Karak Tea: A Traditional Qatari Tea With Milk and Cardamom
By: Leyelle Mosallam / Arab America Contributing Writer
When you drive through Qatar, it is likely that you might see a parking lot jam-packed with cars. It is also likely that you may see a man hustling around the swarm of cars as they beep to get a man’s attention. Drive through tea shops have been a large part of the Middle East culture. As customers sit in their cars, the “tea boys” we shall call them, are busy are trying to get to every car with orders of a steaming hot cup of tea. But, this is not just any tea that customers are so eager to buy. Karak tea is a favorable milky tea that is a large part of the Middle East culture, more specifically in Gulf countries. In Qatar, Karak tea is an “unofficial” national hot beverage for all of its natives, ex-pats, and tourists to enjoy. If you are ever in Qatar, be sure to pass by one of the local tea shops and try a cup of Karak tea.
What is Karak Tea?
Indian Chai tea, or properly known as “Masala Chai” is a spiced tea with milk, which originated in India and translates from Hindi to “strong tea.” Masala Chai became widely enjoyed in Arab countries such as Qatar and the UAE, where it is generally called “Karak tea.” Karak tea varies depending on the region, but it is normally made with milk, a strong black tea base, and spices such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and saffron.
Where does Karak Tea come from?
Karak tea’s origins lie in South Asia and it is traditionally served as an Indian street drink. It is believed that when migrant workers came to Qatar from India and Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s to work in Qatar’s oil and natural gas industry, they brought their traditional tea with them. The tea helped the migrant workers who were starting a new life have a familiar taste of home. When Qatari locals got a taste of Masala Chai, they were inspired to make their own version. Over time, Masala Chai became a part of Qatar’s local food and culture.
How is Karak Tea Incorporated into Qatari Culture
Karak tea is a part of Qatar’s everyday life. It is a comfortable drink that is easy to make and readily available for people to drink at any time of the day. You can find Karak tea in roadside teashops, which are located all over the city and most are open 24/7. The most popular roadside teashop in Qatar is Teatime, which is typically enjoyed by young students. Other popular Karak places in Qatar are Al Naimi, Al Bandar located at Doha’s Corniche, Chapati and Karak located at Katara Cultural Village, and Baba Chapter, which is located at Al Wakrah. Karak tea is also served in many restaurants.
While Karak tea can be typically made with any of the ingredients listed above, the traditional Qatari version of Karak tea is made with cardamom. Tea with milk has always been a part of Qatar’s culture. Qataris once boiled tea over firewood and added fresh milk and sugar. However, from the inspiration of Masala Chai, Qataris now add cardamom. The difference between Karak and Masala Chai is that Qataris don’t intend to put ginger in their tea. Qataris often enjoy a cup of Karak tea while gathering in their majlis. Typically a male-only space, Majlis is also a central part of Qatar’s culture. While men play cards, talk politics, and smoke hookah, you can also see them enjoying a cup of Karak tea. If Qataris welcome you into their home, they may also offer you Karak tea to welcome you and portray their hospitality.
Health Benefits of Karak Tea
Besides being the perfect daytime and evening hot drink, there is another reason why Karak tea is so popular in Qatar. Karak tea offers many health benefits. Karak tea can improve your digestive system and keep your gut healthy. Spices such as cardamom and ginger have many anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent digestive problems such as bloating and nausea. Karak tea can also help relieve heartburn and lower blood pressure.
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