As I sip freshly brewed Kahwa seated at Chaikash, a tea lounge of the multi award winning The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa in Gulmarg, I feel it’s perfect bliss. The aroma of Kahwa, its taste, the comfort of the warm cup wrapped around my fingers, the walnut wood-carved interiors and hand woven carpets of Chaikash, and the tranquil view of the Affarwat Peaks with fresh powdered snow and deodar trees in front of me make tea drinking in Kashmir a memorable experience.
Refreshed after drinking Kahwa, I delve into what makes this drink synonymous with Kashmir. Some historians believe that the word Kahwa has originated from the Kashmiri words of kah which means 11 and wa which means ingredients. So originally, it must have been made with 11 ingredients. The common ingredients are the Kashmiri green tea leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, saffron along with chopped slivers of almonds. Some Kashmiris also add a pinch of turmeric to get the amber colour if they don’t have saffron.
“In Kashmir, one can find two types of saffron — one that is sourced from Iran and the other which is cultivated in Pampore in South Kashmir where the fertile soil adds to the quality of saffron. The latter is preferred for making the tea,” explains Vinit Chhabra, General Manager, The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa.
Samovar is the ornate metal kettle, usually made of copper, in which Kahwa is traditionally prepared. In a samovar, coal is added and the tea prepared in it has a burst of flavours because of its slow preparation.
Locals opine that Kahwa, like a lot of Kashmiri food and culture, came from Iran. Serving a cup of this tea during functions, be it weddings or anniversaries, is considered as a goodwill gesture and also part of tradition and culture.
In the olden days, the tea was extremely sweet but nowadays the quantity of sugar or honey added is reduced to cater to health-conscious guests. In Kashmiri villages, Kahwa is made on mud stoves fired using wood or cow dung cakes.
Kahwa is delicious, refreshing, made from local ingredients and a powerhouse of health benefits. A hot favourite to drink in winter, it keeps the body warm. It also helps to combat cough and cold and minor stomach problems. It is a natural remedy to remove the build-up of phlegm which is a common problem in winter.
“It is good for digestion and helps to reduce constipation. It is good for the heart and contains B12 which boosts the immune system of the body. The cinnamon present in it has anti-bacterial properties while the tea helps to reduce stress and relieve anxiety,” adds Chhabra.
The tea also contains antioxidants which are good for the skin and lend a natural radiance to it.
The way this tea is prepared is simple. The required quantity of water, which is based on the number of people consuming Kahwa, is boiled and then cardamom, cinnamon and green tea are added and the mixture is allowed to simmer on a shallow flame. The mixtur e is infused and served hot by adding chopped almonds. Honey or sugar can be added to taste. Kahwa should be prepared fresh and drunk immediately. It is not recommended to prepare and consume it the next day.
There are various types of Kahwa. The most common version is served without milk but Doodh Kahwa is a drink which is popular among elderly Kashmiris and is prepared with milk. The main ingredients — Kashmiri green tea leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and saffron — remain the same. But dessicated coconut is put in the cup and the hot mixture is poured on top. That is Doodh Kahwa.
“When the main ingredient of Kahwa is a herb locally known as Shangri, the tea is called Shangri Kahwa. Shangri is good for treating sore throats and respiratory problems,” adds Chhabra.
Lemb Kahwa is prepared using lemon while Kung Kahwa extensively uses saffron. Even though Kahwa is made throughout India, the taste of Kashmiri Kahwa is unique. The reason is the water used for preparing the tea. In our cities, we use filtered water while in Kashmir spring water is used giving the tea its distinctive taste.
As I leave the resort, I decide to take back a bit of Kashmir with me in the form of Kahwa mix so that I can sip on it in the winter of Pune.