Kahwa Trail: Finding Kashmiri Tea In Pahalgam, Gulmarg And Srinagar
Image Credit: Kashmiri Kahwa

Snow-covered mountains and snaking rivers are the ideal setting for sitting down with a cup of kahwa. Kashmir, the birthplace of kahwa, has shops and restaurants selling the fragrant tea at almost every corner. I took my first sip of kahwa at a local shop selling cosmetics along the highway from Srinagar Airport to Pahalgam. A man in his 60s emerged and asked me if I’d like to buy saffron face cream. “It will make your skin glow,” he said. I gave into temptation, after which he offered me a cup of kahwa. A samovar stood outside his shop; he let me go closer and smell the tea. 

I instantly got a whiff of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. When the kahwa was ready, he poured it into tiny cups for all his guests to enjoy. With strings of saffron and flaked almonds swimming in it, the tea was tastier than most teas. It had been sweetened with honey and was a momentary relief from the strong chill in the air. 

On arriving in Pahalgam, I went straight to my hotel. Named Pine and Peak, the hotel was welcoming and comfortable. Their main restaurant, WelcomCafe Lolaab and also the tearoom, Saahil Tea Lounge, served steaming cups of kahwa with snacks and breads like sheermal. The next day, I went to the local market for some pashmina shopping and one of the shopkeepers invited me to his home for a cup of kahwa. It became evident how kahwa is a marker of hospitality and friendship in Kashmir.

A couple of days later, I left Pahalgam and arrived at The Khyber Hotel in Gulmarg. While I waited for my room to be ready, I was welcomed with a complimentary cup of kahwa that was as tasty as the ones I had had in Pahalgam. The strings of saffron, flaked almonds and sweet honey taste—all intact. Gulmarg was covered in snow when I visited and so I mostly stuck to staying inside the hotel and drinking multiple cups of kahwa a day.

When it was time to leave Gulmarg and head to Srinagar, I began researching cafes that would serve kahwa. Fortunately, I found it to be common as a welcome drink at each hotel I stayed in. The Heevan Resort in Srinagar was no different. A cup of kahwa with the strong scent of cinnamon wafting out of it was placed before me. As I took my first sip, I was reminded of my first cup, which I had on my way to Pahalgam. I thought of the man who made me my first cup of kahwa and felt gratitude for being able to visit a place as beautiful as Kashmir.