Let’s face it, every Karachite loves their chai. Whether you like yours the teabag-way karak or you’re are a fan of milky-mild doodh patti, chai is a necessity and it doesn’t take seasons into consideration: summer, spring, autumn, winter, every season is chai season.
But it’s usually in the winter that we see cups brimming with gloriously pink chai, topped with contrasting green pistachios and elaichi (cardamom). Promising no caffeine boost to get you through the day, only sweet deliciousness, here’s a recipe for fool-proof Kashmiri chai that you can whip up for yourself or double, triple the recipe to serve it to your guests – it’s a great conversation starter, and you’re gonna need that, especially with all the wedding festivities, get-togethers and dance rehearsals coming up.
- 6 tbsps Kashmiri tea leaves
- 1/2 tsp baking soda (don’t be scared)
- 1/4-1/2 tsp salt
- sugar to taste
- a pinch of saffron strands
- 7 – 8 cardamom pods (opened, green skin included)
- 1 star anise (most Kashmiri chais that are served at weddings contain this)
- 1 cinnamon stick (not overly big – you’re marrying subtle flavours)
- 2 cups very cold water (leave a few ice cubes in there)
- pistachios, almonds and cardamom for garnishing
The good part where you see the magical pink colour coming to life:
To 8 cups of room temperature tap water, add all the ingredients apart from the ice cold water.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 hours – the longer you leave it, the richer the colour will be. Make sure the water level doesn’t drop below 2 cups during the simmering process – if it does, keep topping up with water to maintain it at 2 cups, minimum.
Run the tea through a sieve into a large, heat-proof bowl and press the tea leaves down with the back of a spoon to extract every last bit of flavour. You should be left with a deep ruby coloured concentrate also known as kahwa. You can store this kahwa in the fridge for up to 2 weeks – this ensures you can make big batches.
Now get ready for a work out. Pour the ice cold water from a height (time to unleash your inner chai wala) into the kahwa.
Pour back and forth from bowl to bowl or use a ladle to drop it back into the bowl from a height to aerate the tea. Exercise (pun intended) this step in your sink – it splashes – you’ll thank me later.
Keep doing this till the foam the tea produces takes on a rich-bodied pink (around 8 – 9 minutes)
Bring the concentrate back to a boil and then simmer for five minutes and your kahwa is now ready to be fused with the milk or creamer of your choice.
To make each cup of tea: Take a ladle of part of the kahwa to two parts of your desired milk and bring to a boil. Shock the mixture with a splash of the ice cold water – this is crucial to achieving that distinct pink colour. Make sure you simmer this mixture for at least 3 – 5 minutes.
Both the milk and aromatics you decide to infuse your chai with affect the flavour of the final product. The milk, in particular, determines the colour you’re going to achieve at the end – you can use anything from evaporated milk to half and half or even cream (a tad too heavy) – for me, half and half works best.
Pour the tea from up top (chai wala move again) into your cup and garnish with almonds and pistachios and serve.
The authentic version of this chai is thought to have originated from Kashmir Valley where it’s referred to as Noon Chai. The sweet counterpart that I’ve given the recipe for differs from the original which is more on the savoury side. If you want yours to mimic the flavour developed in the plains of the Kashmir Valley, swap out the milk for half and half or cream and add in dashes of salt (to your liking).