DARJEELING

Before I became involved with tea, I have to admit I’d never heard of Darjeeling … not the tea, nor the place.  When, on the few occasions I bought tea, which was just scanning the boxes on the supermarket shelves and picking up a familiar brand name, or whatever was on sale, never would I buy a tea from a region or country, or even a particular type of tea.  That all changed, however, when I became immersed in TEA … its culture, its history, its variety and the passion which surrounds it.  And it began when I started visiting these countries which produce it.

One of the most memorable places I had the privilege to visit was Darjeeling in India.  Yes, Darjeeling is a tea, but it is also a place.  “The Land of the Thunderbolt” or Dorje-Ling is what it is called in Tibetan.  Situated in the northeast corner of India, high in the Himalayan mountains and bordered by Tibet, Butan and China, this is a place of magnificent beauty.  With its slightly acidic, but rich soil, abundant rainfall, high elevation and afternoon cloud cover, its no wonder that some of the best teas in the world are grown here.  Known as the “Champagne of Tea”, Darjeeling teas can command some very high price tags.

I’m sure the numbers have changed since I visited, but at that time there were approximately 80 tea gardens in the Darjeeling region.  They ranged in size from small family-run estates to large corporate-owned plantations.  I had the opportunity to visit quite a few estates at that time and was astounded at how each one was unique, with its own energy, and philosophy, notwithstanding the pride that comes from working with people who share a single passion.

Jayshree Tea Estate, Darjeeling

Of course, we were visitors from the United States who were interested in buying tea and, because of that, were treated as rock stars.  I won’t deny that.  But we were also able to experience the beauty of the land, the generosity and warmth of its people and the vibrancy of the area.

Strolling through any of the estates, the landscape is breathtakingly beautiful.  An undulating, almost rolling typography of tea bushes surround you, sloping down the terrain.  And the majesty of the snow-capped mountains in the distance is magical.

The work is difficult and the days are long for those who work in the tea industry.  With their nimble fingers, the tea pluckers are generally women, who go into the fields in the morning, some with little ones in tow.  Quite a few are armed with umbrellas, most wear “Wellies” on their feet and all have baskets strapped around their heads.  They work til noon, break for lunch, and then are back adeptly plucking two-leaves and a bud at the waist-high bushes until 5pm.  They wait on the dirt paths for the trucks to come and weigh their baskets, before they go home, hot and tired from a long day in the fields.

A very proud plantation worker displaying his commemorative buckle.

Men are most often in the fields, pruning, planting and tending to the tea plants, or in the laboratories and factories, weighing, withering, sorting and packaging the teas for market.  And children, for the most part, are in estate-provided schools.  Life as a plantation worker is not easy.  The pay is relatively small when you consider the selling price of the tea.  Although the plantations were started by the British, the plantations are now owned by Indians.  Housing is provided for the workers with each home having a garden plot to grow veggies.  In addition to their wage, workers receive a small allowance to purchase food and supplies.

The history of tea in this area goes back to the early 1800s when the East India Company lost its monopoly on the China tea trade.  The whole of Great Britain was, by now, addicted to tea, and the British government had to do something.  Desperately trying to establish tea gardens in the northern regions of India, the East India Company (aka the John Company),  with Camellia Sinensis seeds, started planting.  By 1866, there were 39 British-owned and operated tea gardens.  Following Indian Independence in 1947, the British began to sell their gardens to Indians and the Tea Act in 1953 regulated the industry.

Authentic Darjeeling tea is unique and cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world.  And now Darjeeling tea has a ‘Protected Geographical status’ within the European Union, USA and Australia.  As Roquefort is to cheese and Champagne is to wine, Darjeeling now is to tea. These products with their individual characteristics specific to the particular region in which they are produced have been awarded a certificate protecting them from exploitation.   Consumers knowing this can now be guaranteed that they are getting genuine Darjeeling. This helps in ensuring the production and sale of Darjeeling tea all over the world.  And to identify authentic Darjeelings, a logo was also created showing the profile of a woman holding two leaves and a bud.

