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05 April, 2006

Trouble brewing

Dubai's tea culture is rather fascinating. While the Gulf generally conjures up an image of gentle bedu serving coffee in a desert setting, the reality - Arabian Adventures aside - is subcontinental bachelors sitting on dingy white plastic chairs buying hyper-sweet cups of Rainbow-milky Lipton from various imaginatively-titled cafés. such as "Eat and Relax Restaurant" or "Eat and Drink Cafeteria".

For twenty-seven long years the price of tea has been a fixed 50 fils, around 13 cents, with the authorities blocking any attempts to raise it. (If only they had done the same with petrol). But now the street bone-china of choice, the thin plastic cup, has been banned:

"The decision has been taken on the recommendations of the Food Safety Committee after lab tests showed such cups pose health risk. They don't withstand heat and can contaminate hot beverages," said Khalid Sharif, Assistant Director General at Health Department and Head of Food Safety Section. He said establishments can use foam polystyrene or paper cups instead.

The problem is that thicker polystyrene and cardboard cups, though far nicer and safer, are also far more expensive. Profit margins are currently only a few fils per cuppa, so vendors are going to be even more desperate to raise prices or go out of business. And customers will go thirsty as a unique sip of Dubailife trickles away into the sand.



Blogger Chanad said...

I'd agree with the authorities on this one. It's really annoying drinking boiling hot stuff in those thin cups... you can't even hold it with your fingers.

I much prefer sitting down at an Iranian cafe to drink tea in glass cups with convenint handles... which is for the same price as the Malabaris sell their Lipton for.

05 April, 2006 04:20  
Blogger LazyOwl said...

One of my happy memories about sandland is, a guy enjoying his cup of tea during his break, by the road side. Boy, they really knew how to enjoy small things in life.

That was poor man’s “Starbuck” and the Shawarma was the “Big Mac”.

How about building some “ Class 1- clean rooms” for tea drinkers?

05 April, 2006 04:24  
Blogger secretdubai said...

There was a heart-rending story in something like Friday magazine a few years back, a sort of day-in-the-life of a labourer, on his one day off a week. He made a special trip to a mall with a MacDonalds in, having decided to splash out on a special treat for himself.

When it came to the crunch, he just couldn't justify spending Dh3.50 on the burger, so got his regular 75 fil shawarma instead. I suppose Dh3.50 might be a week's worth of rice (or more) to his family back in Asia, but to most of us here it's a few loose coins that we drop down the back of a sofa, or fall out of our wallet without us even noticing.


05 April, 2006 06:01  
Blogger samuraisam said...

Chai Karak

05 April, 2006 07:01  
Blogger LazyOwl said...

I just wish they will have a minimum wages system oneday.

Ooops.Did I hear" In your dreams, Pal.We call the shots here."

05 April, 2006 07:09  
Blogger samuraisam said...

oh damn, I forgot the customary...


(if someone finds a link between this and the west, I will give you a link to an image of a cookie)

05 April, 2006 07:37  
Blogger trailingspouse said...

John J Grebe 1900-1984 inventor of the styrofoam cup ( was an American. Therefore this is obviously an American plot.

Where's my cookie?

05 April, 2006 08:26  
Blogger samuraisam said...

cookie 4 U!

05 April, 2006 08:29  
Blogger Garhoud said...

SD, I actually remember this story. I think about it quite often since then.. Dhs3.50 too pricey for a burger-kinda puts you into a perspective.

05 April, 2006 08:31  
Blogger Anon said...

Yep, I spotted this too, some of the cafes around here are really cheap and really good (which did surprise me) change out of 2 dhs for tea and a sandwhich, what more can you want?

05 April, 2006 09:28  
Blogger Tim Newman said...

The decision has been taken on the recommendations of the Food Safety Committee after lab tests showed such cups pose health risk.

And just how many of these supposed health risks materialised into actual health problems in 27 years of practical application? Probably a neglible number. But these fuckwits have to justify their existence somehow, so if a few of their lab test predict a problem which has never occurred in practice, then you can rest assured the law will change and we will lose just that little bit more of our liberty.

05 April, 2006 10:45  
Blogger Shaper85 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

05 April, 2006 11:23  
Blogger Harsha said...

Few friends of mine plus dad love the Tea you get for .50 fils. Dad drives around alot, and always stops at some south Indian Tea stall for tea. He was mentioning a few weeks ago that the Municipality was forcing these people to increase the price of tea from .50 fils a cup to .75 fils/1 dh a cup, which they werent willing to. Thus, they'd often fine these cafetarias for minimal excuses repeatedly. Just an act of stubborness.

