Instead of hours over the stove, this easy, one-pot Kashmiri Chai recipe takes less than 20 minutes to make! This is not a traditional Noon Chai recipe, but an accessible version that’s still delicious (and pink)! Make it with regular green tea leaves if you can’t find Kashmiri tea leaves.
To me, Kashmiri Chai has always been a bit of an enigma. An aspirational, meticulously prepared drink that requires hours of attention, tea leaves from a particular region, a bicep workout, and a good dose of patience. And only then will it be the correct shade of pink…possibly.
But what about us common folk who adore it, but don’t have the due diligence and expertise to make it the authentic way? What if we want a good cup of pink tea, preferably now? Well that’s where this recipe comes in.
What is Kashmiri Chai (Pink Tea) and what makes it special?
Kashmiris don’t actually call their chai “Kashmiri Chai”. That’s the term used by Pakistanis and Indians to describe the Kashmiri Noon Chai (translated to Salt Tea). As the name suggests, Noon chai is a salty drink, but has gained popularity across Pakistan as a sweet concoction.
Often called Pink Tea, Kashmiri chai is a milk tea characterized by its dusty pink color and garnishing of crushed nuts. It’s brewed with green tea leaves and baking soda, and then mixed with milk to give it a distinct pink color.
Even within Pakistan, Kashmiri Chai is a bit of a delicacy because of the long, somewhat arduous process of making it.
How I developed this recipe
To be honest, I felt a bit of imposter syndrome while developing this recipe. Because 1) I’m not Kashmiri and didn’t actually grow up in Pakistan, where it’s a treat often served at winter weddings. And 2) I didn’t want to downplay the art of making an authentic cup of Kashmiri chai. Here’s a Kashmiri Tea Connoisseur’s take on this.
But, I did want to make an easy, fool-proof version that’s doable for the majority of us while honoring Kashmir’s beautiful tea culture. So what started as a quick, expectation-free experiment soon became a possibility. And I found myself gleefully preparing it every night, timing myself and obsessing over the shade of pink.
To compare, we tried it at several spots around Houston and noted that this 20-minute version is more pronounced in flavor and aroma without being heavy.
How to make Kashmiri Chai the traditional way
In the traditional method, you prepare a deep pink concentrate (called kahva or kahwa) by boiling and reducing the tea for many hours. You then shock this tea concentrate with cold water and heavily aerate it before combining it with milk and salt to make Noon Chai. Flour and Spice Blog has a wonderful recipe that showcases this Pakistani style of making Kashmiri chai.
How to make this quick and easy version and why it works
This 20-minute version is as easy to make as a good old cup of chai. Simply boil down the tea leaves with baking soda, add cold water, milk, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil again, and you’re done.
There are a few reasons why this quick version works:
- In the traditional method, you’d keep adding cold water to extract the tea leaves and make the concentrate stronger and deeper in flavor. In mine, we use a minimal amount of water and a heavy dose of tea leaves to compensate and infuse strong flavor in less time.
- We’re still utilizing the chemistry behind pink tea: baking soda, a bit of aerating, and the cold water shock.
- Using half & half along with the milk gives it a decadent, creamy texture often associated with Kashmiri chai. If you prefer it lighter, replace the half & half with milk. Likewise, if you prefer it richer, increase the half & half and decrease the milk.
What makes Kashmiri Chai pink?
There are 3 main components at play:
- Baking soda, which neutralizes the acid in the tea leaves and transforms the otherwise pale green tea into a deep burgundy color.
- Aeration, which oxidizes the tea (similar to how chopped fruit changes color once introduced to oxygen).
- Lastly, adding cold water to hot water shocks the tea leaves and further brings out the color. I’m not sure of the chemistry behind this, but this book on food science offers some credible explanations.
I have tried omitting baking soda and brewing and ladling for a couple hours until I maxed out on patience and there was still no pink in sight. So yes, baking soda makes the magic happen.
What to do if your Kashmiri Chai is not turning pink
While testing various teas, I quickly realized that some teas turn pink more easily than others.
The simple solution for this: Add more baking soda. Some tea leaves require double the amount of baking soda to achieve the same ruby color in concentrate.
If, after increasing baking soda, it’s still more brown than pink, try using a different green tea. You can try adding more baking soda (up to 1/2 tsp total before it starts becoming noticeable), but I’ve found that if it won’t turn pink with 1/4 tsp, then it most likely won’t turn pink with even double the amount.
Here’s a litmus test to see if if the tea concentrate (kahwa) has turned pink enough:
After adding the cold water, take a small amount out and put it in a cup. Add a bit of half and half or milk. If it’s not pink enough, then add a bit more baking soda and bring to a boil again.