To keep up with the changing marketplace, today you’ll find a lot of the tea estates have become organic, biodynamic and/or Fair Trade, with certifications from the Tea Board of India.  Whether you call them tea gardens, estates or plantations, here is the list for you of the currently operating tea estates.  Quite a few, are now offering “home stays”, tea tours and camping opportunities.  If you are interested in adventure travel and experiencing something other than the familiar, I couldn’t recommend a trip to Darjeeling more highly.  It’s an experience  you will never forget.

When I started tasting different teas, from different countries, and different regions within those countries, I was changed forever.  Although tea is the most popular beverage in the world, except for water, of course, it doesn’t stop at that.  With its unique terroir, Darjeelings have earned the name “The Champagne of Teas” for a reason.  With their medium body, identifiable muscatel flavor and hint of spice, they are exceptional.  And, I haven’t even touched on the nuances from the first flush to the autumnals.  From which estate, do I think grows the best tea?  You’ll just have to try them all yourself to find out.

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Darjeeling East:  Arya Tea Estate, Chongtong Tea Estate , Dhooteriah Tea Estate , Kalej Valley Tea Estate , Liza Hill Tea Estate , Lingia Tea Estate, Marybong Tea Estate , Mim Tea Estate, Darjeeling Mim, Orange Valley (Bloomfield Tea Estate) , Pussimbing Tea Estate , Risheehat Tea Estate, Rungmook / Cedars Tea Estate , Tumsong Tea Estate

Darjeeling West:  Badamtam Tea Estate, Bannockburn Tea Estate , Barnesbeg Tea Estate , Ging Tea Estate , Happy Valley Tea Estate, North Tukvar, Pandam Tea Estate , Phoobshering Tea Estate, Puttabong Tea Estate , Rangaroon Tea Estate, Rungneet Tea Estate, Singtom Tea Estate, Soom Tea Estate, Steinthal Tea Estate

Kurseong (North):  Ambootia Tea Garden, Balasun Tea Garden, Eden Vale Tea Garden, Dilaram Tea Garden, Margaret’s Hope Tea Garden, Moondakotee Tea Garde, Oaks Tea Garden, Ringtong Tea Garden, Springside Tea Garden

Kurseong South:  Castleton Tea Garden, Giddapahar Tea Garden, Goomtee Tea Garden, Jogmaya Tea Garden, Jungpana Tea Garden, Longview (High Lands) Tea Garden, Mahalderam Tea Garden, Makaibari Tea Garden, Mohan Majhua Tea Garden, Monteviot Tea Garden, Mullootar Tea Garden, Narbada Majhua Tea Garden, Nurbong Tea Garden, Rohini Tea Garden, Selim Hill Tea Garden, Seepoydhura Tea Garden, Sivitar Tea Garden, Tindharia Tea Garden

Mirik:  Gopaldhara Tea Estate, Ghayabaree and Millikthong Tea Estate, Okayti Tea Estate, Phuguri Tea Estate, Seeyok Tea Estate, Singbulli Tea Estate, Thurbo Tea Estate

Upper Fagu:  Avongrove Tea Garden, Chamong Tea Garden, Dhajea Tea Garden, Nagri Tea Garden, Nagri Farm Tea Garden, Selimbong Tea Garden, Sungma Tea Garden, Turzum Tea Garden, Teesta Valley Tea Garden, Tukdah Tea Garden, Upper Fagu Tea Garden

Teesta:  Ambiok (Hillton), Gielle Tea Garden, Glenburn Tea Garden, Kumai (Snow View) Tea Garden, Lopchu Peshok Tea Garden, Namring and upper Namring Tea Garden, Runglee Rungliot Tea Garden, Samebeong Tea Garden

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References:  Margaret’s Hope Estate, Makaibari Estate, Wikipedia, Tea Board of India, Intelligent Legal Protection, Inside Darjeeling, Darjeeling Tourism,

SOCCER …. Who Really Invented It?

