Gulf News ex­poses the sweet lure of the pop­u­lar hot bev­er­age in the wake of the UAE gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to check sugar con­sump­tion |

Gulf News - - Front Page - BY SAJILA SASEENDRAN

It’s around 4.30pm on a win­ter evening in the UAE.

The queue of tea lovers wait­ing for their favourite cuppa out­side a cafe­te­ria in Ras Al Khor is get­ting longer.

In­side the tea joint, two em­ploy­ees are busy pre­par­ing their fastest mov­ing item—karak tea, a hot bev­er­age that is equally pop­u­lar among Emi­ratis and ex­pa­tri­ates. A big bowl of wa­ter (al­most three litres) is kept on the gas stove for boil­ing. The tea pow­der, a se­cret mix, is then added to the boil­ing wa­ter, fol­lowed by two spoons of car­damom pow­der.

In an­other wa­ter jug, one cup of sugar and two litres of tetra pack milk are mixed and then added to the boil­ing tea. Af­ter the flavoured mix­ture brews to the brim, it is strained into a large flask.

Each cup of hot tea poured from the flask is then topped with a dab of saf­fron pow­der.

Voila! The pop­u­lar Dh1 drink is ready for the pa­trons.

Pip­ing hot, sweet karak tea is con­sid­ered a daily ne­ces­sity by many in the UAE.

From the non­de­script, holein the-wall cafe­te­rias in old Dubai ar­eas to stylish cafes in Down­town Dubai and swanky restau­rants in Jumeirah, karak tea is one of the most mov­ing items in Dubai eater­ies with prices rang­ing from Dh1 to a stag­ger­ing Dh25.

Most UAE joints sell­ing karak

chai, as it is known among ex­pats from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, have a long queue of cus­tomers, es­pe­cially in win­ter. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of res­i­dents en­joy their favourite bev­er­age in the chilly morn­ings and evenings.


But, as you sip your hot cuppa, have you ever thought about how much sugar goes in it?

The UAE’s most pop­u­lar hot bev­er­age may not be made in as sim­ple steps as ex­plained above in all the out­lets.

It gets loaded with sugar in var­i­ous ways at most out­lets that sell karak tea like hot cakes dur­ing win­ter.

The heav­ily-sug­ared milk in­fu­sion has re­mained out of the radar even as the gov­ern­ment re­cently in­tro­duced a 50 per cent ex­cise tax on prod­ucts with added sugar or other sweet­en­ers. The sin tax is levied on prod­ucts, whether in the form of a bev­er­age or a con­cen­trate, pow­der, ex­tract or any prod­uct that may be con­verted into a bev­er­age.

Against the back­drop of the UAE gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to re­duce the high in­take of sugar to pre­vent obe­sity and chronic dis­eases, Gulf News did an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find out how much sugar is added to karak tea here.


As we scoured a few cafe­te­rias and restau­rants sell­ing karak tea, we stum­bled upon the fact that each of them has their own se­cret recipe.

While no­body was will­ing to share the ex­act mix of tea pow­ders they use, tea mak­ers said car­damom, cin­na­mon and ginger are some of the main in­gre­di­ents that give the rich flavour to the tea when brewed in dif­fer­ent pro­por­tions and topped with a dab of saf­fron.

We found that evap­o­rated milk or UHT-pro­cessed tetra pack milk are among the most pop­u­lar milk types used for karaks in the UAE.

While there is no stan­dard amount of sugar that is used in dif­fer­ent out­lets, our in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that it is not just sugar and milk that is giv­ing the sweet­ness to your karak.

At one cafe­te­ria in Al Safa in

Dubai, an em­ployee said he uses 12oz of sugar and more than half a litre evap­o­rated milk for mak­ing one ket­tle of tea that gives about 30 cups sized 6.5oz.

“We add a cou­ple of bis­cuits also to give a spe­cial flavour to our karak,” he re­vealed.

What he showed us was a tiny Lo­tus Bis­coff bis­cuit. Each caramelise­d bis­cuit con­tains 3g sugar. The em­ployee also re­vealed that his friend, who makes tea in an­other cafe­te­ria pop­u­lar for its karak, adds glu­cose bis­cuits in­stead.

A glu­cose bis­cuit pro­duced by a pop­u­lar brand in the UAE con­tains 7.8g sugar.


Mo­ham­mad, who makes karak tea for a newly opened restau­rant in Ras Al Khor, said he is aware of tea mak­ers in the UAE us­ing dif­fer­ent types of bis­cuits, choco­late eclairs and con­densed milk in their karak tea to add sweet­ness and flavour.

Which karak lover wouldn’t agree with him when he says: “The essence of karak tea is its sweet and strong flavour. That is what makes it ad­dic­tive.”

In his pre­vi­ous work­place, a pop­u­lar cafe chain known for its karak tea, Mo­hammed was told to use 120g of sugar for five litres of tea.

