Recently, the government of Pakistan declared sugarcane juice the country’s national juice after a Twitter poll. It might be the national juice but it certainly isn’t the most popular drink in the country.
Doodh pati chai is still the first love of most Pakistanis. We spend the highest percentage of our household proportion on tea. Pakistan annually spends about $500 million on tea imports.
But how did it all start? Evidence suggests that the people of subcontinent have been consuming chai since 750BC. However, its commercial use did not begin until the 1830s when the British East India Company flooded the market with Indian tea as it tried to overtake the tea market that was dominated by China at the time.
In the beginning, chai was a drink for the elite. So during that particular time, Indians couldn’t afford the now economised tea, as it had become a capitalist endeavour of the empire.
The idea of mixing milk with black tea is not entirely native to India but we managed to make it our own by adding a desi twist in the recipe by adding cinnamon, cardamom and even ginger.
We also managed to come up with local versions of sandwiches and biscuits, like bakarkhani and cake rusks to go with our chai. In a country where without a bar or pub culture, our masses heavily rely on this beverage, which gives people the break they need.
Until few years ago, chai dhabas were places for the working class to end their day. But chai culture has now made its way to the middle and upper classes. Numerous hip chai dhabas have popped up in the ‘elite’ side of town, where the youth can socialise, something our city was desperately missing.
We all start and end our days with a cuppa, so it’s not entirely wrong to say that Pakistanis need their chai as much as they need oxygen.