Soccer (or Football as everyone else calls it) is the most beloved game in the world.  Turn on the television any weekend and you’ll see games being telecast from all over the world.  Do I play soccer?  No.  Have I ever played soccer?  No.  But , I’ve watched kids play soccer in empty lots, street corners and school yards in every country I’ve ever visited.  All it takes is a ball (or something resembling a ball) and you’ve got a game.  According to the Bleacher Report, soccer is played in 208 countries around the world, with a fan base of over 2 billion.

Scene from The English Game

Why am I writing about soccer?  Well, I’ve just finished watching the Netflix mini-series, THE ENGLISH GAME, created by Julian Fellowes (you’ll remember him as the creator of the incredibly successful Downton Abbey series).  It’s a very interesting and historically accurate series, based on people and events which actually occurred.  Of course, it does have its underlying, less interesting,  heart-tugging, soap opera-ish subplots … which was expected.  The series is a six-part drama which I don’t think can go any further than examining how soccer became Great Britain’s most popular sport.

The question I needed answering was “did Great Britain invent the sport?”  The simple answer is ‘no’.  Although Egypt, Japan, and Greece also had some form of ‘ball’ game, historians suggest that the game which comes closest to what we now call ‘soccer’ was first played by the Chinese.  It seems that “TEA” wasn’t the only thing invented in China 5000 years ago.  It appears that ‘soccer’ was too.  The Chinese game of Cuju, pronounced “chuk-ko” which means “kick the ball”, dates as far back as 2500 B.C.  So, as the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under the wild tea tree in his garden boiling water, soccer was being played in the courtyard.

The game, which appears to have begun as a training exercise for soldiers, involved the soldiers kicking a small leather ball with their feet through an opening into a net.   At the request of the emperor, the soldiers began to form teams and compete against each other.  This game of Cuju became so popular that it spread from the army to the royal courts and then down to the people.  Because of its fast-growing popularity with people in every class, standardized rules of play had to be established.  The sport thrived for over 2,000 years, but, for some reason, began to fade away during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

How, then, did this ‘football’ game make its way to Great Britain?   We’ll never know exactly, but we do know the game spread from China to Japan.  In fact, records dating as far back as 611 A.D. mentions football-type games played between the two countries. The game then traveled from the Far East through the Middle East, as far south as Australia, and into Europe.  Somewhere around the 9th century, it appeared in England as a game known as “folk football”.   This game involved the whole town …  townsfolk would kick a pig’s bladder from one end of town to another, with opponent’s goals at either end of town.  The town’s folk took the game quite seriously, but eventually space restraints within the town and the violence that ensued caused the game to be banned, but not for long.

Over the years, schools began playing against one another.  The rules and regulations continued to evolve and by the 1800s, dedicated soccer clubs began to emerge in Britain.  Still not very well organized, it was pretty much an anything goes game.  Players often tripped each other and kicking an opponent in the shins occurred more often than not.

Fergus Suter, the first professional footballer.

It’s at this time that football was at a turning point.  Soccer’s popularity was growing and the working classes were loving the game.  The social elite had played the game as a hobby but the industrial workers had a different vision of the sport.  Mill towns started having their own rival teams –  Darwen, Accrington, Burnley Rovers, Blackburn Olympic, Clitheroe Central.

Enter a stonemason from Glasgow, Scotland, named Fergus Suter.  Fergus was the very first professional soccer player.  In 1878 he moved from Scotland to England to play for the Darwen team and is credited with changing the way the game was played.  The first player ever to be paid for playing soccer, Suter was paid a considerable amount of money, £10 every other week.  The average wage at that time for a mill worker was less than £2 a week.  Being paid to play football was highly controversial and seen as against the rules.  But Suter went on to win the Football Association cup not once but twice.

As Julian details in the series, the sport  was formalized with the formation of the Football Association in 1863.  What I love about any of the dramas Fellowes is involved with is his attention to detail.  From the set designs to the costumes and, of course, the characters.  Each character is portrayed accurately and honestly.  It’s a fascinating look at a simple game, loved passionately by everyone … from the working class to the aristocratic elite.

