What is Cutting Chai? The Strong & Spicy Tea of Mumbai

Cutting Chai - One Cup Of Chai

Stepping Into the Warm Embrace of Cutting Chai

Dive into the vibrant streets of Mumbai with me, where amidst the hustle and bustle, the “Bombay Cutting Chai” stands as a beloved ritual, offering everyone a moment to pause and connect. This isn’t just any tea; it’s a slice of the city’s heart, embodying Mumbai’s communal spirit and the joy of sharing.

Cutting Chai, essentially ‘half a cup of tea’, is perfect for a quick energizing break, making tea both affordable and a reason for more frequent social gatherings among Mumbai’s eclectic crowd.

Join me as we journey through the history of Mumbai Cutting Chai, from its beginnings in traditional Indian brews to the cherished version we relish today. We’ll unravel the blend of spices that give it its unique taste, learn the art of making it, and dive into the cultural tapestry it weaves. Whether you’re an avid chai lover or new to this captivating experience, let’s honor the simple yet profound delight that Cutting Chai adds to everyday life.

What is Cutting Chai?

Cutting Chai is a special twist on India’s beloved tea, uniquely tailored to Mumbai’s fast life. The term “cutting” refers to the half servings of tea that perfectly suit the city’s quick pace, offering a brief yet rejuvenating break. It’s the ideal small energizer, woven into the city’s daily rhythm, from the morning rush to the late-night buzz.

What makes Cutting Chai stand out is its rich concentration and the experience it offers. Picture the deep scent of black tea blending with spices like ginger, cardamom, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon, all brewed with creamy milk and a touch of sugar. Served in small ‘cutting’ glasses, it provides a potent yet balanced flavour kick.

But Cutting Chai is more than a drink; it’s about community and conversation. It’s common to see folks gathering around tea stalls, sharing stories over these half cups of tea, embodying Mumbai’s spirit of camaraderie and connection.

Cutting Chai is a daily ritual in Mumbai, a brief pause that unites diverse people. It symbolizes the city’s relentless energy and warmth, whether it’s a quick stop for a busy worker or a shared moment among friends.

Join us as we delve into the history, making, and cultural significance of Cutting Chai, a simple yet profound symbol of togetherness in Mumbai’s vibrant landscape. Let’s discover the magic of Cutting Chai, a drink that’s more than just tea – it’s a piece of Mumbai’s soul.

Tracing the Roots: The Stirring History of Cutting Chai

Cutting Chai’s story is entwined with Mumbai’s dynamic history and the evolution of chai itself within this vibrant city. To grasp the essence of this cherished drink, we must venture back to a time when tea was more than just a beverage—it was a healing elixir.

Initially, locals enjoyed kadha, a spicy and herbal brew thought to have medicinal benefits. It was during the British colonial period that tea leaves were introduced into this indigenous concoction, giving birth to the chai we know and love. As tea gained popularity, it was infused with local flavours, including milk, honey, and sugar, alongside traditional spices, to cater to the palate and lifestyle of the local populace.

Cutting Chai sprang from Bombay’s lively streets as a smart response to the city’s quick tempo. Tea vendors started offering chai in smaller servings—a “cut”—making it both affordable and convenient for those needing a swift energy lift without the luxury of time for a full cup. This approach enabled vendors to cater to more customers, creating a culture of short tea breaks that nurtured social ties and community spirit.

From a mere half-serving of tea to a cultural emblem, Cutting Chai showcases the creativity and resilience of Mumbai’s residents. It illustrates how the city transforms the mundane into an integral aspect of its cultural tapestry. The practice of serving chai in half portions quickly caught on, evolving into a cherished tradition that provides solace and connection amidst the city’s hustle and bustle.

Now, Cutting Chai is a symbol of Mumbai’s lively street life, its sense of community, and the joy found in life’s simple moments. From the packed local trains to the lively markets, Cutting Chai remains a comforting and energizing presence for Mumbaikars, capturing the essence of the city’s storied past and its dynamic present.

Next, we’ll dive into the unique blend of ingredients that give Bombay Cutting Chai its signature taste and aroma, and we’ll share how you can recreate this piece of Mumbai’s street culture in your own kitchen.

The Secret Mix: What Goes Into a Perfect Cutting Chai?

