Izay Ayesha talks upon the origins of Pakistan’s favourite beverage
The popularity of Tea is quite certainly the national beverage of Pakistan and it has overtaken any other beverage competing with it. In 1970s tea faced a competition from coffee but Pakistanis held up to their cherished drink and despite modern eateries and take-aways offering coffee, tea remains the pre-dominantly favourite beverage in Pakistan. It is widely offered at homes, offices and formal parties. Pakistan imports roughly 200,000 metric tons of tea into the country and keeping inflation and higher prices in mind, Pakistanis still have spent $316.41 on tea per capita.
The preference for tea is manifest as Pakistan is the fourth largest tea importer of the world after Russia, United Kingdom and Egypt. The per capita consumption of tea in Pakistan is one of the highest in the world at about one kilogram and is continuously increasing due to increase in demand. The annual per capita consumption in the world is 0.75 kg. The average consumption in the United States is 0.35 kg, Australia 2.7 kg, Iran 2.4 kg, Sri Lanka 1.45 kg, India 0.52 kg, China 0.3 kg, Japan 0.94 kg and in Turkey it is 2.15 kg. Many of these countries are not only self-sufficient in production but are also net exporters. Pakistan is a small producer but high per capita consumer.
Pakistanis have given tea a diverse blend and it is offered throughout the country in various varieties and flavours. Doodh patti is by far the most popular variety in which tea leaves are cooked in milk and served sweet. Black tea or English tea is mostly served in urban centres with separate milk and sugar. Masala tea peppered with selective spices is also in demand. In northern areas green tea known as ‘kahwah’ enjoys wide currency. Yet another variety is Kashmiri tea, a pink milky tea garnished by pistachios and cardamom. In further north particularly in Gilgit-Baltistan region Tibetan salty buttered tea is consumed with relish.
Tea was first popularised by Britain and the country still is ranked high in tea-drinking countries. The Queen drinks her first cuppa right after rising in the morning and an average Briton over the age of 10 drinks three and a half cups of tea per day, or 1,355 cups per year – mostly tea with milk in it — which puts Britain miles ahead of any other country in the international league of tea-drinking nations! Second and third in the league are the New Zealanders (889 cups) and the Australians (642 cups); in Europe, the nearest rival to Britain is Russia, where people only consume on average 325 cups of tea per year.
Tea came to Britain in the seventeenth century as in 1657 Thomas Garway, owner, ironically, of a coffee house sold it for the first time in his shop. By the beginning of 18th century tea outstripped coffee in Britain and was offered in more than 500 coffee houses in London. It was considered a privileged beverage however and not everyone could afford to drink it as the cost of a pound of tea in the year 1700 was up to 36 shillings a pound but in 1700, a working man earned one shilling a week! For about a century and a half tea remained an expensive item till some large-hearted mill-owners started serving tea to their workers in the middle of the morning thereby inventing a lasting institution ‘tea-break’. It soon became popular with the growing middle classes who enjoyed drinking it in ‘tea gardens’.
Around 1800 Duchess of Bedford introduced ‘afternoon tea’ that assumed a ceremonial ritual taking place at about four o’clock. It was the usual practice that until then people consumed nothing between lunch and dinner and this ritual soon became a fad. A very appropriate addition to this tradition was made by Earl of Sandwich who popularised a new way of eating bread — in thin slices, with something (e.g. jam or cucumbers) between them, and before long, a small meal at the end of the afternoon, involving tea and sandwiches had become part of a way of life.
Tea was hugely promoted by the Victorians as an economical, warming, stimulating non-alcoholic drink. The working classes served it with the main meal of the day that workers ate after returning from work transforming it into ‘high tea’ that is still a tradition in vogue. The British brought tea to the subcontinent where they established large tea plantations and earned a lot of money. Tea also became a favourite urban drink during British times in the subcontinent that gradually trickled down to rural populace who adopted it as their own beverage. Pakistanis have inherited many things from the colonial rule but the most endearing is tea and it is adored all over the country. TW