Kashmiri chai is not a beverage that I have a nostalgic attachment to, but it is one that I’ve heard mentioned in my mom’s stories of her childhood in Lahore, Pakistan. Thus, winter often reminds me of Kashmiri chai.
Other names for this chai include Noon Chai, Gulaabi Chai, and Namkeen Chai. Recently, Kashmiri chai has become quite common all around the world. You can even find it at David’s Tea. While I find it mildly annoying that a Canadian tea company is profiting off of the exoticism of Kashmiri chai, I’ll commend them solely for the unobjectionable truth that Kashmiri chai is delicious enough to appropriate (ha!)
What is Kashmiri chai exactly?
This magical Kashmiri pink milk tea is actually a green tea which turns reddish-brown during the cooking process (more on that below); add white (milk) to red (tea) and you get PINK! A kindergartner can do it! Just kidding, that isn’t the safest idea. Alas, I digress. This particular type of green tea is found in Kashmir. I want to say it’s exclusively grown in Kashmir but don’t quote me on that. What I do know is that it is not the common Jasmine green tea that you find in most places. The point is—authentic Kashmiri green tea is not the easiest to find. For those of you who don’t have a relative or friend to bring/mail you some from Pakistan, I managed to find some online at Khana Pakana (more affordable than the blend from David’s Tea).
How is it pink? Do you use food coloring?
Food coloring is for red velvet cake and that’s about it. Food coloring does not belong in tea or drinks at all. Stop it, Starbucks, you bug-coloring-weirdos.
The answer is science—polyphenols found in green tea are naturally yellow at lower pH levels (so, more acidic). Adding baking soda (which is alkaline, basic, higher pH level) to the tea once it is already being extracted/brewed will make the polyphenols change color. The tea magically transforms into a deep, reddish brown color. Add milk (which is also basic with a higher pH level, and is white in color) and you’ll get an opaque pink tea!
How do I make it?
2-3 cups of filtered water
2 tablespoons of Kashmiri green tea leaves
3-4 cardamom pods, crushed
Cinnamon stick, broken into a small chip (overall size/area should be the size of a dime)
~1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup cold filtered water
1-1.5 cups of whole milk
A pinch of salt
Chopped pistachios (for garnish)
When reading recipes and instructions, it can be difficult to understand what various stages or steps look like which is why I have created the video posted above. Its purpose is to show you the cooking process, so please refer to it to ensure you’re ready to move on to the next step within the directions.
Start out with 2 cups of filtered water in a stainless steel saucepan. Begin heating it on the stove on medium heat. Add the Kashmiri green tea leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon to the water.
Once the tea begins to boil, bring the heat down just enough to keep the tea simmering/bubbling for about one minute, or until half of the water is left. It’ll look like there are a lot more leaves than water. Add the remaining cup of filtered water, and bring it up to a boil, then let it continue simmering for about 7-10 minutes.
You’ll notice the water has reduced once again. This is when you add the baking soda. It’ll foam up and look scary but that is just the initial reaction of the alkaline bicarbonate soda with the acidic tea. Swirl the pan around or stir the tea with a spoon to thoroughly mix the baking soda in.
Now leave it alone! Seriously, let it simmer for about another 10 minutes. SIMMER, not boil. About 4-5 minutes after you add the baking soda, you’ll notice the bubbles/foam have a pink/red outline (refer to video at 20 seconds). This is a great sign!!
The water level will go down again, but this is when the cold filtered water comes in. Pour the cup of cold water into the reduced-down tea (which will now be a reddish tone—30 seconds in my video). People say this “shocks” the tea, but I’m pretty sure what they mean is the cold temperature stops the reaction (of baking soda with the tea) and the cooking of the tea. Why add one cup? Because we want to make sure you don’t end up with just a baby shot of Kashmiri chai!
Bring this back up to a rolling boil and then turn off the stove. Go ahead and strain the tea leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon out.
Next you’ll want to mix the milk with the water. In the video, I had already poured the measured milk into another saucepan, and then I poured the strained tea into it. However, I actually recommend pouring the milk into the tea in case you boiled the tea down more than anticipated. You don’t want to add too much milk because it’ll overpower the delicious taste of the Kashmiri tea! Add just enough milk to make the tea opaque but not too light. Everyone has their own preferences but I like my chai (any type of chai) more creamy than watery.
Bring the tea + milk mixture to a boil (it’ll foam up beautifully and make you want to cry…50 second timestamp). POUR AND SERVE!
The appeal of Kashmiri chai might be its color, but its slightly-odd feature is that it’s traditionally served with salt instead of sugar. Yes, salt. Perhaps Pink HimalayAN SALT?! SINCE THE HIMALAYAS ARE ABOVE PAKISTAN? Anyway, I recommend having a pinch of salt (or sugar if you’re a non-traditional newb like myself) in the cup when you pour the chai; this way, it mixes into the chai while you pour and everyone can customize their drink’s salty/sweetness.
Lastly, Kashmiri chai is served topped with crushed/chopped pistachios (they add a beautiful color as well as texture) and is often paired with some naan khatai or shortbread cookies!