New Kabul Coffee Shop Aims for Success in Tea-dominated Afghanistan

Steeped in centuries of seemingly impenetrable tea tradition, Afghanistan’s capital is getting a little coffee buzz.

Nargis Aziz Shahi says business has been increasing day by day since she opened iCafe a couple of weeks ago. Looking a little like a brick-walled Starbucks with a distinctively homey Afghan feel, it’s attracting a mostly youthful clientele drawn by free internet service and books to peruse over a cup or two.

“There were three key objectives that led me open the cafe: 1) to introduce coffee to Afghans who mostly don’t know coffee and its taste and benefits; 2) to provide a place for our youth to carry out social activities; and 3) to provide job opportunities for young people,” Shahi told VOA’s Afghan service.

Tea came to Afghanistan early

Afghanistan was introduced to tea early because of its location on ancient trade routes. The Chinese traded silk and tea for other commodities. Tea became part of the country’s hospitality for guests. Just about every family has its own recipe.

Today, Afghanistan is the world’s largest tea consumer, with each person consuming an average of almost 4.5 kilograms — more than 1,500 cups — per year in 2012. By comparison, the U.S. ranked 72nd at 0.4 kilograms per person.

Only the Russian Federation and Britain, with much larger populations, import more tea.

Coffee culture gets a start

Dr. Nabi Misdaq, adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, has visited iCafe. He regards coffee drinking as a new, enlightening culture in Afghanistan.

“It is a good beginning,” Misdaq said. “It is a profitable business, because many young people come here to read books and exchange ideas. I am sure that this will also lead to the opening of new shops.”

The cafe also serves as a place for young Afghans to carry out social and cultural activities. They come to iCafe to attend literary programs and poetry contests.

The female customers say there are few other places where they can get together and entertain themselves, but they maintain that they come to the shop to relax and enjoy.

“I am very happy that we have a coffee shop in Kabul,” said customer Samira Seerat. “It is a very good place for women to visit. There are in fact no appropriate places for women in Kabul, and Afghanistan as a whole, to visit, because our people believe that women cannot go to restaurants.”

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