The unifying force of tea!

Published February 2, 2018
New places have cropped up in Karachi, as is the case elsewhere, that feature a menu basically revolving around a cup of tea. They are good for a friendly chat as much as for a corporate deal.
New places have cropped up in Karachi, as is the case elsewhere, that feature a menu basically revolving around a cup of tea. They are good for a friendly chat as much as for a corporate deal.

TEA in Pakistan is not a beverage, it is a culture, and that too an all-inclusive one. Nothing unites the Pakistani nation more than tea. The tradition attached with tea is rich and dynamic and encompasses every segment of society. People are fond of tea irrespective of class, caste, race or religion. There are not many domains of our social existence about which we can be so categorical when considering the inclusivity factor. Not even cricket!

Nothing fits the role of an ice-breaker better than tea. It starts conversations, it holds discussions and it keeps things going when nothing else can. Tea has generally been stereotyped as the drink of the common man, the aam admi … and rightly so, as the people of middle and lower-middle classes of society have never been shy of admitting their undying love for the brew.

However, now the upper class has also started to open up and accept their fondness for tea. Subsequently, many tea cafes have opened up in the upscale neighbourhoods of Karachi. These cafes cater to the posh population of the metropolis and benefit from the class divide which has crept over the years.

People consume the brew irrespective of class, caste, race or religion. There are not many domains of our social existence about which we can be so categorical when considering the inclusivity factor. Not even cricket!

The one social change which was observed following the mushroom growth of these cafes was the participation of women on the social scene. The women, who were otherwise too shy to sit at roadside cafés in middle-class neighbourhoods, thronged in great numbers to these posh tea-joints. Probably, it provided them with an option they had been waiting for long.

These tea cafes were an immediate success in the Defence and Clifton neighbourhoods of Karachi, and it started the social trend of families visiting open-air teahouses. It was not long before this trend started shifting towards middle-class areas of the city, and now many open-air cafes are having fun in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, North Nazimabad and Gulistan-i-Jauhar areas.

More and more families are visiting these cafes to reclaim their space in society; an activity which was once missing from the daily routine of Karachiites.

The menu served at these upscale cafes is also very unique. In addition to the popular Dhabe Ki Chai, these cafes started offering an exclusive range of Parathas. Though the uniqueness and exclusiveness of Parathas remains no more there, the cafes pretty much are. Young boys and girls, and families, can be seen sitting at these cafes enjoying their tea and food. Most of these cafes have both indoor and outdoor portions – the latter tries its best to recreate the ambience of a real old-school Dhaba.

Tea has been and remains a necessity. However, this trend of tea cafes is becoming a part of our leisure lifestyle. It has become a place where families meet to socialise. People who frequent these up-scale tea cafes hold interesting opinions. Some do consider these places a blessing in disguise, but others take it as just another option in their long list of hangout places.

Ahsan Iftikhar Nagi, a sports journalist and writer, said he was fine with both types of cafes, but when out with family he preferred to visit the tea cafes in upscale neighbourhoods.

Aryba Jawaid, a medical practitioner, said she preferred the newly launched cafes because of the ambiance and service they offer. “The customer service at cafes is much better than these Dhaba places, plus I am not a big fan of sitting outside with stray animals roaming around,” said Aryba.

Though the cafes in posh areas claim to cater to people from all walks of life, their prices play a significant role in filtering out their audiences. It is quite obvious that a labourer or driver will not pay Rs100-150 for a single cup of tea, which is otherwise available for Rs20-30 at any old-school Dhaba.

So these Dhabas cater to the regular tea customers, while those looking for an ambiance or a hangout place head to the upmarket cafes and teahouses. It has become a popular pass-time of people across the city to visit these cafes, dotted across Karachi, as part of their lifestyle.

These cafes provide an escape for many, who can come and relax while having a cup of tea or coffee.

The stimulus behind the mushroom growth of these cafes in recent years is a growing middle-class craving for places where they can relax and interact over beverages and snacks. Apart from enjoying a quiet time with friends, some people also find these cafes a good place to complete their thesis, conclude a business contract or finalise preparations for an important event.

Besides these cafes, a new addition to the social landscape of Karachi is the idea of open public spaces. These spaces encourage gathering of people to promote learning, art, music, literature and dialogue.

In addition to the normal hangout point, these places encourage visitors to come to socialise and share ideas and hold discussions. The organisers/owners also hold different social activities and sessions where they invite people to share their culture with others and talk about education, arts, science and history.

The one thing which has highlighted the need of such open public places is the absence of parks and other places where public used to relax and interact. Now parks have been replaced by shopping centres and plazas, while everything else has been commercialised, leaving very few spaces for people to sit and relax without the concern of being asked to leave to make space for someone else.

In early 2000s, there were not many tea or coffee houses in the upscale neighbourhoods of Karachi, but now many such outlets can be located. They too are commercial, of course, but they don’t ask people to get up (and out) as soon as they have finished consuming. Perhaps therein lies their success.

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