SAFFRON TEA IN SRINAGAR


During the monsoon season in 2009 Liv and I drove together from Kathmandu through Himachal Pradesh and Leh to Srinagar in Kashmir - a long, hard, astoundingly beautiful journey which I will never forget.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to travel back to Kashmir, to visit the producers of ASA’s organic saffron. Even at the end of winter, during a strike and with all its ongoing internal troubles, I was struck again by the wealth of the culture and the warmth of the people.
 
Surrounded by the peaks of the Karakoram and Lesser Himalaya, the  Kashmir Valley is a huge, flat upland of lakes and orchards. Small villages dot terraced paddy fields interspersed with apple orchards and poplars. 
 
Some Kashmiris have startlingly green eyes and in winter, Kashmiri men traditionally keep warm by clutching a kangri (wicker fire-pot holder) beneath their flowing grey-brown pheran (woollen capes). Kashmir has a profound natural beauty, a rich cultural history and a proud heritage of trade and manufacture. Standing at one of the key apexes of the silk route, it has historically been a conduit for commodities, philosophies, cultures and ideas. 
 
According to Kashmiri legend, saffron was brought to the region by two sufi ascetics, Khawja Masood Wali  and Sheikh Sharif-u-din Wali during the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. Having fallen sick, both these men requested a cure from a local tribal chief. After they received a cure, the two holy men reputedly gave him a saffron crocus bulb as payment and thanks. To this day grateful prayers are offered to the two saints during the saffron harvesting season in late autumn. There is a golden-domed shrine and tomb dedicated to them in the valley. 
 
However, the Kashmiri poet and scholar Mohammed Yusuf Teng, has suggested that the saffron crocus had been cultivated in Kashmir for more than two millennia. In support of this, the Kashmiri tantric Hindu epics of that time mention saffron cultivation.
 
I was met in Srinagar at the very tail end of winter by Mr Shaqueel, the farmer whose land produces the saffron we are so proud to sell at ASA. He took me to see his land, currently lying fallow before cultivation begins again. 
 
We talked about his farming and processing methods, the issues surrounding modern production, and he told me of his of his family history. Mr Shaqeel’s family has been farming saffron for a vert long time - he is the latest in several generations to growing the saffron crocus in the same valley. Before the end of the era of the British in India ended with partition, his family supplied the descendants of the Maharajas of the Dogra Rajput dynasty which ruled Kashmir between 1846 and 1949. 
 
He very kindly invited me to his beautiful house, where we talked at some length into the afternoon , and where he served a traditional Kashmiri Kahwa. This saffron tea contains nuts, and often dried fruits and spices too, and is traditionally served with unleavened, glazed bread.
 
I was struck again by the genuine warmth of his welcome, and by the rich sophistication of the hospitality and kindness offered to visitors in this beautiful place. I would like to share with you some of the sense of the rich heritage of this ancient culture, by offering ASA's own recipe for Kahwa:

Kashmiri Kahwa  (Saffron Tea)
 
Makes 1l finished tea

Ingredients:
 
20 strands ASA saffron
17g  Assam tea
35g  sugar
5g pistachio nuts, finely chopped
5g blanched almonds (or walnuts), finely chopped
15g organic dried apricots, finely diced
 
Method:
 
In a pot, simmer the spices, sugar, saffron and tea in 1 litre of water for 7 minutes. The water should be barely simmering.
 
Remove from the heat, cover and rest for 7 minutes
 
In small serving glasses, place a pinch of the nuts and dried fruits
 
Strain the tea into the glasses
 
Serve each glass with a small teaspoon (to eat the nuts and fruit at the end of the glass)