Interview: Simon and Adrian Nelbom of Mr Karak

Post by Mark

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I’m not a big fan of interviews but I do like stories especially interesting ones. This is why I’m going to try and post one interview a week with someone I think has a story worth sharing. For my first interview I met up with two intriguing brothers, Simon and Adrian Nelbom who make and sell karak tea under their self created brand, Mr karak. I first met them at one of the Secret Garden brunches so when they proposed we meet up there for the interview I thought it was very appropriate.

Two Danish brothers in Kuwait making Indian karak tea? I needed to know how, what and why.

A year and a half ago Adrian had just finished his studies in Copenhagen and Simon was working in a very famous organic bakery. They were both in periods of their lives where they didn’t know what they wanted to do. After a bit of contemplation they both decided to come to Kuwait since they had relatives from here. One of their families’ closest friends of 50+ years was a Danish woman married to a Kuwaiti. During the interview they kept referring to them as relatives and understandably so because of the close family ties.

When I think of Danish drinks, I think of Carlsberg or Tuborg beer and definitely not karak which is why I wanted to know how all this came about.

When Adrian and Simon came to Kuwait their relatives introduced karak to them. Simon had traveled to India back in 2012 and he had chai all the time while there. He didn’t know what it was but he was having it wherever he went. So when his relatives introduced and explained karak to him he loved the idea of milk with tea since they didn’t have it in Denmark. Karak was also relatively new to Kuwait. It was popular in places like Bahrain and Qatar but it was still picking up here in Kuwait. When Simon was working at the bakery in Denmark they used to have the best milk and the best coffee, so he decided to take it upon himself as a challenge to try and make the best karak he possibly could.

They started researching the local market and realized majority of the people were using either long life milk or canned milk. The idea of using canned milk, which had a 1-year shelf life didn’t make any sense to Simon. He told me milk should come from a cow and you drink it, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Milk is not supposed to last a year sitting on a shelf. That’s gross. He then continued telling me that was the first thing they decided, no long life milk. Fresh milk is available in Kuwait so they started using it.

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With that as a starting point they continued the same principle across all the ingredients, they wanted to create an all fresh and natural karak. They kept experimenting with different fresh ingredients and even started importing ones they couldn’t find like Cinnamomum verum. The fact that they were both Danish made things difficult since they don’t drink and eat a lot of Cardamom so they started adding other ingredients. Finally after lots of tasting sessions with their Kuwaiti relatives, they finally ended up with karak that everybody liked. Once they were ready they signed up for Qout Market and launched their brand. That was back in March of last year.

Other than just using the right products, Adrian and Simon both spend a lot of time educating their customers on the benefits of their ingredients. For example the most popular cinnamon used is cassia (Chinese cinnamon) which when you look up you’ll realize has health risks. The real cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka and is called Cinnamomum verum. Not many people know this (I didn’t) which is why Qout Market was a special launch place and still is a great venue for them. The people who visit them at Qout are always interested to listen and learn about their products. Later on they got another seal of approval when they finally became part of the Secret Garden family. To become part of this family meant getting an approval from the culinary genius and shakshooka and Secret Garden mastermind Mimi. They’re now regulars there as well albeit without their Mr Karak brand due to strict Secret Garden rules.

The brothers now serve a variety of different karaks including “The Original” and “The Masala”. The first consists of ginger, saffron and cardamom while the second consists of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and mint leaves. They also have a nondairy version which was another story of experimentation as well since the first thing that comes to mind is using soya milk. But soya milk isn’t that great for you which is why they tried using the much healthier almond milk. But when they started boiling the almond milk, they were ending up with texture they didn’t like so they kept looking for another alternative. After a bit of a search they found organic coconut milk which ended up working really well especially with all the spices. So those are the three main kinds of karaks they have but they then came up with two more. They were getting ready for the April Qout Market last year and the weather was fairly warm so they wondered if people would want to drink hot tea out in the sun. They started brainstorming ideas and they came up with karak shake using vanilla ice cream (I personally tried it at the last Qout and loved it). But what about the people who were counting calories? They decided to make another cold karak using crushed ice. So their menu now is composed of five types of karak drinks.

