Living among the locals

My favorite cups of tea from around Asia

azerbaijan, tea, travel

UPDATE: [22 Dec 2017] Coming from Egypt, a major tea consumer, I’m a tea drinker with a passion for everything that can be labeled as tea.I know there is a lot of fuss going on out there about coffee, but we, the tea drinkers, are still the majority (unless China has switched its national drink). I was never really a coffee drinker so didn’t experiment much with that during my travels.

With tea, I experimented everywhere, and heavily so. And I can honestly look back at every cup of tea and say that I have no regrets.

This post is for tea drinkers as well as those who are willing to get out of their coffee comfort zone and experiment the different flavors of this magical drink while you’re on the road.

Here are some of the most iconic cups of tea that I have so far had.

Ceylon tea from the supermarket

tea, sri lanka, ceylon tea

That’s an obvious one. Sri Lanka, as you very well know, is one of the major distributors of tea around the world. Ever since I moved to the island nation, I have been hooked on Sri Lankan tea. Until now, when it comes to commercially packed tea that I buy from the supermarket, only Ceylon tea is allowed into my house. I love it but it’s also my way of supporting local products, but also because I genuinely love it.

I particularly loved the green and white tea options that used to be offered in those touristic teashops.

Chai Thai – ice milk tea

Thai Chai, thailand, thai, travel, tea

This one actually came as a surprise to me. I had never heard of a tea that is particular to Thailand. I didn’t even know that it’s their national drink. Once you’re there, it doesn’t get promoted as a national drink the same way that it does in neighboring Sri Lanka for example. Most of my friends who went to Thailand never even heard of it.

I found it by pure coincidence when walking one day under the unforgiving Bangkok sun, desperately in search for a cold drink. A coincidence that I’m extremely grateful for. I can’t even imagine how my day would have been had I not come across this little icy tea from heaven.

Just in case you too missed it on your last trip to Thailand, it is an ice tea with thick milk and plenty of sugar. You will find it everywhere. If you just order tea in any restaurant, this is what you will get.

Dubai’s karak tea with milk

I know this because I have been living here for over a decade now. Ironically, I never managed to snap a photo of any of the countless karak teas that I had in Dubai, but here is a photo from Tikka Tonight Restaurant. Arabs normally drink their tea plain or with lots of sugar, like in Egypt, but that’s about it.

When it comes to drinking this magical cup of tea mixed with countless ingredients in Dubai, you will have to head to a modest cafeteria. As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the cafeteria, the better their karak or masala tea. This one too will come with thick milk and lots of sugar, but the most amazing thing about it is that it will include India’s finest spices. Sometimes it’s cardamom, sometimes ginger, sometimes both. Once I even tasted masala tea with clove and pepper.

Cadramom tea from Azerbaijan’s Shahi Khanas

Azerbaijani tea, Azerbaijani, tea, travel

This is absolutely unbeatable. Baku is home to the most mesmerizing Shahi Khanas, or tea houses. Over there, the Shahi Khana is only dedicated to serving fine Azeri cardamom-flavored tea with sweets just like in the photo. So don’t do like me and go order some side dishes because the guy doesn’t even speak English.

Just sit down and, without even bothering to order, the tea and the sweets will come right to you. Unlike the Chai Thai or Karak Tea, Azeris, and probably most of Central Asians, drink their tea heavy and plain.

Jasmine, green, and black tea from Nepal

Tea in Nepal

I’ve grown old trying to find the perfect Jasmine Tea. Prior to my trip to Nepal, I had tasted a variety of Jasmine Teas that ranged from teas that were too heavy to tolerate to too light to event smell the Jasmine scent. And the fact that most tea companies, even my beloved Dilmah, are mixing green with jasmine tea in their packets was even more hurtful. But that was all before my trip to Nepal. Throughout my stay in Kathmandu and Pokhara, I was drinking jasmine tea right, left, and center. And I never regretted any single cup.

Just like the Jasmine tea, the green and red tea varieties didn’t disappoint. Even my mother, with her genuine tea-loving palate, fell in love with the Nepali black tea. The very taste of it was so good that she stopped adding mint which she normally never drinks tea without.


About Yasmin Helal

Having lived in the GCC, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, Yasmin is a journalist who enjoys writing travel and culture features.

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