There is always a story or trail of history behind everything, almost everything. So what is the story behind the ‘Chai’? The story we know of is that one fine day in China, the second emperor of China, Shen Nung, discovered tea, when some leaves of ‘camellia sinensis’ (tea leaves) blew into his cup of hot water and there you go – a cup of Chai.
The fact is that ‘Chai’ is known to have a history of over 5000 years. Some references suggest that ‘Chai’ was first discovered or invented by a royal king in the ancient courts in India. There are also references in ‘ayurveda’. Whatever the story or the history of ‘Chai, there is no denying that the word own its origin to a Chinese word “Cha”.
Over time ‘Chai’ has evolved. Probably, it is only in Kashmir, “Chai” become a part of culture with few twist and modifications. What is known world over as ‘Kahva’ is treated as “Mogul Chay’ in Kashmir. Maybe, it owes its popularity during the Moguls in Kashmir.
As it is today, the ‘Mogul Chay” or Kahva which is served in Kashmir or by Kashmiris is different from the ‘Kahva” made from the roasted Coffee Beans in some countries. In Kashmir one can say it is an infusion of ‘Green Tea’ along with various other natural ingredients.
Back in time, the ‘Green Tea’ used to be imported from China via Ladakh for consumption in Kashmir. There are references that the ‘green tea’ used to come in the form of ‘bricks’. Over a period to time, with commercialisation, the availability of ‘green tea’ in this format ceased to exist. For some time the Tibetians settled in Darjeeling, Dehra Dun and Himachal Pradesh cultivated the green tea, however over a period of time, organised sector took over the production of ‘Green Tea”.
In Kashmir, process of making tea for sure seems to differs from rest of the world.
Traditionally, “Green Tea’ leaves are added in cold water and put in a ‘ Samavar’. After boiling in it for a few minutes, sugar to taste, green crushed cardamoms, broken cinnamon bark pieces and some thin shavings of Almond are added before serving.
‘Samavar’, a portable metallic boiler to brew Green Tea which is an ingenious devise of a kettle and stove combined together consisting of a tube surrounded by a metal jacket is sused to brew ‘Mogul Chai’.
Live charcoals are feed in the tube with the help of tongs (Chumta). This not only boils the tea in the jacket, but also keeps it warm. The perforations at the bottom of the vessel tubes assure the flow of air, which keeps the charcoals alive. The tube along with the jacket stands on a round pedestal, which mostly is embossed with floral designs or designs close to kashmiri culture. The intricate cut-out interspaces of these designs ventilate the fire in the tube. The pedestal, which is closed at the bottom, also serves as ash-pit. A spout for pouring tea and a decorated handle to hold the Samawar, makes it a piece of art. To retain the aroma, the tube containing ‘Mugal Chai’ has a separate lid.
The twist in the tale of ‘Mugal Chai’ is the ‘Samawar’ in which it is made. The Kashmir Pandits use brass ‘Samavars, while the Kashmiri muslims ‘Samavars are made of copper. However, in both the case the Samawars are embossed with evolved designs. With time, the Samawar for very few has been made of Silver.
The other twist in the story of ‘Mogul Chai’, which is interesting is that with addition of milk it ceases to be ‘Mugul Chai’, it becomes ‘Double Chai’.
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