Places in Mumbai to have a sip of Kulhad chai

Updated: Jun 16, 2019, 08:40 IST | Jane Borges, Anju Maskeri, Ekta Mohta and Prutha Bhosle

What's it like to sip on chai made in a clay pot hot out of a tandoor bhatti? We scoured the city to find out why everyone is loving Pune's favourite chai

Places in Mumbai to have a sip of Kulhad chai
Step 1: The kulhads are heated inside a bhatti at Jhakaas Tandoor Chai, Airoli

The tandoor bhatti is the birth place of all great food. It's where maida and whole wheat doughs, wrapped in the warmth of burning charcoal and hot clay, transform into hot naans and crisp rotis. It's also where meats melt out their juices, roasting in marinades of spices and yoghurt, to create the most flavourful and smokiest of grilled eats. That it could make room for chai is what piqued our taste-buds.

Step 2: A staffer at Tandoor Chai Café in Dombivli, uses a tong to pull out a kulhad from the bhatti, before placing it inside a brass vessel
Step 2: A staffer at Tandoor Chai Café in Dombivli, uses a tong to pull out a kulhad from the bhatti, before placing it inside a brass vessel

Over the last one year, Mumbai's chai lovers have taken an unusual liking for tandoor chai, which like shrewsbury biscuits, appear to be the gift of our foodie neighbours from Pune. Now that monsoon is here, and our craving for hot-piping tea and pakoras is set to make a comeback, we think it's time to move beyond our favourite cutting, to tea that owes its preparation to the bhatti. We traced the most popular tandoori chai makers in town, to tell you why their drink is worth the sip.

Step 3: Freshly prepared masala chai is poured into the kulhad at Mulund's Tandoor Chai. Pics/Suresh Karkera, Sameer Markande AND Sneha Kharabe
Step 3: Freshly prepared masala chai is poured into the kulhad at Mulund's Tandoor Chai. Pics/Suresh Karkera, Sameer Markande AND Sneha Kharabe

Step 4: Freshly prepared masala chai is poured into the kulhad at Mulund's Tandoor Chai

Step 5: Owner Khodidas Kotak of the Mulund Tandoor Chai outlet allows the tea to simmer for a while
Step 5: Owner Khodidas Kotak of the Mulund Tandoor Chai outlet allows the tea to simmer for a while

Step 6: Kiran Sawant, owner of Kalbadevi's Tandoor Chai outlet, pours the tea into a ceramic cup
Step 6: Kiran Sawant, owner of Kalbadevi's Tandoor Chai outlet, pours the tea into a ceramic cup

Step 7: Diptesh Sakpal, who runs Airoli's Jhakaas Tandoor Chai, makes it a point to dispose and recycle the kulhads
Step 7: Diptesh Sakpal, who runs Airoli's Jhakaas Tandoor Chai, makes it a point to dispose and recycle the kulhads

Tandoor Chai, Kalbadevi
It's not for nothing that Kalbadevi is known as one of the busiest stretches in Mumbai. From morning to dusk, the area is bustling with hand-cart pullers and traders. Four months ago, Kiran Sawant, 21, fan of the Pune chain Tandoor Chai, saw a business prospect and started a similar franchise here. Since opening in February, Sawant has won a huge clientele — he sells anywhere between 700 and 800 cups of tea daily. "We keep the kulhads [clay pots] in a steel tandoor bhatti, which is heated at a certain temperature with coal, thrice a day [early in the morning, afternoon and evening]," says Sawant. When we order a cutting, he uses a tong to pull out a hot kulhad from the bhatti and places it inside a brass dish, pouring masala chai all over it. The spice mix, we are told, is a trade secret. As the tea simmers, we notice crumbs of burnt clay find its way into the tea. "The kulhad is disposed immediately and sent for recycling," says Sawant.

