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|Nancy Bea Miller
||Dear Nicey and Wifey;|
Just found out myself that it is National Hot Tea Month here in the U.S., according to the American Food
and Drink Holidays people (whoever they are.) Saw it announced on a very nice site called Morning Coffee
and Afternoon Tea.
Just thought you might like to know. Off to celebrate!
(of Genre Cookshop)
|Nicey replies: Hello Nancy,
Indeed it appears to be. Mind you January is also National Egg, Meat, Soup, Bread, Bread Machine Baking, Candy and Prune Breakfast month. This some what steals Hot Tea's thunder. It's also troubling that the word 'Hot' has to be included to distinguish it from the barbarous business of iced tea.
The full calendar makes very funny and disturbing reading in equal measure. Obviously with Independence day July is a busy month and apart from National Scotch, Tequila, Grand Marnier, Daiquiri and Pina Colada day it also hosts National Fried Chicken, French Fries, Hot Dog, Ice Cream, Ice Cream Soda, Vanilla Ice day and for good measure National Junk Food day.
||Hello Nicey et al.|
Although I come from Blighty I have been living for a year now in an awfully hot place called the Sahel, which is to the South West of the Sahara Desert that Michael Palin so memorably crossed on telly. There isn't much to do here, so rather understandably people have resorted to sitting down and drinking tea to pass the time. However, the tea-drinking customs here are so radically different to our own I thought people might appreciate an in-depth report of the process, so here goes...
First, there are no chairs to sit on, so we sit on the floor usually with some cushions to make it a bit more comfy. Then a fire is lit in the charcoal brazier on which the tea will be made. For the tea itself (which in Arabic is called ataaya) we use a small metal teapot that could hold one mug full of water, however tea is drunk in small glasses, like you might drink shooters from on a wild night out in Tunbridge Wells. We put three glasses of water and one glass of tea (dark Chinese green tea) in the teapot and place it on the fire. Once it has boiled and stewed for a couple of minutes, the pot is removed from the fire, then a glass full of sugar is added along with a sprig of mint if you've got some. The tea is then poured into two glasses, then back into the pot several times to mix in the sugar, then back on the fire for a couple of minutes to stew the mint. You then take three glasses, fill one with tea, and then pour that tea into the second glass, then from the second glass to the third, and back and forth to produce foam in each glass. The tea is then reheated before serving up and drinking with satisfyingly loud slurping noises. Once everyone has drunk, the mint is removed from the pot, another glass full of sugar and another sprig of mint are placed in with three more glasses of water and the same tea leaves and the whole process is repeated. It is then repeated a third time, again with the same tea leaves, meaning the final glass is very weak and sweet. The whole process usually takes around an hour so that's plenty of sitting down.
I've attached a small photo of some ataaya.
We don't have biscuits with tea, but we sometimes enjoy a piece of freshly-baked bread which is almost as good. Biscuits are available here, although they're mostly iffy French-style imports. The most promising are called Biscrem, which are dry and hard and flavourless outside but fillied with a sort of chocolatey flavoured somethingortheother that melts in the desert heat. Chocolate on the outside of things is unfortunately a bad idea in these parts.
None of the other foreigners here seem to understand why anyone would be interested in a website about sitting down and drinking tea and eating biscuits. Can you imagine? Might I suggest encouraging others from around the world to write and tell about their sitting down and drinking tea customs? Let it never be said that we Brits are not cosmopolitan.
|Nicey replies: Ben,
Thanks so much for that very useful account of Saharan tea drinking. I bought some of that Green Tea a month or two back just because I thought I should give it a go but found it utterly grim. Bunging in loads of sugar and mint couldn't hurt. Next time we fire up the BBQ maybe I'll try knocking up some desert style tea on it, I'm always looking for something useful to do with the BBQ after all the cooking has died down. Mind you I'll have to keep a look out for a nice second hand metal teapot now.
Love your website and sense of humour, and especially the original spelling and grammar together with the Joycian rambling off into thoughts far removed. From what? Oh yes, tea and biscuits.
