For the people of the valley, Chai is a way of living. With the city covered under the blanket of snow, it is a hot cup of Kahwa at the crack of dawn that gives much-needed warmth. Beaten almonds along with cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron blended with tea leaves fill the room with its heavenly aroma; Kahwa is usually paired with Tomul chott (Kashmiri chapati bread made from rice flour and clarified butter).

Skating on the frozen Dal lake and playing in the harsh winters usually make the kids’ nose runny. It is time for their mothers to make them a healthy beverage. Nabad (big sugar crystals) blended with black pepper, ginger and Kahwa is offered to kids who have cough and cold, and almost every family in Kashmir uses this traditional practice to improve the immunity of their kids. Warm hands from the heat of Kangri (An earthen pot filled with hot pieces of coal to keep hands warm) and out of the wide sleeve of the Pheran (A traditional Kashmiri gown) only come out to sip some Kahwa.

Fresh piping hot Kahwa from the antique Samovaar is the true morning flavor of Kashmir. With red burning coal in the center and hot boiling Kahwa around it, Samovaar keeps the beverage hot for a longer time as compared to a modern kettle. Another item of teaware that adds beauty is the Khos; Made from brass alloy, acts as a natural insulator and keeps the beverage hot.

The same tea leaves used to make Kahwa are used to make Dodh Chai or Mith Chai and the tradition allows it to serve it to the revered guests. Tea leaves boiled with milk, sugar, and blended with aromatic herbs is traditionally served with a Taktich (sweet hard bread from a Kashmiri bakery).

Another variant is the salt tea known as Noon Chai or Sheer Chai, royal pink in color. It is after the hearty meals of Rojanjosh, Tabakmaaz, and Dumaloo, the elders believe sheer chai to be a natural digestive beverage. 

Around the 1970s, the CTC Chai made its entry to the valley and it was the only among the elite class who would consume it. My mother had her first sip of CTC Chai when she completed her graduation in 1981. By the end of 1985, every stratum in Kashmir knew about CTC Chai and the shops in SR Ganj along with Kahwa and Noon Chai were selling it.

Buy the traditional and authentic Kashmiri Kahwa from Teabox here

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