Last week as I was walking down the streets of Southall, I passed a tea seller selling Kashmiri tea in a cart, beautifully decked up ,with a poster with ‘Kashmiri Tea’ printed on it. The special thing about this tea is it is not the regular tea that we have every day, instead the traditional salted pink coloured tea, popularly known as ‘Noon Chai’ or ‘Sheer Chai’. After my Kehwa series, it inspired me to write about Sheer Chai.
Sheer Chai is a pink colored tea with taste as unique as its appearance with a rich and a creamy texture that makes it look somewhat similar to Ladhaki butter tea. The process for making this tea is slightly lengthy as compared to Kehwa but the end results are no different – warm and comforting along with the nutty and a salty taste. Almonds and Pistachios provide a hot element to the tea that helps warm up the body.
This tea is prepared with special tea leaves along with bicarbonate of soda that are simmered on a low flame to create a very strong concentrate of tea. The bi-carbonate of soda turns it dark red and the addition of milk makes it pink in color. The trick is to get the right colour and that comes from the reaction of tea with baking soda, locally known as ‘Phul’. A pinch of phul goes a long way and if used more than required, it spoils the taste and makes the tea bitter. Once the tea is ready, it is topped with homemade heavy cream garnished with crushed pistachios and almonds. Traditionally, in a Kashmiri household, the dollop of cream used per cup would increase or decrease in relation to the importance of that person or a guest, as would be the type of crockery in which it is served.
As we say tea represents the most refined expression of hospitality. So, this tea forms a part of both formalas well as informal get togethers. Many households had a ritual to have it post lunch as it aids in digestion and smart housewives would always keep the concoction ready beforehand. This process is called ‘Ruskadun’ and would help them in managing time as the preparation time gets reduced later. The interesting part is that in spite of having salt in it, people have it with much delight and relish. Many people would start their day with this tea and local Kashmiri breads like Girdha or lavassa (collectively called as KandurChot) slathered with butter.
In the morning, I decided to make it. I boiled two pints milk to skim off cream as I planned to make Sheer Chai today. Here’s how you can brew yours –
Sheer Chai for 3 to 4 people
Water : 3 cups
Milk : 2 cups
Sheer Chai Tea leaves : 1 teaspoon
Baking soda : ¼ teaspoon
Salt : To taste
Crushed Cardamoms, Pistachios and Almonds
- Take a saucepan. Boil half cup water along with tea leaves crush with the palms of your hands and add Bi-Carbonate of soda.
- Keep on boiling till color changes to deep reddish brown. Make sure water doesn’t evaporate completely so keep on stirring with spoon. Add one cup water and let it boil for another five minutes.
- Once water has reduced and deep reddish brown color obtained, add 1.5 cups water and let it boil again.
- At this stage, check the color. Take half table spoon concoction and put few drops milk. Mix well. If the color changes to pink that means it is almost ready else let it boil for some more time and perform the check again.
- Once you are satisfied with the color, add two cups milk. Color will change to pink. I love to strain this tea (many people do not strain it). Pour in a cup.
- A dollop of cream and garnish with crushed pistachios and almonds.. Add crushed cardamom and boil for couple of minutes more and serve hot.