7 Fun Facts about the Most Popular Beverage in Afghanistan

Few experiences are more quintessentially Afghan than the simple act of drinking tea. Black or green, plain or sweet, tea is widely (though unofficially) recognized as the national beverage of Afghanistan due to the important role it plays in daily life all over the country.

Feeling thirsty yet? Read on to learn some fascinating facts about Afghanistan’s most popular drink.

Afghans drink a lot of tea.

Believe it or not, Afghans drink more tea than anyone else in the world! According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Afghanistan imported 299 million pounds of tea in 2012. This makes Afghanistan the world’s third largest importer of tea, surpassed only by Russia (close to 400 million pounds) and the UK (319 million pounds).

However, when you look at how many pounds of tea were imported per capita, Afghanistan takes the lead by an impressive margin, having imported nearly 10 pounds of tea per person, which is enough to brew over 1,500 cups of tea (by comparison, the UK imported just over five pounds per person). In other words, Afghanistan imports enough tea for every Afghan to drink four or five cups daily all year round!

Tea is strongly linked with Afghan hospitality.

One of the reasons why so much tea is consumed in Afghanistan is that the beverage is an essential element of Afghan hospitality. Afghans are an extremely hospitable people, and treating guests with generosity and honor is considered to be a reflection of personal reputation. Offering tea is one of the most important ways that this hospitality is demonstrated.

If you are ever a guest in an Afghan home, you will always be offered tea: this is a sign of the host’s respect for you, just as your acceptance of the offer is a sign of your respect for your host. You can then expect to have your cup constantly refilled throughout your visit. To politely signal to your host that you have had enough, you can turn your cup upside down, or you can cover it with your hand and thank them.

Tea can be made and served in a variety of vessels.

In many businesses and households, tea is brewed in large traditional kettles or urns known as samovars: these vessels keep a large supply of tea hot and ready all day. As for serving, different types of cups may be used depending on where you are.

If you are in an urban household, such as a home in Kabul, your tea may be served in Western style teacups. In other places, vessels used to serve tea include small, short glasses called istakhan, or porcelain bowls without handles, known as piala, that are similar to Chinese tea bowls.

Tea can be sweetened or unsweetened.

In Afghanistan, tea is drunk with and without sugar, and you will usually be served both sweetened and unsweetened tea as a guest in an Afghan home. For example, it is a typical Afghan custom for the first cup of tea offered to a guest to be heavily sweetened: this sweet tea is known as chai shireen, and the more sugar the cup contains, the greater the honor shown to the guest.

It’s then usual for the next cup of tea to be served without sugar; this plain tea is called chai talkh. When having tea in their own homes or in cafes, Afghans often dip lumps of sugar called qand in their tea, and then hold these lumps in their mouths as they sip rather than placing them directly in the cup.

Tea is often served with particular foods.

In addition to being offered tea in an Afghan home, you will also be offered food, usually the best that the household has to offer. Some typical foods that are served with tea when entertaining guests include shirnee, which are sweet candies that are similar to toffee; noql, which are sugar-coated almonds, pistachios, or chickpeas; and kulcha, which are biscuits or pastries that may be made at home or purchased from local bakeries.

A special kind of tea is prepared for formal occasions.

While ordinary green and black tea is consumed on a daily basis in Afghanistan, formal occasions often involve the preparation of a special kind of tea known as qymaq chai. To make this tea, green tea is brewed, and then bicarbonate of soda is added, which turns the tea a dark red color. To finish the tea, milk and sugar are added, and the beverage becomes purple-pink in color. Qymaq chai has a strong, rich taste, and is often prepared for events such as engagements and weddings.

You can make one of the most popular kinds of Afghan tea at home (kahwah tea).

The most popular kind of everyday tea consumed in Afghanistan is known as kahwah tea, and it’s easy to make at home, wherever you are. It’s a traditional combination of green tea, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron, and every family will usually have their own version of the recipe. To make it yourself, add the spices to water and bring to a boil; then add the green tea and let steep. To serve, sweeten with either sugar or honey.

