Let’s put one topic to rest. I’m not going to talk about the Japanese Tea Ceremony. I’m not qualified.
That doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to talk about tea.
I grew up drinking tea. And coffee. Well, coffee was a “grown-up” drink, bitter and something strong and to be wary of. But tea? It was the hot drink of choice. It was also the hospitality drink of choice. And the afternoon drink. And the socializing drink. And in general the all-around drink.
Hot tea, of course. I haven’t always lived in South Texas.
Merchant’s Wife by Kustodiev
When I was a child, we only drank plain black tea, loose leaf, sweetened, with milk or with lemon, or without. Tea with lemon and honey was the prescribed drink in case of cold or similar ailments (oatmeal cooked in water was the stomach soother). One drank tea in the afternoon from dainty tea cups on saucers. I even remember pouring tea into the saucer and drinking from the saucer when the tea was too hot.
There would be a side of homemade preserves and cookies, or if we were being extravagant, some rolls, or even pastries, from the bakery next door. French bakery. Created by a Master Baker. If there’s something I miss about Paris it’s the bakeries…
We didn’t have a samovar, but we still managed to drink our tea following the same principle: a strong base brew (like what’s in the little teapot on top of the brass samovar), topped with hot water to dilute it to taste (which is what the samovar itself holds).
Samovar. We have one just like it.
I discovered green tea in Morocco. Hot green tea, surprisingly refreshing when flavored with a good handful of fresh mint, and sweetened with lump sugar, in spite of the North-African heat. Tea was everywhere, served in special glasses, colored or gilded, and from a fat-bellied brass teapot. I still love green tea with mint. And no dried mint leaves, not combination of tea bags will even approximate the flavor of loose green leaf tea with just-picked mint.
Also known as Earl Grey (Bergamot-flavored)
My grandmoter always served Earl Grey. She added a dash of fresh-squeezed orange juice to the bergamot-flavored tea. I hadn’t discovered the delight of unsweetened tea yet, so of course sugar was de rigueur. As was her special lattice-top apple pie.
It was a British blend of Earl Grey, not the Royal Tea we have today. We only discovered it recently, and it’s become our favorite bergamot-flavored (i.e. Earl Grey) tea.
I spent all my middle- and high-school vacations with my friends in Germany (my Russian emigre friends), and they had their own version of the non-Samovar tea recipe. A large thermal carafe of hot water, and a pot of strong tea, timed with the German meal times of late lunch/early dinner of hearty rye bread and cold cuts. Or an afternoon tea with cookies or pastries or a fruit tart, and friends.
Tea for breakfast, of course. You only drank coffee in desperation in Germany, if you were used to French coffee. Seriously.
So there was always an interesting selection of teas at my friends’ houses — flavored teas, with blackberry and rose and vanilla (not my favorite), and tea varietals (Lapsang Souchong and Assam and Darjeeling). We even drank tea during our teenage all-nighters of debating life, the universe, and everything.
In England, I discovered the miraculous healing properties of strong black tea with milk and sugar. One woke up with tea. One had “white” (that is, with milk) tea at break time. One had tea if one was upset, sick, homesick, visiting, or even just because.
To this day, if I need a pick-me-up, I turn to absurdly strong black tea with cream and sweetener (sugar is out these days).
I do drink coffee. Espresso, lattes, Turkish coffee, French-press coffee, and lately we’ve been having fun with our one-cup coffee pods.
But nothing compares with a carefully brewed cup of loose-leaf tea. Which is why I am drinking some Sun Moon Lake Assam tea from Taiwan right now. A gift from my world-traveling daughter.
Sun Moon Lake Assam Tea
Filed in Blog | Tagged: food, life, tea, tradition