I really should title this post “Searching for Tea in Spain” … because I was hard pressed on our recent trip to find any. No, I’m not talking about the obligatory selection of tea bags sitting next to the carafe of hot water at the breakfast buffet in the hotel. And, of course, if you ordered tea at a cafe or restaurant, you were served tea … sometimes even in a teapot. What I was hoping to discover was a love for, a connection with, or history of … ‘tea’.
We started in the capital of Spain and the third largest city in Europe, Madrid. An exciting city, full of vitality and passion, and now well on its way to shaking off the financial woes it experienced during the past decade, but even in the heavily traveled tourist areas, no outward signs of “tea” existed. What was I looking for? Perhaps a retail store, tea room, even a tea display or sign … something that beckoned the tea drinker. Nothing.
We then traveled south into the magnificent area of Andalusia with its vast savannahs filled with olive groves and vineyards, surrounded by the majestic Sierra mountain ranges. Our visits to the white-washed villages of Cordoba, Toledo, and Ronda were breathtaking … but no ‘tea’.
We marveled at the Roman ruins in Merida, the medieval walled city of Carceres, and hoped to see a bullfight in Seville, but didn’t. We climbed the narrow stone steps into the cathedral towers, got lost in the maze of winding alleyways, clapped to the beat of the flamenco guitar, and ate tapas, authentic tapas, some spicy, a few not, some raw, others fried … but no ‘tea’.
We strolled through the lively gypsy neighborhoods, wondered at the priceless art collections, and indulged in an occasional afternoon siesta. We attended the prestigious annual patios festival, took photographs of the vibrantly festooned balconies, and dunked our churros into hot, thick dark chocolate. We drank red wines and white wines from the local vineyards; rich, red, fruity sangria, and syrupy sweet sherry over ice … but we didn’t drink ‘tea’.
Until we came to Granada.
Granada is one of the most important cities in Spain’s rich history. Settled by the Phoenicians until the Romans overtook it in the 3rd century; by the 5th century Rome had fallen and Granada was then ruled by the Visigoths. The Visigoths held this area for a few hundred years until Muslim forces coming from Morocco across the Strait of Gibralta, conquered it around 1010. The Muslims remained in power, living side-by-side with Christians and Jews, until 1492 (hmmmm, that date sounds familiar), when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand took control. Why is any of this important? Because during the Muslim rule, the city became one of the richest cities in medieval Europe. Trade routes from Morocco were open and the artistic and scientific communities flourished. With these trade routes came silk, cotton, paper and … ‘tea’.
Yes, “TEA” is alive and well in Granada! Although the Muslims were forced out of the city by the 15th century, their influence has remained. Within the old Moorish district of Granada, known as the Albayzin, there are Arabic tea houses or teterias. A narrow, cobblestone paved street called “Calle Caldereria Nueva” is as close to a Moroccan souk as you can find, crammed full of trinkets, rugs, lanterns and it is dotted with tea houses! No, you will not find bone china cups and saucers. There’s not a scone or tea cake anywhere around. But what you will find are lavishly decorated, intimate cafes serving loose leaf tea.
So while sitting on a long, pillow-topped divan, with heavy drapery covered walls, in a Moroccan-inspired tearoom, sipping a hot steaming cup of mint tea, what I learned was, in Spain, unless you are visiting Granada, it is “coffee country”.