THE HISTORY OF KASHMIRI PINK CHAI
Kashmiri Pink Chai is an acquired taste for those who try it for the first time. Also called Noon Chai, which literally translated means salt tea, it is a widely popular beverage all across Pakistan. Kashmiri's brew the tea in Samovars all day long and usually start their day with it. Sometimes they add butter to their tea to help with energy and to prevent chapped lips. The salt in the tea prevents dehydration that is common in areas at a high altitude.
As a result of Kashmiri migration to the region of Punjab, pink tea has gained widespread popularity. Pakistani's consume this beverage all winter long, at weddings and funerals alike. In fact, this popular tea is also gaining some global recognition. As Sribala Subramanian mentions in her article The Art and Science of Kashmir's Pink Tea a famous tea house in Manhattan, The Chai Spot serves a delicious pink tea.
The traditional brew that the Kashmiri's drink is a far cry from the popularized version most of us are familiar with. Today the tea is often consumed with sugar, cardamom, cinammon, star anise and even some chopped almonds and pistachios added to the cup.
My maternal great grandmother was Kashmiri and has left us all with the tradition of drinking salted Sheer Chai. Childhood visits to my mothers family in Peshawar bring back fond memories of hot pink tea served for breakfast. Accompanied with Hot Afghani Naan and Baakar Khani (A salty and flaky pastry), it's the breakfast of my dreams. Now in all honesty, as a child I would often sneak in a bit of sugar to my salty brew. To this day that is my preferred way of drinking it, sweet and salty.
Gulabi Chai is something that has been served daily in my parents home for as long as I can remember. Although I prefer my first brew of the day to be coffee a fragrant cup of Sheer Chai is definitely a welcome addition to my day.
I often make this tea at home and my family has come to enjoy the tradition as much as me. I haven't managed to convert them completely as the kids can't imagine adding salt to any type of tea. My husband has adapted to my salt/sugar combo but likes to add the nuts that are not traditionally a part of the brew.
I'm happy enough that we're managing to keep some part of this ancient tradition alive despite living halfway across the world. The health benefits of the tea are countless, from boosting the metabolism and digestion to reducing cholesterol build up.
By this point you're probably wondering why and how the tea is pink. I make my chai with gunpowder tea, slow cooking it and adding a pinch of soda near the end. This causes an acid-base reaction and as the chlorophyl in the tea reacts to the soda a dark maroon color results.
At this point I add a cup or so of ice water to the brew to shock it and preserve its color. This is followed by the last and final step in the process that makes this tea pink. Using a ladle I pour the liquid back and forth in the pot till a bright mauve pink color is visible. Finally, I add milk, salt and cardamom to the brew and enjoy!
You don't need very many ingredients for this recipe, but the right quality of tea is a key element. In Pakistan it is very easy to find the right variety but here in the USA this is a bit tricky.
The brand I use and find best is Three Rivers Kashmiri Tea. Since it's not available in my local stores I usually stock some in my refrigerator, in a tightly sealed jar, to preserve it's freshness. The picture below should help you find it easily.
- INGREDIENTS: Serves 4-6 People
- 4 Cups Water
- 4 Teaspoons Tea Leaves
- ¼ Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 1 Cups Ice and Water Mixture
- 2 Cups Milk
- 8 Pods Cardamom
- Salt as desired
- Sugar as desired
- Put water in a saucepan and add the tea leaves.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let the tea simmer for about 20-30 minutes till about 2 cups of water remains.
- Add the Soda and you will see the liquid begin to fizz. This should settle down in a few seconds. cook for another 5 minutes after adding the soda and you should see the color change slightly.
- Add the cold ice and water mix to the hot brew.
- Place your pot in the sink as the next step is a bit messy and as the tea splashes it can stain your counter and floor.
- Fill a ladle with the tea and pour it back into the pot from a height, agitating the liquid, and do this repetitively till the color visibly brightens and changes. The illustrations below should help.
- Mix your brew with 1.5 cups of milk and crushed cardamom (pod and seeds) and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and then serve with salt, sugar and if desired, chopped almonds and pistachios.
- The brew can be prepared and stored in the fridge for up to a week and I often make a large batch and store it.
- I pour as much as is needed at the time of serving into a saucepan and add the milk and cardamom accordingly, following a ration of 2:1, two parts brew and 1 part milk along with 2 pods of cardamom per cup.
- This is my preferred way of drinking my Gulabi (Pink) Chai (Tea) but if you like more milk then use 1:1. A little experimentation will lead you to find the perfect consistency and taste for your tea.