Soccer has continued to grow to be the most popular sport in the world.  Why?  Because all you need is a ball … and it can be played anywhere, on any surface … in a park, on the street where you live, on the beach or a schoolyard. You don’t need expensive equipment.  No racquets, no padding, no helmets or knee pads.  No fancy footwear or jerseys.  Rich or poor, male or female, everyone can play soccer.

Am I now a fan of Soccer?  Probably not, but when you watch something being done well, it certainly stirs up an interest in you to find out more about it.  Watching this mini-series certainly did it for me.  And I may actually watch an entire game now and then.  I’m not sure why soccer doesn’t have the same emotional connection to people here in the U.S., but it doesn’t.  Perhaps as the kids who are playing it now in grade school grow up with soccer, we will join the rest of the world.  One can only hope.

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References:  Ancient Pages, Live About, Town and Country, Cahiers Football, Digital Spy, Wikipedia, Lancs Live

What’s In a Name?

TEA … what a strange name for a beverage.  A beverage which originated in China over 5,000 years ago.  A beverage which comes from infusing the leaves of a specific plant into hot water.  A beverage which has been drunk and enjoyed around the world for centuries.  Where did this simple name come from?

The word for “tea” can be quite different in many languages.  In China, the word for tea is “cha”.  In India and other Far East countries, the word for tea is very similar … “chai”.  In Great Britain and parts of Europe, however, the word for this amber-colored liquor is the word we in the U.S. use … “tea”.   How is it that this, the most popular beverage in the world, can have two completely different names?

Legend tells us that more than 5,000 years ago, the Chinese emperor, Shen Nung, was sitting under a tree in his garden boiling water when the wind picked up and leaves from the tree drifted down into his pot.  Intrigued by the fragrant aroma and beauty of the golden liquid, he drank the infusion and enjoyed it.  Tea has played a vital role in the Chinese culture ever since.

The Chinese character for tea is  .   Written from top to bottom, this calligraphic character is quite beautiful.  The top strokes, which I’ve always thought were shaped like a house, really represents “grass” or a “plant”.  Although Mandarin is the most common language in China, there are over 300 different languages and dialects.  In Mandarin Chinese this “house-shaped” character is pronounced “cha”.  In Min Chinese, however, this very same character is pronounced “te”.
Why is this important?  Because China is a very large country, with different languages spoken in different regions, and depending upon the port from which the tea was shipped, is how this beverage got its name.

China had two primary shipping locations:  Guangzhou (Canton) to the North, and Xiamen in Fujian Province, to the South.  If the tea leaves were exported from the northern route, they went overland, and they were referred to by their Mandarin name, “cha”.  If the very same leaves were exported from the southern route, they went by sea and were referred to by their Min name, “te”.

The northern route, known as the Tea-Horse Road, traveled over 6000 rugged miles through Tibet and on to India, eventually linking up with the infamous Silk Road.  Ultimately this route became vital for, not only trade, but for the sharing of information, religion, and the arts.  The Silk Road crossed into the Middle East, where some goods, including tea … “cha” … were loaded onto ships destined for Mediterranean ports.  With the introduction of the faster and more efficient Clipper ships in 1840, however, the use of this road lessened.

The southern trade route, which was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, actually introduced England to tea.  This dangerous and long voyage traveled from China through Java to Europe around the Cape of Good Hope up the coast of Africa to Europe.  It was these very same Portuguese and Dutch traders who first imported tea … “te” … into Europe.  Regular shipments of “te” had begun reaching England by 1610.  And with the use of Clipper ships, traveling at over 250 miles a day, the race was on.

So, if you lived along the Northern route and into the Middle East, your beverage of choice was “cha” taken from the Mandarin name.  If you lived along the Southern route and into Europe, your beverage of choice was “te” taken from the Min name.  But regardless of where you live and whether you refer to this wonderful elixir as  thé in Paris …or in Rome … chay in Moscow … or chai in Nairobi, just know that you are enjoying the oldest and most popular beverage in the world.