Cutting Chai is a delightful blend of simplicity and flavour, a brew that captures the essence of Mumbai in each sip. Its ingredients, though basic, come together to create a comforting yet stimulating experience. Here’s a look at what makes Cutting Chai so special:

  • Black Tea: The backbone of any chai, black tea provides the robust flavour and caffeine kick that makes this drink so energizing.
  • Spices: The soul of Cutting Chai is in its spices. Ginger, cardamom, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon are the most commonly used. Each spice brings its own health benefits and flavour notes, from the warmth of ginger to the sweet fragrance of cardamom.
  • Full Cream Milk: Adding a creamy texture and richness, full cream milk balances the strong flavours of the tea and spices, making the chai smooth and indulgent.
  • Sugar: To taste, sugar sweetens the deal, complementing the spices and making the chai more palatable. The sweetness level can be adjusted according to personal preference.

Adding chai masala, a mix of ground spices, to your Cutting Chai can really turn up the heat and enrich the flavours, offering a zesty twist to the classic brew. This extra touch not only personalizes your tea but also invites you to play around with the tastes, making every cup a unique reflection of your own spice preferences.

A Note on Proportions and Quality

A great Cutting Chai is all about using top-notch, fresh ingredients and getting the mix just right. The quality of the spices and tea leaves really shines through in the flavour and scent. Plus, tweaking the milk-to-water ratio, sugar, and spice levels lets you tailor each cup to your liking, giving your Cutting Chai its own special character.

The Importance of Freshness

The freshness of the spices really matters in Cutting Chai, as fresh, crushed, or ground spices release more flavours and oils, making the chai more aromatic and tasty. It’s best to use fresh ingredients to get the most out of your brew.

Next, we’ll go through how to make Bombay Cutting Chai at home. This step-by-step guide will take you on a flavourful adventure, whether you’re already a chai aficionado or just starting to explore Indian teas. Get ready to dive into Mumbai’s rich tea culture!

Cutting Chai - One Cup Of Chai
Cutting Chai - One Cup Of Chai
Cutting Chai - One Cup Of Chai

Brewing Joy: Your Guide to Crafting the Perfect Cutting Chai

Making a great Cutting Chai is all about finding the right balance between the strong tea, the mix of fragrant spices, the creamy milk, and just enough sugar. Follow this easy guide to bring a taste of Mumbai’s beloved tea tradition right into your home.


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons black tea leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon of each spice: grated ginger, crushed cardamom, a clove, a small piece of cinnamon, and a few peppercorns (adjust according to taste)
  • 1 cup full cream milk
  • Sugar to taste (usually about 2 teaspoons)
  • Optional: ½ teaspoon chai masala for a spicier kick


  1. Boil the Spices: In a small saucepan, bring the cup of water to a boil. Add the grated ginger, crushed cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and peppercorns. If you’re using chai masala, add it at this stage. Let it simmer for 1-2 minutes to allow the spices to infuse their flavours into the water.
  2. Add the Tea Leaves: Add the black tea leaves to the boiling water. Let it simmer for another 2-3 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. The water will start to take on a deep, rich color as the tea brews.
  3. Pour in the Milk: Add the full cream milk to the saucepan and stir well. Allow the mixture to come to a boil. As it heats, the chai will begin to froth up. Keep a close eye to prevent it from boiling over.
  4. Sweeten the Chai: Once the chai comes to a boil, add sugar according to your taste. Stir well to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Simmer: Let the chai simmer for another 2-3 minutes. This step is crucial for allowing the flavours to meld together and for the chai to achieve the desired strength and creaminess.
  6. Strain and Serve: Use a strainer to pour the chai into small glasses or cups. The traditional serving size for Cutting Chai is about half a cup, perfect for that quick, satisfying sip.

Serving Tradition:

Serving Cutting Chai in small, durable glasses, sometimes in a metal holder, is part of its traditional charm. Holding the glass and feeling its warmth is a key experience. But in today’s world, any small cup or glass works. The important thing is the size—it should hold just enough for a few invigorating sips to refresh and energize you.

Final Touches:

Adding an authentic touch, serve your Cutting Chai with a little snack, maybe a biscuit, a slice of cake, or savory treats like samosas or vada pav. This combination enhances the tea experience, turning it into a moment of true enjoyment, not just a quick drink.

