I was first introduced to Russian Caravan tea while visiting England so long ago that I can no longer remember the brand. At the time, even the name conjured up something exotic … Russian (so far away) … and caravan (think of long journeys undertaken by camels) … and that was before I had even tasted the tea! Reading about the history of this tea, I see I am not wrong about either the distance or the camels.
The name Russian Caravan tea refers to the 18th century camel caravans that followed the ‘Great Tea Road’ from China to Europe. These trip naturally took several months and were undertaken under rather harsh conditions: part of the route went from Kashgar behind China’s Great Wall, through the Gobi Desert to Urga in Mongolia. You can see a map of the route and find out more about it at http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0312-new-tourist-route-follows-the-great-tea-road/
One can imagine the loads of tea leaves being imbued with smoke from the nightly campfires so that by the time they reached Russia the leaves would have taken on an added smoky flavour – which the Russians of the time happened to enjoy!
I have strong memories of the delicious, aromatic flavour of my first encounter with Russian Caravan tea and been disappointed not to find it for sale in South Africa. To my great joy, I recently received this packet as a gift:
How grand can this be – loose leaves to boot! Russian Caravan tea is usually made up of a combination of Oolong (from the Wuyi Mountains) and Keemun (from the Anhui province) tea leaves grown in China. Who knows what wood was used for the campfires along the epic journey made by those early traders; this particular brand of Russian Caravan has withered the tea leaves over cedar and pine to obtain a flavour claimed to be more delicate than Lapsang Souchong.
The overall smoky flavour is a lot milder than Lapsang Souchong. It is this smokiness and other subtle aromas that combine to make this an evocative tea which has a warm and rustic taste.
I have noted before that Lapsang Souchong has a taste many people prefer not to acquire (it is a favourite of mine), but if you count among them I urge you to at least try the Russian Caravan – you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
This Cape Robin-chat is puffed up against the cool breeze. It has an inquisitive look about it.
Quite willing to pose for a photograph though: “This is definitely my best side.” Note the Spekboom in the background – fortunately it remains fresh looking and green despite the drought!
When is a goose-like bird not a goose? When it is a South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana), which looks remarkably like a goose at first glance – particularly when in flight where they could easily be confused with Egyptian Geese. The ‘shel’ of shelduck originates from the Middle-English sheld meaning ‘pied’ – a reference to their plumage. Tadorna is the French word for ‘shelduck’ while cana refers to the greyness of the head. It is the males who sport the grey head and females the white. Both sexes have chestnut bodies marked with black, white and green.
They are fairly commonly found at inland dams and rivers. These ones were photographed at the Hapoor waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. They eat algae and crustaceans in the water and can also be seen in farmlands where grain crops are grown.
These birds form long-term pair-bond and tend to gather in large flocks to moult after breeding.
South African Shelduck
A group of us were walking through the ruins of Castle Eyre – a fortified tower built by a body of Royal Engineers in 1885 and named after Colonel John Eyre – in Keiskammahoek, when there was a flurry of wings as a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) flew up and out of one of the rooms.
It was clearly unimpressed at having its sleep disturbed and perched in this tree for only a few moments before flying off in disgust.
This is my thousandth post since I tentatively began my blog in December 2013. Apart from trawling through my archives or wanting to find out more about me, the three posts that have attracted the most views since then have surprised me. This might be an appropriate time to tell you how they came about:
The most viewed post is Weeds with a History (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/weeds-with-a-history/) published in June 2015. While only ten bloggers have ‘liked’ it and it took three years before anyone responded to it (thank you Joy!), the post about three of the most common invasive weeds in South Africa (Khakibos, Blackjacks, and Cosmos) has been viewed nearly eight hundred times. Are viewers interested in weeds, or does the ‘with a history’ attract their attention? It came about as a result of one of our many travels through this country when we were climbing up Yeomanry Kopje outside Lindley in the Free State to view the graves of British soldiers buried there during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). As we walked through the inevitable swathes of Khakibos in the long grass it struck me then that these weeds had not existed in this country prior to that war. Having researched the subject, I gave a short talk on it at the Eastern Cape branch of the South African Military History Society. The interest shown there encouraged me to publish the post.
Following close on its heels – and closely related to it – is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/war-horses-the-role-of-horses-in-the-anglo-boer-war-1899-1902/) published nearly a year later. I have long been familiar with the Horse Memorial in Port Elizabeth, having first seen it as a child, but visiting the Horse Memorial on the campus of the Weston Agricultural College in KwaZulu Natal brought home to me the role that horses have played in war and in the Anglo-Boer War in particular. This post is very basic – written while I was feeling passionate about the topic but had not yet researched it deeply. Only nine bloggers have ‘liked’ it and Nature on the Edge is the only one to have responded (thank you Liz!), yet it has been viewed nearly seven hundred times. My interest in the topic grew and the more I found out about the role played by horses, the more I wanted to disseminate this. Thus I have since expanded it and addressed the Military History Society, The Grahamstown Historical Society, our local U3A and Friends of the Library – incorporating poetry and a variety of illustrations to embellish the message.
Surprisingly, the third most viewed post is on the topic of Flying Ants (https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/flying-ants/), also published in 2016. Although only four bloggers have ‘liked’ it and only Summer Daisy Cottage responded, it has been viewed close to four hundred times. We actually used to receive rain three years ago and I happened upon the alates emerging from the ground, having been alerted to this by the interest shown by a variety of birds in that particular section of the garden. I thought it would be interesting to record what was happening. Perhaps most of the viewers need to look up ‘flying ants’ for their school projects!
It is not always easy to photograph birds whilst driving for all too often, the moment you stop your vehicle to raise your camera, the said bird(s) fly off. Here are four that stayed perched:
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Then came this surprise: