Quetta Tea? Yes please!

Making tea in the Sar Khulla mountains of Quetta. Image via Wikipedia by Izharkasi. CC BY-SA

Making tea in the Sar Khulla mountains of Quetta, Pakistan. Image via Wikipedia by Izharkasi (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED).

There is no season for tea in Pakistan; you drink piping hot tea even just to pass the time. In the past few years, Quetta tea stalls have sprouted across urban centers, attracting people of all ages to enjoy a cuppa at any time of the day. Mostly men and young boys are seen sitting late into the night at these stalls, enjoying time with friends and family. The best part is that Quetta tea is a lot cheaper than other chai cafés and restaurants.

History of Quetta tea stalls

For the past couple of years, Quetta tea has become famous because of its rich tea culture and the hospitality of the people from Baluchistan. They are a welcoming hangout spot for young men; they do have a separate section for families, but you hardly ever see single women or a group of women sitting at these stalls. If a woman does visit, because of the culture, the older men do not speak to them; rather, they send young kids working at the shop to take their orders. Men meet up at these spots to discuss their upcoming tech business plans, hold small informal business meetings, or just vent and relax after work. There is an urban legend: Quetta tea has opium in it, and one gets addicted to its rich texture, sweetness, and aroma, which enchants you forever.

Baluchistan is the largest province of Pakistan, and, according to the Census report of 2023, it has a population of 14,894,402. It has a blend of different ethnicities for including Hazara, Pashtoon, Baloch, with different cultures. For years, Baluchistan has suffered economically and politically, including droughts, and has been a victim of terrorism, forcing people to migrate to different provinces of the country. According to a working paper by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), people started migrating from the province to other urban centers in different parts of the country, especially to Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the twin cities of the capital. There, they began setting up tea stalls parallel to dhabas and cafes.

Despite the issues mentioned above, the tea stall market has reached a saturated point, leaving Pashtoon men no option but to migrate. Over time, they brought their relatives and friends, too. They work through a circular economy by taking turns working at the tea stall in summer and winter for six months each, which keeps them connected to the family, too.

It is fascinating to observe that these stalls are strategically distributed across the small towns and bustling urban centers of the Punjab and Sindh provinces, each with its unique cultural dynamics. In Punjab, despite experiencing instances of racial discrimination, there is a remarkable sense of unity and cooperation among the people when it comes to business matters. The business community in Punjab seems to transcend ethnic divides, focusing instead on mutual economic interests and growth.

Conversely, the situation in Sindh shows a stark contrast. Here, the presence of these stalls has stirred significant controversy, especially in the interior regions. Local nationalists in Sindh have not been as welcoming, perceiving the influx of these business operators as a threat to the ethnic balance of their society. This has resulted in ongoing tensions, with local groups frequently attempting to resist and push back against the newcomers. The resistance is rooted in deep-seated fears and apprehensions about cultural and demographic changes, leading to a continuous state of unrest and opposition, metaphorically described as a storm in a teacup. This resistance highlights the complex interplay of ethnic and cultural issues that significantly influence business operations and social integration in the region.

In another province, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, there are not many Quetta tea stalls as they have their own Swat tea stalls.

Preparing Quetta tea in a stall. Image by the author.

Preparing Quetta tea in a stall. Image by the author, used with permission.

Brewed tea vs Quetta tea

I grew up drinking strong brewed tea with added milk, then I switched to teabag tea to save time. Quetta tea, served in small cups or glasses, never particularly attracted me because of hygienic concerns, as the cups are usually rinsed in a tub and kept in the open. However, as people say, you must try it once to know what you are missing. This milky yet thick textured tea, dominated by an aroma of cardamom, does wonders on a long and tiring day. These stalls also serve kahwah, also known as “green tea,” cooked with different herbs and spices and served with jaggery. Another interesting thing is the stove that they use to make tea. It is a flat sheet with holes in it with burners under it. A jug is placed on it to cook tea.

All Quetta tea stalls have a different name, but this particular tea stall I visited has its brand name registered “Quetta Chai Paratha” on a green colored board so no one can copy it. The owner has numerous shops across Lahore serving tea and paratha 24/7.

 How to prepare Quetta tea

Boil water and add cardamom according to the number of servings. Once the water has boiled, add tea leaves and let it boil for another 2 minutes. Then add milk and brown sugar, and let it simmer on low flame for another 5 minutes. Once done, strain the tea and enjoy.

Note: The steps can vary from person to person. Some people add milk first and then tea leaves, or add milk and tea leaves together.

In this YouTube video by Kun Foods, the process is explained (in Urdu):

These tea stalls are also known for serving the best parathas (a flatbread cooked in light oil). Sometimes, the parathas have potato or minced meat filling.

Tea and paratha - a refreshing breakfast. Image by the author.

Tea and paratha, a hearty and refreshing breakfast. Image by the author, used with permission.

With our changing lifestyles and working hours, food is one thing that we need available at all times. When everything is closed in the middle of the night, or you are traveling through rural areas or small cities, Quetta tea stalls are a lifesaver — you can never go to bed hungry or travel on an empty stomach!

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.