Sheer chai in its literal form translates to 'milk tea' in Dari/Farsi, but is the name for the classic Afghan pink tea that is made from a particular type of green tea. Not all teas are created equal, and the particular type of tea leaf utilized for sheer chai is a special one that oxidizes in the specific boiling process I have outlined below to release a pink color. It is often served as a breakfast tea, sweetened with sugar and enjoyed with a dollop of qaymagh* (clotted cream).
Creating a fool proof sheer chai recipe has been a long time passion as mine, as removing barriers to being able to access the beautiful components of Afghan culture through food is a key part of my mission. Thus, this recipe seeks to simplify the process and ensure that your sheer chai always comes out pink and is a simple, effortless brew. As my favorite drink, and an iconic example of Afghan cuisine, sheer chai or pink chai also makes its way to my table for Nawroz celebrations.
Nawroz has not only been a holiday for my family, but also a way for us to keep Afghan culture alive in the states. As I now have established my own multi-cultural home with my Swahili husband, it is more important than ever for me to pass on the cultural traditions that brought such richness and joy to my own upbringing. Perhaps it's being a part of a diaspora that was forcibly removed from their homeland that makes me feel even more attached to a need to keep the culture alive.
Afghanistan continues to suffer through more than a quarter century of war. It is my passionate commitment to preserve the beautiful components of culture alive and help you recreate them in your homes through Imanistan. Whether you enjoy sheer chai for a Sunday brunch, on Nawroz, or by creating Sheer Chai cheesecake, I hope you are able to experience one of the many beauties of Afghan culture in a cup. Like Sheer Chai, Afghan culture in one sip feels like a warm soothing hug, a rich texture full of flavors and a delightful experience both visually and experientially. Noshejaan!
Where to Find Sheer Chai Leaves
Sheer Chai requires specific tea leaves, it is a particular type of green tea that is utilized for sheer chai. As Kashmiris share a similar pink chai with a salty twist, it's possible to find these tea leaves outside of Afghan grocery stores as well.
I recommend going to your local Afghan grocery store (I have compiled a list of them here) and asking specifically for the tea leaves for sheer chai. My favorite brand that never fails is Aahu Barah's green tea specifically for sheer chai. There is a wide variance in green teas, so be sure to ask specifically for the one intended for sheer chai as not all green teas oxidize in this process to produce the pink color and specific flavor of sheer chai.
Let me know if you're had success with other brands and places to purchase them in the comments below.
Sheer Chai Recipe
½ cup sheer chai tea leaves
½ tbsp baking soda
2 cups water
1 tray ice cubes
Qaymagh (clotted cream), optional
Add tea leaves and baking soda into a pot with high walls to allow for boiling.
Add 2 cups of water to the pot, bring tea to a boil. Tea will begin to create a foam and bubble, make sure the tea does not boil over in the pot (you may have to reduce the heat to ensure this).
Once the tea has begun to boil, begin mixing vigorously with a whisk for approximately 1.5-3 minutes.
Turn off heat and add in ice cubes from tray. Continue whisking until ice cubes are melted. The ice water helps hold in the pink color of the tea.
Set the tea mixture aside for at least 1 hour, ideally overnight to allow the tea leaves to steep properly for maximum color production.
Once the tea has steeped, take an empty bottle and with a strainer, pour the tea liquid into the bottle, straining out the leaves. Save bottle and set aside for use to create sheer chai. This is your chai concentrate.
Chai concentrate can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a week and will retain its color.
When you are ready to create the sheer chai for serving, heat whole milk either in a pot or in the microwave. Add chai concentrate in slowly, until you have reached a slightly lighter shade than the desired true pink color. Add cardamom. When heating the milk tea mixture, the color of the mix will deepen due to the heating process. Ideally you would allow the milk tea mixture to heat thoroughly, for at least 5 minutes on the stovetop, watching it closely so it does not burn. The highest heat I would recommend is medium high heat as milk has a tendency to burn easily. Ladeling the milk tea as it is heating may help create a deeper, richer pink hue.
Serve in mugs once you have a heated milk tea mixture. Traditionally it is served with qaymagh* (clotted cream) and sugar as it is a sweet breakfast tea. Mix the sugar in and when ready to serve, put a dollop of qaymagh to float on top for a full rich taste. Noshejaan!
* Qaymagh can be found in Afghan grocery stores in the refrigerator section.
Alternatively, it can also be found in general international and halal grocery stores on the shelf in a 6oz can called "puck cream". It is available online as well: https://www.amazon.com/Puck-Pure-Natural-Cream-Ounce/dp/B013DQKBAQ