Bhaiya, Cha Khaben?

Tea Shops of Chittagong


It’s probably no secret that one of my favourite activities in Chittagong is drinking tea. You may be thinking well, he’s British, so it kind of figures. Along with queuing (standing in line) and in depth discussions about the weather, we Brits love nothing more than a hot brew. Drinking tea; It’s what we do. When we’re upset, confused, nervous, celebrating, commiserating, pontificating, procrastinating, gossiping, etc, etc….we put the kettle on, and we go straight for the teabags.

Well, here in Chittagong there seems to be a similar culture. One of the main differences being however, that tea drinking is a far more public event. Groups of men and women (but usually men given the culture) can be found far and wide across the city (and the country of course) sipping on hot, sweet tea, and I often end up becoming a member of one of these groups. In all honesty the tea here in Bangladesh is ok, but it’s not so much the tea that draws me in, but rather the experience that surrounds it.

I love the scene and the way life is played out over cups of tea. The comings and goings, the cross section of diverse characters, the energy, the humour, the mystery, and the undulating pace of each individual experience. The tea stalls/shops come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it’s incredible just how many exist here. I could go on and on trying to describe it in words, but recently I decided it would be far easier, and probably a much greater sensory experience to present Chittagong’s tea drinking through a series of images.

Thus, in the past two weeks I have wandered around the city visiting a vast array of Cha-er dokan (tea shops) and here are the photos I captured. It’s also safe to say that in excess of twenty cups of tea were consumed in the process! I should also state that whilst in some photos the people do not look overly happy about the image being taken, I always make a point of checking with people (often 2-3 times) that they are ok for me to take the photo. From my experience it is very common for the people I’ve met to switch to their most serious expression when the photo is taken.


A common scene found across the city and country


‘Adda’ – informal conversations on a quiet day


A variety of snacks to accompany your tea


This shop is as wide and as deep as the photo suggests


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The roadside tea shop


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Bananas, bread and tea


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Beside the rail tracks, the tea shack – a community centre


Learning the trade early


One of the noisier tea shops – located by the side of a frequently congested main road


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TMT – a larger establishment with a reputation for fine tea


One of the many tea sellers who populate this city


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A bustling tea/food shop


The rickshawallah’s break


Discussing the day over early evening cha



The hub of a road or area


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A common snack here in Chittagong


Evening entertainment at the tea shop


No finer way to spend 10 minutes


The essentials


Watching the world go by


A small cup of tea and condensed milk greatness


Tea shop faces



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The mobile teawallah


And finally in an ode to tea drinking here is a song from one of my favourite bands, Kula Shaker, who have captured the magic of a nice cup of tea magically. Enjoy!

Drink Tea for the Love of God


All photos © John Stanlake

12 thoughts on “Bhaiya, Cha Khaben?

  1. I hardly read blogs. Let’s say, unless i am researching, i don’t read blogs at all. Yet, your topic dragged my attention this time. And as expected i enjoyed the content here. I’m too much impressed with your ability to adapt yourself with environments where you’ve not been brought up 🙂 Because, not all people can do it! 🙂
    Keep it up Mr.John! Amra aek din aek shate cha khabo. (y)

  2. Hi John, obviously alcohol consumption is prohibited for Muslims in Bangladesh, as a result men cannot chew over the events of the day whilst supping on a pint of ale. Do you think, therefore, that the absence of alcoholic drinking holes is perhaps the main reason that the ‘Cha-er dokan’, hold a position of such popularity?

    It seems to be that this scene isn’t really so different to many that I have seen in country pubs across England and the rest of Europe. As you said, “it’s not so much the tea that draws me in, but rather the experience that surrounds it”. Isn’t this true of evenings in a quiet little Devonian pub, it is the quality of the ale in your tankard but the bonding over familiar banter!

    Good article John 🙂
    Somehow it reminded me of the ‘Green Bar’ Jecna street, if ever a bar had characters it was that one.

  3. Hey John,seems You love Tea of my city 🙂 .Did you Taste the Tea of Orient ,Agrabad ?I would like to suggest you,if not than have it.You will Love it .TC

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