Nothing beats ‘chai’

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When it comes to tea, how do you like yours? “Karak” or “dumdarr” (strong), “cheeni rok kay, patti thok kay” (less sugar, more tea leaves), “malai maar kay” (with cream) or simply “doodh patti” (more milk, less tea leaves)? These are probably the common preferences in Pakistani culture.

Tea lovers are usually particular about their tea choices. Strong tea-drinkers, for instance, are not fond of light tea and vice versa. Similarly, some compliment their tea with snacks or enjoy dunking a cookie in their tea mug. While some just crave for a simple cup of tea.

“I cannot start my day without having tea,” says 30 year old tea addict, Ayesha. Nothing beats a mug of ‘chai’ with breakfast.
40 year old Rahat has no doubts about that. “’Karak chai’ is a must before and after a long day of hectic chores,” says the housewife, before adding, “it helps me revive and gives my drained body some energy.” Rahat drinks eight to nine cups of tea daily. “Call it addiction or obsession. But ‘chai, chai hai’.”

For many, chit chat over a cup of tea is a favorite pastime, be it at a dhabba, café or baithak. No get together, meeting, conference, festival or ceremony is considered complete without it. It strengthens our bonding with loved ones. Probably this is the reason offering tea to guests is considered an essential custom.

Sarmad Amer, editorial director at MangoBaaz (Pakistani online information & entertainment company) believes ‘chai’ has a purpose to serve. Being a tea lover himself, he says, “’chai’ has become a strong part of our culture.” It brings people together and the idea of “chai peena” also serves as a “good opportunity to connect with others.”
A recent Jang’s Sunday magazine report read that Pakistanis drink about 10.2 billion cups of tea every year. This means on average each person consumes about 900 cups. Interestingly, 84 percent of the population is a tea-devotee according to the Gallup Survey of Pakistan 2016.

So, if you do not like it, you probably do not hate it either.
Though, Pakistanis enjoy the taste of tea and take it as part of routine, there are other reasons people prefer tea too. Some drink it to improve alertness, some take it for mental relaxation; and for some it helps relieve a headache. “It also aids digestion, especially after eating oily food and for some tea helps reduce weight,” comments Dr Rezzan Khan, a nutritionist at Shifa International Hospital Islamabad.
She further adds, “tea leaves have the potential to enhance health and prevent problems.” This may be a reason why ancient Chinese used it as a medicine. It was used to reduce inflammation, digestive issues and improve memory.
Throwing light on her decade’s long research on tea, Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian at the Tea Advisory Panel, UK while commenting for Shifa News says, “tea offers many benefits including that for the heart and vascular health, mental performance, oral health and weight management.”

Explaining further, Dr Rezzan adds, “it boosts metabolism which in turn aids in weight management. ”Nevertheless, the benefits of tea definitely depend on its brewing method, brewing time, and tea quality.
Talking about oral health, Dr Carrie informs that tea contains natural antibacterial compounds that help prevent tooth decay and freshen the breath.“So it can be good idea to drink a cup of tea after meals,” she suggests.
All teas are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that scavenges cell-damaging free radicals in the body. “It also helps lower bad cholesterol, block allergic responses and protect bone health,” adds Dr Rezzan. And flavonoids in it help relax the blood vessels, improve blood flow and reduce cellular inflammation.

“However, antioxidant levels in brewed tea are less than dry tea leaves. They get extracted in the process,” informs Dr Rezzan.
Though not a healthy routine, for some tea helps to keep you awake even after extended periods of staying up. “I work in night shift and cannot accomplish my daily tasks without having tea.” It helps fight job stress for 22-year old Syed Adil. “So, any time my coworkers and I feel stressed, exhausted, or sleepy, we order a strong cup of tea.”
Does taking a cup of strong ‘chai’ really help fight stress?
Answering a question for Shifa News, Prof Andrew Steptoe, a researcher and psychiatrist at University College London, UK says, “though it does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal.”
“However, taking large amounts of tea can also develop psychological dependence,” he adds.

Psychological dependence or ‘wake-me-up’ properties of tea can turn into addiction since tea is a natural source of caffeine and fluoride. Both should not be consumed in higher amounts than recommended. “The recommended amount is up to three cups a day,” suggests Dr Carrie.
Explaining the harmful effects Dr Rezzan says, “higher caffeine consumption can also hinder calcium absorption, affecting bone health and increasing the risk of osteoporosis.” Moreover, excessive amounts of tea can lead to nervousness, anxiety, abnormal heart rhythm and shakiness especially to those with low caffeine tolerance.