Aqua Vitae

Kashmiri chai

If you’ve ever had Kashmiri chai at Remedy Cafe and think this is what they drink in Kashmir, brace yourself. If you order Kashmiri chai made by Kashmiris, it’s the exact opposite of what you might expect.

Remedy Cafe is a nexus for Edmonton Hipsters. I went once and ordered a Kashmiri chai and ate some dal which was not actually what they call it but it was still good. The “Kashmiri” chai was white (mostly milk) and garnished with some dried flower petals and some green powder. It was loaded with sugar, cardamom and a rose water flavour… maybe from the potpourri looking garnish. Both my food and drink were tasty actually.

So when I roaming around in Old Delhi in February 2017 and spotted some Kashmiri guys selling tea, I figured I could try it from the source and compare. It was early morning and I was craving street tea (thick, strong, milky and sweet).

My friend Salim was showing me around and he was a bit hesitant when I suggested drinking some, and so were the guys selling the tea. They handed over a cup and I asked them how much? They told me to first try it and see if I like it.

I wish this photo captured the colour correctly. The tea had a pink hue to it. It looked inviting.

The aroma was like any normal black tea, but you could smell a saltiness. Salim understood the tea vendors and spoke to them about it (I don’t speak enough Hindi or Urdu). They said people drink it in the morning as well as to help clear headaches.

One sip of this and I was hit with scalding hot salty, buttery, tea. Not at all what I was expecting.

Here I was expecting anything Kashmiri to be some ancient blend of eastern spices like saffron, cardamom, cloves. I was expecting something ethereal and delicate like a real pashmina shawl.

Nope. Just hot water, salt, butter and a hint of tea.

The thing is, it wasn’t bad. It was just not what a basic tea-drinker like myself would expect if they have never heard of salty tea (I know of Tibetan yak butter tea). Especially after having tea at least twice per day at Guy and Becky’s place in the UK for the last two weeks prior to my arrival in India.

After a few sips, the effects of the tea were revealed to me. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning and the salty tea was actually very soothing. It would make an excellent hangover cure actually… I was feeling more hydrated and relaxed.

While I was drinking it another employee of the tea shop came out just to see my reaction. The shop was small, maybe eight to 10 people seated inside and were drinking this stuff.

Apparently it’s called noon chai or sheer chai… So why were they serving it at dawn? Noon is actually the word for salt (namak in Hindi) and it is traditionally a morning drink. I finished my drink and Salim paid the guy like 15 or 20 rupees and we went to find food. This chai was like a digestive kickstarter for the morning.

This was the view while sipping Kashmiri sheer (noon) chai in Old Delhi. Traditionally it’s made in the pot on the left, but these guys were making it in the pot in the middle.

Visit Old Delhi and try it yourself!

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