Kahva: Our Traditional Tea

With every sip of Kashmiri Kahva, one encounters the age-old culture of Kashmir
"One among such unique cultures is Kahva (also Kahwa) which is favorite traditional tea here during harvest winter season."
"One among such unique cultures is Kahva (also Kahwa) which is favorite traditional tea here during harvest winter season."Special arrangement

Besides snow clad peaks, bewitching natural beauty and refreshing water of river Jhelum, the valley of Kashmir has a unique culture. The people here have made huge contributions towards the world culture in the form of their craft, art, music, custom, etc.

Thus the culture of Kashmir deserves true admiration and the traditions of the region as well as its various specialties which we must preserve, always! Most of the tourists travel to Kashmir to experience the tradition and culture of this place.

They embellish their after-visit life by taking along some cultural items and artifacts from Kashmir. One among such unique cultures is Kahva (also Kahwa) which is favorite traditional tea here during harvest winter season.

A day before Chillaikallan set in, I visited Dalgate, my favorite spot in Srinagar where one comes across so many tourists everyday. I had especially come here to see the Kashmir’s Kahva man Mushtaq Hussain Akhoon who serves Kahva to tourists in a traditional Kashmiri Samovar (copper percolator) during the chilly winter days on the waters of Dal Lake.

Although, I didn’t see him, yet, I thought to aware people about this classic and traditional tea from Himalayan valley. Kahva (Kehwa) is basically an Arabic word “qahwah” meaning aromatic beverage.

It is known as Kahawh in our sweet mother-tongue. It is an infusion made with sliced almonds, saffron strands including range of spices like cinnamon and cardamom, etc.

Though it refreshes, rejuvenates, soothes and makes us feel good. Yet, it is a still practiced ritual of Kashmir. It is something which our fore-fathers have left behind. In fact, a deep dwelled trait of our Kashmiriyat, just remembering us of our roots. And is originally an essential segment of Kashmiri cuisine.

Kahva which is an incredible mild green tea is made with various ingredients. It is nowadays quite different than the Kahva we have our rituals connected with. Today, visitors throng the bowl valley of Kashmir for having Kahva.

They don’t sit satisfied, unless and until they do not savor Kashmiri Kehwa during their visit. They indeed love to replace Lipton tea habit with a cup of Kahva during their stay here in winter season.

Nevertheless, the Kahva we had in our time, can’t be found anywhere. Those blessings have wafted with the wind, I may say. The aroma that would last for hours seems missing.

No sooner the lid of the Samovar (traditional Kashmiri kettle) was taken up than the whiff of Kahva would spread around to be fondly sniffed. You know, why boatman Mushtaq Hussain Akhoon’s Kahva is liked? All because, the gentleman serves it in Samovar which Kahva has an old alliance with.

This metal urn Samovar is our unique identity and Kahva in it is very much tasty. I fervently believe that if Mr. Akhoon will serve it in modern day kettle, hardly will he find any customers around.

Even, if he will include more than 14 varieties of ingredients to it. However, a Kashmiri like him deserves to be so much appreciated for reviving us our age old tradition.

Kahva, Samovar, Tchinpela (Bone China bowl to have Kahva) and Tchachvor (Kashmiri traditional bread called Crumpt in English) have age old correlation with one another. And breaking this traditional association will be just identical to harming the very sanctity of Kashmiriyat.

Samovar Kahva was famous in Kashmir a decade ago. But nowadays, the trend to have it seems to have been forgotten only because our social position has improved in recent years due to education. The aroma and flavor of Samovar Kahva along with Tchachvor was something unique. 

The present times, Kahva can’t vie with the Kahwa of our grandparents’ time. That Kahva was something different though not added a list of spices in it. In those days, its arrival would grace Kashmir with the onset of winter season.

However, during the harshest period of Chillaikallan, Chill Bache and Chill Khurda, it was regularly used by Kashmiris with an intention to cure different diseases especially whooping cough called Chass in local parlance.

The only Kahva recipe then was Dalchini (cinnamon), rose-petals, sometimes Khameer (Gulkand), Alachi (green cardamom), Chini (sugar) and a pinch of turmeric to add color.

I vividly remember, Khameer for Kahva was made up of rose-petals that would preferably grow almost in every courtyard in villages. Elders in family would collect rose-petals and then grind them with sugar in a mortar-pestle.

The crushed paste of it was later filled tightly in a bottle which was kept hanging on a balcony window in autumn sunshine only to be used for making Kahva in winter time.Today, a variety of Kahva spices are available in the market.

Preparations for Kahva making have changed, so has changed the flavor. Except the elite class, no body would add saffron strands and a garnish of chopped almonds to Kahva for savor.

So many rituals of Samovar Kahva are still practiced in rural Kashmir. It is served to guests in Mehndiraat, to the devotees during Shab-e-Kadr (night long vigil prayers) in mosques and on Fateh- Khawani of people.

In my village, when somebody would seriously fall ill or any kid would get frightened, or attacked by any fatalistic disease; his parents would immediately, next day, arrange a Kahva Samovar in the premises to expel the monster by distributing it out among village children.

I recall, when village children were called to the courtyard to have Kahva with Tchachvor, a hue and cry scene was observed. All the children were lined up to get Tchachvor and an amazing bowl of Kahva. I just can’t forget those good old days!

The writer is English teacher in J&K School Education Department

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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