Making Cutting Chai at home is more than just following steps; it’s about embracing a tradition that celebrates sharing, community warmth, and life’s simple joys. So, brew a cup and let the deep flavours and scents take you to Mumbai’s lively streets with every sip.

Cutting Chai - One Cup of Chai (2)
Cutting Chai - One Cup of Chai (2)
Cutting Chai - One Cup of Chai

Exploring the Spectrum: The Many Variations of Cutting Chai

Bombay Cutting Chai may originate from Mumbai’s lively lanes, but its widespread appeal and the adaptable essence of chai have inspired numerous regional versions throughout India. Each adaptation adds a distinctive flair to the traditional recipe, mirroring the local flavours and inclinations. Let’s delve into some of these enticing variations that have enriched the Cutting Chai tradition.

1. Masala Cutting Chai (Mumbai, Maharashtra)

Right in Mumbai, the traditional Cutting Chai sometimes gets a twist with a special spice mix called chai masala, creating the Masala Cutting Chai. This version brings a spicier, more fragrant kick. The chai masala often features a complex blend of spices like nutmeg and star anise, alongside the usual ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, enhancing the chai experience.

2. Kadak Cutting Chai (Various Regions)

If you like your tea with a bit more punch, Kadak Cutting Chai is the way to go. “Kadak” translates to “strong” in Hindi, and this variation lives up to its name by brewing the tea longer to draw out its robust flavour and intensity. This results in a stronger cup of chai, perfect for those chilly mornings or rainy days when you need a little extra warmth.

3. Creamy Cutting Chai (Variation)

The Creamy Cutting Chai elevates the richness by using only milk, skipping the water entirely. The spices and tea leaves simmer in the milk, leading to a creamier, denser texture. This version is a hit with anyone looking for a more luxurious tea experience.

4. Sugarless Cutting Chai (Health-conscious Variation)

The Sugarless Cutting Chai caters to the health-minded and those who appreciate the pure tastes of tea and spices, leaving out sugar altogether. This version is becoming more popular, showcasing the tea’s strength and the spices’ warmth without any added sweetness.

5. Ginger Cutting Chai (Popular in Colder Regions)

The Ginger Cutting Chai, rich in ginger’s warmth, is a favorite in India’s colder areas. It includes plenty of fresh ginger, offering a comforting choice for chilly days or for anyone looking for a tea with a bit of a zing.

Each variation brings its own special touch to India’s diverse tea culture, showcasing Cutting Chai’s adaptability and lasting appeal. Whether you’re captivated by Masala Cutting Chai’s aromatic spices or the strong brew of Kadak Cutting Chai, there’s a version of this cherished drink for everyone’s palate.

A Cup of Togetherness: The Deep Cultural Brew of Cutting Chai

In the relentless buzz of Mumbai, Bombay Cutting Chai stands as a tribute to the city’s unbreakable spirit and the cherished pauses it offers. This simple drink goes beyond quenching thirst, capturing the fast-paced lifestyle and community warmth of Mumbai. Let’s explore the rich cultural backdrop that elevates Cutting Chai from a mere beverage to a significant cultural emblem.

A Reflection of Mumbai’s Pace

In a city that’s always on the move, where every second counts, Cutting Chai provides a swift, energizing break. It’s the perfect match for Mumbai’s rhythm, offering a quick energy boost without the time sink of a long tea break. This ritual mirrors the practical yet heartfelt nature of Mumbai’s residents, showing their knack for finding happiness and connection in fleeting moments.

A Social Cornerstone

The chai stalls scattered across Mumbai’s nooks and crannies are more than just vending spots; they’re lively social centers. These stalls, buzzing from dawn till dusk, become meeting points for diverse groups, facilitating discussions and bonds over steaming cups of chai, weaving it into the social fabric of the city.

The Essence of Sharing

In the Indian tradition of hospitality, offering chai symbolizes a warm welcome. The ‘cutting’ aspect underscores the pleasure of sharing, turning even the small serving into a gesture of community and inclusivity, embodying Mumbai’s generous and welcoming ethos.

Beyond Mumbai’s Borders

While quintessentially Mumbaikar, Cutting Chai’s charm has transcended the city limits, captivating hearts across India and globally. Its rich flavours and the cultural narratives it carries have made it a beloved emblem of Mumbai’s lifestyle, inviting people everywhere to indulge in a ritual that celebrates life’s simple joys.

