chai: Storm in a teacup as minister urges Pakistanis to reduce ‘chai’

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ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani minister has caused a storm in a cup of tea by urging citizens to reduce their consumption of “chai” to save foreign currency that helps import the leaves used in brewing the popular drink.
Pakistan is the world’s biggest importer of tea – locally known as “chai” – and latest government figures show it pays more than $515 million a year to import the goods, mostly from Kenya.
The country, however, is suffering from a long-simmering economic crisis, with dwindling foreign exchange reserves used to pay crippling debt.
“I would also like to call on the nation to reduce one or two cups of tea because the tea we import is also imported on credit,” said Ahsan Iqbal, Minister of Planning and Development, on Tuesday.
Pakistanis drink tea in many forms – black, green, hot, cold, sweet, salty and spicy – but the most popular is prepared by steeping the leaves in sweetened boiled milk.
Iqbal’s comments sparked outrage Wednesday on social media and in teahouses across the country.
“Why should we reduce the use of tea… we drink at our own expense, we don’t drink with government money,” said Jan Muhammad, 45, a truck driver who says he drinks between 15 and 20 cups a day.
“When you’re driving and you can’t see the road…then there’s a risk of an accident. That’s why 20 cups are mandatory,” he told AFP.
At a tea stall in Islamabad’s Aabpara market, baker Muhammad Ibrahim said he drank 12 cups a day.
“I take three, four cups in the morning, then three in the afternoon and three, four late at night,” he said. “It’s my addiction.”
At the same restaurant, Tanveer Iqbal agreed people should cut back on their drinking – even as he and his four children sipped piping hot cups of the drink.
The university professor noted that tea was regularly served at almost all meetings, especially those held by government officials.
“How are we going to reduce the use of tea when tea is the main drink in all official meetings?” He asked.
“Chai” usually sells for around 45 Pakistani rupees (20 cents) a cup in stalls across the country.
“The government has increased spending. They travel in big cars with protocol but we only enjoy tea,” driver Muhammad said.



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