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References:  Wikipedia, History of Tea, Trade Routes, Siam teas, Mental Floss
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OATMEAL SCONES

To keep my sanity during these stressful times, my baking marathon continues.  For me, baking is not only relaxing, it gives me something to focus on, fuels my creativity, as well as provides a really yummy end product (well, most of the time).  Even if it doesn’t look good, most bakes taste good and that’s really all that matters.

I found this recipe (originally from the Quaker Oats company) as I was cleaning out old cookbooks.  It looked quick and easy, perfect for today’s rainy day … and perfect to go along with a hot steamy cuppa and a good book.  Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

OATMEAL SCONES
Bake at 425° for 20 to 30 minutes.  Makes 8 to 10 scones (or more, depending upon the size)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup oatmeal (any type will do)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cubed
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping – optional
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar

Glaze 
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons orange juice

First, line up all your ingredients.  Don’t be one of those bakers who goes looking for things as you go along.  If you have everything in front of you, you’re less apt to make a mistake and forget something.  Then, preheat your oven and prepare your pan.  Most ovens take 20 minutes or more to heat up thoroughly.  A $5.00 oven thermometer is a great investment and saves a lot of baking disasters.

You don’t need any special equipment to make these, but I did use my food processor.  Nothing is quicker than a food processor … as long as you know how and when to use it.  The “pulse” button is all you need for these!

In a large bowl (or food processor) add the dry ingredients.  Mix well or pulse two or three times.  Cut the icy cold butter into cubes and add it to the dry ingredients until it resembles fine crumbs.  Again, if using a food processor, PULSE 10 or 12 times … no more!

In a small bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla.  Then add this wet mixture to the dry mixture.  Stir it in with a fork or PULSE a few times just to combine everything.

Turn the mixture out onto a floured board.  Knead a few times to bring it together.  Do not overwork the dough or your scones will be tough and won’t rise properly.

Form the dough into a round and with a rolling pin, gently roll until you have about 3/4″ thickness.  Cut the dough into triangles (or you can use a cutter to cut out shapes).  Place the triangles onto a parchment lined baking tray.

In another small bowl, mix the chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the scones, pressing down lightly to fix them onto the scones.  This is completely optional.

Bake the scones in a preheated 425° oven for 25-30 minutes (if smaller scones are made, you may need to reduce the baking time.  When they have baked through and are browned, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool.

Combine the powdered sugar and orange juice and just drizzle over the top of the scones.  Then be prepared to watch them disappear.

Be sure to put the kettle on and enjoy this easy-to-make, delicious treat …
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THE BEATLES

I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads wondering why in the world would I be writing about the Beatles.  What could they possibly have to do with a blog called TEA, TOAST and TRAVEL?  Well,  they certainly do qualify … definitely from England, and they were all “tea” drinkers.


We just returned from a two-week visit to England and, never having visited before, this year we decided to go to Liverpool.  How surprised were we when we discovered this once down-on-its-heels city of the working classes is now a thriving metropolis with a world-class seaport district, high-end restaurants and shops, museums and a tourist mecca.  How did all this happen?  The obvious and logical answer, of course, is the investment over recent years by developers into revitalizing the city.  I say it’s because of four young men from the ‘neighborhood’ …. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.

In making plans for our visit to Liverpool, I thought it would be great fun to take a “Beatles tour” … maybe finding a cabbie to take us around, or we might find a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus.  So, I started trolling websites looking for what we might be able to do.  Not only did I find a slew of companies offering organized Beatles tours, ranging anywhere from three hours to a full day, and anywhere from a private tour with an ‘expert’ Beatles guide, to full bus tours, it was impossible to choose.

