A cup of tea is just what I need tonight. Even in this stifling heat. Just the act of making the tea is a sort of unwinding. The relaxation comes as much from the process of making tea as it does from the cup itself. And a cup of tea is what we are going to have.
As a typical Indian, I am a die-hard tea-aholic. And no matter how low-brow it may be, I really love black tea served with milk and sugar. I love the Punjabi tea which is more milk than water that has been boiled with black tea leaves, and some ginger (during cooler weather), and not a little sugar. I also like what I drink everyday – a mix of equal parts (by volume) of granular black tea (Brooke Bond Red Label) and green tea (Brooke Bond Green Label) steeped in hot water for a few minutes to which I add a little milk and just a wee bit of sugar.
It is a cultivated Indian palate that likes green tea. I had to much coax mine . The thought of jasmine in anything but my hair was anathema. But, over the years, I have come to like Chinese green teas. Their delicate flavour, often combined with flowers, makes for a refreshing brew that keeps me hydrated in the dry winter months. Some Chinese teas, such as this jasmine ball tea, are total show stoppers!
The region of Kashmir has had ties with China and Mongolia for centuries. It is likely, that these links brought the green tea to Kashmir. Strangely, the leaves of Kahva are known as Bombay Chai in Kashmir! My guess is that in recent times these tea leaves took the sea-route through Bombay to reach Kashmir, and are therefore, known thus.
But Kahva, also called Mogul chai (mau-gul) in Kashmiri, relies heavily on spices to transform Chinese green tea into a very Indian brew. Remember, the spices are not optional.
Use cardamom pods instead of loose seeds. And, use cinnamon instead of bastard cinnamon. That is the real name of the spice sold all over the US as cinnamon; it is actually cassia bark.
2 C water
1 heaped t sugar
1 inch piece real/Indian cinnamon
1 cardamom pod
1/2 t Khava tea leaves (or any other non-floral non-perfumed green tea)
2 almonds (preferably Indian – my father swears by them!)
a few strands of Saffron (preferably Kashmiri )
In a non-reactive vessel (in which you have never ever cooked any Indian food) take the best spring water you can find – only in the interest of authenticity; Kashmir does have the sweetest springs . Or use tap water . Coarsely crush the cinnamon and the cardamom pod and add to the water with the sugar. Bring to boil. Gently rub the tea leaves between the palms of your hand and add to the boiling water. Boil for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and let steep for another minute.
Crush almonds medium-fine and divide between the serving cups. If it is a special day, add a few strands of saffron to the cups.
Pour the tea into the cups. If you are going for authenticity, do not strain. There, you now have the most beautiful fragrant and invigourating cup of tea there is! Now, if you could only find a katlam, that plain dry, crusty evening bread (pastry?) with just a hint of sweetness, that the kandur (Kashmiri baker) bakes; perfect to dunk in this ambrosia. [sigh]
Pour yourself a cup, put your feet up, and ponder on this picture of a flower… Do you know this flower/tree?
So you want a clue? The clue is that all of you know this tree! It blooms in March-April in Delhi.
The answer on Friday, May 25. You want a prize? Okay, let’s have the answers, and ideas for ‘the prize’… no promises
In Praise of Sardines on Kahva