Daddy dearest was mentioning the same.. doesnt make a difference to us, its a few loose coins lying around. But the increase by .25 fils /.50 fils per cup will make a lot of difference to workers/labourers who survive their long working hours on these...

05 April, 2006 11:52  
Blogger luckyfatima said...

too bad they can't use those Indian "matke" cups, made of clean unfired dried clay. u just toss them out when you're done and they are the ultimate in environmental friendliness. i think only bombay chowpatty offers them, which dirt cheap as it is, is still beyong worker's budget's.

05 April, 2006 12:39  
Blogger archer14 said...

I have 3 cups of tea a day + some pepsi, etc. And I'm bloody pissed that I'd now have to spend 4 bucks instead of 2.50.

My dad told me that a distant while back, prices were jacked to 75 fils after which people refused to drink more than a cup a day. They were forced to return back to earlier prices. Now with this health angle, they've cornered everyone.

I've always felt guilty when supermarkets hand out 3 separate plastic bags just for the 'separation' thingy. I usually give it back to them, unless absolutely needed. Instead of banning these bags, they've once again started their wild goose chase against the wrong people at the wrong time. And to think I blogged the other day that a cup of tea was the only thing that remained at the same price through the years :-((

05 April, 2006 12:42  
Blogger Harsha said...

Uff archer14, laga di na nazar!
BTW why is my daddy n ur daddy telling us the same thing?

Those matka cups are amazing! we have this religious place in Rajhasthan (India) I visited a couple of times, its a small town. I loooved drinking coffee in those lil matki's there. After drinking, you jus throw and break 'em! well here they arent available but their actually cheaper than plastic!

have you seen the way these guys balance an entire tray filled with tea cups - to the brim, on one hand riding the cycle with the other?

05 April, 2006 13:08  
Blogger archer14 said...

Oh, you're bringing me back memories...Memories I've long forgotten with this mechanical life here!

05 April, 2006 13:19  
Blogger secretdubai said...

And just how many of these supposed health risks materialised into actual health problems in 27 years of practical application?

Well in fairness, the kind of people who would (possibly) get cancer from having tea in those cups every day is probably never gong to make the connection with their illness and the plastic, let alone be in a position to sue. So it's quite nice that the authorities are looking out for their health.

On the other hand that doesn't solve the problem of more expensive cups. The only ideas I have are:

1. Reduce/remove taxes on tea with recyclable paper cups

2. Encourage people to bring their own cups

3. Offer reuseable mugs

Regarding (3), I am sure there are heaps of us here who have gazillions of old cheap mugs with various corporate brandings and that kind of thing. I'd happily donate mine to one of these cafes. I can see how washing up might cause logistical problems for them though. Unless the cost of hiring a washing up boy roughly equalled the cost of the plastic disposeable ones.

05 April, 2006 13:31  
Blogger grapeshisha said...

This appeared in Merril Lynch's Economic Commentary in Jul 2004. I thought it fitting to reproduce it here, even though it is not applicable with fixed prices:

Coffee Stuck at a Buck at Omar’s Truck
All this reminded me that I have my own anecdote to tell. Over the past 18 months, I have been buying coffee from the same guy on South End Avenue on my (egregiously) early morning walk to the office. Last week, I saw on his sign that he raised his price to $1.25 from $1.00 (my Hewlett-Packard went berserk when I tried to annualize that). I said "Omar, you’re raising your prices?". He said, "Yes sir, I haven’t raised them in five years". Despondently, I bought my coffee and on the rest of my 10 minute journey to work I couldn’t help but think about all those pricing power stories so many friends (and critics) had told me in recent months and how far I had been behind on the Fed call (better late than never). Even though coffee isn’t in the ’core’ CPI, this was still a shot across the bow for a long-standing disinflationist. As I neared the office, I passed by another coffee truck about 200 yards away from Omar’s and saw on this sign that a cup of java was still going for a buck. I said to him "you’re still selling coffee for a dollar?", to which he replied "yes, I am". I said "are you planning to raise them any time soon?". He replied "Not at all". I then said "Well, the guy down at the other end of the street just bumped his price up to $1.25". "Well", he said, "you should start buying your coffee from me". I am loyal—but everyone has their price. The very next day, I went to Omar's truck and said to him "Omar, I like to buy my coffee from you, but the other guy down the road told me that he isn't going to raise his prices any time soon. What do you have to say?" . He didn't bat an eyelash: "What I have to say, is that for you, it's still a dollar". For the first time in over 20 years, I feel that I really got my money's worth out of that Dornbusch & Fischer Economics 101 textbook — especially the chapter on perfect competition. We intend to keep our low inflation forecast intact.