My parents took us from the UK in 1959, when tea was loose and landed us in in Nova Scotia, Canada. Tea is big here, and the vast consumption of it a bit of a giggle to the rest of the country. By 1959, teabags had already displaced most loose tea, and we couldn't get a decent cuppa anywhere except at home. Then we discovered that all the tea came from Kenya and is called orange pekoe. I therefore became distraught at British colonial policy which obviously meant all the decent Indian tea was intercepted shortly after being picked and sent to the UK, leaving the rest of the world to choke down inferior brews. This, I believe, was as a distinct policy decision to make up for the Boston Tea Party, when nascent Americans invented iced tea by brewing it in the harbour.
Nevertheless, my Mum soon discovered the universal "socials", at which other Mums would gather round to discuss their favourite topic or charity. These events were usually chronicled in the local paper with a description of the gathering, and Always the following note: "Mrs. So and So poured". Some of these ladies poured so much tea that they became very good at it, and championships had evolved by about 1885. Of course, my Mum quickly discovered that the nibblies offered at these socials were called ookies -- argh On the other hand, some of these things had morphed into what is generally known as "squares". Never seen anything like them in Blighty, but they have biscuits beaten by a country mile most of the time, as they are homemade, soft, gooey, quite often have lots of choccy nuts and jam in them and make you burp after the third cuppa. The most popular cookie, oh all right biscuit was then and still is the chocolate chip, which is made in every variety from hard like bourbons to gooey bits of mostly chocolate held together with undercooked dough. Hmm... Oreos are industrial floor sweepings and sugar baked into a hard and not very nice biccy. Don't like 'em at all, but some people are addicted. Rats.
The "cookie" aisle at local supermarkets has well over 200 varieties of biscuits, but most aren't much good, although Dare Marshmallow Puffs aren't bad. These are, I should think, similar to Tunnocks tea cakes, but my brother and I used to put them in the fridge until they were cold and then you could pop the chocolate covering off them with your lips, leaving the white blob of marshmallow quivering on the biscuit, hiding the jam under it. Or you treat it like a boiled egg and smack its crown with a teaspoon, splintering the chocolate just enough to allow its removal from the clinging marshmallow with your fingers. Then while the cold chocolate gradually melted in your mouth, you could keep a close eye on the marshmallow, and decide how you were going to dispatch this particular specimen. You could lift it off the biscuit with your tongue and roll it around your mouth while it quietly dissolved, leaving the jammy biscuit behind, or in a fit of venal hunger bite right into the marshmallow and biscuit and chew it up. Delicious.
As you know Wagon Wheels were an invention of Westons, which was a Canadian outfit. Having been quite unimpressed as a schoolboy in Britain with these things, we were eager to find out what the real thing was like. Just as bad with a faint whiff of decaying straw, which every wagon wheel seems to have. Maybe that's the grain content.
There are many makes of digestives, but none of them taste like McVities. We still have Peek Freans here, but the funny little biscuits with the oven-hardened red jam blob in the middle taste remarkably like sawdust, and the tasteless jam sticks to your teeth for far too long. The bourbons are dreadful as well, being hard and with concrete-like filling and the digestives are merely passable. We had Marks and Sparks here for about 15 years, but despite their best efforts, they were unable to convince Canada that having all their goods arrayed around with snooty sales ladies and no pizazz was the marketing wave of the future. However, while they were here, at least people who had visited the UK and knew about M&S could get decent tea and biscuits, along with tinned cock-a-leekie soup, which I understand was a smash bestseller to expatriate Welshmen. The trouble with M&S stuff is that whilst being of first class quality, it never tastes like the original, does it? Something not quite right.
After ten years of living in the colonies, I returned to London to take postgrad studies, and in my five years there downed so many cuppas and biscuits, it was all a bit of a blur really. Tescos were just starting up and were infested with grim-faced women buying the basics in pretty grimy locations like Lamb's Conduit Way, where one had to pass by the proprietor of an Indian restaurant who would call out the wondrousness of his curries and especially Bombay Duck as we Canadians tried to look the other way hurrying to buy some biscuits and a loaf of bread. By the way, ordinary bread in the UK is the best I've ever found by a long shot. I just can't enjoy a decent boiled egg without a proper slice of bread that's both chewy and heavy. Our loaves here weigh a pound and are the same size, which makes them fluffy enough to blow away in a light breeze, but not suitable as a gustatory complement to a humble egg. On the other hand, Britain invented Batchelors dehyrated peas and Vesta curries so you can't have everything your way can you.
