Tea can evoke many things: a memory, a tradition, the essence of a country. Just the words “English breakfast” immediately conjure up a complete picture of participants, setting, teapot, and type of tea.
So too Слава Україні (Glory to Ukraine!), blended by tea sommelier Lisa of TeaHaus.
When Lisa began blending this tea—a tribute to a country that holds deep meaning for her family—she selected ingredients that have special significance for Ukrainians.
Wild Caucasus Mountain Black Tea
For the base tea, Lisa decided on leaves that have been plucked from wild-growing tea shrubs in the country of Georgia, which also borders the Black Sea, southeast of Ukraine (see post The Revival of Tea in Georgia). This lower latitude is enough to make Georgia conducive to growing tea, whereas Ukraine’s climate is too harsh, although there is one experimental farm there.
Located on the edge of Ukraine’s southwest border, the Mt. Zhornia Tea Plantation was first planted in 1949 but was largely destroyed over the years. Currently, Maksym Malyhin is managing the several hundred plants that have survived, and some oolong has been produced.
Sunflowers reached Ukraine in the mid-1700s, and now the country produces 19% of the world’s output (see post Ukraine and Sunflowers). The bright yellow of the Ukraine flag represents a field of sunflowers against a vivid blue sky.
Blue Cornflower Petals
With sunflower petals in the mix, Lisa added blue cornflower petals to represent that blue sky. Native to Ukraine, cornflowers lend not only bright color but they also give the tea some creaminess.
Cornflowers owe their blue color to a plant pigment and flavonoid called anthocyanin. The color of anthocyanin depends on the pH condition:
- alkaline: blue (e.g., cornflowers, chicory, blueberries)
- neutral: purple (e.g., violet, lavender, purple potato)
- acidic: red (e.g., hibiscus, red roses, red raspberries, red cabbage)
These pigments are heavily studied because they are antioxidants, with multiple potential medical applications (diabetes, cancer, inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases, weight control, neuroprotection, microbial infections; Khoo et al. 2017).
Called the Bread Basket of Europe, Ukraine is the third-largest buckwheat producer globally. This gluten-free pseudocereal is widely consumed in Ukraine and Russia and is part of many traditional recipes. Although it seems like a grain, buckwheat is actually a fruit, and is both extremely nutritious and very filling.
The name “buckwheat” came from Middle Dutch boecweite, “beech wheat” (because the grains are shaped like beechnuts), although the plant originated in North or East Asia and has been grown in China since 1000 BCE (Li and Zhang 2010).
Buckwheat grows well in harsh environments with short growing seasons, and isn’t bothered with poor soil. Ongoing studies are investigating the potential of buckwheat’s flavonoids and antioxidant properties in addition to its further development as a “functional food.” (According to the Mayo Clinic, that refers to foods such as oatmeal, which “have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.”)
Fields of blooming white buckwheat flowers attract honeybees that produce a dark and complex honey from the nectar. The bees visit the vast fields of sunflowers as well, although sunflower honey crystallizes more quickly than other types and therefore has less market value.
Still, with acres of blooming flowers, millions of beekeepers take advantage of the opportunity. Ukrainians eat a lot of honey (40,000 tons in 2016) and they export a sizable amount to the European Union and North America (57,000 tons in 2016) (Hydzik 2017).
Traditionally, when a person gets married, the wedding cake is made from buckwheat provided by one family and honey provided by the other family.
Слава Україні (Glory to Ukraine!) tea is currently available as a sample at TeaHaus. Wild Caucasus Mountain black tea leaves are generously sprinkled with sunflower petals, blue cornflower petals, buckwheat, and honey granules.
Brewed for 4 minutes with boiling water, the intact leaves open up, yielding a yellow-copper cup with a pleasant, faintly honey, aroma.
Wild Caucasus Mountain Tea is currently one of my favorite black teas so I was worried that the added ingredients might detract from a great tea but I was thrilled with this blend!
The honey granules nicely accentuate the black tea’s natural honey note, but not overtly so. The petals add creaminess while the buckwheat lends some nuttiness. You get a bit of vegetal in the mix. Lisa notes that this tea would be nice with lemon or a bit of local honey.
If you’d like to give this tea a try, order at TeaHaus, and note that all proceeds go to humanitarian aid in Ukraine.
–Donaldson, B., “Tea in Ukraine,” T Ching, 3/4/22.
–Hydzik, J., “Ukraine honey exports,” Bee Culture, 11/15/17.
–Khoo, H. E., et al., “Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins,” Food and Nutrition Research 61(1). 2017.
–Land, L., “Grain of the Ukraine,” Yoga International, accessed 3/29/22.
–Li, S.-Q. and W. H. Zhang, “Advances in the development of functional foods from buckwheat,” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 41(6). 2001.
–Zeratsky, K., Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Mayo Clinic, 6/27/20.