Where: 47, Shanti Bhuvan, Old Hanuman Lane, Kalbadevi
When: 8.30 AM — 8.30 PM
Price: R10 for cutting/
Rs 20 for a full glass
Call: 9699835951

Tandoor Chai Cafe, Dombivli

Tandoor Chai Cafe, Dombivli
Like Kalbadevi's Tandoor Chai, Jitesh Patil's café is also another popular franchise of the Pune beverage chain. "We make our tea with 11 different spices, and don't use water in the preparation. In fact, the tea is boiled directly in milk," says Patil. What makes tandoor chai different, says Patil, is that when the tea is poured into the hot clay pot, it absorbs the remaining water from the milk. "This makes it very thick," he says, adding that the "burnt mitti" also gives it, its smoky flavour. We found the tea to be 'kadak' with a strong, milky aftertaste, but the tandoor flavours still eluded us. Nevertheless, Patil's enterprise seems to be growing. At his café, he also offers tandoor coffee, tandoor haldi doodh, and bun maska that's actually heated inside the bhatti. The options couldn't have been any better.

Where: Tandoor Chai, Jigar CHS, Tilak Road, Krishna Radha Society, Dombivli East
When: 9 am to 10 pm
Price: Rs 20
Call: 9867797619

The special chai is then poured and served in kulhad
The special chai is then poured and served in kulhad

Kesari Tandoori Chai, Powai
Kesari Tandoori Chai is the side business of 25-year-old Mishank Choudhary. Currently pursuing a course in computers, he was inspired to start the stall after visiting a similar establishment in Pune. "I had tandoori chai at a tea stall called Cha-Aila in Pune. The tea was slightly different; it had the flavour of mitti because the utensils were made in mitti." He started Kesari Tandoori Chai in September last year and shut shop within six months, by January 2019. "There isn't a lot of crowd in Powai for this kind of tea. There are a lot of rickshaw-wallas here, and some 200 employees from L&T got transferred to Gate No. 5. But, I will start again in the monsoon." By July 1, Choudhary will fire up the tandoor and the accompanying coal again, even though business isn't lucrative. "The kulhad is a use and throw item, which makes it expensive. Even when I sell the tea for R20, I only earn R5." Which is why his plans include setting up stalls for special events, like Tiranga Dandiya, held in Powai last year.

Where: Opp Powai Garden, 76, Saki Vihar Rd, Powai
When: 7 AM to 4 PM
Price: Rs 20
Call: 9594206100

Tandoor Chai, Mulund
In a family of ardent chai drinkers, 20-year-old Vatsal Kotak has been the black sheep for his distaste of the beverage. This was the case until he tasted the tandoor chai at a Kalyan stall. "I was bowled over by the roasty flavour," he says, adding that he has it at least once a day. The Kotaks, who run a garment business in Mulund, were of the opinion that a tandoor tea stall would be a good addition to the area that's bustling with street stalls. "That's the only thing that Mulund didn't have," he says. Last December, his father, Khodidas, bought the franchise rights from Pune's Chai La: Tandoor Chai and opened their first store at MG Road. Curiosity brought substantial footfalls. "We opened in winter when people love to sip a piping cup of tea. We would sell close to 500 to 700 kulhads a day." Six months down, the demand for tea has dropped given the searing heat.
Kotak, though, is optimistic that sales for tea will pick up once monsoon hits Mumbai.

Where: Shop No.3 Vaibhav Co-op Society, MG Road, Mulund West
When: 7.30 am to 12 am
Price: R8 for cutting
Call: 8928866979

Jhakaas Tandoor Chai

Jhakaas Tandoor Chai, Airoli
Twenty-nine-year-old Diptesh Sakpal's catering business was already flourishing in Mulund and Bhandup suburbs, but a chance outing at a tandoori chai stall in Pune introduced him to another successful business model. "I loved that earthern taste of the tea, so decided to open up a similar shop here in Airoli. Since we started in August 2018, our profits have multiplied," he says. His clientele includes bachelors working in the neighbouring industrial area. "We also serve nukkad chai, which is a normal tea made with ginger. But everyone prefers tandoori chai, consisting elaichi and secret spices, instead," he shares. The kulhad in which he serves tandoori chai is disposed after two servings. "In a day, we serve about 500 glasses," he adds.

Where: Bhoomi Colossa, Shop No 16 Ojos Apartment, opposite sector 20, Airoli, Navi Mumbai
When: 8 am to 11.30 pm
Price: Rs 10 for cutting/R20 for a full glass
Call: 9619753042

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