Tea Leaves Blended with Coffee Beans. Really.

When this is placed before you, well, who needs anything else?dessert-webBut truly, a solid tea serves as a wonderful counterpoint to this dessert’s sweet richness. And here at Cupán Tae—located in Ireland’s captivating city of Galway—there are many fine choices.

While I went with the sturdy, no-nonsense Irish Breakfast, my far more adventurous daughter opted for Dreamy Creamy Galway Tea—and more than one bag of this decidedly dreamy creamy brew found its way home with us!tea-pkg-lt-webBlended specifically for Cupán Tae, Dreamy Creamy Galway Tea is definitely not your typical loose leaf tea blend!

Here, black tea leaves are sprinkled with jasmine blossoms—and whole roasted coffee beans.

brew_lt-webWhen brewed, the tea yields a dark copper cup and offers up a nutty, sweet aroma that is strong and warm.

So what do tea leaves and coffee beans together taste like?

Surprisingly perhaps, no one flavor dominates.

Rather, the elements balance well, with a pleasant nuttiness. The coffee beans seem to give a roasted note to the tea, while the jasmine results in a bit of sweetness.

I was not expecting to enjoy a beverage that combines tea leaves with coffee beans. All tea drinkers know that putting coffee into your travel mug, for example, means that you will never again be able to use that mug for tea! But this brew has a nice balance, with roasted, rather than coffee, notes, particularly when hot. I did find that as the tea cooled, I could taste a hint of coffee.

Intrigued? Give it a try! At their charming Galway location or the Cupán Tae website.

Cupan tae tea shop(And by the way, if you are baffled about their name spelled “Cupãn” on the storefront and “Cupán” on the tea packaging, so am I.)

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Why Great Loose Leaf Tea Comes via Germany

From One Perspective, as Tourist

There is something special between kids and their grandparents. A bond, a pact, between them that tacitly circumvents the parents.

So as a teenager back in the early 1970s, I was lucky enough to travel several times with my grandmother, visiting her brother in Kassel, Germany, and seeing the country through her eyes.

We did a lot of walking around the city and through parks.

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Including a bit of touristy stuff.

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And we ate and drank around my great-uncle’s coffee table, a new experience for me. There was wine of course, along with orange juice with seltzer. Coffee too, plus a whole lot of tea, which we sipped from delicate glass teacups.

But what I learned only this morning is that Kassel has its own little claim to fame in the tea world!

To Another, Rooted in History

Which takes us back to World War I. Which was truly awful.

Humanity, however, perseveres. Compassionate innovators in the medical field, for example, sought to mitigate horrific injuries. And on another plane, people worked to ensure that tea would remain available.

Now this isn’t totally trivial. Although economic factors undoubtedly were involved, tea and coffee are embedded into our social fabric, and numerous studies have shown how the actual beverages and the ceremony around them can positively impact our mental and emotional well-being.

So when the British navy interrupted the tea trade during the war, the Germans—anticipating life after the war—established the German Tea Association in the centrally located city of Kassel on April 21, 1917.

The tea companies, however, were mainly in Germany’s north end, so the Association soon relocated to the port city of Hamburg, located along the Elbe River in northern Germany.

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Elbe River, Hamburg (undated photo; probably early 1970s)

To Today, and Looking Forward

Over the past century, global tea production has increased tenfold, and with tea being as popular as ever, it seems likely that this trend will continue. Last year, 200,000 tons of tea came into Hamburg! (From what I calculate from 2016 statistics, this is about 11–12% of the world’s total that is exported from the countries of origin.)

Germany has emerged as a leader in tea processing, upholding strict standards in tea quality—both for flavor and to ensure no pesticides or heavy metals are present. To meet these requirements, the tea is rigorously tested for contaminants, and tea tasters do the rest.

And lest you think tasting tea all day would be a dream job, consider this:

a tea taster samples 400 types of tea every day and has mere seconds to decide whether to purchase,

according to Maximilian Wittig, the Association’s current managing director.

Tea that passes all testing is either packaged for distribution throughout the world, or is first blended (mixtures of different teas, such as breakfast teas) or flavored (e.g., with herbs, spices, dried fruit, flower blossoms, or oils like bergamot).

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And here I am, looking at Kassel and my early experiences there with yet another perspective. And Happy 100th to the German Tea Association!

