The Delicious and Luxurious Pink Tea
Many people are quite curious when they first discover pink tea. Many questions follow, most especially, what does it taste like? You have had one type of chai or the other, those silky, spicy and milky types that are now common in the UK. But, have you tried another quite popular variant, Kashmiri chai? Also known as Gulabi chai or noon chai (pink tea and salt tea, respectively), this super appealing chai variant has a rosy hue, with a luxury feel to it, which is served only on special occasions by the Pakistanis. If you have ever lived among the Pakistanis in the UK, you may already know a thing or two about pink tea.
The History of Kashmiri Chai
Kashmiri tea originates from a variety of leaf that is found exclusively in Kashmir and other areas around it, giving the tea its name. The tea has been described as not being as bitter as regular black tea but, more floral. As the British expanded its colonization to India, chai was already gaining popularity in the region as English tea was being introduced by the colonisers. This leads the Kashmir population to create their version, brewed with local leaves.
After the partition of 1947, and India and Pakistan became separate countries, Kashmir became a region that was contested between the separated countries. As the tussle for the region of Kashmir persisted over the years, many of its people migrated to Pakistan, because they were mostly Muslims, and Pakistan is majorly a Muslim country. Amongst many cultures and traditions, the people of Kashmir brought with them their Kashmir chai, which was quickly adopted by the Pakistanis and became the country’s most popular drink.
Once upon a time, Kashmir chai was a drink served to royals in the region, and then went on to be served in other corners of the society, but it was still a special drink served at weddings – the most important occasion for Indian and Pakistani families. Today, the tea is far more mainstream than it once was, but it is still not an everyday tea like other chais and is still considered a special drink.
Kashmir chai is traditionally prepared in a copper samovar, and its salty taste is related to the milky teas of the Central Asia region, including Mongolian suutei tsai, and Uyghur tea, etkanchay. There is a story about the tea that suggests that it came to Kashmir from Yarkand (now part of Xinjiang, China) through the famous Silk Road. But there are hints of a connection that is closer to home because of the use of soda. Adding salts to teas to make a darker brew originates from the Tibetan plateau, where soda deposits are abundant.
How to Make Kashmiri Chai or Pink Tea
There are similarities between Kashmir tea leaves and green tea in the sense that they are both oxidised minimally, and many people substitute one for the other when either is not available. If you have never witnessed the preparation of pink tea, you might think that the tea is brewed with particular pink tea leaves, well, you are wrong. As mentioned above, the leaves are like regular green tea leaves. The secret is in the method of preparation which we will explore as continue reading this article.
Since Kashmir tea leaf can only be found in Kashmir, it is usually more expensive than other varieties of tea leaves.
Follow these steps to learn how to make a pink tea.
Kashmir chai or pink tea can be tricky to make, especially if it’s your first time.
Start by heating some water to a simmer in a pot (do not bring to a boil), then add the tea leaves. Take a whisk, and then continue to heat for another twenty minutes to allow some air into the water and tea mixture.
Take a large ladle and continue to aerate the tea by spooning it up and down, in and out of the pot – do this in fifteen-minute intervals over the next two hours. You will start to notice the tea changing to a pink hue. The chai derives its colour from the aeration process. This may seem like an intense workout session, but it all pays off in the end, as the outcome is a delicious drink.
When the tea is properly aerated and ready, add equal amounts of milk, and then leave the tea to sleep for some time. Add some sugar, a little salt, and some crushed pistachios. The traditionalists add a little salt, which is why it is also called noon chai, while the salt is sometimes left out in the Western recipe of the tea, where only sugar is added.
Pink tea tastes are usually described as milky and creamy citrus. While the traditional name of the tea has chai in it, the tea tastes quite different from regular chais which usually have a blend of spices including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and others. But Kashmir chai or pink tea has a more delicate taste. Even when spices are added to the mixture, it is done in small quantities by adding small amounts of cardamom and cinnamon. Some pink tea enthusiast have are known to use the tea as a base, adding a topping of sea salt, candied rose petals, crushed pistachios. Pink tea is quite versatile and you can give your signature taste, by adding a thing or two or preparing it like the traditionalists, but with a little extra detail of yours.
Pink tea or Kashmir chai can be used as a soak for cakes. There is a variety of pastry applications of pink tea, the most common known as naan khatai – a shortbread variant with a top covered in baked caramel. Fatima Ali, owner of popular Brooklyn food truck VanPakistan says "You get this sticky, slightly sweet caramel stuck in the back of your tooth when you bite into it, and then when you have the hot tea, that caramel melts in your mouth," Ali says. "That rich butteriness goes really well with hot beverages. It is a classic Kashmiri combo."
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