well together. There’s a different romance to a talk with tea (I would have liked to say talk, tea and tobacco, just for the sake of the alliteration, but then, this post would have to come with a statutory warning and disclaimer. That is why I have also avoided saying coffee, conversation and cigarettes).
The tea and the talk at a tapri will occur standing, usually on a pavement, or in some corner of the street, and will be equally refreshing. The language will perhaps be coarse, to suit the grungy environment, which is where you’ll usually find a tapri. Classically, the clientele of a tapri has been the blue-collar, but it seems to be finding favour with the white-collar as well, perhaps because of the recession; perhaps because it is hip. I suspect, it is because, you gotta love the tapri chai!
Chai tapris do not offer discounts, loyalty cards, or combo offers. There are no menu cards and they do not accept debit or credit cards. There may be a simple snack of a cream-roll and stale nan-khatai, but that’s not what you go there for. If you want your chai done differently, you will have to wait till it is made for you. The chai-maker is usually the chai-server; the overheads are low and therefore, the chai is cheap.
And while it is not very difficult to find a chai tapri (just ask your rickshaw or taxi driver nearby, he’ll tell you); I’ve started making it easier to find. I have recently started curating (for now, only listing) all tapris that offer wonderful chai all along the streets of Mumbai, as well as in other towns, where life takes me. Introducing The Temporal Tapri:
The chai is sweet and thickened with milk and over-brewing and I love my tapri-chai.
Here’s a preview of some of the recent tapris I have been to.