Fast forward to 1993 when I made my last trip to the UK, and managed to visit nearly all the friends I made while living in London, this meant travelling the length and breadth of the Uk including the Isle of Islay and quite a few drams of damn good whisky. Where was I, oh yes -- In Manchester, I had to give up tea-drinking by 6pm one day, as I counted back to the beginning of the day whilst sequestered in the loo and realized I had had 23 cups at six different places and a couple of real Eccles cakes from that place in Eccles which claims to have invented them. Very nice but felt a bit queasy.
So now I read on your website that tea consumption is down a lot due to youngsters drinking too much juice and coke, which is a real pity because it leads to diabetes all that sugar. Plus, there's nothing like a quiet gathering with a nice cuppa and a biscuit or three. Anyway, I now buy Brooke Bond tea packaged in India from a local merchant so as to get the real tea flavour I like and make it properly as it's loose. Not like the leaf tea of my youth to look at, little hard granules that explode in boiling water. Not bad at all. On the other hand, besides biscuits of many varieties that would be instantly recognizable to you, we also get stuff from Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands which I have endeavoured to try. I should think that anyone from the aforementioned countries who visited the UK and had a decent cuppa and a UK biscuit would not want to return home. Good Lord, what are these things? Dry, crumbly biccies that don't travel well at all. Our Canadian stuff is much more like yours than these continental things. The Dutch try the hardest, but the German ones come in big bags without liners which mean they get crushed just getting here. I mean Britain gave the world hardtack, didn't it, and if that wasn't the beginning of the digestive, I don't know what is. Unbreakable unless dropped on its edge just so.
Funnily enough, the very best tea I've ever been offered anywhere at a commercial place was in the USA, and I can recommend it highly. Visit the Acadia National Park in Maine, and wonder of wonders, the US National Parks Service serves tea in the garden and adjacent meadow at picnic tables in summer during the late afternoon. It is brought by attractive college students working their summer jobs there and arrives in a giant green porcelain teapot with Parks Service logo together with proper cups and saucers and milk and sugar. Just couldn't believe it when it happened, so had to have another pot with my parents. Wow. Who'd have ever believed it, the setting was perfect, the tea divine. So unexpected.
Well I've written far too much and don't understand those icons, so don't know where this fits. But keep up the good work, I laugh my head off reading it and none of my friends understand why when I show them. I think I'll have a nice cup of tea and read some more, because I'm already sitting down.
|Nicey replies: Thanks Bruce for that mammoth message, and all of that useful information on Canada, its biscuits, cakes and its tea. Also thanks for the tip off about a place in America that makes a decent cup of tea, after four years I think we may be edging towards double figures on that. You also managed a fairly respectable icon haul. If you had kept going a bit longer I'm sure you would have most of the others, and I felt particularly that the kettle and toast icons where within your grasp at one point. |
Kimberley and Chocolate Kimberley Review
I was interested to note the recent emails concerning our Russian cousins' drinking of tea with jam, and would like to tell Nicky Bramley about my Polish experience: one of the jams of choice which was added to tea in that fine country, by my unfine fellow-at-the-time, was rose jam. It had petals and everything (when I say 'everything' I exclude thorns and hips and leaves and stalks and roots). Rose jam is also a popular choice in Poland's famous doughnuts, which are merrily scoffed in a pre-Lenten fashion (a la pancakes), as is cheese. But that is another - and quite dangerous - matter. Imagine those petals floating up in your tea! Very pretty.
PS I am currently downing vats of tea (milked, not jammed) in order to rid my mouth of the unpleasant sensation of a Jacobs Kimberley. How can these atrocities be permitted in this day and age?
||Wow, Iíd love to know what type of jam is used in Russian tea.|
Strawberry? Lumps of strawberry hunkered at the bottom of the cup
Raspberry? A layer of pips to sieve through your teeth when you get to the bottom
Rhubarb? Stringy floaters
Blackcurrant? Little bouncy purple balls popping to the surface from time to time
Arenít other countries wonderful?
|Nicey replies: Yes it does raise many questions, doesn't it?|