Looking at the range of possibilities (and the costs), I choose one of the bus tours.  Now I had to choose the day and time to make our reservation.  Huh?  Although they offered tours every three to four hours, they strongly suggested advance reservations because they usually sell out before the day of.  Once again, huh?   This was just one of the many Beatles tours.  So, I selected one time slot which would work for our schedule …. sold out.  Okay, I choose another …. sold out.  Picked one for the next day …. sold out!  What the?  I had to switch to another tour group.  Finally, landed on the “Magical Mystery Tour”.  Made the advance online reservation.  Paid in full.  And exhaled!

Never having been to Liverpool, we wanted to get there early, poke around the city center a bit and get a feel for this coastal metropolis.  Thank goodness for “sat nav” because without it, we’d still be driving in circles, trying to navigate the many bridges and tunnels.  And when we finally emerged, it was beautiful!  Elegant ornate old stone buildings intermingled with the sleek, modern architecture of today.  With the help of the many tourist information stands, we found our way to the “Magical Mystery Tour” kiosk (located right next to the Beatles museum), picked up our “Tickets to Ride” and were soon in the midst of other like-minded tourees … all ages … all countries … all interested in The Beatles!

There we all were clustered in front of ‘our’ bus (of which there were many), taking selfies, waiting patiently for the doors to open.  As soon as they did, we piled in, jostling each other for the best seats.  The tour leader boarded, introduced himself and we were off.  We began at the stadium where tickets to Paul’s 2008 concert sold out in seconds to twice its capacity, when he played far into the night without ever taking a break.  We then drove to the ‘neighborhood’ where the four young men grew up, visiting each individual location, the schools, the hangouts, the barber shop, the church where Paul was a choir boy … learning about all the inspiration for their songs.  Along the way, the entire bus group would break out into song, everyone knowing the words, to the Beatles background music.

The tour leader was not only entertaining, he provided us with so many rich details on each band member, making it quite an intimate experience.  Starting from 1957 when 15 year old John Lennon started a skiffle band, to Paul McCartney asking his banjo-playing mother to teach him how to play the guitar, to Richard Starkey wearing a bunch of gold rings and earning the name “Ringo”, to Lennon wanting George Harrison in the band because “that kid can sing and he’ll get us all the girls”.  And learning that the reason the Beatles broke up was not because of Yoko Ono, but because of the death of Brian Epstein, the cement which kept these talented four together.

Yes, we stopped at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Paul McCartney’s home, George Harrison’s home and more.  At each destination, everyone piled out of the bus, taking turns for our photo op in front of whatever icon we visited, while watching similar buses, taxis or limos pulling away with another group of like-minded Beatles fans.  I felt badly for people living on the streets where all this activity goes on day after day.  They still had to go to work, school, shopping, the dentist, whatever, and here we all were clogging up these narrow, little neighborhood streets.  Our tour driver insisted not only don’t they mind, they actually love all the attention.  I hope so.

Two hours later, our tour ended back in the city center where it really all started for the Beatles, at the Cavern Club.  This little below-ground club is where in 1961 the Beatles (before Ringo) played to the lunchtime crowd almost daily.  Today this alleyway of a street is the hub for Beatles mania!  The Cavern Club sits mid-way, but first there are Beatles gift shops selling absolutely every item you can imagine with Beatles images on them.  Outside the Cavern Club is a brick wall with the name of every known country, rock or blues musician.  And be sure to have your photo taken with John Lennon or Cilla Black.
Each year Liverpool hosts an International Beatles Week attracting thousands of fans, with concerts all throughout the city performed by hundreds of Beatles tribute bands from around the world.  And, if you are such an ardent Beatles fan that you want an all-consuming experience, then you must stay at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.  This high-end establishment is adorned with specially-commissioned artwork and memorabilia.  And, yes, it serves Afternoon Tea.

As I said Liverpool is a vibrant and thriving city now.  If you ever get the chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.  And if you want to argue that Liverpool’s amazing turnaround over the past 30 years is because of the investment of dedicated developers which has led to the revitalization and rebirth of the city, you may be right.  But I say it’s all because of four lads, who called themselves the Beatles.

