Chai is what we call tea in Pakistan. A blend of tea leaves boiled to bring out the taste and flavour and served sweet with milk is a must-have throughout the year.
The consumption of tea in Pakistan is not defined by any parameters, it is enjoyed by all age groups regardless of their socio-economic background.
A part of every cuisine, tea is a must-drink at breakfast. The mid-day tea and the evening tea are also quite essential in many homes and not forgetting the tea drinking during work.
The blend of tea is enjoyed in several ways in Pakistan, the most popular being the ‘doodh patti’, which is boiled in milk and served with a hint of cardamom flavour.
Different regions throughout the country have their own different flavors and varieties, giving Pakistani tea culture a diverse blend. In the southern part of the country, the black tea and the masala tea (spiced tea) are popular choices while the rich doodh patti is famous in Punjab and northern Pakistan. Kahwah, a form of green tea and taken without milk is predominantly popular in northern areas.
Kashmiri Chai, which is a pink, milky tea with pestachios and cardamom, is a specialty at weddings and such occasions. In Punjab, Kashmiri Chai is the famous winter afternoon tea taken with local biscuits.
The latest variety of tea in urban centers is emerging as a combination of western tea including chocolate tea, coffee tea, cream tea and cinnamon tea. These are largely preferred by the younger lot who finds it a trend to hang out at ‘chai khanas’ and enjoy a cup over nutella paratha.
2% of Pakistani households’ average monthly expenses are tea
None of the tea in Pakistan is homegrown, all of it is imported
It is estimated that there are nearly 12 different ways of preparing tea in Pakistan
Tea is synonymous to greeting guests in Pakistani culture. Guests who are not served tea feel insulted and degraded.
Tea is mostly consumed with a light snack including biscuits, samoosa, plain cake or chips.
Despite the association of Pakistan with tea, it is not native to Pakistan. The British started growing tea there in the mid nineteenth century to satisfy the huge demand for it in the United Kingdom (and amongst the elite classes in India). It was not until the mid- twentieth century that tea began to be commonly drunk by Indians. Before then plain milk had been the most popular drink in India, particularly in the north (Southern Indians were already addicted to coffee, a habit they picked up from Arab traders centuries before the British arrived on the subcontinent). During World War II the Indian Tea Board, unable to ship their product to external markets, found themselves with a huge surplus of tea. To dispose of it they hit on the idea of promoting tea boiled in milk to make it appealing to the local population. An idea that was so successful that Indians now consume more than 630 million kilograms of tea per year and India has become inexorably linked with tea drinking.
I can number precisely the chai lattes that I have drunk in cosmopolitan cafés in India — three —and all were awful
Two of these were produced by the type of sickly sweet ‘chai’ syrup commonly used in cafes in western The other was produced by a young man in a smart uniform flopping a cardamom flavoured teabag into a cup of not quite hot enough milk and slapping a handful of sugar sachets down next to it on the marble countertop. If the cup had been plastic instead of ceramic it could have mistaken for the lamentable tea that is now commonly purveyed at Indian railway stations (whereas it was not so many years ago that railway tea came sweet and hot in bio-degradable clay cups -see previous posts ‘Tea and Trains’ and ‘Chai & Trains II’ for more details).
Chai (latte or otherwise) served in cafes is either made from a syrup (usually overly sweet); a commercial powder or mixture similar to that described above infused in milk.
It’s worth visiting an Indian grocery store and buying some genuine Indian tea to make up this recipe. While you are there pick up some brown cardamom (burra eliachi). You can use the more familiar green variety but the brown ones have a softer smoky flavour that adds depth to the tea. The amount of spice can be adjusted to suit your taste. You might also like to add a few star anise.