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Chai: From colonialism to a Pakistani love affair

Chai: From colonialism to a Pakistani love affair

Mehreen Zahra-Malik
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Chai is undoubtably the most popular drink in Pakistan. Whether it’s being served in a professional setting or from a roadside dhabba, there is a strong cultural association when it comes to tea in our country.

Pakistan’s unofficial national drink: Chai

For most Pakistani’s, chai is what we start and end our days with. But how did chai become so huge in Pakistan? To answer this question, we must take a look back at the history of chai in the subcontinent.

The history of chai in Pakistan

The great culture of chai in our country takes heavy influence from the British rulers of the colonial era. Chai or tea was originally a British business and when the British colonised the Indian subcontinent, they sought to expand this business to the Indians. In order to do this, a heavy marketing campaign was involved with the colonisers advertising tea as a beverage with medicinal benefits which could be consumed on a regular basis and even providing free samples of tea to major Indian cities.

Today, the success of this marketing is highly evident in the culture of chai we currently have in Pakistan. Pakistan’s chai has evolved from the tea of the British; it is sweeter, creamier and milker. Chai in Pakistan goes far beyond just being a universally loved beverage, it has become a symbol of unity and togetherness.

Chai as the ultimate unifier

The power that chai has to bring people together can be witnessed in almost any setting. Whether it’s young students in schools and universities enjoying paper cups of chai while wrapped in shawls during a cold morning or enjoying a short chai break with your colleagues at work, chai has become the universal unifier for people across Pakistan.

Moreover, chai has transcended from being just a simple drink to being an occasion to spend quality time with families and friends. On the table of tea in Pakistan, almost any topic can be discussed ranging from politics to history to music or philosophy. Perhaps it’s the contagious feeling of warmth that a cup of chai gives you, but with a cup of chai in hand and a group of good company, you feel like you can open up and talk about any topic under the sun. Chai manages to provide a feeling of belonging and comfort to those consuming it.

The rise of chai dhabbas

The rise in chai dhabbas has definitely helped elevate the status of this drink in the country. Chai dhabbas have opened up at an exponential rate across the country, offering people a place to sit in the open air and relax with a cheap cup of the country’s favourite drink. These dhabbas promote a culture of unity within themselves, so it is even more fitting that they focus on the sale of chai. Office-goers, labourers and even people just driving by all have a place to sit and enjoy chai on the pavements of busy cities. In this manner, chai culture has managed to attract Pakistani’s from all walks of life.

Varieties of chai

One other reason why chai has had such an explosive growth and left such a large impression on our culture is due to the various types of chai available to Pakistanis. If you’re not a fan of traditional chai, you can always replace it with masala chai, kashmiri chai or elaichi chai. In this way, practically everyone in Pakistan is a chai-lover of some sort.

What does the future of chai in Pakistan look like?

Chai is so universally adored in the country that small businesses are turning to the creation of chai cafes to give local coffee joints a run for their money. Moreover, more emphasis is being placed on investing in the creation of roadside chai dhabbas as well, given their immense popularity. Despite the rise of coffee as a popular millennial drink, chai still has a stronghold on Pakistani audiences due to the deep traditional connection we have with it. With this in mind, the future of chai in Pakistan looks bright and unlikely to dim for the foreseeable future.

Keep up to date with more news at ProperGaanda: The Pakistani fear of being ‘paindoo’

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