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References:  Hard Day’s Night Hotel, The Cavern Club, Beatles Tours, Wikipedia,
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CAFFEINE

This site is about ‘tea‘, as well as ‘toast‘ and ‘travel‘.  But, it seems lately I haven’t posted much about the actual beverage ‘tea‘.  Many people think this is a site about food only.  Actually, it was my love for ‘tea‘ and the closing of my tea business which prompted me to start this blog.  I think I still had much more to say on the subject but my audience was gone.  Well, I haven’t stopped talking about ‘tea‘ yet.

I do realize that I still live in that ‘tea world’, a world in which most people do not live.  So when I overhear someone saying ‘yeah, I can’t drink tea because it has too much caffeine‘, or ‘did you know tea has more caffeine than coffee?‘ I have to step away from the conversation, because it still makes me a little crazy.  I feel compelled to set the record straight once more … TEA does not have more caffeine than coffee.  In the most simplistic of terms … ” A cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

Not enough information for you?  Okay, then here’s my CAFFEINE 101.

Camellia Sinensis plant

Where does caffeine come from?  Well, Mother Nature is responsible for caffeine.  She came up with a natural way to protect over 60 plants from destructive leaf, nut and seed-eating predators.  When these hungry, little insects try to eat these plants they get a mouthful of this bitter organic compound.  For the most part, these plants originated from Asia, Africa and South America, which, of course, is where the trees which give us coffee, cocoa and tea originated.  At this point, I am assuming everyone knows tea (not herbal beverages like chamomile, mint, rooibos, hibiscus, etc.) comes from the camellia sinensis plant, which originated in Asia.

Caffeine Structure

Now we’ve established that caffeine is natural.  It can, however, be ‘manipulated’ and it can also be ‘harvested’.  In the beverage we love so much, there are several factors which determine tea’s caffeine content.  In today’s modern world, it begins with the propagation of the bush.  Plants grown from clones can produce twice as much caffeine as bushes from seeds.  Nitrogen fertilizer can also add another 10% to the normal caffeine level.  From there, the caffeine content in the plant can vary according to the picking season. Teas plucked in cooler weather might produce less caffeine than those plucked in the fast growing hot months. Also, things as subtle as the location of the leaf on the stem, or whether its an unfurled bud, can also affect the level of caffeine.  And let’s not forget that the longer the infusion (the longer the leaves sit in the water), the greater the caffeine content.  Did you know that tea bags, which contain broken leaves, fannings and dust, produce an infusion with far more caffeine than loose leaf tea?

Uber-smart Nigel Melican, research scientist and founder of Teacraft, Ltd., says it best Caffeine varies in the fresh green leaf depending on fineness of pluck. For any tea, be it black, green or white, the caffeine is highest in the bud. Silver needle (white tea) is 100% bud and has the highest caffeine content.  If your white tea is 100% bud then it’s going to be one-third higher in caffeine content than green tea made from two leaves and a bud.”

Learning how to properly pluck tea in China.

Please understand we’re not talking about astronomically high amounts of caffeine … perhaps a variance of 8-10% (which might be just enough to keep some people up at night).  The average tea drinker consumes about 180 mg of caffeine per day as compared to the average coffee drinker’s 330 mg per day (far more if they drink robust coffee such as Starbucks).

Upon drinking this naturally-occurring substance, it is absorbed into the small intestine and within 45 minutes is distributed throughout your body.  Yes, it is a stimulant .  And, yes, it has been shown to increase alertness and concentration, quell headaches (which is why some pharmaceutical companies ‘harvest’ caffeine) and it does speed reaction time.  It also increases digestive juices in the stomach (always served after a meal in Asia).  Although it does not dehydrate the body, it does stimulate the kidneys, which helps the body eliminate toxins.  If caffeine keeps you up at night, avoid drinking it four to five hours before bed (which is the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to work its way out of your system).

