It was at Book Club that I ruefully expressed my disappointment that we had missed an opportunity to celebrate International Tea Day last week. No-one else seemed to mind other than remarking that it would have been a good excuse to socialise somewhere during the day. A few bandied about the names of places we could visit in town for such a purpose.
What can one expect from a band of Rooibos fanatics? My only ally in what they call the ‘ordinary’ tea (Ceylon) brigade wasn’t there – and she only ventures as far as Earl Grey. Another friend usually only tastes different teas in my home – where she is frequently pleasantly surprised that anything other than Rooibos can taste so good!
In a defiant celebration of the wonderful variety of teas on offer, I reached into the tea cupboard this morning for the presentation box of Tea Forté loose leaf teas I had received for Christmas.
I selected a foil packet of Bombay Chai and steeped it for five minutes. Now this is a marvellous tea to savour early on a chilly morning!
While some prefer to drink it with heated milk and the addition of sugar, I enjoy the deliciously fragrant infusion of black tea, ginger, cardamom, cloves, star anise and black pepper with only a dash of milk. It has a full-bodied, smooth taste that warms the cockles of one’s heart.
This dark and delightfully invigorating blend of tea apparently originated centuries ago in India and Tibet – it has certainly stood the test of time and would make a refreshing drink at any time of the day!
My challenge to all traditional rooibos drinkers is to step out of your comfort zone now and then to dip your taste buds into the shores of the mighty ocean of tea flavours – even if only to confirm your choice of favourite tea tipple.
The Ten Virtues of Tea
Tea has the blessing of all deities
Tea promotes filial piety
Tea drives away all evil spirits
Tea banishes drowsiness
Tea keeps the five internal organs in harmony
Tea wards off disease
Tea strengthens friendship
Tea disciplines body and mind
Tea destroys the passions
Tea grants a peaceful death
— Attributed to Japanese Buddhist priest Myôe (1173–1232), who had the words inscribed on a tea kettle.
Source: Fowler Museum at UCLA Curriculum. Steeped in History: The Art of Tea
I grew up drinking Ceylon tea as the only option to coffee. Later I encountered Rooibos tea and then on a trip to England was introduced to Earl Grey – that will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say I became hooked on tasting and collecting different teas. While my teapot collection has grown by accident, the aromatic collection of teas in my kitchen cupboard has grown by design. I scan every supermarket shelf in different places I visit for teas I have not yet met or have run out of. My recent trip to Cape Town meant I could replenish my stock of loose leaf Lapsang Souchong … sheer heaven. Thank you to friends and family who contribute to this collection of teas!
Prince of Wales is my focus today though for I have just enjoyed a pot of it and savoured every moment of the experience. It is a medium-strength tea with a rich and inviting colour. I find it to be robust with a well-rounded smooth flavour that invites one to sit quietly on one’s own and contemplate (or watch birds) or to share with someone special. It is definitely not a gulp-down-quickly and get-back-to-work kind of tea at all. I find it perfect to enjoy at any time of the day and serve it well steeped with a little milk. The tea has a naturally sweet taste, I think, so requires no sugar.
Delving into its historical connections, I find it is traditionally a blend of Keemun China tea with green tea and a hint of Oolong tea developed to suit the taste of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward III. The actual combination of teas will depend on who makes it I suppose. The brand most readily available in my town consists of a blend of Ceylon and African teas. Some sources add that the addition of lemongrass essential oil is important too. Whatever the actual blend, Prince of Wales is a complex tea packed with flavour that can be assured of a lasting place in my tea cupboard!