By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
The British occupation of the Persian Gulf in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had a lasting effect on the whole region. The British concept of â€˜tea timeâ€™ took hold and is still in force all over the Middle East, with Turkey being one of the Worldâ€™s major tea consumers. It does not matter which Gulf nation you find yourself in. Tea and tea paraphernalia like pots, thermoses and tiny glasses can be seen out on the streets in the most unlikely places!
Gulf families habitually carry a full tea set with them whenever they are away from home even if they are only embarking upon a shopping excursion or a day at the zoo. It does not matter if it is winter or the scorching summer. Most families in the Gulf can be seen sitting on any patch of grass or open desert they can find enjoying the piping hot amber concoction. The most famous tea in the region is Ceylon tea while the most readily and inexpensive brand available in the Middle East is Lipton. Even if you cannot read Arabic, corner stores and restaurants often display the yellow Lipton brand tag proudly either as a part of their shop sign or else on a tiny placard in their window.
Arabs have got their teatime down to a simple ritual. The water is boiled and the loose Ceylon tea leaves are left to steep until the liquid turns to a rich amber color. Forget about mugs, all true Gulf tea aficionados use tiny little tea glasses and stainless steel spoons that are equally small. The tea glasses are filled and served with a pot of sugar so that each person can adjust the sweetness. Youâ€™ll never hear the phrase â€˜pass the milkâ€™ either, as tea is preferred black, with just a bit of sugar or honey. And, unlike the British, Gulf Arabs prefer the tea on its own without any calorie-laden sweets or savories.
In the Gulf, tea is always available and quite often placed in your hand without you even ordering it. It is considered good manners to offer someone a cup of tea even if they are simply popping into your store to make a quick purchase. Most major businesses employ one or more â€˜tea boysâ€™ (in reality men) to ensure that tea is always on hand. Tea making is a profitable profession in the Gulf as â€˜tea boysâ€™ are always wanted in restaurants, hotels, offices and anywhere else the public congregates. They often carry trays of tea through the streets to deliver to eager and thirsty customers. Most â€˜tea boysâ€™ pour between 300-500 glasses of tea per day. Their salaries are often 50% higher than other persons working in the service industries, like maids and chauffeurs, despite the work being very light.
Even the poorest of the poor in Iraq and Afghanistan have their daily intake of tea, which is quite often several glasses. Even if there is no other food on the table, the teapot will always be there ready to pour another glass. The love affair with tea will go on even despite inflation and price gouging which is in full swing in most Gulf States as a result of the high oil revenues.
So if you by chance find yourself in the Gulf one day and pass someone and hear the clanking of glasses emanating from their bag youâ€™ll know theyâ€™ve got their tea with them!