The World in A Teacup

Think about it. Every culture in the world has some kind of tea they call their own. It’s not just a bunch of tea leaves taken from a tree! There’s thousands of varieties and ways to prepare the drink, all with special cultural significance to their own people. Here’s a few you might not have known or thought about!

Yak Tea

Found in the grass plains of Tibet, this is made with loose black tea, thoughthere seemed to be more of the stalks in this than leaves. Yak milk is then boiled in a pot over a fire, the tea added, then served into rice-bowl sized tea cups. It tastes more of the milk than it does the tea, and is very filling because of it.


Mate

One of South America’s favourite drinks is often passed around and shared. Made from a herbal leaf, it’s crushed up and put into a small pot, and water poured over it. I love the metal straw-crossed-strainer it’s drunk from! If you’ve not seen one yet, have a Google!

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Above image courtesey of http://www.annahar.com

Saffron Tea

It is of course common to have herbal teas. However, saffron is such an expensive spice outside of Iran that most people wouldn’t consider putting it in a tea. Saffron is very abundant and relatively cheap in Iran. The tea is a dark orangey colour, and has a wonderful earthy flavour. Iranians love teahouses, and they’re often the places to hangout with friends and family after dark. They serve all sorts of teas, including cinnamon and cardamom teas, which came in a close second and third to saffron! Tea is served in small glass cups, and often served with small cakes – and if you’re up for it, sheesha.

Above: Even in the smallest of Iranian villages, you can still find a teahouse!

Artichoke Tea

In the ex-resort town of Da Lat, Vietnam’s French connection is highlighted in its architecture and food. Butter is used more often in cooking, some wines are grown in the region, and the climate is better for European fruit and vegetables like strawberries and artichokes. It’s here that the unusual artichoke tea can be found, a local speciality that crosses Vietnamese tea culture with French influences.

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Above: The market in Da Lat is one of the few places you can sample artichoke tea.

Masala tea

Perhaps this isn’t unusual, but it is interesting to note how far this way of making tea has travelled! Originating from India, this spiced tea brewed in warmed milk has become the traditional way of making tea in Oman and East Africa, despite the distances. The sweetness and blend of spices can change a little between cultures and families. A delicious way to prove how small the world is!

Russian Samovar

The Samovar is a Russian invention that was spread by their empire throughout Central Asia, and neighbouring countries such as Iran and Turkey. It is essentially a big urn, usually heated by coal. Long before the office kitchenette had hot water instantly available, these samovars were a staple in Russian homes, and were an easy way to boil water quickly and prepare tea.


Above: Russian samovars were imported the world over, including to the Persian Shah. (See large silver samovar on back table.)

Tea with Tea Cake and Tea Ice Cream

I love matcha. Since matcha powder came along, there’s been green tea flavoured everything popping up, from ice cream to KitKats. When you think about it, it’s crazy that tea can be put into so many things, and not just drunk – the humble drink has come a long way, and promoted itself to food! There are a lot of matcha cafes opening up, with matcha powder based drinks and goods for sale. A few of my favourites include matcha and Oreo frappe from a place in Sydney. When in Korea, a friend recommended this place, O Sulloc’s, apparently quite famous for the tea products made on Jejo island. Since I was only in the place once, I went all out: a green tea latte, with green tea ice cream, and green tea cake!

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There are hundreds more of course, but these are a just few of my favourites. Others that caught my attention included insect poo tea (don’t think I could bring myself to drink that!), the luxurious gold coated tea (don’t think I could afford that), chocolate tea (don’t think I won’t try that) and the banana tea which my sister found for me in Sri Lanka. This wonderful drink we call tea is incredibly versatile, and clearly loved worldwide.

Know of any other weird and wonderful tea varieties or ways of brewing? Comment below!

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Iran: World’s Friendliest Country?

Above: Iranian teenagers play dodgeball, where the losers get pushed into the fountain.

I’ve heard from so many people that Iran is one of the friendliest countries on Earth. I knew that going in. But I didn’t quite comprehend what that meant until I got there.

Iran is an absolutely gorgeous country. There are stunning landscapes, stretching from the Caspian Sea, to landscaped cities, across to deserts and then up into several mountain ranges. But perhaps the most beautiful thing about the country is its people. There were days where it was honestly difficult not to be stopped by locals wishing to introduce themselves, take photos with us, or to welcome us to their city multiple times a day.

Kerman was one such city. We’d had a few encounters like this earlier in Tehran and Yazd, but the bazaar in Kerman involved several local grandmas coming up to us with their faces beaming smiles. What would normally have taken about 10 minutes for us to walk from one end of the market to another took us about half an hour, because we kept stopping to talk to people.

Only a couple of days into our trip, my glasses broke. The small screw that held them together at each hinge had fallen out somehow and could not be found. I spent most of the day wearing my prescription sun glasses, but when we entered the bazaar, it was too dark for me to see. So I tried to walk around with slanted glasses, only attached to my head on one ear, holding the other side down with my handwhen I could. This particular bazaar had many gold and watch stalls, so I decided to ask if any had a screw the right size.

The second stall I tried, a middle aged man look thoughtfully at the two pieces I presented him, then rummaged around in his tool kit and what appeared to be an odds and ends jar. He selected an old safety pin, then began to bend and cut it into small loop. 15 mins later, my glasses were back on my head, without me needing to hold them. I tried to pay him for his time and ingenuity, but he refused. I thanked him profusely, humbled by his generosity. (Update, 5 months later this ad-hoc repair is still holding up!)


On a bus ride in Tehran, we befriended half the women’s section (the front half of the bus is for women, the back is for men – and the women’s half was much roomier!!). A lady handed a phone to one of our group, and insisted she speak into it. Turns out the lady had called up her friend who spoke English, told her that some foreigners were on the bus, and then within 10 minutes we had an invitation to tea the next day we sadly couldn’t keep. We met a teacher at a college nearby, who introduced us to all her friends of course, and the twenty minute or so bus ride flew by. Meanwhile, the guys were jam packed into the men’s section, standing in the summer heat, while we had plenty of room to move around and chat with our new friends. Turns out segregation has some benefits!

One member of our group very nearly befriended every child in Iran, and gave out several koala toys and kangaroo drawings, to the delight (and sometimes confusion) of many mothers. I think it was the simple act of stopping to pay attention to them that made them smile, as we smiled when teenagers asked us for our photos. We met so many people, and a few of our group even exchanged emails and contacts with some people.

Even when I thought this spate of sudden befriending would come to an end at the airport, just half an hour so so before boarding, a teenaged Tehrani girl sat next to me and immediately started chatting. Her and her father were visiting her family in Germany and Italy, and we got talking about everything from Iran, to accents, to history and career possibilities.


It just goes to show how far a smile can go. Iranians are so open and warm, and are the easiest people to get along with. Despite the presence of some propaganda, Iranians are too busy welcoming everyone to their country to resent foreigners. There’s definitely two sides to the story, despite how Western media reports news sometimes. I have no hesitations about going back at all!