8 Facts about One of the Most Amazing Art Forms in Afghanistan

From music to woodworking, traditional arts and crafts in Afghanistan are currently enjoying a much-needed revival. During Afghanistan’s conflict years, many of these traditions were discouraged or actively suppressed, and some came close to being lost altogether. Fortunately, increased local and international interest in traditional art forms, along with the support of organizations such as Turquoise Mountain, have led to a recent resurgence of these arts and crafts and a renewed respect for their practitioners.

While many of these traditional art forms hold an almost legendary status in Afghan culture and history, few are more fabled than carpet weaving. Beautiful rugs have been handmade in Afghanistan using the same patterns and techniques for thousands of years. With such a history, it’s little wonder that Afghan carpets are viewed as the heart and soul of Afghan art and craftsmanship. Read on to learn more fascinating facts about the amazing art of Afghan carpet weaving.

1. There are two main categories of Afghan carpets.

Stunning in their diversity, Afghan carpets come in a huge range of patterns, designs, and colors. However, most Afghan carpets fall into one of two broad categories: the Turkoman (or Turkmen) carpet and the Beloutch (or Baluchi) carpet. Turkoman carpets are woven in Northern Afghanistan using wool that is renowned for its luster and hard-wearing qualities. Beloutch carpets come from Western Afghanistan and feature a variety of weaves, designs, and types of wool.

2. Afghan carpets were originally made by nomadic tribes.

Afghan carpets are so diverse because they were originally made by Afghanistan’s many nomadic tribes. Each tribe had patterns and designs that were unique to their group and had been passed down from generation to generation. Up until around the 19th century, it was possible to tell where a carpet originated simply by looking at its design and how it was produced.

3. Afghan tribal rugs are not woven for sale.

Another intriguing fact about the carpets made by Afghanistan’s nomadic tribes is that, historically, they were never produced specifically to be sold. Rather, they were made for use within the community—as coverings for the floors and walls of tents to provide warmth and decoration, as prayer rugs, as seating for mealtimes, and as wedding gifts for a bride’s dowry. Carpets were only taken to market when an older rug fulfilling one of these functions was replaced with a newer rug; the older one would then be sold or traded.

4. Making an Afghan carpet takes time.

Traditional Afghan carpets are made by hand, with weavers meticulously knotting wool threads on horizontal looms. As you can imagine, such a detail-oriented process takes time—a single weaver can usually produce about 1 square meter (roughly 10 square feet) of carpet every month. At this rate, many Afghan carpets can take anywhere from six to nine months to complete, even longer for larger or more specialized pieces.

5. Traditional Afghan carpets are made of all-natural materials.

Wool is the primary material used to make Afghan carpets. Traditionally, nomadic tribes would use the wool of their own sheep, with activities such as shearing the sheep and brushing and spinning the wool considered part of the process of making the carpets.

Silk and cotton may sometimes be used, but most carpet connoisseurs hold that true Afghan carpets are made entirely of wool. Also, in traditional Afghan carpet-making, the dyes used to color the wool come from natural sources such as flowers, fruits, vegetables, and minerals. Many say that the colors provided by these natural pigments only get better with time.

6. Afghan carpet weavers work from memory.

Incredibly, traditional Afghan carpet weavers don’t use diagrams or drawings to create their pieces. Instead, they work from memory, replicating centuries-old patterns that they have learned from previous generations of artisans.

7. Afghanistan’s conflict years inspired artisans to create “war rugs.”

Beginning in the 1980s, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a new type of Afghan carpet began to appear. These rugs were woven in the traditional Afghan style, but instead of geometric designs and patterns, they featured images of war such as weapons, maps, and soldiers. Today, these fascinating carpets are considered important art objects that offer a glimpse of a profound time in history through the eyes of the artisans who lived it.

