By Yara Al-Wazir
They say the British are famous for their love of tea; I say we sure give them a run for their money in the Gulf.
During my first year, I shared a kitchen with five British people; throughout the year, we realised that regardless of how international the schools we went to are, or how ‘open-minded’ we claimed we were, our cultures still shocked us. One of the biggest disagreements we’d have was when I’d try to explain to them that Chai Haleeb is not the same as tea with milk.
1- The Perfect Cup of Tea
George Orwell wrote the “Eleven Golden Rules” of making the perfect cup of tea, and throughout the years, the rules have been investigated, tested, and tried by many. The British are so adamant about perfecting their tea, that a Dr Andy Stapley at Loughborough University even performed full-scale academic research on how to make the perfect cup of tea, from a chemical engineering vantage point.
The truth is we all have our preferences when it comes to tea. Personally, I like a strong tea (or builders tea, as it’s known in the UK), one sugar, with a few tablespoons of cardamom and cinnamon infused milk.
I went grocery shopping a few hours after moving into my dorm in my first semester; the static in the air that surrounded me when I didn’t find the brand of tea that I’m used to, could resuscitate anyone. The second I got home, I planned my next trip to London so as to visit the infamous Edgware Road, as I was sure one of the grocery stores there would have my tea.
Although I did end up finding my favourite brand of tea in London, adjusting is all part of the process of moving away from home. I mixed and matched and tried different brands of tea, sometimes even multiple brands in a single teapot, till I found one that was acceptable. At that point, I settled. Regardless, I still bring back a box of my favourite tea every time I go home, but only drink it on special occasions or when I’m homesick. It’s a warm reminder of home.
Cardamom was also an issue – cardamom flavoured condensed milk is a nightmare to find anywhere but your local co-op; instead, I bring freshly ground cardamom seeds and warm them up with my milk. Be sure to store them in a glass container rather than plastic so that they preserve their smell – speaking from experience here.
2- Turkish, Arabic, and American
Although Tea is my go-to beverage in the morning, I prefer coffee all other times in the day. Turkish, Arabic, American, espresso – there’s a time and place for each one of them. Sadly, in the chaos that entailed packing my life into a single 23 Kg suitcase, I forgot the ibrik, my Turkish coffee potboiler. Alas, I was left with a bag of freshly ground Turkish coffee (with extra cardamom of course) but no pot to boil it in.
Desperate times call for desperate measures – I ended up using a saucepan to make my coffee in, which I drank out of a chocolate mousse cup. Although thinking back now, that coffee does not compare to the one I make back home in any shape or form, at that point in time, it was the warmest, most beautifully smelling reminder of home.
I definitely brought a lot of drinks from Kuwait to the UK, but during my time here, I’ve also discovered some drinks that are worth taking back to Kuwait. My love for coffee exploration is reignited during finals week, and this year I discovered caramel and hazelnut freeze-dried coffee. Not only does it smell like hot chocolate on Christmas morning, a single cup is strong enough to get me through an all-nighter. I’ll definitely be bringing a jar back to Kuwait.
3– Your Local Juice Shop
Nothing quite beats waiting in the car for some fresh juice mixed with some form of energy drink. I’ll be honest; I haven’t found the Western equivalent. The closest I’ve gotten is the milk-shake shop around the corner from my house, but that store puts Oreo’s in every one of their drinks, and when it’s early in the morning and I’m just looking for a pick-me-up-smoothie, Oreo’s don’t cut it.
4- The Western Drinks
Living with five British people my first year, as I’ve written before, was definitely an eye-opening experience. Not just into their lives and habits, but into the culture of drinking that exists in the West. As curious as I am about different flavoured coffees, when it comes to mixing different juices, I’m not so keen. For my taste buds, juice has to be sweet. If it’s not, I’m not interested. As such, the creativity in apple and cranberry pomegranate juice drinks doesn’t excite me, and I tend to skip the juice aisle when doing my weekly shop. After all, nothing compares to KDD, and nothing beats an authentic homemade Chai Haleeb served on a silver tray.
Yara Al Wazir is an activist and student currently based in the UK – her monthly column reflects on her experience of moving away from the familiarity and comfort of Kuwait, to the UK in pursuit of a university degree. She can be reached via Twitter on @YaraWazir.