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Other than karak the guys also serve chapatti. Again they use all natural ingredients to try and make it as healthy a chapatti as possible and even try to use healthy spreads (no Nutella or Kraft Cheese).

One thing both Adrian and Simon wanted to make clear through out the interview is none of their success would have been possible without their amazing team who have mostly been with them since day 1. They also hinted that they’re currently looking for a place to set up a permanent shop but haven’t found a good location yet.

Sitting with the brothers it was very clear that they’re extremely passionate about their karak. In fact the interview was around an hour long but I tried to share as much as possible here without making this post so long that no one would want to read it. I highly recommend you try their karak (especially the shake) and I also recommend having a chat with the two since they’ve got so much more to share. If you’re interested, they’ll be taking part in the Street Fest market this coming weekend and hopefully if they get approved they’ll be at Qout Market next month. Here’s a link to their instagram account @mrkarak


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35 comments, add your own...


  1. M965 says:

    That was a good read.
    Shows there is even a market for tea in kuwait if you know the right people. Lolz
    Gd luck to them.

  2. moses says:

    one more thing “what is karak??!!
    is it tea with milk?

  3. teenum says:

    ‘karak’ is a Hindi word and it translates to ‘strong’. So basically, the karak chai you get in India is a strong tea which has less milk and more tea.

  4. ashraf says:

    If this thing becomes a hit.. then I’ve had it..

    Kadak chai is nothing but a regular tea in India. you get it for as low as 5rs (25fils) for a cutting (half cup) and 10rs (50fils) for a full cup in any street in Mumbai.

    I would love to see the people treating KaRak tea like starbucks.. sitting their with a cup of tea and chilling for hrs..Damn stupid people!

  5. Ashraf says:

    Lol.. regular coffee is a lot different than what you get at starbucks and i can understand the concept with teavana woth the variety they have.. which but karak chai is just the regular tea we make at home..

    Anyways.. *peace*

    • Mark says:

      What’s the difference between the black coffee you get at Starbucks and the black coffee you get elsewhere? You can also make it at home but people seem to want to get it from Starbucks.

    • aaa says:

      No, it’s not. Hell my coffee at home tastes better than Starbucks. I only drink Starbucks because I can’t be at home all the time.

  6. Buzz says:

    In Kuwaiti lingo we call this “Chai-Haleeb” and it’s just tea served with condensed milk, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon. It is usually served with Chapati and Qeema in fast-food Indian restaurants in down-town Kuwait for breakfast way back. It is interesting that it became fashionable under a different name.

  7. G says:

    Honestly I’m all into hipsterization of every single thing and we could use more people who are passionate about what they do and inject design and research into the smallest detail. But in this case I believe if there was a regular Indian guy who sold the world’s best kadak, the maximum you would have commented was that’s a nice kadak and get on with it. Even if the guy made yummy vanilla kadak shake. Maybe because they are Danish? And everything in kuwait has to be validated by westerners to be acceptable or become a big deal?

    • Mark says:

      I think you missed the whole idea of this post. I didn’t post about Simon and Adrian because they made the best karak in the world. As I mentioned at the very start of this post I’m looking for interesting stories and to me the fact that two Danish guys in Kuwait are making Indian karak was just fascinating. This isn’t a karak review.

    • Vin says:

      I agree with you. Had this been an asian guy selling it on the beach he would not have this publicity and hype. But like starbucks it is the ingredients and methodology that makes it better than home made coffee. And whatever is said about you can make it at home is wrong because it is the skills of a barista that you pay for when you pay for your cappucino at starbucks.

