Oh how we love you, Camellia
People are very particular about their tea. Don’t give a Southerner iced tea without sugar. But God help you if you add sugar to your tea in China.
Let’s start out with the basics: All tea comes from one species of plant, Camellia sinensis. But growing and processing the tea leaves under different conditions alters what the final tea will become, from White tea (the most unprocessed) to Oolang (withered in strong sun) to Lapsang souchong (a smoky tea dried over pinewood fires).
But this is only part of what I am talking about. Preparation of the tea is just as intricate and, I am discovering more and more, very regional.
Betty’s Tea House, my old stomping grounds.
Take, for example, my time living in Harrogate, England when I was 14 years old. Harrogate is home to Betty’s Tea Room, which I now realize is quite famous. My mother loved taking us there! Betty’s is owned by the same group that owns Yorkshire tea. This is true English tea: strongly brewed, with both milk and sugar. My British friends attest that this tea is the best. I took some with me when I visited a British friend in Chicago and we made a pot of tea together. He nearly wrapped himself around the cup in happiness.
In college I spent a semester abroad in Hong Kong. I tasted many green and oolong teas, but my favorite was jasmine tea. An aromatic green tea with jasmine flowers. Do not think of putting milk or sugar in this tea!
Yemeni tea time at my friend’s apartment.
Now I have friends from the Middle East. They drink a sweetened, spiced black tea. Yesterday I went to a friends house to hang out. She’s from Yemen. Every time I visit her she makes a pot of tea. Sometimes it has milk, sometimes it doesn’t. But it always has cardamom and sugar! I attempted to replicate it a few weeks ago and failed. I used a spice mixture from India (way too peppery, not enough cardamom), and half and half (not thick enough). It was tasty, but didn’t have the right flavor or mouth feel (boom- there’s a term you never thought to describe tea!).
I tried again today. I heated water and sweetened condensed milk (or you can use evaporated milk and some sugar) until it was just below boiling. Then I added loose tea leaves. I used Alwazah Tea because I heard it’s what you use for making Arabic tea. In reality, it’s just a Ceylon tea and I think any strong black tea would do. Next, you are supposed to add about 5 cardamom pods. I don’t have the pods so I used ground cardamom. Heat the tea for 5-7 minutes then strain. Enjoy with dates (the fruit, and maybe also the romantic experience).
Heating the water, condensed milk, tea leaves and cardamom
Finished! Tasted great.