“Here, I use less sugar, 80g for five litres, as I add con­densed milk for en­hanc­ing the flavour.”

Hun­dred gram of con­densed milk has 54g of sugar.

Mo­hammed ar­gues that most karak lovers like to have more sugar in their cuppa. “Es­pe­cially taxi driv­ers. They love drink­ing very sweet tea that gives them more en­ergy.”

Some tea stall em­ploy­ees claimed that they use only sugar and add noth­ing else for sweet­ness in karak. But the quan­tity re­vealed by some left us stunned.

Like the cafe­te­ria in Al Quoz. The em­ployee there said they add one kilo sugar to 10litre wa­ter for brew­ing the karak tea with 300g of a spe­cial mix of tea pow­der. “Evap­o­rated milk is added sep­a­rately in the cup,” he said.

When you do the Math, you can see that there is 100gm of sugar added for one litre wa­ter.

There are out­lets that give you sweeter karak in bis­cuit cups too! The sugar coat­ing in­side the lin­ing of the bis­cuit cup makes the tea even sweeter.


High amount of sugar in karak tea is an alarm­ing con­cern which needs to be given a thought as the na­tion looks for­ward to cut­ting down con­sump­tion of sweet­ened bev­er­ages and drinks, said Janani Satchithan­an­tham, di­eti­tian, Aster Hospi­tal, Al Qu­sais.

“If a tea maker adds 100g sugar in one litre wa­ter, the end re­sult in one cup of tea an in­di­vid­ual would be con­sum­ing would be 20g sugar which is 4tsp,” she ex­plained.

This can go up de­pend­ing on how many serv­ings the in­di­vid­ual is con­sum­ing. “Con­sum­ing

these empty calo­ries can lead to un­in­tended weight gain and lead to other life­style con­cerns,” Satchithan­an­tham cau­tioned.

Sugar is con­sid­ered the sin­gle worst in­gre­di­ent in the mod­ern day diet. “It dam­ages the me­tab­o­lism in the long run. Eat­ing too much added sugar in daily rou­tine will lead to weight gain, obe­sity, type two di­a­betes and heart dis­eases.”

Amer­i­can Heart Associatio­n (AHA) rec­om­mends the max­i­mum amount of sugar you can eat in a day is not more than six to nine tea­spoons for an adult with nor­mal BMI. “Ide­ally in a cup of tea, half to one teaspoon of sugar can be taken,” Satchithan­an­tham ad­vised.

The nu­tri­tional value of a cup of karak tea is 122 kcal, with 8g sugar and 5g fat, said Satchithan­an­tham.

“The calo­rie count varies any­where be­tween 70 --133kcal de­pend­ing on what pro­por­tion of milk and sugar is added in the mak­ing of karak tea.”

If the sugar con­tent per one cup of tea is two tea­spoons of gran­u­lated sugar, it amounts to 32kcal, she said.

“If the num­ber of serv­ings is on the higher side, the over­all calo­rie from the sugar also increases. Re­mem­ber, it is empty calo­ries as it does not add any nu­tri­tional value.”


“Ex­tra ad­di­tives like glu­cose bis­cuit will make it [karak tea] more calo­rie-dense than nu­tri­ent-dense. Tea is a re­fresh­ing bev­er­age and hav­ing such calo­rie-dense bev­er­age is go­ing to be fill­ing and you would tend to skip the ac­tual meal,” she cau­tioned.

If you are con­cerned about the calo­ries go­ing in, then karak tea with high sugar con­tent or with con­densed milk will ab­so­lutely do no jus­tice to your to­tal in­take of calo­ries, she ex­plained. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing the nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits with not much added sugar, she said karak tea im­proves the di­ges­tive process as it con­tains car­damom and cin­na­mon.


But, will the karak lovers give up their favourite cup be­cause of high sugar? Not likely, vouch Pakistani col­leagues and karak lovers Im­tiaz Hus­sain, Ashfaq Nawaz and Mitha Khan.

They work in the Fruits and Veg­eta­bles Mar­ket in Al Aweer and walk for a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres to a stall in Ras Al Khor just to have their favourite Dh1 karak in the evenings.

“They have the per­fect mix. I don’t think it is too sweet. We feel re­freshed af­ter drink­ing this karak. That is why we come here to have their karak tea. It gives us en­ergy and enthusiasm,” said Nawaz.

In­dian ex­pat Sangeetha. S, an­other karak lover, said she opts for karak “with­out sugar” and adds brown sugar. But most of the karak tea out­lets do not sell the ‘with­out sugar’ ver­sion. And re­duc­ing the sugar might turn away cus­tomers, feared Is­mail, the op­er­a­tions man­ager at a restau­rant chain.

Cus­tomers en­joy karak tea at a cafe in Ras Al Khor, Dubai. The heav­ily-sug­ared milk in­fu­sion has re­mained out of the radar of the 50 per cent ex­cise tax on sug­ary prod­ucts.

An­tonin Kelian Kal­louche/Gulf News

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