      • Mark says:

        You’re missing the point. The reason this is a story is because the people behind it came from a background that have nothing to do with karak. They then not only started making karak but the way they approached it, dissected it, started from scratch, added their touch, branded it, got into qout, made it a success and then qualified for the secret garden… These are all great accomplishments for two guys with zero experience in something they shouldn’t have been involved in. So yes if some random guy was selling karak on the beach I would not have posted about it because there is nothing interesting in someone selling karak.

      • Vin says:

        Vin, skills of the barista at starbucks – really? If you stand there for a day and watch, you can take over the counter. There are no complicated skills involved making coffee there. The mixes are ready, the machines are there and the milk is ready. Skills is when you boil the herbs and spices “from scratch” and make the masala tea or coffee. Skills are bartenders from Jamaica making elegant mixes with a multitude of ingredients.

        Then about the ‘Asian’ guys tag, I have good entrepreneurs who are ‘Asian’ – its not on the passport but on the person to make the most of the business. Asians own the biggest businesses here in Kuwait my friend so you are wrong there! The only advantage of familiarity that Dane’s have here I can remotely think of is that they are a ‘D’ in KDD !

        • Vin says:

          Disclaimer: I am not talking to myself and arguing both sides of the point. The person who I am replying to is not me. Ok….. that does not sound any less crazy.

          While the process of making a cappuccino seems simple. It has been made simple because of decades of iterative improvements. There is nuance in its creation but it has been simplified so anybody can do it. This is why there are complicated machines behind the counter. And it may not be apparent but there is skill involved.

          The asian reference is to the fact that an asian doing ‘Karak’ chai would not be new, therefore not newsworthy. Unless he has transcended the traditional methods and done what the Nelbom brothers have done. There might be some bias in some circles but that is a very situational thing and it effects some while not effecting others. Also it is a matter of how it is all presented and marketed/packaged that determines its attractiveness. Which is why I said that an asian guy selling Karak on the beach wouldn’t be talked about, but this is.

          I know that Asians can be successful just as anybody can be. Some have evolved their food from traditional formats. An example that comes to mind is Moti Roti in Dubai.

  8. James says:

    Ok guys please give this a chance. You are right this is just ‘regular’ tea in India but it is extremely popular and not available in Kuwait unless you go to one of local hole in the wall joints at Mirqab. So yes they’ve commercialized it and that’s great.

    Nespresso and Teavana cannot be used as comparisons here as they have exotic varieties. As Mark mentioned, Starbucks is a great comparison – they take ordinary coffee (I dare say “crapppy” in comparison to Nespresso), add sugar and cream with a hint of cinnamon and what have you and sell it at a premium. They’re opening stores by the minute, why shouldn’t Karak – atleast they’re doing something about it. And that’s what marketing is all about – creating the need and ‘making a big deal’!

    • Almo says:

      +1 exactly. There are more than enough coffee shops around. We could do with some more chai options.
      And this looks more hygienic than the chai shops you find in Kuwait.

  9. aaa says:

    I really want to try this but milk gives me really bad stomach pain :(

  10. Mr Simon & Mr Adrian along with the General Manager of Moments Group LLC are crooks. They hired me for bringing and defining the concept of Mr Karak. I worked for them for 4 months travelling in buses and spending late evenings in their outlet One Moment Please in the basement of Mohalab Centre. As I was on visit visa in Kuwait they tempted me that if Mr Karak works they would get my residence transfered and pay me a salary of KWD 500 per month. In May 2014 after 4 months working on the concept… branding and designs when Mr Karak started getting into open markets they (AMAL AL FARES) forced me to return my last 4 months of salary viz KWD 1200 in return for my passport and personal documents. This is how visitors in Kuwait are mid used. I am mentioning this here so all the natives of Kuwait should realize what Kuwaitis from so called reputed families are doing with innocent visitors and taking undue advantage of them. Lastly the reason people with no background in Karak had a INDIAN to give them recipes and proper understanding of Karak. They never travelled to India for Karak. They are nothing but liers.


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