Tea….my introduction

Tea….my introduction

As a novice tea drinker in 2005 I had the pleasure of visiting Kuwait, on a business trip. Kuwait city is officially a ‘dry’ country’, where alcohol is prohibited, so what better drink to refresh than with tea, whilst waiting for colleagues in the evening.

 

I was staying in Kuwait City and came across a small teashop, within the reception or lobby area selling exclusively Ronnefeldt branded tea. I tried the Morgen Tau, which was delicious & have never looked back.

 

A subsequent visit to Sri Lanka in 2011 and the obligatory Tea plantation tour for Jacqueline (I was still largely one of the uninitiated by this time in 2011, hence the tone of ‘reluctant resignation’). We visited Handunugoda Tea factory, Tittagalla, Ahangama, off the western coast road 30 minutes north of Galle. I found this fascinating from both a cultural & technical perspective. I also found another favourite tea, allegedly so pure the young leaves are cut when still unfurled, by virgins, with gold scissors. A lovely story for their signature ‘Virgin White’ tea. It is a very delicate tea and admittedly one of my favourites.

 

Incidentally, the owner, Herman Gunaratne, wrote a very interesting book on his life, ‘The Suicide Club: A Virgin Tea Planter’s Story’ about the changes experienced as the Country moved from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. He has a website, albeit incomplete, explaining the process: http://hermanteas.com/virgin-white-tea/#. However, I tend to drink this for a special occasion, as it is expensive, regardless where it’s from due to it’s scarcity.

 

As a daily tea, I like Darjeeling, but made wrong can taste burnt & bitter: It needs to be poured with approx 90°C (200 F) water (or a few seconds off the boil), and brewed for 3 minutes, not left to stew or guaranteed it’s too bitter. Good quality ingredients are a must, Darjeeling is the one tea I find differs the most by manufacturer or brand. My favourite whilst in the UAE is the small 20 pack boxes from Carrefour. Strangely enough, it’s the one tea I find no-one ever tends to stock in hotels & restaurants.

 

[Update Jan 17:  We learn as we go along: Darjeeling has been given Special Geographical Indication SGI Status to protect its rare tea from copy-cat producers. Only 87 designated gardens produce this naturally distinctive flavour unable to be replicated elsewhere]  Darjeeling tea

Middle East Chai

Middle East Chai

Having lived and travelled extensively around the Middle East for many years, it’s fitting we have a post on the unique beverages consumed. When the sun is beating down, the temperature is in the 40’s (100’s F), adding some natural minerals back into the body are essential. Vitamin B for Beer doesn’t really work for me (maybe a G & T). What are your favourite drinks in the heat?

Karak Chai

While coffee is the dominant drink in Arabia, tea has gained immense popularity in the form of drinks such as karak chai. Karak is derived from the word ‘kadak’ which means strong in Hindi. A legacy of the UAE’s long-standing trade and cultural relationship with India, this fragrant, spiced drink can be enjoyed in nearly any cafe in the city. Often this is prepared as a boiled, milky tea, where the whole concoction is made & boiled up.

Karak Chai
Shai bil Nana

Shai شاي Bil Nana

However, if you’re in a coffee shop where Shisha is being smoked, it’s not always convenient or healthy to have some of the heavy sweet drinks such as Karak Chai, Jellab, Tamar Hindi, or Turkish coffee (which is so strong as they boil the coffee grounds in water & pour it in a small cup). Turkish coffee happens to be one of my favourite after dinner drinks. It makes sense to drink a refreshing black tea with fresh spearmint leaves, which is wonderfully refreshing. My favourite is a mild Ceylonese tea, but often the main brand, Lipton is provided as a bag with some sprigs of Mint to add flavour as you like. Unfortunately the latter can be a minted stew of bitterness.

Yansoon

Black Tea with Aniseed. I believe this originated from Syria and is very soothing, whilst naturally sweet tasting due to the Aniseed and is used often in herbal teas for nursing mothers.
Many of the teas drank in the Middle East are sweet by the very nature of the heat & often humid climate, where our bodies clamour to add some sugar due to the ‘perspiration’ losses from everyday work. In cooler climates they would be very thick & cloying, but they work here and serve a useful purpose.

Yansoon