8. The carpet-weaving industry in Afghanistan is changing.

In this age of globalization, it’s difficult for traditional forms of arts and crafts to compete with their mass-produced counterparts. Today, many Afghan carpets are produced not by weavers in their traditional villages but at factories where weavers may simply knot carpets without playing any role in the design. However, some organizations are working to find a balance between traditional craftsmanship and contemporary demands. Turquoise Mountain, for example, not only helps operate several weaving centers that offer stable employment and good working conditions to carpet artisans, but it also works to find international partners and buyers for the finished carpets.

Spotlight on the Upcoming Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub

The Bayat Foundation has spent a great deal of time in recent months focusing on COVID-19 relief efforts. However, it has not lost sight of its other ambitious projects planned for the post-pandemic future. Among these is the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub, an exciting new initiative that aims to advance science and technology education in Afghanistan. Read on to learn more.

What is the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub?

The Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub is a classroom for the 21st century located on the grounds of Michelle Bayat High School in Kabul. Currently under construction—the project was launched at a special groundbreaking ceremony on October 10, 2020—the Hub will serve as a state-of-the-art education center that will provide students with an inventive, practical, and accessible learning environment.

What will be the focus of the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub?

The Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub will offer a curriculum focusing on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. The broad goal of the Hub’s educational programs is to help students understand and maximize the potential of today’s technology and—at the same time—to think creatively about the role that technology can play in solving the problems of the future. In order to encourage critical thinking, inventiveness, and leadership development, the Hub will immerse students in the curriculum using the latest app-based learning initiatives. For example, coding skills will be taught via robotic balls, drones, and physical and virtual coding blocks.

Why is STEM education important?

We are currently living in an age of constant scientific discovery and technological transformation. In order for people and countries alike to keep up with the pace of change, stay competitive in a global economy, make valuable contributions to the future of society, and address our planet’s most pressing challenges, STEM literacy is absolutely essential. Through a STEM education, young people can develop vital skills such as critical and creative thinking, gathering and evaluating evidence, and information-based problem solving and decision-making that will help them—as well as the organizations and countries that they will eventually represent—to succeed in a complex world.

How does the Hub advance the Bayat Foundation’s mission?

Education has always been one of the central pillars of the Bayat Foundation’s mission, which is to nourish the lives of all Afghans. Throughout Afghanistan’s history, a significant portion of the population has lacked access to any kind of formal education. This not only impacts individuals and families, many of whom have difficulty improving their circumstances due to a lack of education, but also the country itself, which has been deprived of societal, business, and government leaders.

In response to this challenging education gap, the Bayat Foundation has worked hard to develop, implement, and support initiatives that aim to provide Afghans with valuable learning opportunities. The foundation’s efforts in this area focus on two important groups: vulnerable and at-risk Afghans, such as orphaned children and refugees who lack literacy skills; and post-secondary students, who need an enhanced standard of learning in order to help Afghanistan to compete on the world stage. In recent years, the Bayat Foundation has been involved with the launch of the Faryab Orphanage and Learning Center in Maimana Province and has provided support for the reconstruction of the American University of Afghanistan.

What other organizations are involved in developing the Hub?

The following organizations are partnering with the Bayat Foundation on the construction and operation of the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub:

The Afghan Red Crescent Society—The Michelle Bayat High School, which will house the new Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub, is located in Kabul on the grounds of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (the acting managing director and the secretary general of the society both participated in the October 10 groundbreaking ceremony for the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub alongside the Bayat Foundation’s chairman, Ehsan Bayat). The Afghan affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Afghan Red Crescent Society has conducted wide-ranging humanitarian and relief work throughout Afghanistan since the 1930s.

MATTER—A global nonprofit organization, MATTER envisions a world in which every person is able to lead a full and healthy life. A movement of people, businesses, and organizations, MATTER is dedicated to overcoming one of our biggest contemporary challenges: a lack of access to healthcare, education, and other resources that are necessary to enable people to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.

Teach for Afghanistan—For many years, one of the main barriers to improving education in Afghanistan has been a lack of qualified teachers. Teach for Afghanistan works to address this problem by placing the country’s most promising university graduates in two-year teaching positions at Afghan schools. To date, over 200 university graduates—who teach at 69 schools—have helped more than 60,000 young students.