Woven into Daily Life

For countless Mumbaikars, Cutting Chai punctuates their day, from the morning brew that jumpstarts routines to the evening cup that offers a moment of solace. It’s a constant reminder to pause and relish the present amidst the city’s endless hustle.

Cutting Chai is much more than a drink in Mumbai’s bustling scene; it symbolizes connection, reflection, and the city’s lively essence. As we’ve delved into its origins, making, and cultural impact, it’s evident that this modest tea holds a dear spot in Mumbaikars’ hearts, capturing the soul of Mumbai in each sip.

Beyond the Brew: The Enduring Legacy of Cutting Chai

Wrapping up our stroll through the fragrant world of Cutting Chai, it’s evident that this simple tea is more than a drink—it’s a piece of Mumbai’s heart, symbolizing the city’s vibrant life and welcoming spirit. From its humble beginnings to its many adaptations, Cutting Chai keeps bringing people together, making everyday moments special with every sip.

Feel encouraged to experiment with the different styles or even craft your unique take on Cutting Chai. Whether you’re already a chai aficionado or just starting to dip into this rich tradition, making and enjoying Cutting Chai is a wonderful way to connect with Indian tea culture. So, gather your spices, get the water boiling, and embark on this flavourful adventure. Your ideal Cutting Chai might be just one brew away.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cutting Chai

What is Cutting Chai?

Cutting Chai is a popular beverage in Mumbai, known for being a half-portion of the regular chai or tea. It is strong, made with black tea, milk, cardamom powder, grated ginger, and sugar, and is served in special small glasses.

How is Cutting Chai different from regular chai?

The main difference between Cutting Chai and regular chai is the quantity. Cutting Chai is essentially half the amount of a normal cup of chai, making it a quick, smaller, and more economical option. It is also brewed to be stronger and is served in unique short glasses.

What does the term “Cutting” in Cutting Chai mean?

The term “cutting” refers to the chai being cut down to half its serving size. It also implies a beverage that is intensely flavoured and potent.

How do you make Cutting Chai?

To make Cutting Chai, you need to boil water with sugar, grated ginger, and crushed cardamom. Then, add Assam tea powder or black tea leaves and brew the tea on medium heat. Add milk as per your preference for strength and simmer until the tea comes to a boil. Strain and serve hot.

What are the ingredients for Cutting Chai?

The ingredients for Cutting Chai typically include water, Assam tea powder or tea leaves, sugar, milk, ginger, and green cardamom powder.

Can you make Cutting Chai without ginger?

Yes, you can make Cutting Chai without ginger, although it will change the flavour profile. Some recipes suggest using dry ginger powder as an alternative.

Is Cutting Chai unique to Mumbai?

Cutting Chai is particularly associated with Mumbai and its street culture. It is not commonly served in homes or found in other cities to the extent it is part of Mumbai’s urban lifestyle.

What snacks pair well with Cutting Chai?

Cutting Chai can be paired with a variety of snacks such as Onion Pakoda, Samosa, masala vada, sandwiches, veg cutlet, aloo tikki, bun maska, or simply bread-butter.

How has Cutting Chai become a part of Mumbai’s culture?

Cutting Chai has become emblematic of Mumbai’s fast-paced life. It caters to the city’s workers and is a quick, affordable option for a refreshing break. It is also a symbol of the city’s identity and urbanization.

Is Cutting Chai served in a specific type of glass?

Yes, Cutting Chai is traditionally served in single-walled, green-tinged clear glasses that are smaller than regular tea cups.

Further Reading

  1. “Cutting Chai Recipe – Mumbai Cutting Tea”, Hebbar’s Kitchen. Available at: https://hebbarskitchen.com/cutting-chai-recipe-mumbai-cutting-tea/
  2. “Cutting Chai Recipe”, Veg Recipes of India. Available at: https://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/cutting-chai-recipe/
  3. “Cutting Chai: Why Mumbai Loves A Half Cup of Tea”, NDTV Food. Available at: https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/cutting-chai-why-mumbai-loves-a-half-cup-of-tea-1745884
  4. “Mumbai Cutting Chai Recipe”, Tasty. Available at: https://tasty.co/recipe/mumbai-cutting-chai
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