TEA AND SCONES

Tea and scones are a common request. What is not common is how your tea and scones will be presented. At some establishments you may have to remove your soggy tea bag from the cup yourself; you might be given a tiny teapot with no access to hot water to top it up; or you may simply be presented with your ready-made cup of tea and a minute jug of milk.

The scones can vary too, from over large crumbly ones to small, rather mingy looking ones. I have been served open scones already spread with jam and a dollop of cream; scones with separate small packaged squares of butter and jam that need to be peeled open; cold scones; warm scones that have clearly been warmed in a microwave straight from a freezer; scones accompanied with butter that is so hard it is un-spreadable.

Tea and scones might be a commonly requested refreshment, but the expectation one might have is not always matched with the reality. This archive photograph is a reminder of a time when the reality far exceeded our expectations:

We had wanted to break a long journey and stretch our legs and so ordered tea and scones for three. As we had confirmed that we all wanted the same tea, it arrived in a large pot. What a pleasant surprise: the scones were of a generous size, the butter balls were soft enough to spread easily, and the quantities of jam, cream and grated cheese were generous. So was the jug of milk. Notice the quilted cover for the handle of the tea pot too.

These factors combined to turn what might have been an ordinary stop along the way into a memorable occasion. It was a delight to sit back and enjoy perfectly warm scones along with piping hot tea. The scones were firm enough to hold their toppings, yet light and filling – just right for peckish travellers. Our teapot was topped up with boiling water so that we all ended up having two cups – such a refreshing break it turned out to be!

 

RUSSIAN CARAVAN TEA

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.

A TRIO OF TEAS

Good tea, special tea, out of the ordinary tea, deserves a special teapot and cup.

Today I offer a trio of teas I have enjoyed from my collection. The first is a natural black tea produced in Mauritius under the Bois Cheri label, which is meant to be akin to English Breakfast tea. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the taste of other varieties, for I found this tea to be a little on the ‘thin’ side so that it requires a longer than usual brewing time to extract a reasonably strong flavour from the tea bags.

As the box suggests, the Bois Cheri tea plantations were established in 1892. It also promotes the fact that this tea is rich in antioxidants. There is a widely held belief that antioxidants can help remove free radicals and decrease cell damage in the body, which apparently makes tea one of the healthiest drinks available.

Another gift was this truly delicious Lapsang Souchong tea produced by Taylors of Harrogate. This intense and smoky tea has always been a favourite of mine, although I have learned to carefully choose who I offer to share it with as the smoky aroma is not appreciated by the unadventurous.

Taylors have been producing tea since 1886 and describe their Lapsang Souchong tea as coming from northern Formosa, where the leaves are dried on bamboo over smoking pine wood fires. This is what imbues the leaves with that delicious rich, smoky flavour. I think the tea bags inhibit the full flavour one gets from loose tea, nonetheless, this tea is the ideal companion to reading a good book!

Closer to home is the Earl Grey tea that is blended for Woolworths in South Africa. Despite my preference for loose tea, these tagless teabags are so full of flavour and aroma that I bought another box on a recent trip to Port Elizabeth.

I have often extolled the virtues of Earl Grey tea, so suffice it to say that I endorse the by-line on the box which, rightfully, claims that this is a deeply aromatic tea with a bold bergamot citrus flavour.

TESCO FINEST DARJEELING TEA

I love strong tea with lots of flavour and generally find that loose tea leaves give the best flavour hands down. Unfortunately, where I live, they are not always easy to get hold of. Darjeeling, known as the ‘champagne of teas’ is prized for its light colour and delicate flavour – quite the opposite of my usual taste. I have nonetheless always enjoyed it – and admit to the Lipton’s loose leaf Darjeeling being the best I have tasted to date – so I was thrilled to receive a gift of a box of Tesco Finest Darjeeling tea in bags. It was welcomed with open arms, boiling water at the ready and a pre-warmed teapot.

For a start, the packaging design is very attractive, the black background proving to be a good foil for the intricate patterns that suggest something of the elegance that this tea is known for. I have read that the tea is produced in India in the traditional way, which involves gently rolling the leaves to ensure the delicate flavour. This sounds well and good. The problem for me is that when the leaves are captured within the teabags, the flavour is too delicate to really appreciate and the bags must be steeped for some time to get a half decent colour from them. Be warned: if you steep them for too long, the tea will taste bitter!

