Julie from Venus Adventures for women reflects on Tea
Recently I was visiting some nomadic Bedouin friends in the Sinai, Egypt. As we sat cross-legged round the fire sipping sweet tea from small tea glasses, the teapot simmering away on the hot coals, I thought about how often tea had been an important focal point in so many countries I had visited.
Including at home in New Zealand: as a child I remember all my aunties gossiping around dainty china teacups and cake tins full of home baking. Tea is a social drink which brings people together in different cultures all over the world. The only difference is the type of tea and the preparation.
India is famous for producing teas, such as Darjeeling and Assam, however real Indian tea, or “chai” is quite different. It is brewed by boiling up milk and sugar, and then dipping what looks like an old sock into the mixture – the tea being inside the “sock”. The tea is poured many times and from a great height throughout the brewing process to mix and aerate it. You are left with a sweet, dark brown brew that actually does nothing to quench the thirst that the Indian climate induces! Nonetheless it is a great drink, and like anywhere, a cup of chai tastes good at any time of the day.
Tea is also hugely important in North Africa. It is an unavoidable part of life from Morocco to Egypt. The nomadic Saharan Tuareg love drinking tea, and it can be a long, drawn-out process. I once had tea with a Tuareg in Timbuktu and the whole thing took 3 hours! No rushing things in the heat of the desert! A teapot with green tea and water is popped onto the coals of a fire until the water boils. One glass is poured, and then poured back into the pot – three times. A glass full of sugar is added to the pot, and then the tea is poured, raising the tea pot as high as possible as the glass fills. The tea is poured back into the pot and this is repeated until the right strength is acquired.
Once the first pot is finished, you make another pot, using the same tea leaves, and then another pot – three all told. It takes a long time, and comprises three rounds, each sweeter than the last. As the saying goes: “The first cup is strong like life; the second is sweet like love; and the third is bitter like death.” The ceremony is very formal, and serving tea is an important way of welcoming someone.
Iranians are also great tea drinkers. As elsewhere in the Islamic world, drinking chai is practically a national pastime. Tea houses are filled with men sipping on their favourite social drink. The tea leaves infuse in the tea maker, set atop a samovar. The hostess pours a little of this dark liquid into a glass and brings it up to the light to assess its color and strength. Then she pours the very strong tea into small glasses, diluting it with boiling water from the samovar to the taste of each guest. Now here is the unusual bit: you put the sugar cube, not into your tea glass, but into your mouth and drink little sips of tea through the cube.
No matter where I went, tea was always preferred sweet – which would account for a lot of stained brown, rotting teeth! And some of the best parties I have ever been to we drank tea and the locals played drums: unimaginable for tea to be a “party starter” in our culture! But one thing is for sure: tea is a universal drink, which brings people together everywhere – now that has to make the world a better place, doesn’t it?
by Julie Paterson Venus Adventures – Global Trips for Women