PICKWICK

What springs to mind when you read or hear the word PICKWICK?

Would it be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens? Correctly titled, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, this was the first novel that great writer published – not in novel form but initially as a series of monthly instalments published by Chapman and Hall. This is an excerpt from the trial, which I have selected for the delightful drawing alongside.

If you click on this picture you will find the text easier to read.

It comes from an anthology of my mother’s entitled Humorous readings from Charles Dickens by Peter Haworth and published in 1939. Such connections interest me, so forgive my digression: I see he was the Professor of English at what was then known as Rhodes University College – now Rhodes University – in Grahamstown, which my mother attended as a student and where I now reside. I am guessing it was one of the texts she studied at the time.

If reading Charles Dickens is not your cup of tea, would the word PICKWICK ring any tea bells in your head?

Pickwick seems such an English name that I was taken aback to discover that this blend of mostly Sri Lankan teas actually comes from the Netherlands! Not only that, but it was originally known as Douwe Egberts – a name I readily associate with delicious instant coffee that we can purchase here. The mystery was solved when I read that it was the wife of one of the directors at Douwe Egberts, who suggested this very English name after having enjoyed reading none other than The Pickwick Papers, so there is a connection after all!

Note the dew drops (freshness) and the picture of a tea clipper on the cover of the tea bag. In their day these were the fastest trading ships to ply the oceans, so there is a suggestion of speed to underscore the freshness of the product within.

As with so many of the teas I have had the privilege to taste, this was a gift – sadly I have not seen it available in this country for, if it was, I would have no hesitation in purchasing some. This Earl Grey tea was delicious!

ASSAM TEA

Having grown up drinking strong Ceylon tea (the brew akin to what is often referred to as ‘builder’s tea), I was well prepared to enjoy the strong, malty taste of Assam tea in its own right – although it is widely used in a variety of blends, especially of breakfast teas.

The Assam tea region is a low-lying area tucked into the north-eastern section of India, cleaved in half by the Brahmaputra River. The tea itself is an indigenous plant (Camellia sinensis assamica) that grows naturally in the area. Only tea grown in the area can be called Assam tea. The tea shrubs sport large, coarse, glossy leaves and, it is said, the humid tropical monsoon climate produces the malty, pungent taste that this tea is well known for; many tea drinkers call it strong and bracing. I agree that it is a good pick-me-up tea.

Twinings Assam has been my most recent experience of this delicious coppery-coloured full-bodied tea.

I took up the ‘dare’ to brew it a little longer.

Various teas are bought in bulk from producers in India and are often blended by tea merchants. As you can tell from the box, Twinings has enjoyed a long history of sourcing their tea from the Assam region.

As with so many tea merchants these days, we are made to feel better by drinking it. The cause chosen seems to be a particularly appropriate one, given that 80% of tea pickers are women.

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!