Sometime back, I was coming back home after dropping a friend off at the airport in the wee hours of the morning on a weekday, when I happened to pass by a street with lots of shops. All the shops were dark and closed for the night. All but one! The tea shop was not only open with bright lights shining, the place was jam-packed with big SUVs and some smaller cars, too; even at this time of night, people wanted their Karak tea. The tea boys, as I will call them here, were very busy running around here and there to and from the cars with orders and steaming cups of Karak. The atmosphere was jovial and charged with laughter and casual banter amongst friends, and even some families who were part of the equation, with karak as the centre of all the attention.
The truth is that no matter what time of the day or night you may be out and about in Qatar, one thing is for sure, you won’t ever miss a local tea shop because it will always be busy with people looking for a Karak fix to begin or even end their day, and any time in between, because I’ve noticed for the locals and the expats in Qatar, any time is Karak tea time!
Karak is an important part of the Qatari tradition. Let’s explore and find out why!
Karak which has become a big part of the Qatari tradition is made up of a blend of tea, milk, water, tea, sugar and cardamom which are boiled together and then simmered over a low flame to intensify the flavour. These are the basic ingredients, but some people also add other spices like cinnamon, cloves or saffron to add to the flavor or even ginger; it’s all about personal taste really, but the pure Qatari version usually has just cardamom.
Its origins lie in South Asia, and though this flavourful and milky tea is part of the Qatari tradition today, it actually comes from Indian and Pakistani households were this Karak is a part of their everyday lives and is known mostly as ‘Masala Chai’, roughly translated as tea with spices, or ‘Karak Chai’, roughly translated as strong tea with the word ‘Chai’ coming from the Chinese word for tea ‘Cha’.
It’s believed that when the workers came down to Qatar from India and Pakistan in the 1950s - 1960s to take part in building the country’s infrastructure around the time when oil had just been discovered, they found it hard to leave their love of this sweet milky tea behind and bought the recipe with them to Qatar to remind them of home.
When the locals got a taste of this tea, they were inspired, and after adding a few twists here and there adopted it as their own. With time, this tea trickled into Qatar’s local food culture and became ingrained within the rich cultural traditions of Qatar evolving into a hot beverage that is now part of a Qatari’s everyday life.
Today, hundreds of these roadside tea shops and cafeterias are sprinkled all over the city and all of them are busy from morning till late night with a lot of them catering to the influx of Karak drinkers - who stop there, honk their horn, order their Karak, hang around with it and leave all charged up - by staying open 24 hours a day. That’s how important the hot and creamy beverage is to Qatar!
And, if that isn’t enough, Karak is now part of many restaurants here in Qatar and there are even many desserts and sweets like ice-creams and cakes that come in the flavour of Karak.
It’s a comfort drink that’s easy to make and readily available all over the country. It brings people together. It binds them through their shared loved of Karak. It’s a staple at gatherings and a must-have beverage when friends and family are hanging around together.
In fact, this simple hot delicious beverage that’s available from the humble, yet extremely popular tea shops and cafeterias from QR1 to QR4 depending on the size, is addictive and Qataris and expats are obsessed with it; that’s why you will always see lines in front of the shops that sell the traditional Qatari Karak. Those that drink it regularly swear by its soothing and calming effects on the mind and body, and a call it the ideal stress-buster.
In addition, the cardamom in Karak is not there just for it’s unique and distinct aroma and flavor, it’s also an integral part of the Qatari traditional beverage because of its many medicinal properties. It relieves bloating, heartburn, acidity, nausea, appetite loss and inflammation in the body, and also lowers blood pressure.
How about trying Karak at home with this quick and simple recipe
1 cup water
1 teaspoon loose black tea
¼ teaspoon crushed or ground cardamom
1 cup milk (regular, condensed or evaporated)
Sugar to taste
Saffron, ginger, cinnamon or cloves (optional)
1. Boil a cup of water in a pan with the loose black tea and the cardamom powder.
2. Once the blend boils, add a cup of milk and sugar depending on how much sugar you like.
3. Boil again and them simmer for a few minutes. At this point, you can add the optional ingredient/s.
4. Pour the tea into a cup using a strainer.
5. Enjoy every sip of that hot, milky pick-me-up beverage.
Perhaps you like your Karak with sugar or, perhaps, without.
Maybe you like it made with regular milk or maybe you like the richer taste of condensed tea.
It could be that you like to add cream to your Karak or want to save on the extra calories and skip the cream.
Possibly, you like just cardamom in your Karak tea but then again, possibly, adding saffron to it is something you do often.
Whichever way you like that steaming hot cup of Karak, one thing Qataris and expats will agree on is that it’s the ultimate pick me up beverage - the perfect way to jump-start that day of yours, relax after a long hard day or savour with friends and family over the weekends.
So, if you want to be part of the Qatari tradition and are craving some of that flavoursome and aromatic tea, drive on down to one of the hundreds of Karak tea shops and cafeterias in Qatar, honk your horn, tell them how you want your Karak and enjoy the warmth and sweetness of the hot beverage that is a part of the Qatari lifestyle!
Do you like Karak? Are you a frequent visitor to the many Karak places in Qatar? Which one's your favourite? Do you like yours with regular milk, condensed milk or evaporated milk? Do you like yours with just cardamom or do you like to add other spices as well? Do let us know what you think in our Comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!
Cover Image: Feed The Lion
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