Kashmiris love their chai (tea). It’s an essential part of their culture and hospitality. My wife and I have grown to love chai too, and it’s one of the things we miss the most when we’re out of Kashmir. Not only the chai itself, but the chai time, when you can relax and enjoy the hospitality and interaction with your host.
Many of our tour participants also come to appreciate chai and its central role in Kashmiri culture. Soon after they arrive in Srinagar and check in on their houseboat they are served their first cup of chai. By the time they leave we are often asked, “Where can I buy the stuff I’ll need to keep making this when I return home?”
Kashmir has three main types of chai, along with a special fourth one. We like to have our groups taste each of the three main types – Lipton chai, noon chai, and kahwa. The fourth one is doud kahwa, which adds milk to the kahwa, and is usually only served at special events like weddings.
Lipton chai is the term most Kashmiris use for the simple chai combination of black tea, milk, and sugar. It’s not necessarily the Lipton brand, but that brand has somehow become associated with this standard cup of chai in Kashmir.
Noon chai means salt tea in Kashmiri, and this variety of chai is the one some tourists might not take a liking to at first. Noon chai is green tea with salt, milk, and a small pinch of baking soda which gives the chai a pinkish color. Since most Westerners typically think sweet when they’re drinking chai, the key to drinking noon chai is to expect something more like a soup broth than sweet chai. Noon chai is my wife’s favorite in Kashmir, and she especially likes it when cream is added to the chai.
Kahwa is also green tea, but a different type than for noon chai. In addition to the green tea, kahwa typically has cardamom, cinnamon, sugar, and slivered almonds. Kahwa also can be specially made with saffron, in which case the green tea isn’t even needed. This type of chai is my favorite, and while it can be enjoyed the whole year, sipping on a hot cup of it in the cold winter (or on a cold night while trekking) is especially satisfying.
When you visit Kashmir make a goal to try out these three main kinds of chai with Kashmiris. It will be a fun way to experience the culture. If you’re lucky you might even get invited to a wedding and get to taste doud kahwa.