05 April, 2006 13:56  
Blogger grapeshisha said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

05 April, 2006 13:57  
Blogger hannibal said...

I personally think everyone should roam around with their own cups/ mugs !

and while we're at it, make sure we all carry a plate, knives, forks, spoons etc as we don't know how hygenic the plates or the cutlery we're using at restaurants or cafes is.. do we?

problems though will arise when we're about to partake of a 7 course meal being covered by the tabloids.. how will they take our pictures with all that cutlery weighing us down..?

so much pressure !

05 April, 2006 14:26  
Blogger el condo said...

Well, actually. I was relieved to hear the news (in a way). Assuming the Municipality is correct. Which does cause some alarm when thinking about all those cups we drank the past 25 years.

The styrofoam cups are preferable as they don't let the heat through to your fingers or implode with the slightest pressure (which makes the plastic ones dashed inconvenient, I say). The cost difference between plastic and styrofoam cups needs to be analysed before judgement is passed. Can't be more than a few fils per cup. The Municipality should consider making some allowances/concessions to cover the extra cost. But where? In the licence fees? Not likely.

Yes, there was an effort to raise prices to 75 fils a few years ago, but it didn't work and there was a quick climbdown.

I'm against the use of donated reusable cups. For one, that's too much washing up for the overworked guys...hygiene will take a plunge...and hey, it just ain't the way to serve a 50-fil cup of tea.

Matkas...where do you live? Bombay Chowpatty uses 'em, but charges (I think) four times as much; and what's more, there's a styrofoam cup inside. They re-use 'em, they don't break 'em. I'm sure they cost far more (in Dubai) than the styrofoam ones.

As for the workers, there's little they can do. They keep getting hit from all sides, and this is just another one. I guess they'll just flinch and lower their virtually non-existent self-esteem down another notch.

05 April, 2006 15:06  
Blogger Nuppo said...

Hi SD, nice tea time topic. Now when are u gonna write about the 'MIRACLE FISH' from Gullf today (05/04/2006)...I am waiting ;)

05 April, 2006 15:44  
Blogger OS said...

>>And to think I blogged the other day that a cup of tea was the only thing that remained at the same price through the years

Hey, the situation is not all that bad. A can of Pepsi has been 1 dirham for ages! (oops, did I just jinx it?!)

On a related note, our company kitchen used to have styrofoam cups for tea and coffee. One fine day, they decided those cups were too expensive and replaced them with cheaper plastic ones. That was just a bad idea. The moment you pour boiling water into those cups they just crunch and disfigure into abstract art works! As a result, employees now use TWO plastic cups together. Go figure.

05 April, 2006 16:27  
Blogger al-republican said...

I don't think this will be implementable. I personally don't consume much tea, but if I do, it has to be "Mallu Chai" for 50 fils in a plastic cup! It really has another taste to it! Starbucks, Tim Horton's et al don't come close to the authentic "Mallu Chai" or "Chai Karak" (as samuraisam aptly calls it).

Styrofoam sounds good, but I hope the authorities can help these people by selling it to them at the same price as plastic cups. It really is a stand-out feature of the Dubai life: going out with a friend for a quick cup of tea and going "Do chai parcel" (2 cups of tea to go) or in Mallu, "Randay Chaa parcel".

Dubaibuy, did you just notice SD mention "Eat and Drink Cafeteria"?? Are you worried yet? :P

05 April, 2006 17:34  
Blogger Garthicus said...

@ Archer...

Here in Ireland a couple of years back a government levy of €0.15c was imposed on plastic shopping bags.. people grumbled at first but now the whole country has embraced it and almost everyone brings cloth bags or their own plastic bags to the supermarket/shops with them. It's great to see and you don't see so many plastic bags caught in tree branches on windy days....

05 April, 2006 18:18  
Blogger Keef said...

nuppo: (shameless spammin from Keefieboy) miracle fish post here.

05 April, 2006 18:26  
Blogger Earthbound Misfit said...

If you have to click on only one link.........

Much better than Keefieboy's spam


05 April, 2006 19:38  
Blogger ssosw said...

The fish is one more to add to the Signs of Allah.You can find more here.Please dont bother to reply ridiculing them. Look only if you are interested and believe only if you want to.

06 April, 2006 08:53  
Blogger Al Mulhama, The Inspired said...

I fell in love with Chai Karak when I first got here... and then it was a big deal to find the tastiest.

Around the UAE, I am proud to say that I know quite a few places to satisfy ones stomach whether extravagant or on budget. So the other day when a friend took me for a cup of Chai Karak and to taste a 'cafeteria's' horlicks I had to be suprised that I didn't know it existed.

This dive is by the wharf area of Mamzar (Deira), so you actually have to go in through the fence - you will know you are there because of the MANY cars parked and going the round to get their good cup of tea or yummy horlicks.

Shhh keep this a secret.

Now as for the cups... you lose the taste with styrofoam and paper, it interferes, plus I personally prefer to drink tea in particular from a thin lipped cup and paper & foam don't do that either...

Maybe the cafeterias need to come up with trendy re-usable cups much like those of the famous brand name cafes i.e. "chailucks" or "Second Karak" ...

as for labourers... we have far to go with other rights that are perhaps of more importance than these cups but a necessity none the less.... I'm sure they'll come up with some novel funky new way!

Have a good karak on me...

Bur Dubai - Corner facing Dragon Mall and opposite of Al Ain Mall (a.k.a. Computer plaza)

Jumeriah... Can't remeber

Road from Masafi to Dubai... the guy who sells paratha and has a big Lipton sign right after the masafi round about.

Actually the guys at the friday market are good too. The ones that are next to the cafeteria.

Boy! Get me started on food and drink and this is what you get!!!

06 April, 2006 09:17  
Blogger Debbie does Dubai said...

al: yes indeed i did. however i think there are like 30 + eat & drink cafeterias. But doesnt anyone think that the type of plastic cup is too much state control? And if they are so concerned how about getting these cafeterias to be a little cleaners as well and also get rid of those cats out there.

06 April, 2006 11:00  
Blogger Tim Newman said...

you will know you are there because of the MANY cars parked and going the round to get their good cup of tea or yummy horlicks

You see plenty of cars with blacked out windows going round and round parts of Bur Dubai looking for horlicks.

06 April, 2006 11:24  
Blogger al-republican said...


Stop being a control freak! hehe. Dude, there isn't much wrong with the hygiene there. I wouldn't mind having lunch or dinner there occassionally, and you know we do :P

06 April, 2006 11:43  
Blogger secretdubai said...

You see plenty of cars with blacked out windows going round and round parts of Bur Dubai looking for horlicks.

That is, quite simply, brilliant.

06 April, 2006 13:03  
Blogger Tim Newman said...

Thank you! :)

06 April, 2006 15:41  
Blogger Cokey said...

Oh Cmon people!

You can always spare Dhs 2-3 everyday for the needy or as a tip.

I always make sure never to take back 50 Fils for the Tea. Its taste is worth more than a Dirham.

And once again it is the UAE govts conspiracy to put these poor people to more misery. They want to make it more like London where theres Starbucks on every corner. But HELOOO GOVT !! THIS IS UAE. NOT EVEN 3 YEAR OLD infront of other countries whose empires and history counts for more than 1200 yrs! PROVIDE SUBSIDARY CUPS FOR THEM !! FAGS !! Have they ever given subsidaries to people here? besides locals..who get paid for being born. lol

Ah time for some tea now. I feel good!

06 April, 2006 17:04  
Blogger KingKaiser said...

Cokey - now the private sector can help subsidize locals too! I hear that tea shops can get around this heinous sytofoam issue by hiring a national for the new super-low price of AED 3000 for a school dropout.

06 April, 2006 21:02  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Guys ...
Comming soon Chai TYM in Dubai ( Ghusais, Jumaeirah ) Fuj ( near free zone)...
Indian Chai at its very best ...
Chai karak, jaffran chai, Masala chai,kashmiri chai, Bombay tapri chai, Railway St. chai, Rajstani chai. As well for people who can not enjoy coz of diabetes & Cholesterol reasion we managed to find solution like herbal & stivia lives. soya & low fat, skimmed milk.
We'll offer sum Indian & global finger food.
I'll keep updating thru this site & Facebook update from month of july/Aug.

04 February, 2010 17:45  

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