Snow has arrived in London at last and about time too, as the bitter icy winds had to be curtailed with the arrival of this albeit later than usual winter wonderland. In Karachi the coldest it would get is like a London early Spring, but it was much awaited relief from the very hot dry desert winds of Autumn. The arrival of winter always meant lots of weddings, parties and many late night festivities. My favourite were the musical evenings held as a part of the many wedding celebrations, where no one came till midnight and the music started at 2 – The reason why I loved these events was because of the variety of food and hot Kashmiri pink tea that was flowing throughout the evening, There was something quite intoxicating about beautiful classical Pakistani poetry being sung by some famous angelic vocalist and the sounds of the sitar an tabla resounding in the background – the jewel adorned guests shielded by cold weather by a large bright festive fairy light lit tent with iridescent colour co-ordinated decorations…the food was hot Pakistani halva, puri and channa – classic breakfast, Pakistani style. But to me the milky pretty pink Kashmiri salt chai with warming nuts, stood out. It’s hard to describe the flavour, it’s an almost buttery texture with a spicy nutty crunch and a lasting warm sensation..
The Kashmiri’s call this ‘Noon Chai’, or Salt tea – and they use a special tea leaf that grows in those parts, which resembles pure green tea, not the ground variety found in tea bags, rather the long oolong tea leaf type. Additionally, salt is always added, not sugar and the addition of ground pistachios and almonds added a inherently ‘garam‘ – hot element to the tea that helps warm up the body, considering that Kashmir has very cold winters. I don’t have any Kashmiri links, neither do I proclaim this to be an extremely authentic version, but my grandmother who always made this tea with the original leaves and failing which she substituted with pure green tea leaves, as advised by one of her many Kashmiri friends.
The trick is to get the right colour! Which initially before adding milk, is a crimson red – Don’t believe anyone who says that saffron goes into this tea to achieve the red / pink hue, that is just not correct, the colour comes from the reaction of the tea with the bicarbonate of soda! I promise that it’s not as hard to achieve and with a bit of practice you will get it right. This chai is worth making especially in these arctic conditions, you’ll just be warmed up for hours to come! You may even find that you crave it in any weather!
1. In a saucepan on medium heat, add the 2 tsp of tea with about 1/2 of water, boil till frothy then add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously for about 10 seconds and then add the rest of the water and crushed cardamom and boil until the tea broth becomes a bright red.
2. Now bring the heat down to medium low and add the milk and whisk the tea broth very vigorously to achieve a slight froth. The colour of the tea should now be a lovely dark pink. If you add more milk, the colour gets even lighter, the choice is yours.
3. Finally, add the salt and stir. Pour in to a cup and sprinkle with crushed pistachios and almonds. Enjoy while watching the snow fall….