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Time for a relaxing cuppa with veteran Abdul

AFGHAN men shuffle into Abdul Wali's rustic tea shop at dawn's first light.

Two gleaming brass water boilers sit at the back of his shop in Kabul's old city. Silver kettles line the wall. Chatter fills the shop until nightfall as customers debate politics and the poor state of the economy.

Tea is Afghanistan's unofficial national drink. It is offered to guests within moments of arrival for an official meeting or a social get-together. To not offer a glass is a social affront and is meant to make a point by an unhappy or unwilling host. More typically, silver trays filled with short glasses of tea are brought out to greet friends.

Afghanistan last year imported 30 tons of black tea worth US$45 million and 15 tons of green tea worth US$12 million, according to Ghulam Mohammad Tahayari, an official at Afghanistan's Commerce Ministry.

Private security guards around Kabul usually have a thermos full of tea nearby. Police at roadside checkpoints hold steaming cups of tea in hand.

In Wali's shop, Afghan men sit cross-legged on an elevated floor. Women rarely enter. A glass of tea costs about 10 cents. The brass samovars, fired by wood logs, supply the hot water.

Wali is lucky he still has the traditional copper and brass boilers, since most newer tea shops use cheaper tin ones. The old-style samovars are expensive to make and not available today, he said.

Green or black tea is made by throwing loose leaves into a kettle of boiling water. The use of tea bags is rare. Sugar or cardamom is added as desired.

A sprinkling of modern cafes in Kabul's new shopping complexes stand in stark contrast to shops like Wali's. Mainly the domain of the upper class and Afghanistan's youth, more girls and women socialize in these trendy cafes.

But Ali, a waiter who goes by one name, says he's been serving fewer customers recently. "With the recent upsurge of a Taliban presence on the streets of Kabul, customers are again dwindling and women especially are staying away," said Ali.


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