The Rainforest Alliance Certification is new to me. Although the wording differs slightly – making specific reference to forests and rivers – this seems to be much the same as the blurb for Fair Trade products.

If I lived near a Tesco store, I probably wouldn’t purchase another box of these tea bags. Beggars cannot be choosers though and so, here in South Africa, I am making the most of them while they last!

NOT MOCKING MOCHA

Let us start with the mocha. Coffee springs to mind, naturally, and not any old coffee but really good quality coffee such as Kenyan, Columbian, or Arabica … can you smell the richness of those coffee beans yet?

According to https://culinarylore.com/drinks:why-is-chocolate-flavored-coffee-called-mocha/ the term mocha refers to any coffee with chocolate flavouring, including a simple mix of hot chocolate and coffee. It originated as early as 1773 when it referred to a particular variety of coffee brewed from the Mocha coffee beans (now known as Arabica beans) which were named for the port of Mocha (Al Mokha) in Yemeni (or Yemen), where the beans were shipped from.

Coffee has its place in what is to follow, however I am going to start with a most delicious drink called Rooibos Mocha. Now, all you Rooibos fans out there, sit up and read well for there is a treat in store for you. Look at the ingredients:

Honeybush tea is delicious on its own and in this tea is combined with so many other ingredients that even the list makes one’s mouth water. I am not sure about the black cornflowers though. Nonetheless, look at the mixture:

I wish there was a means of including the wonderful aroma of these to you – and then the full-bodied aroma and taste after these ingredients have been brewed. This tea is available from tea merchants and is a perfect drink to enjoy with tasty tea-time treats or after dinner.

While on the subject of dinner, here is another coffee treat in store for you: Bellingham’s Mocha Java Merlot.

Coffee bean aromas definitely emerge from this deep red wine – along with an inviting aroma of bitter chocolate. I am no expert at describing wine other than to say that this one is smooth and delicious. The label says it all.

That is the back of the label. I am frequently attracted to wine by its front label and I really enjoy the simplicity of this one.

The shape of a coffee bean is clear – as are the selection of wine bottles and glasses on the left, matched by the variety of coffee grinders, coffee pots, cups and spoons on the right. I am not mocking mocha at all – bring it on in all its forms!

AHMAD ROYAL BREAKFAST TEA

I dug into my box of loose tea bags given to me by friends and family who have travelled more widely than I have for years. Out came this delightful (alas, only one) sachet of Ahmad Royal Breakfast tea.

Alas too that I have not seen this brand for sale in South Africa, well not in the places I have been to: Home of delightful tastes is such a teaser. After this tasting experience I want to have more of it – and try out their other delightful tastes!

Look at the teapot on the sachet: invitingly old-fashioned and unusual – intriguing too. Is it a metal pot? The tea-coloured steam rising from the spout promises a rich and flavoursome tasting experience.

Assam tea is a wonderfully malty tea on its own and I have long been a fan of the robust flavour of tea grown in Kenya. Here they mingle in the best possible way.

This is a tea that is strong, filled with flavour and … I wish I could brew another cup!

ONE GOOD TEA DESERVES ANOTHER

I haven’t mentioned tea on this blog for a long time, yet twice on one day may prove to be too much for some of you. Having extolled the virtues of Rose Garden tea earlier, I thought I may as well stay with the garden theme and introduce you to an infusion of Sweet Rhubarb – another gift, this time from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

This infusion is blended by Taylors of Harrogate – and a fine blend it is too of hibiscus, rose hips, sweet blackberry leaves, apple, and natural rhubarb flavouring. Quite what is meant by ‘other natural flavourings’ I am not sure. You can read the ingredients on the box below.

Whatever they are, they make a wonderful infusion that is both a delight to smell and to drink. Despite my preference for adding milk to most teas, this is not one of them. The Sweet Rhubarb is best enjoyed on its own. If you enjoy eating rhubarb, you will definitely enjoy the fresh tangy flavour of this infusion.