New Delhi: A delicious tea from the beautiful land of Kashmir, Noon Chai is different from regular tea and tastes divine. Special tea leaves from Kashmir is brewed in which baking soda, milk and cardamom is added to make this delicious tea. It is also known as sheerchai among Kashmiri Pandits. Being born in a Kashmiri family, this is still my favourite tea because of its pink colour and taste. When I was 6 years old, I was always curious about the taste and colour.
Now let me tell you history about Sheerchai (Noon Chai).
“Do you know of Shah-i-Hamadan?” The story of the Noon Chai is tied to the legend of the Persian Sufi saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani. This 14th century missionary, mystic and social reformer was instructed in a vision to go to Kashmir. He set out to do so, taking with him a few hundred artisans and craftsmen. They enriched the region with their skills, offering a new source of livelihood for people. Embroidery, calligraphy, papier mâché, shawl weaving, carpet making…all this arrived in the valley with Mir Syed Ali Hamdani and his entourage. They also brought the Noon Chai, having probably acquired a taste for it en route to Kashmir via Central Asia.
And since there can be no Noon Chai without tschot, or Kashmiri bread. Talking to my dad about his memories of Kashmir, he told me about how the Kandur (traditional bakery) is indispensable in Kashmir. “If we know our kandur is going to be away, we would order extra bread, made with ghee to help keep it longer. We will also eat it sparingly so that it lasts until the kandur returns! Not surprisingly, the bread shop, or the Kandurwan, is a place where people gather and conversations big and small are had while the bread bakes,” he said.
The process of making the Noon Chai seems rather laborious, calling for skill and practice. Should you want to try it at home, here’s what you should know. Unlike other teas, the Noon Chai is made as a concentrate; it can be kept for three-four days in the fridge.
Take green tea leaves (around 2 tsp for five-six cups; there are no fixed measurements, as with most Indian cooking) and crush them in the palm of your hand. Now, add it to a pan with 1 cup of cold water and a pinch or two of baking soda. As it boils, the water will start changing colour. Continue to add water until the tea concentrate is a burgundy/blackish-pink in colour.
When the concentrate is ready, add water, milk and salt to taste. You can go with one cup of milk to four cups of water but this ratio can be altered depending on how milky or dark you like your tea. The chai turns a shade of pink when you add milk — a characteristic of the Noon Chai. Now, add one-two crushed green cardamoms for flavour and let the tea boil and then simmer on low flame for 5-7 minutes. For a richer taste, add malai (cream) on top or a dollop of butter into the cup. The tea pairs well with Indian namkeen like matthi and khari biscuit. For a savoury-sweet combination, try it with Kashmiri roth.
In Kashmir, Noon Chai is typically brewed in a traditional Copper Samavor. Samavor is a traditional kettle used to brew, boil and serve tea. It is a tea kettle of Russian origin. The name Samavor is derived from the Russian word -‘Samover’ and translates to self boiler or self brew.
Apart from Kashmir, Samover enjoys immense popularity in Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Central Europe, South East Europe, Africa, Morocco and the Middle East. There is no home in Kashmir that doesn’t have a Samovar. Kashmiris love drinking tea and make it in this traditional vessel.
Inside the Samovar, there is a fire container in which charcoal and live coals are placed. Around the fire container, there is a place for water to boil. Tea leaves, sugar, cardamom and cinnamon are put in water. I’ve always seen my Mother and my Buas using their skills and techniques in giving a local flavour to the ancient recipes of our history. I remember drinking this beverage so many times during my childhood time and Shivratri. Its pungent smell and taste still lingers on.