Tea is practically an institution in the Middle East and North Africa. In Turkey, strong black tea is served in tiny glasses with copious amounts of sugar, while Morocco is famous for sugary mint tea (atay). Meanwhile in the Gulf, the favourite is karak, a sweet, cardamom and saffron flavoured chai made with evaporated milk.
In fact, the very smell of cardamom is enough to take me back to Muscat, where the best mornings start with a steaming cup of sweet karak chai and a serving of khubz Omani – a thin, papery bread filled with cream cheese and honey, served folded like a crêpe.
In most of the Gulf – and particularly Oman and Qatar, you’ll find a tea shop serving karak chai on every corner. Qatar has even exported its breakfast/coffee shop chain, Chapati & Karak, to London, with a conveniently located café in Knightsbridge, right across the road from Harrod’s.
The Karak tea recipe is similar to that of the masala chai enjoyed in India and Pakistan. The base ingredients of black tea, evaporated milk, water and sugar are the same, but the spices differ from country to country, adding nuance and local flavours. In the Gulf, it’s the cardamom that gives karak its unmistakeable taste (and delicious smell!).
The secret to good karak: The trick with karak tea is to repeatedly bring it almost to the boil and then remove it from the heat just as it’s about to boil over. Another important tip is to use green cardamom pods instead of black ones, because of their superior flavour.
Whether you’re missing the khaleeji flavours or are just looking for a spicy twist on your morning cuppa, we’ve got you covered with this basic recipe for making karak tea at home.
- 3-4 black tea bags (depending on whether you like your tea strong or not), or the equivalent of loose leaf tea, if you have a sieve
- 1x 170ml can evaporated milk
- 600 ml water
- Seeds of 6 green cardamom pods, crushed with a mortar and pestel (not quite to a powder) or whole
- Pinch of saffron threads
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- Add the teabags/tea leaves, evaporated milk and water to a stove-top kettle or small pan over a medium-high heat
- Add the saffron threads, cardamom seeds and sugar.
- Heat until it’s almost boiling over – then remove from the heat. Continue to repeat this process for around 10 minutes. If you’re using a pan, you’ll need to stay close to it to avoid it boiling over.
- When the tea turns a rich, orange-brown caramel colour (see pictures!), remove the tea bags – unless you prefer it very strong. If using loose tea, remove it with a strainer or sieve.
- Taste, and stir in more sugar if needed.
- Serve immediately in tea glasses or mugs. It’s best served steaming hot, so if you don’t plan to drink it immediately, add to an insulated tea pot or serving jug.
Of course, everybody likes their tea slightly differently, so feel free to play around with the strength, sweetness and spices until you get it exactly as you like it. You can also interchange the spices if you want to mix things up, for example, switching out the cardamom for cinnamon, ginger or fresh vanilla bean – although if you’re after that authentic Khaleeji taste, we recommend sticking with cardamom and saffron.
We hope you enjoy making karak tea at home – let us know what you think of the recipe in the comments below!
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Cover image: Qatar Living