The western world is no stranger to chai. Chai has been popularized in coffee shops all over as creamy, spiced, black tea. Kashmir’s take on chai is slightly different. There are 2 major types of tea beverages, Sheer Chai and Kahwah Chai. Both are an important part of Kashmiris’ daily lives.
This drink also known as gulab chai or noon chai, is a lot like the famous masala chai that many associate with the term chai. It is also spiced and milky. However, with one sip, it is easy to distinguish the two; Sheer chai is salty! The other distinct feature of the drink is its pinkish color. This pink hue is a result of the chemical reaction between the tea and the baking soda, one of the ingredients. The tea most commonly used in sheer chai is a strong green tea called ‘pahari’ tea, which can be difficult to find outside the region of Kashmir. However, a similar taste can be achieved by using a semi-oxidized tea like an oolong. Here’s how you can try and get a close taste to sheer chai:
- 3 cups of water
- 2 teaspoons of organic oolong tea (such as organic Wu Yi oolong tea)
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 1 teaspoon of cream (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Pinch of baking soda
- Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
- 4 almonds
- In a small pot, bring the water to a boil.
- Add the tea and baking soda, and steep for 5 minutes on very low heat.
- Add the salt, milk and cream to the pot and bring to a boil.
- Crush the cardamom seeds and almonds together to form a coarse powder. Place ½ teaspoon of this powder in each serving cup (makes roughly 3 servings). Or add the spices directly into the pot in Step 3 and strain out with the tea leaves in Step 5.
- Remove the tea leaves and pour the tea into each serving cup, over the powder.
Kahwah, sometimes spelled Kehwa or Qehwa is somewhat like the sheer chai, without milk and salt. It is a green tea enjoyed spiced and sweet. It is particularly popular among the Kashmiri Pandit community. The type of tea used for this beverage is also a particular green tea specific to the region, but its taste can be somewhat approximated by using gunpowder green tea.
- 4 cups of water
- 3-4 teaspoons of organic gunpowder green tea
- 4 green cardamom pods, bruised
- A cinnamon stick
- 3 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
- 6 Crushed almonds
- 2-4 saffron strands (or an equivalent amount of saffron powder)
- Bring the water, cardamom pods and cinnamon to a boil.
- Add the tea and saffron strands and let steep for about 5 minutes. If you are using saffron powder, simply dissolve the powder in some water before adding it to the water.
- Remove the tea leaves and add sugar to taste.
- Place a portion of the crushed almonds in each serving cup (makes roughly 4 servings).
- Pour the tea into each serving cup, over the almonds.