In looking at the per capita consumption of tea across the globe, it was hard not miss the fact that Afghanistan imported almost 10 pounds of tea per person a year. That is enough to make over 1,500 cups per person per year. This type of consumption implies that there is a strong tea culture within Afghanistan that is worth exploring.
Geography and Tea
Afghanistan is a landlocked country, just about the size of Texas, that serves as the gateway to Asia from the Middle East. Being seen as corridor to Asia by land has subjected this country to constant invasion by all sorts of foreign countries from the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, to the more recent invasions by the Russians in 1978. This location bred great ethnic diversity. While the formal census of Afghanistan people does not include ethnic orientation, the 2004 constitution lists 14 different ethnicities (Central Intelligence Agency, 2015). This same location introduced the tribes in Afghanistan to tea early on, as China sent traders out to get other goods in return for silk and tea. Given its arid climate and poor water supplies, tea gave the tribes a beverage that was non-alcoholic and easy to transport.
Hospitality and Afghan Tea Culture
Even though there is great ethnic diversity in Afghanistan, there are several cultural norms that cross all beliefs. Hospitality is the main one. Hospitality is so important in Afghan culture that it is embedded in children stories and considered a reflection of personal reputation. It is always expected to give food and/or beverages to everyone who is visiting you. Both will continued to be served until the guest signals that they are full and even then the host is expected to ask if they are sure and it is not uncommon to hear the host say “But you have not had enough.”
Tea culture plays a large role in showing hospitality. It is not uncommon to be offered tea when entering a business or a friend’s home. A common tea served in Afghanistan is called Kahwah. It is a combination of green tea, cardamom pods, cinnamon bark, and saffron strands. It may also include peppercorns, ginger and almonds. Much like the traditional Masala Chai Tea from India or Kashmiri Tea from neighboring Pakistan, each family has their own recipe. These ingredients are typically mixed with boiling water in a samovar. The tea is dispensed from the samovar and sugar is added before serving.
So you too can share a small piece of Afghanistan hospitality, below is a recipe for Kahwah Tea that serves 4 (so invite some friends over).
4 cups of Water
4 cardamom pods, cracked
½ inch piece of cinnamon
4 strands of saffron
3 teaspoons of green tea
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
4 blanched almonds, chopped into small pieces
Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon, and sugar to the water and bring it to a boil. Allow to stay at a boil for 5 minutes and then remove from the heat source. Add the green tea and saffron, put a lid on the pot and allow to steep for 3 minutes. The saffron will cause the liquid to turn a light orange color. Strain the liquid into a teapot. Put the almond pieces into 4 tea cups and pour the tea over the almond pieces and enjoy.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2015, May 27). The World Fact Book: Afghanistan. Retrieved from Central Intelligence Agency: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html