Visit south Asia and on every street corner you’ll find open-air stalls where ‘chai wallahs’ serve up spicy tea in clay cups. It’s part of daily life and the commodity of companionship in much the same way it is in Starbucks or Costa Coffee. Now Chai Karak has become trendier than friendship bracelets with hip young things in Oman.
During the past two years I have been a regular at coffee shops that sell tea’s answer to latte. But I’m not alone. Endless lines of cars queue up for small cups of this cult beverage.
If you’re not in the know, let me enlighten you. Chai Karak, also known as Masala tea, is an Urdu phrase roughly translated as strong tea. The ingredients may have been adapted from its South Asian roots but the rich, spicy overtones remain the same.
I’m addicted to the stuff and so are my Omani friends. The taste, texture and aroma all promise something exotic. Of course, this tea with kick isn’t new and has been known in the Sultanate for decades. But it’s only now that coffee shops and hip eateries are adding it to their menus. It’s even found its way into cupcakes and ice cream. Why? Well, it’s healthier and more nutritious than its coffee counterpart. The traditional method of making it has been adapted to involve less sugar and the spices are commonly used in Asian medicine. The benefits are numerous and include ginger to help ease sore throats and stomachs, cloves and cinnamon for better circulation and cardamom to help eliminate indigestion. If you want to make it even healthier ask for honey rather than sugar, to keep things sweet.
Whatever your reasons for drinking it, Chai Karak has become an essential part of Omani culture.
In a small saucepan, bring the water, ginger, pepper, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon to a boil. Add the milk and sugar to the pan and bring to the boil again.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the loose black tea. Cover and let it steep for at least three minutes (or longer, if you prefer a stronger brew). Strain the mixture into a warmed teapot or directly into teacups—or stainless steel tumblers, as the tea is traditionally served.
Tea is the new coffee, complete with equipment, techniques, and tons of varieties to nerd out over. Here are our top three trends to watch out for this season:
Tea Pops: Forget about iced tea. The new way to cool you down will be frozen ‘lollies’ in tea flavours such as mango and mint.
Naturally Sweet: In response to consumer demand, tea companies are now finding alternative ways to sweeten tea without the use of sugar or artificial ingredients. Fruits that help them achieve this include blackberries and grapes.
Reusable Tea Tins: Packaging innovations continue across all food categories and tea companies are pushing the envelope with designer tins that are tres desirable. We love the ones from Twinnings and Lov Organic here in Y Towers.
The Editor’s Top Picks:
TEA NATION’S MEXICAN CHILLI
Made with rooibos tea, this version is slightly sweet thanks to the vanilla, but ends with a chilli kick that’s still gentle enough to cope with in the morning. Rooibos is said to settle the stomach and is naturally caffeine free, so it’s also good after meals.
LØV ORGANIC’S GREEN TEA
Green tea is good when cutting down on caffeine – enough for a boost but not quite enough for a painful crash. This green tea is light and fresh with a slight tannic touch. The loose-leaf variety comes in a sweet recyclable tin and the teabags are unbleached muslin. Løvely.
KANDULA PINK CEYON TEA
This award-winning green tea boasts a beautiful pink blush and delicate smokey taste. Blended with a hint of the exotic hibiscus flower, it manages to inspire both mind and body.