Can you use any Green Tea leaves to make Kashmiri Chai?
Yes! Kashmiri tea leaves are hard to find (even for me and I have access to plenty of Indian/Pakistani grocery stores). So feel free to use any green tea as long as it’s not bitter.
Depending on the variety, non-Kashmiri green tea leaves may not turn as pink as those specifically for Kashmiri Chai. They may also produce a slightly different flavor profile. In the ones I’ve tried, the end product tasted like Kashmiri chai, but had a hint of bubble milk tea flavor. Still very delicious and worth trying with if you can’t find made-in-Kashmir tea leaves.
Fun Fact: My sister tried this recipe by cutting open green tea bags and she thoroughly enjoyed her (pink!) cup.
Which brand of Kashmiri Tea is best?
Again, actual Kashmiri tea leaves are so inaccessible that I can’t find appropriate links for the most of them. Here are some of the brands I know of:
- Three Rivers – This is the brand I use. Both loose leaves and instant will work.
- Tapal Gulbahar – I haven’t tried it but have heard it’s good.
- Handi Kashmiri Pink Tea – This is available in Canada and I’ve heard it’s good.
- Dewan Kashmiri Pink Tea – I have tried this one and though it worked, it was more bitter and harder to extract color from.
- Food Net Hi-Sun – This is available in Pakistan and I’ve heard it’s great.
Sweetening Noon Chai
Kashmiri Chai can take quite a bit of sweetener to be noticeably sweet. I have tried sweetening it using a blend of brown sugar and date syrup as well as pure cane sugar and they all work well.
If you’re using honey to sweeten, add it after you’ve poured into cups.
Some final tips to get the perfect cup
- Initially, when you’re boiling the water and tea leaves on high heat, they’ll reduce down until there’s very little water left. This is intentional. If you notice the tea leaves are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, immediately add the ice water.
- The prepared ice water will naturally increase to more than 1 cup once the ice cubes start to melt. It’s fine to include the extra water, but avoid adding the ice cubes, because this can alter the measurements.
- After adding the milk, you may be tempted to boil the milk and tea together for longer, but I find doing that loses some of the pink color. Boiling just once will incorporate the salt and sugar without making it too strong.
- Because the milk doesn’t require extended boiling, just about any dairy-free milk substitute can be used. Just add and heat through.
How to serve Kashmiri Chai
Since Kashmiri Chai is so flavorful and almost dessert-like, it’s usually served as-is, piping hot and garnished with crushed nuts. In Kashmir, various types of Kashmiri bread is often eaten alongside Kashmiri Chai. Naan can be a wonderful substitute.
More Pakistani Drink Recipes You’ll Love
If you try this recipe, please let me know in the comments below! If you’re on Instagram, please tag me so I can see your pretty pink creations. I love hearing from you!
20-Minute Kashmiri Chai (Pink Tea)
- Medium Saucepan
For Ice Water
- 1 cup room temperature water
- 2-3 large ice cubes
For Kashmiri Chai
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp Kashmiri chai leaves or sub any non-bitter green tea leaves
- 2 star anise (badiyan)
- 6-8 green cardamom pods
- 2 whole cloves (loung) optional
- 1 " cinnamon stick optional
- 1/8 tsp heaped baking soda
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup half and half* or sub ¼ cup heavy whipping cream + ¼ cup milk
- ¼ tsp kosher salt or sea salt
- 2-2.5 tbsp sweetener of choice I've tried cane sugar, brown sugar, and date syrup
For Serving (Optional)
- ½-1 tbsp raw almonds crushed using mortar and pestle
- ½ tbsp unsalted pistachios crushed using mortar and pestle
- Prepare ice water: Combine room temperature water with 2-3 large ice cubes and set aside.
- Heat a medium saucepan over high heat. Add water, Kashmiri chai leaves, star anise, green cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon (if using) and bring to a boil.
- Once it comes to a boil, add the baking soda. It’ll fizz a little. Allow this mixture to boil over high heat for 5-6 minutes. Occasionally, use a ladle to aerate (scoop and pour back) the tea. You’ll notice the froth in the water go from pale green to a deep pink color. If not, add another 1/8 tsp of baking soda.** The water will be greatly reduced, almost evaporated.
- Add the prepared ice water (discard any ice cubes). If you’d like, you can aerate several times to deepen the color. Add the milk, half & half, salt, and sweetener. Allow it to a come to a light boil, then immediately turn off the heat. Do not allow it to boil for too long as it'll start to lose some of its pink color. Taste and adjust salt and sweetener.
- Strain the tea into cups and add crushed almonds and pistachios, as desired.