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East Frisian tea with rock sugar and heavy cream. In this region of Germany, 300 liters of tea per person are consumed (in England, it’s only 200 liters/person).

Source: “German tea association celebrating 100th anniversary in Hamburg,” Hamburg News. September 4, 2017.

What Is Yerba Mate Tea?

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Want a nice evening herbal tea that helps you sleep? Yerba mate is not it!

Yes, it is an herbal, being the dried leaves and twigs from a variety of holly that grows in South American rainforests. And yes, legend says it is a gift from the gods.

But, it promises to keep you alert to any rainforest predators with its three naturally occurring stimulants—the same as found in tea, coffee, and chocolate!

Mate: Its Brew

A cup of mate contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine—all of which readily cross our body’s blood-brain barrier, giving us that energy boost.

mate-leaves-webHowever, it’s complicated. Scientists try to tease out what causes what, but each of these elements work differently. And sometimes they work together.

For example, caffeine keeps us awake and theobromine seems to help us sleep. But together, they may work as a stimulant! Go figure!

There are other pluses to this brew. Mate is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Because it is low in tannins, a strong brew will not be bitter—which means you can let the leaves remain in the liquid.

But then, how do you drink it with all those bits of leaves floating around?

Mate: Its Gear

Well, if you want to be really traditional about mate, you need a chia and bombilla. That is, a hollow gourd to hold the mate, and a strainer straw to filter out the bits of leaf.

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Mate: Its Heritage

gaucho_no-border-webPeople have taken advantage of mate’s effects for centuries, although there was a blip in 1616 when a disgusted governor of the Spanish province in Argentina attempted to stem its growing popularity by banning it.

Economics often win out, however, and the Jesuits were soon cultivating—and profiting from—the plant (touting the fact that it wasn’t alcoholic, whatever else its perceived vices).

By the mid-1700s, the larger-than-life gauchos came onto the scene, becoming folk heroes in Argentina and Uruguay lore.

Prizing their independence as they roamed the South American pampas, gauchos subsisted on game and wild cattle.

Unparalleled horsemen, they traveled lightly—with bola and knife as weapon and tool, and woolen poncho as coat, blanket, and protection.

And they drank yerba mate.

Mate: Its Own Day

On Argentina’s calendar, November 30 is National Yerba Mate Day!

But why wait until then to see what South Americans have been enjoying for centuries?

Brew it in any cup for 5–10 minutes, strain out the leaves, and decide for yourself if it is indeed a gift from the gods.


Sources:
–”Health benefits of methylxanthines in cacao and chocolate,” by R. Franco et al., Nutrients 5(10):4159–4173. October 2013.
–Garsd, J. “Tea Tuesdays: Gift of the moon, bane of the Spanish—The story of yerba mate,” NPR, The Salt, March 17, 2015.
–Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Gaucho South American History,” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d.
Note: Gourds, metal straws, and mate available at TeaHaus.com.

What Is a Samovar? With Tea, a Russian Tradition

samovar-webHallmarks of a Russian novel: (1) a maddening fluidity of names (I mean, really, how many nicknames does one person need?), and (2) the samovar.

Because when tea came into Russia, not only did the Russians embrace this new beverage, but they made it completely their own. Today, the samovar continues to evoke Russian culture and hearty, smoke-tinged tea, hauled thousands of miles by caravan.

But what exactly is this contraption, and why did the Russians end up using it?

After all, the Chinese were using stoneware teapots, and the Europeans were importing both stoneware and porcelain pots from China (see earlier post on early export ware from China).

In the first decades of trade, Chinese teaware did accompany the tea. But those caravans were traveling through Mongolia, where metal kettles were used, so in the 1770s the Russians used the Mongolian design to develop the samovar: sam (self) + varit (to boil), or self-boiler (Nordbye 2013). Or, according to another source, they derived the samovar from Tibetan hot pots (Delaine 2015).

Either way, they quickly caught on.

The Lisitsyn brothers—who lived in Tula, renown for its metalwork—made their first copper samovar in 1778. Less than a century later, Tula was producing 120,000 samovars annually (Master Russian), and by 1900, 630,000. Made of various metals (including copper, iron, brass, nickel, silver, even gold) or porcelain, samovars combined functionality and prestige.

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So how does this really-scary-looking thing work?

