Mesmerising Dal Lake and the Chinar trees nestled in the four corners of Char Chinar were the only two things my friend could relate to in Kashmir. Well! There’s a lot more that adds up to the scenic beauty of beautiful Kashmir. It’s also known for a place where winters are biting cold. So, people find ways and means that tame the winter beast and fight the chill. Locals rely heavily on traditional ways to keep themselves warm. Traditional beverages being one of the options to beat the chill. Popular being ‘Kehwa’ – an aromatic green tea infused with the flavours of Cardamom, cinnamon and saffron.
Second week of December and London is enjoying a nip in the air. Definitely calls for some warmth.Being native to Kashmir, my body yearns for Kehwa that would keep me toasty for hours, push away the lethargy and beat the cold. It takes minutes to make and the process is fairly simple. End result is absolutely warm and comforting along with nutty and sweet taste. Addition of whole spices (cinnamon and cardamom) provides hot element to tea thereby helping body stay warm. Yup! That’s what I need right now.
Traditionally, Kehwa was made in a brass tea kettle called ‘Samovar’. One of my growing up memories revolves around Kehwa filled Samovar served as a refreshment to the guests during Celebrations especially ‘Maenz raat’. Popularly known as ‘Mehandiraat’ or Henna/Sangeet night at marriages.
As the celebrations would progress with every drum beat (folk instrument of Kashmir called Tumbakhnaer) that echoes the traditional songs so does Kehwa filled Samovar fill the whole space with the warming fragrance. One complementing the other. At regular intervals this beverage is served to guests and singers along with the traditional bakeries of Kashmir. A practise that embodies warm hearted hospitality.
Kehwa is served in shallow cups made of brass called ‘Khous’. Some Khous are goblet shaped too. Elderly people would prefer having Kehwa in Khous.
They would prefer to pair up their Kehwa with some homemade flat bread (Two layered phulkas) or they would pair it up with Kashmiri bakery ‘tschot’ (assorted breads). Slather it with Amul butter and relish it. I would like to make a special mention of milk based kehwa too that formed a part of my Granny’s evening tea. Basically three parts milk and one part water. Rest of the ingredients remaining same as we have in kehwa. Yes, that formed her high tea where she would get the warmth of spices yet the heaviness of milk tea. In fact it’s called ‘doudh chai’ (milk tea) in local language.
Kehwa is recognised globally not only for its rich taste but for its therapeutic and health benefits too. You can have it guilt free without piling up on those extra pounds while helping to ward off any cold related symptoms. Here’s how you can brew your Kehwa at home –
Kehwa for Two
Water – 2 cups
Sugar- 2 to 3 tsp
1/2 tsp churned Kashmiri green tea leaves
Cinnamon powder or 2 inch cinnamon stick
Green Cardamom whole – 3
Almonds – 8 crushed.
Saffron – Few strands
- Heat water in a pan.
- Pound cardamom and cinnamon with the help of mortar pestle.
- Once water starts boiling put sugar and pounded mixture and let it boil for a while.
- Churn the tea leaves with the palm of your hands and throw in the pot. At this stage you may add few strands of saffron too.
- Stir and let it brew for a while.
- Crush the almonds and divide between two cups. Pour Kehwa into cups. Straining tea is optional. I like to see boiled/crushed cardamom floating.
- Your Kehwa is ready.
As I’m sipping Kehwa, I can feel the flavours of Kashmir coming from my teacup. Taking stroll down the memory lane and taking me to an exhilarating ride.
– Deepa Kaul