It the temperature is chilly, you would definitely like to hold a cup of hot beverage and this has been one of the reasons for popularity of beverages in Kashmir. The land of beautiful landscape and mountains produces many beverages to complement the deliciously rich flavours of their cuisine. Most notably, Kashmiris love to drink tea, which happens to be an important part of their culture.
The majority of Kashmiri teas are made in a samovar – a heated metal vessel also used in Russia and Persia to make tea. Kashmiris make a few different types of tea in the samovar, and many say that for the perfect Kashmiri tea, a samovar must be used.
One of the favourite teas in Kashmir made in a samovar, and a lighter alternative to the usual masala chai, is the Kahva, made with green, not black, leaves. This traditional drink does not include any milk and is normally served sweet, infused with green cardamom, crushed almonds and cinnamon. It is a very popular drink at breakfast time, and is usually accompanied by baked Kashmiri delicacies such as Girda – a saffron-infused flatbread baked in the tandoor. On special occasions, some strands of saffron may also be added to the tea itself. At marriage feasts, religious places, and after Wazwan and festivals, it is tradition to serve a cup of Kahva, and it is usually presented in very small, shallow cups.
Based on appearance alone, it can be hard to tell the difference between the Kashmiri salted tea known as “noon chai” and the iconic railroad station masala chai. However, this typical Kashmiri noon chai has a very distinguishable salty taste, usually containing no sugar. In Kashmiri language, the word “noon” means salt, and is made by combining green tea with milk, bicarbonate of soda and salt. For this milky tea, Kashmiris use tea leaves similar to that of Darjeeling, called Pahari, meaning “of the mountain”. Hindu Pandits usually make noon tea by adding a masala (usually combining ginger, green cardamom, cinnamon, black peppercorns, crushed almonds and poppy seeds). The bicarbonate of soda turns the tea a lovely pinkish, peachy colour. Traditionally, this is a tea served every day at breakfast time in a Kashmiri household, and is also consumed in the afternoon. Many visitors find the salty taste of the tea takes some getting used to. However, people of Kashmir say the salt is refreshing in the heat, as it is essential to replace the salt in the body lost through perspiration. Usually, the Kashmiris eat baked products like “Katlam” or “Kulcha” with Kashmiri Butter while sipping their hot tea.
For a true taste of classical Indian beverages, head to London’s oldest established Indian restaurant in the heart of London, Veeraswamy. They are inspired by traditional food and drink from all regions of India, but their aim is to refine it and give it a contemporary spin.