Fuel (such as charcoal or wood chips) was stuffed into the pipe that runs through the middle of the samovar. As the fuel burned, it heated the water held in the urn-shaped portion of the samovar.

Meanwhile, tea concentrate, zavarka, was made in a small teapot, which was generally set atop the samovar so that it stayed warm.

To make a cup of tea, a small amount of concentrate was poured into a teacup and diluted with hot water from the samovar (hence the faucet, as seen in the drawing). Sometimes more than one concentrate was made, using different teas. The various concentrates were then combined in the cup and diluted with water.

And the tea itself?

The tea used for the concentrate must be a blend that was very strong yet didn’t become bitter when kept hot for long periods of time. Blends today are often made from black loose leaf tea from India and/or China, and often are slightly smoky, reminiscent of caravan campfires. (See my previous posts on when tea first arrived in Russia and about that first imported tea.)

Traditionally the tea was served black but the drinkers would hold a sugar cube in their teeth as they sipped their tea (Nordbye 2013). Tea nowadays may be sweetened with honey or jam as well.

Now if you don’t have a samovar at home, no worries. You can simply brew strong, hearty Russian Caravan or Russian Samovar loose leaf tea in your own cup or pot, perhaps adding a dab of your favorite jam. Ideally accompanied by your favorite Russian novel.


Sources:
–Delaine, L. “Tea time in Russia,” Russian Life, russianlife.com/blog/tea-time-in-russia, accessed October 2015.
–Master Russian. “Russian samovars,” masterrussian.com/russianculture/samovars.htm, accessed July 2017.
–Nordbye, N. “The great Siberian tea road,” Russian Life May/June 2013.

Greet the Morning with Russian Breakfast Tea

russ-sam-leaves-webWhen Russia first imported tea from China—back in the late 1600s and early 1700s—the journey by caravan took over a year. (See previous post for more.)

So what kind of tea would taste good after 16 months of being hauled by a camel?

Well, for tea to survive the arduous journey, it had to be durable. There are stories of tea picking up a smoky taste from the campfires of the caravan, but the tea would have already been dried so that it would travel well. Early black loose leaf tea was probably dried over pine smoke in Fujian, as lapsang souchong is still today.

Russia imported both loose leaf and bricks of tea, although the bricks were more common at first. The bricks were durable and held their flavor—although about that flavor. . . .

According to Nordbye (2013), tea bricks were composed of:

both the better and coarser [tea] leaves, as well as twigs from the shrub (and often binding agents such as flour and manure)

Yep, just the flavor nuances I want in my tea.

Siberians also infused the tea bricks with mutton fat and salt (Nordbye 2013), perhaps because they needed the extra nutrition in their harsh environment (similar to the practice of adding high-fat-content yak butter to tea in the Himalayas). That at least is a bit more palatable.

Anyway, the blend of tea and binding agents were pressed into molds and dried, yielding a brick that weighed about 22 pounds. These bricks were then cut into smaller chunks and “were tightly sewn up in animal hides” before being transported by camel (Nordbye 2013).

Tea was valuable, and the bricks were used as money, even as recently as a hundred years ago in Siberia. By the late 1700s, nearly three million pounds of tea made their way into Russia each year. And by then, tea prices had fallen enough so that the lower-quality bricks were accessible to those lower on the economic spectrum while the upper echelon was sipping the higher-quality loose leaf tea.

Today Russian tea blends continue to have a smoky note. The Russian Samovar shown here is a blend of Ceylon, Chinese, and Indian teas, yielding a robust brew that has a slightly smoky, spicy flavor. (And absolutely no binding agents, palatable or otherwise!)

But you undoubtedly noticed that the “Russian Samovar” tea was not brewed in a samovar. More about the samovar up next!

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Source: Nordbye, N. “The great Siberian tea road,” Russian Life May/June 2013.
Note:  Russian Samovar tea shown here is available at TeaHaus.com.

Begin the Day with Irish Breakfast Tea

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Night owl? Then a bracing cup of Irish breakfast tea is in order for those way-too-early-it-can’t-be-morning-already mornings!

As with English breakfast teas (see my previous post), the Irish counterpart was not intended simply to deliver caffeine to the sleep-deprived. (Though that undoubtedly was a welcome perk for the overworked.)

