Kashmiri Chai


Moeen is a Lucknowite. For the past 25 years he has been working at the shop, with the first 10 years spent as apprentice. Before him, his father Abdul Ghaffar and grandfather Abdul Hamid had served Kashmiri chai to the people of Lucknow. Kashmiri chai is rose pink in colour and is therefore also called gulabi chai. “You won’t find Kashmiri chai in Kashmir—it is a Lucknow invention. Its flavours resemble the ‘lal tsa’ and ‘noon tsa’ of Kashmir, but visitors from those parts tell us that the tea we serve is nothing like the tea they have in Kashmir. I answer them saying that we never claim that our tea is of Kashmiri origin—this tea is a Lucknow beverage, named ‘Kashmiri!” Moeen’s family has dealt in milk products over generations, and they still sell pakki balai or cream. The cream that is skimmed off the milk when it is boiled and cooled is called ‘kachchi’ or ‘raw’ balai in Lucknow. For pakki balai, milk is reduced for 4-5 hours in a wok, and put on ice or under refrigeration overnight. About an inch-thick layer of cream that forms is presented on a large platter. Abdul Hamid used to sell pakki balai dor to door early in the morning. As far as Moeen recalls, a 50 gram serving was then worth ₹4. It is now ₹ 25. People like to add balai to their Kashmiri chai. Some even crush a tikona (samosa) and immerse it in their cup to enjoy the sweet and savoury flavour. Tea leaves used for brewing Kashmiri chai are a pale green in colour. The rose-red tint is derived from herbs added to the boiling water. “A long time ago,we were told by our well wishers that a rumor was being spread by those jealous of us; that the colour of our tea is because of the blood we add to it! You tell me—whose blood would we get, and from where, to put into tea? Anyway, it took great effort to reassure people that the colour came from herbs and spices…”