Tea – that great drink – no coffee in this household where would I be without it! Black, white, green, sweet, spicy, fruity, herbal – real tea or tea infusions I don’t mind – all sorts – in fact the only ones I really don’t like are mint, which I can take if very weak, and roobois, which I give a wide breath always.
Yes I confess, I use both tea bags and loose teas in my house. The current range in my kitchen is Jasmine, green, Keeman, a China blend, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Orange Pekoe, Camomile, Honey and Vanilla Infusion , Green tea with Orange and Lotus flower, Fruit Bliss infusion with Orange, Mango and Cinnamon, Darjeeling. My favorites are usually Chinese black teas like Keemun, rather than India teas.
I drink it all day. It is my drink of choice. It is warming on a winter’s day, and it is refreshing on a very hot day. There’s nothing like it to revitalise you when your energy is sapped away by either hot tropical humidity or by the drying desert sun. . In my opinion it is perfection. Nothing compares. The other great thing about tea is that you make it with boiling water, which is great for your health in far climes – In India I am going to have to filter and boil all my water.
I suppose the most often asked question in England is whether you take milk and/or sugar, and there are debates over whether you should put the milk in first or only after pouring the tea into the drinking cup. We have what is colloquially called “builder’s tea”, ie very, very strong tea with milk and sugar, usually made from end of the line quality tea, loose or in bags. No first picking of fresh tips of tea bushes here. I grew up with that until I first experienced jasmine tea in a Chinese restaurant - Michael Cheung, wherever you are, I thank you! From that there was no going back, I was addicted. The range of tastes that tea gives is phenomenal.
Travelling with my Tuareg friends in North Africa means drinking sweet, triple brewed, very sweet green tea, in a small glass, just a bit bigger than a whisky tot size. Tea here it is brewed on the coals of the fire with the sugar in the pot, poured high to aireate, and drank in three servings, each with their own distinctive strength and level of sweetness. The Tuareg says that the first round is “bitter, like life” – this comes from the green tea being made quite strong. The second brew is sweet, like love. This is because more sugar has been added and the tea is weaker as more water has been added. The third serving is light, like the "breath of death." This is much weaker and much sweeter. The way it is made, when it is served etc is a very precise procedure, it has so many social implications – it is a focus for chat, for exchange of news, for the telling of stories, it indicates it is time for an afternoon nap, the end of the day etc. It is a lovely habit to get into. I have gradually developed a taste for this, and its sweetness is a welcome addition to the local diet.
In India, of course, tea, or chai, is drunk differently again. There it is milky, sweet and spicy. So my daily brew will be changing dramatically again. There are so many variations on what spices are used to make chai - cardoman, cinnamon, cloves and ginger being the common ones, but fennel seeds, bay leaves, black peppercorns, vanilla pods, nutmeg, and probably other Indian spices unobtainable here, can all be used. It is of course, only made with black tea.
So I have decided to start experimenting with my own mix. Here’s where I am at the moment
1 1/2 cups of water
1 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon
8 cardomon pods
1/2 inch piece of ginger finaly sliced
2/3 cup of milk
3 teaspoons of sugar
3 teaspoons of tea
Place water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on a lower heat for 10 minutes. Add the milk and the sugar and bring to simmer. Then, add the tea leaves and remove from pot from the heat and cover. Let the tea brew for about 3 minutes. Strain and serve. This makes about two cups.
Taste-talk: This is still a bit milky for me although I think the milky, sweet and spicy tastes is quite well balanced and subtle. So I shall need to experiment further.