Rather, back in 1784, when those in the lower economic classes could finally afford to buy inexpensive tea, they quickly found that said tea was pretty bad. But ever resourceful, they masked the inferior quality by making a very strong brew and then generously adding milk.

Voilà, tradition was born!

And the custom of drinking tea became hugely popular. And the Irish drank a LOT of it. And they drank the “best available tea” (Murphy 2002).

Then came World War II. As Conor Pope (2014) explains:

With the war came much greater export controls in the UK, and, when its ministry of food took over the tea trade, Ireland lost 75 per cent of its supply almost overnight.

Since the Irish were the world’s third-highest per capita tea drinkers by this time, the Irish minister for supplies took matters into his own hands and set up an importing agency.

Initially, tea was purchased directly from tea growers in India. Production took place for only 5 to 6 months of the year, so tea leaves were stored for the rest of the year. However, by the 1960s, tea was available from Africa, where tea could be produced year-round. Processed by the then-new mechanized CTC (crush/cut-tear-curl) method, this fresh—and heartier—tea was mixed with the lighter Indian tea in storage.

And voilà once again! The rich tradition of blends unique to Ireland was well on its way!

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Today, very strong tea—commonly with milk—continues to be part of Irish culture. Irish breakfast teas may contain Assam, which gives a malty note and red color, but unique black tea blends abound. Darjeeling balances intensity, whereas robust teas from Africa lend heft. The strong and spicy O’Sullivan’s Favorite pictured above comes from a tea garden in Burundi.

Whatever breakfast blend you choose, chances are good that it’ll jumpstart your day!


Sources:
–Pope, C. “Why we get a better cup in Ireland than all the tea in China,” The Irish Times, October 6, 2014.
–Murphy, M. “Review of Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland 1500–1920,” by L. A. Clarkson and E. M. Crawford. Reviews in History, October 2002.
Note:  O’Sullivan’s Favorite is available at TeaHaus.com.

Wake Up with English Breakfast Teas

all-3-brew-webAnyone else take extra days off for the Fourth of July “weekend”? This morning’s de facto Monday necessitated a stiff breakfast tea. Really stiff. Sort of a jolt back to reality.

But this isn’t really why “breakfast teas” exist.

Rather, these tea blends were designed to accompany the heavy breakfasts of late-1800s-England—a meal perhaps more akin to our idea of brunch. Because you would definitely need a robust tea blend to hold up against the “beef, pork and bread (and often beer)”* served up first thing in the morning!

But even though “English Breakfast Tea” springs immediately to mind, the morning tea idea first began in Scotland, when tea master Mr. Drysdale marketed his own blend as “Breakfast Tea.”*

This strong brew may actually have been due to the soft water in Scotland. According to Frank Sanchez of Upton Tea Imports,†

back in the day teas were blended specifically for the water conditions in the areas in which they were marketed and consumed. . . . It’s conjecture, but perhaps the water in Scotland demanded a stronger tea.

Regardless, the English jumped on the idea and made it their own with “English Breakfast Tea.” And because the strong black tea blends hold up well to milk, these teas were—and still are—traditionally drunk with milk.

The blend of teas used was flexible, and heavily depended on what teas were available at the time. The first versions would have used Chinese black tea. However, during the Opium Wars in the 1800s, the Brits looked to Assam, India, where they had begun growing tea, and they started adding Assam to the Chinese tea. When tea from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) became available, they tossed that into the mix.

eng-br-webToday, English breakfast teas may include robust black teas from Kenya and/or Indonesia as well, and every vendor will have their own particular blend.

Pictured here is the English Breakfast Tea sold at TeaHaus, a combination of Ceylon, Assam, Java, and Darjeeling teas. The Assam contributes maltiness, the Ceylon brightness.

When the Darjeeling is omitted, you get a version that is yet more stiff and brisk, i.e, TeaHaus’ English Westminster. Shades of Keep Calm and Carry On are found in its crisp, bold brew.

Next up: Irish and Russian breakfast teas. Because the English don’t corner the market on breakfast blends!


Sources:
*Chavey, E. “All breakfast all the time,” mrbreakfast.com, accessed 7/5/17.
†Han, E. “What’s the difference between English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast teas?” The Kitchn, April 7, 2014.
Note: English Breakfast and English Westminster teas shown here are available at TeaHaus.com.