Why chai is important to us

Tea and coffee are two beverages that are consumed all over the world. However, even though there are many coffee lovers in Pakistan, the obsession people have with tea trumps any other beverage. This is why chai dhaabas are among the favourite spots of people of all ages in our country.

In 2003, as much as 109,000 tonnes of tea were consumed in Pakistan, ranking it at seven on the list of tea-consuming countries in the world.

Though chai is often considered a ‘desi’ delight and devoured during breakfast, lunch, and in the evening, it didn’t exist in Pakistan till the British introduced it.

Here is the history of tea and why the beverage is so important to us today.

History of tea

Tea was initially created in China, however, it was not used regularly for consumption till the 6th Century AD. It spread all over Europe by the 17th Century and reached India only after it was colonised by the British in the 18th Century. Before that, green tea was the beverage the masses consumed in pre-Partition India.

In 1853, tea plants were brought to India and tea gardens were established in the country. Since then there has been no turning back – the tradition of drinking tea continued even after the British colonisers left the country.

Making our own tea

The first unsuccessful attempt at tea cultivation in Pakistan started in 1958 at a village in Mansehra. The second attempt was made in 1964 near Rawalpindi, but soon fell flat due to unfavourable soil and climatic condition.

Soon after the separation of East Pakistan in 1971, a cell of special crops was created in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture Government of Pakistan and a project entitled “Research and Introduction of Tea in Pakistan” was re-initiated in 1973-74.

Today, Pakistan produces its own limited tea in the Chinkiari farms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Unfortunately, Pakistan still ranks as the third largest importer of tea in the world.

Pakistan’s special tea

Though the tradition of tea with milk was introduced by the Britishers and it is often critiqued to be a part of the nation’s ‘colonial hangover’, it must also be noted that the ‘chai’ we make tastes very different from the British tea.

One could say it has been given a ‘desi’ twist since it’s creamier, sweeter, and tastes much stronger than the beverage left behind by our colonisers.

The way tea is served is also different in Pakistan as opposed to what it originally was in England. Its no longer a ‘fancy’ sophisticated activity where people lightly sip on the beverage as they take small sips out of their tea cups.

Chai in our nation is a way for large groups of friends to gather and have fun. It’s a daily casual event that is often paired up with parathas, burgers, and even barbecued food items. Most importantly, its an activity that is most enjoyable under the open sky, in a dhaba setting.

Sure, maybe tea originated from the British, but our ‘chai’ is something better than what it originally was. It’s not a beverage we incorporated from someone else’s culture – it’s a drink that brings people together.