Pakistan Institute of Development Economics

Quetta Cafes: An Indigenous Tea Cafes Chain in Twins Cities
Working Paper 2022:13
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Quetta Cafes: An Indigenous Tea Cafes Chain in Twins Cities

Publication Year : 2022
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The trend of Quetta Cafes (QCs) strongly relates to the drought in Balochistan; historical and climatological records prove drought is an indefinite natural issue for Balochistan. Moreover, the precipitation data reveals that 18 drought events with an interval of 3.3 years were recorded between 1950-2010, with the most significant and catastrophic drought, lasting 10 years, recorded between 1945-1955.

The most recent dry spell lasted from 1997 to 2003 (Durrani, et al. 2018). Consequently, the drought in the province had several knock-on effects, such as inflation in affected areas, food shortages, adversely affected livestock rearing and reduced agriculture productivity by almost 80 percent—all key indicators in a rural economy. Moreover, one of the critical outcomes of the drought was a massive migration from rural areas to towns and cities to seek livelihoods (PDMA, 2003). Predominantly people migrated to Karachi and began setting up Quetta hotels. These hotels gradually spread across the city.

Over time, Quetta hotels started taking over Chaiye Khanas and other tea-related businesses in Karachi, soon acquiring a monopoly of the tea and paratha business. However, things took a different turn when Karachi fell prey to ethnic conflicts. In the first decade of the 2000s, Mohajir and Pashtun ethnicities were at odds with each other (rferl, 2011). Though the conflict was more political than ethnic (Budhani, et al. 2010), many Pashtun traders fell victim to ensuing violence. They had to leave their businesses and migrate to different cities. The country was also facing severe internal security challenges in all provinces. However, Punjab was more resilient to these issues.

Additionally, in Punjab, there was no animosity towards Pashtuns from locals, and there was a vacuum which the Pashtuns from Quetta rushed to fill. Thus, many former Karachi traders chose Islamabad and Rawalpindi as new business destinations. Among them was Ahmed Ullah Khan of Quetta, who ran various restaurants in Karachi. In 2007 he had to move to Rawalpindi and started a café named Quetta Café in the commercial market. Soon the Café became the favourite public sphere for students, business people and tea lovers.
Cafes represent the public sphere in the modern world; no society is complete without having a formal or informal public sphere dominated by places like cafes. For Habermas, cafés are essential for forming and encouraging public discourse (Singh, 2012). However, café culture has evolved from a public space to a place to meet friends and acquaintances in the present era. Modern societies are becoming café societies because cafes dominate the city centres (Sohrabi, 2015).

Cafes are essential for connectivity and networking; others have attributed them as third space. These places are not home, not work and study but provide an environment to connect with others. The cafes in the South Asian context sell tea because it has become a social drug during the preceding centuries.

Milk tea has achieved a status of heritage in Pakistan, and QCs in Rawalpindi and Islamabad are perfect places to enjoy an excellent cup (Hamid, 2007). Pakistanis have a long tradition of drinking tea; no social gathering is complete without having a cup. There are several reasons why Pakistanis have always romanticised tea. The most prominent is that tea suits every mood regardless of occasion or weather. It is the most hospitable of drinks and a social drug that no one opposes. And finally, it is the most economical drink to have and serve.

Quetta Cafes in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad are places that offer the nation’s favourite drink. They usually operate as a single shop; they do not have a designated space for a separate kitchen. Everything they have is in that shop and the open space in front of the cafe. Another thing unique and similar in all QCs in twin cities is their decor and chairs. They usually use red chairs and tables and, when asked, proudly say; these chairs are made by Boss company on special order. Similarly, their décor is also unique; the colour green is the most prominent as it symbolises the owner’s love for Pakistan. Another homogeneity is their utensils; every QC uses similar utensils to make tea, parathas, with similar-style cups.

As mentioned previously, QCs are public spaces that provide the nation’s favourite drink. They are economical and allow customers to talk freely. They have become a major source of public opinion and discourse formation. The objective of this study is to critically analyse QCs as providing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. Moreover, this study briefly discusses the transaction costs of QCs triggered by regulatory bodies. And finally, this study explains the tea culture in Pakistan.
The study has been conducted using a qualitative approach with a descriptive design. Data was collected by applying different sampling techniques, such as purposive and convenience sampling, using semi-structured and unstructured interviews. Moreover, the study includes primary and secondary data from relevant sources. Key informants and participant observation techniques were implied to collect data. Further, a thematic approach using framework analysis was used to analyse the data. The data collection units were the Chairman Rawalpindi-Islamabad Quetta Café Union and owners, managers and workers of QCs. The research locale was Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where QCs are based.
Tea is now an integral component of Pakistan’s social life (Hamid, 2007), and is an itegral part of social activity in South Asian culture. In Pakistan, tea is Compound as an essential part of life. Offering tea to someone is a token of appreciation and part of the hospitality, which is also taken as a metaphor that means “We like and welcome you”. But tea consumption is not limited to this as it has become a mandatory part of the daily life of almost every household in the country. The origin of the tea culture in the subcontinent may be traced back to the world’s most renowned tea drinkers; the citizens of the British Empire. By the mid-1700s, the Empire had realised the exorbitant costs of its gentry’s addiction to tea (Han, 2007).

Pakistan’s domestic tea production is 5 tonnes confined only to the district of Mansehra (PCP, 2020). However, Pakistan’s local tea production is inadequate to meet market demand, and the country has to import vast quantities. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey (2021), tea is the 9th major import item. The graph below shows that the import volume has augmented consecutively except for the years ranging from 2019-20, indicating the Covid-19 impacts.


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