There are days when you are sure it is going to pour cats and dogs and you arm yourself with a windcheater and umbrella. And there are days when the threats are harmless and the clouds don a puffed look to tease. It is that kind of a day, as I wait for Snigdha Manchanda, a tea sommelier who is to be my guide on a ‘chai walk’ in South Mumbai, outside the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).
I keep a check on the clouds, which get darker and darker, andpregnant with raindrops. My wait prolongs as neither the rains nor my guide show up as expected. Finally amid a thin crowd of serious men and working professionals, I spot a bright orange top, and Manchanda greets me with a big smile, that is waiting to tell me lots of ‘tales about tea’.
Our first stop is Ashok Tea and Cold Drinks Centre, in a little ally opposite the BSE building. Sanjay M Pujari, the owner of the stall, is all smiles as Manchanda orders a round of cutting chai with pudina (mint leaves) and adrak (ginger). “I prefer to start the walk here as Mumbai is a financial hub and dreams are fulfilled by endless cups of chai here,” says the tea sommelier who started Tea Trunk in 2011.
“Do you know how a cup of tea came to be called a cutting?” asks Manchanda, who is quick with her reply too. “Gujarati traders would see a lot of customers in the day. Being a hospitable community, they would offer cups of tea to their visitors. But at the month’s end, they realised that the tea bill was over the limit, and they introduced a smaller serving of the drink, the cutting!”
The cutting arrives in typical glasses, and the first sip hits my throat, before it burns my tongue. In spite of being a Gujarati and religiously downing pudina tea every morning, this cutting catches me off guard with the flavourful taste of the green leaves blended with a spicy ginger after taste. The best part, the tea is neither too milky nor watery.
As I look around the narrow Alkesh Dinesh Modi Marg, the stalls are actually alcoves in the building, with brown doors that close in line with the building wall. Forty-two-year-old Pujari, who is the third generation owner, shares stories of better days when the stock exchange was frequented by much larger crowds.
“Now, everyone checks the rates on their phones and television. But, I still make tea using 35 litres of milk, as I deliver to offices all around,” he grins, adding that he has two other stalls. Interestingly, the tea at all the three stalls is unique, and doesn’t have the same taste.
Our minds refreshed with this cutting, we stroll toward Cowasji Patel Street where 60-year-old Yazdani Bakery stands, serving freshly baked bun maska pav, and piping hot Irani and Suleiman Chai. As we walk out of the BSE area, we stop near a banyan tree. “This is where the BSE started! Traders would stand under the shade and shout rates and take bookings. Then it turned into the parking lot,” Manchanda says. The walk turns informative and interesting with each step as we stop again outside St Michael’s church. Now, I am trained enough to expect another quiz question. “How did Churchgate get its name?” I know this one, vaguely and I mutter something about the fort gates. “Yes, this is the gate that opens to the church, and so the name. The zero mile mark is also here,” Manchanda adds.
While some of the facts are known and read, it is a different feeling to actually stand at the spot and drink in the nostalgia. As we near Yazdani Bakery, which received the 2007 Urban Heritage award, the smell of bread welcomes us into the light-blue-walled bakery and as we slide into our seats, the sight of a tray filled with Amul butter slabs catches my fancy. And on the adjacent wall is an old newspaper clipping with the photo of the bakery. “Can you spot the bullockcart?” Manchanda asks, adding that it used to be the vehicle that delivered bread from Colaba to Chembur. “And the bulls were so well trained that they would follow the route even if the rider fell asleep!” The chat gets more technical and I learn more about Assam, Dargeeling (champagne of teas) and Nilgiri blends.
At Tea Centre, we have some more tea, including the first flush Darjeeling tea, which is most flavourful. “Darjeeling tea plants go into hibernation in October-November and the next crop is in Mid-February and March. Thus, the first new crop has all the fresh energy the plant has retained,” concludes Manchanda, who believes that the chai walk is a great way to meet new people, and renew the bond with the city that never tires of its tales.
The next Chai Walk will be conducted on August 10 and 11. To register, call 9930773170 or email firstname.lastname@example.org