Kashmiri Chai a.k.a Pink Tea is one of the tea world’s best kept secrets and an absolute science to get right. I mean, REALLY, it’s almost as if every attempt and every batch is a gamble. After making dozens and dozens of batches, I still mess up the occasional batch. Kids these days are attributing the growing popularity of Kashmiri Chai to the notorious millennials, and I don’t think thats necessarily a bad thing because them millennials end up popularizing some of the best kept secrets that shouldn’t even be secrets at all.
Unfortunately though, them millennials also end up bastardizing the authenticity and integrity of some things more often than not. I’m looking at you punks ordering “Chai Tea Lattes” at Starbucks and “Golden Milks” at Whole Foods, and now “Pink Tea” or Unicorn Lattes just because the humble cup of tea is pink in color.
Kashmiri Chai is no new discovery to me. My maternal grandfather is from Kashmir and I grew up seeing Kashmir chai at every wedding, gathering, and domestic nightcap during my winter visits to Pakistan.
I’m here to set the record straight today.
First things first:
- Your Kashmiri chai a.k.a Pink Tea is actually made with green tea leaves. I have been unable to single in on the exact breed and name of these tea leaves, all I know is that in Pakistan it is referred to as “Sabz Chai”, which, ironically, is the literal translation of “green tea”. It is also called “Namkeen Chai”, or “Nuun Chai” but we’ll get to that later.
- The same tea leaves used to make Kashmiri Chai are also used to make a version of good old green tea, or “Kehva” in Pakistan.
- If you want to buy this tea, I have no idea where you can find it in Dubai. I get it from Lahore, and it is sold in clear, unbranded plastic bags in Al Fatah. The barcode sticker reads “Loose Green Tea Leaves”.
- The addition of bicarb of soda (just once), and chilled water at regular intervals, shocks the water and causes rapid drops in temperature during the cooking process. As if by utter magic, this turns the color of the tea from a murky green-brown to a vibrant magenta.
- The tea takes a good 30-40 minutes to make and is a labour of love. I have tried to scientifically compute the exact recipe and temperatures the tea should fluctuate within, but every single time I’ve done this on camera with a thermometer in hand, I’ve given the tea stage fright, and ended up burning it (by that I mean it completely skipped the magenta stage and went straight from green-brown to chocolate brown).
- You NEVER EVER EVER add food coloring into Kashmiri Chai. Any tutorial that tells you otherwise is to be blocked and deleted.
- The correct way to have Kashmiri chai is with salt, not sugar. I prefer Pink Himalayan salt, but any table salt will do. Some people like to add a dollop of cream on top for extra richness, and some crushed pistachios and almonds for texture. I like to have it only with full fat milk though.
- The most standard accompaniment to Kashmiri chai is a “kulcha”. For lack of a better benchmark, it is sort of like a dense, crunchy, buttermilk biscuit, which is often dunked in the Kashmiri Chai.
- Some of the most seasoned Kashmiri Chai makers agree with me on this: the quality and “hardness” of the water used in making the chai plays a big role. For instance, desalinated sea water is the hardest in terms of getting the color right. Same goes for tap water. In my experience, natural mineral water, or spring water, is the best. I use Monviso water and it’s pretty fail-proof.
- The material of the saucepan matters. I tried making it in a dutch oven once (don’t ask why because I don’t even know what I was thinking), it failed. Non stick pans also don’t work. You need a stainless steel pot for this.
Finally, here’s how you can try to make Kashmiri Chai. There is a 50/50 chance you may or may not nail it in the first attempt. So, say Bismillah here here goes:
This recipe yields 6 mugs or 10 cups.
Ingredients and utensils:
- 750 ml natural mineral water, room temperature
- 500 ml natural mineral water, chilled.
- 1.5 liter stainless steel saucepan.
- A ladle
- 2 tablespoons Kashmiri chai loose tea leaves
- 1 teaspoon bi-carb of soda
- Full cream milk
- Salt to taste
- Add the tea leaves and 750 ml room temperature natural mineral water to the saucepan, and bring to a boil.
- Let the rolling boil roll for 2-3 mins. Timing is key.
- Then, add in the bi-carb of soda, and lower the flame to the lowest setting. Add in one ladleful of chilled water, and mix it in by pulling out ladlefuls of tea, raising the ladle as high as your arm lets you, dropping a tea back in, a little bit with every inch your arm goes higher. Do this 4-5 times. I don’t know why, but this is key. This motion cools the tea down, and it plays a big role in the eventual changing of color. I should attach a video of this.
- Cover the pot with a lid, and let the tea simmer till it reduced by 1/3rd.
- Then the magic begins. Remove the lid, add in a ladleful of chilled water, and repeat the “whipping” process. Scoop out a ladle of tea, raise the ladle as high as your arm goes (which in my case is a foot, and I’m short), let the tea fall back in. Do this 10 times, then add in another ladleful of chilled water, and repeat. 4-5 ladlefuls of chilled water in, you’ll notice the color has dramatically changed to a vibrant magenta, getting darker with each label of chilled water. The act of shocking the tea, and the temperature rapidly fluctuating between 80-95 degrees is what helps develop the color.
- Make sure not to overcook the tea, and as soon as you get the right color, turn the heat off. Else, you risk “burning” the tea. The best way to check if you’ve got the right color is by scooping out some tea into a cup and adding some milk. The milk tea should look very pink, almost like strawberry milk.
- You can bottle the tea (without milk) up and keep it in the fridge for uptown 5 days. After that, it starts losing its magenta color.
Let me know if you end up making this, and how it turns out!