UAE residents indulge in the simple pleasures of India's best loved beverage
Authentically Indian, karak chai has seeped into the lives of UAE residents, playing a role as an elixir - whether it is to dispel a sleepy haze as part someone's morning routine, or to rejuvenate one's senses after a long day.
Frothy, intense and comforting, karak chai has become the go-to drink, especially for Emiratis and other Arab nationalities, who find solace in a steamy cup of sweetness.
The word 'karak' itself is a local-friendly term, as Dubai resident Joanne Rodrigues, who hails from Mangaluru, says: "If you visit India and ask for 'karak' no one will understand what you mean. 'Karak' is an Emirati take on 'kadak' (strong) tea, and it is far more popular here (UAE) than back home, especially among Arabs. As I grew up in Dubai, karak chai has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember."
Going out for karak chai is now popular youth activity, especially for those who yearn a pocket-friendly avenue to unwind and catch up on conversation.
"There's not a single person in Dubai that doesn't know what karak is. 'Karak and chill' is something I enjoy with friends. What makes it special is that it is cheap (most places have it for Dh1) and perfect for any time of the day and in any weather. It calms my mind when I need it the most," said 25-year-old Emirati Hamad Ismail Salem Hassan Mohammad, who works as an aircraft technician.
The beverage is a concoction of loose black tea leaves, evaporated milk, sugar and spices, which are simmered in boiling water all day long. The result is a tart but crisp taste that is delicious on its own or when paired with savoury treats such as piping hot samosas.
"It's not the drink itself but the experience of going out for it that is a popular activity, especially among university students and working people. Karak brings people together, no matter what you do, or where you're from," he added.
Karak chai has become such an essential part of residents' lives that various outlets offer jugs of the freshly brewed tea for take-out. Families, and even colleagues, order them by the flask for social gatherings and special occasions.
Mohamed Saeed Al Ansari, a 23-year-old Emirati, is nicknamed 'Karak King' by friends and family, as he often shows up to events cradling two flasks of the milky tea.
"Karak is a very simple drink, but the joy it brings to people is priceless," he said.
Mohamed, who is a student at the Higher Colleges of Technology, is a self-described karak enthusiast, who cruises between Dubai and Sharjah neighbourhoods for the perfect cup.
"Each place makes karak their own way, so there is no end to discovering the different types we have here," he said. He encourages others to skip the instant sachet varieties found in supermarkets and head down to the nearest corner cafeteria for a treat.
While karak chai is commonly served in glass, plastic, paper or Styrofoam cups, many residents enjoy having a sip out of mud pots, known as matka chai.
The experience imparts a novel taste that tea enthusiasts are fond of, as 20-year-old Ajman resident Deena Akaily from Egypt adds: "There's something yummy about drinking from this kind of pot. It has a better flavour with a nice smoky earthy tone that I've come to love and appreciate. Since cafes let you take the cup home, I like to paint them on them and reuse them as pots for small plants."
Karak King Mohamed Saeed Al Ansari