For most of us, caffeine really shouldn’t be a concern.  High amounts of caffeine, however, can absolutely have a negative affect on some people.  If you are on medication which is affected by caffeine, or if your doctor is asking you to cut caffeine out of your diet, switch to a decaffeinated tea or a caffeine-free herbal.  (Remember, caffeine is not present in herbals unless they are blended with tea leaves.)  Always consult with your doctor if you have any questions about caffeine’s effects upon your health.

There is much more to say on the subject of caffeine, but I think I’ve gone on enough for the average person.  The next time someone tells me ‘tea has more caffeine than coffee’, I hope you’ll realize that, at that moment, I will be doing everything in my power not to go on a rant … as I’ve done here!  And, for everyone who may still be confused … ” a cup of tea has HALF the caffeine as a cup of coffee.”

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References:  Cha DaoCoffee and Health, Wikipedia, Villanova University,

ZUCCHINI STREUSEL BREAD

If you check out my recipes page, you’ll find that I have quite a few “zucchini” recipes.  There’s a reason for that … some vegetables  I can grow easily, and zucchini is one of them.  I’ve picked the last of the summer’s crop of zucchini for this year, and, believe me, it was a bumper crop as usual.  I’m not quite sure which of my zucchini recipes I like the best.  They are all tried, true and delicous!   My suggestion, give them all a try and then let me know.

This quick bread is a “go to” and not as complicated as it may look.  I like to make the streusel topping first and set it aside.  Then I mix the dry ingredients together …. the wet ingredients together and combine.  What could be easier!
Happy baking!

ZUCCHINI STREUSEL BREAD
Stays very well for 4 to 5 days if wrapped and refrigerated.  Or this bread can be made ahead and frozen for up to 3 months.  

2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup plain yogurt, non-fat or full-fat
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini (about 2 large)
3 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Optional:  1 cup chopped walnuts, dried fruits

Preheat the oven to 375°.  This recipe will make two one pound loafs, one large 13 x 9 tray loaf or 24 muffins.  Grease and line whichever pans you’d like to use.

Grate the zucchini either by hand or with a food processor, then wrap the grated zucchini in a kitchen towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture.

In a large bowl beat together the eggs, sugars, vanilla, oil and yogurt.  When fully combined, fold in the grated, squeezed-dry zucchini.  A medium to coarse grating is perfect.

In another large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  If you are adding walnuts, dust with a little flour first to prevent them from sinking into the batter.

Quickly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well combined.  Don’t overmix.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s).  Bake at 375° for half the total baking time – 25 minutes for breads – 15 minutes for muffins.  At this half-way point, you’ll want to generously spread the streusel topping onto the bread(s), pressing down slightly.

STREUSEL TOPPING
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 stick cold butter, cubed
Optional:  1/2 cup chopped nuts, chocolate chips, Reese’s pieces, brittle

In a bowl thoroughly mix together the dry ingredients and then cut in the cold, cubed butter until the mixture looks crumbly.  Set aside until ready to spread onto the bread batter.  

Finish baking until a tester inserted into the middle of the bake comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Now it’s time to put the kettle on and make that pot of tea.  When serving, there’s no need for butter, cream cheese or any other spread, this bread is moist, rich and delicious!  Have a second slice, you’ve earned it!!

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TEA in SPAIN

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.

Calle Caldereria Nueva

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”.

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References:  Wikipedia, Andalucia, Love Granada, Trip Savvy,
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CHAI … it’s sordid beginnings

In many languages “cha” or “chai” is the word for tea.  Chai, or Masala tea as it is called in India, is that milky, spicy, sweet, hot beverage we’ve all come to love.  Knowing the humble origins of chai, I’m amazed when I go to stores like Home Goods or TJ Maxx or even Ocean State Job Lot to see ‘chai‘ in shelf-stable packages, pre-made and ready to drink.  Actually I shouldn’t be surprised at all.  As much as we might love this spicy beverage, we’ve become a country in which we are so busy, we don’t have time to sit, relax and enjoy the process of … making chai, baking bread, growing herbs .  I’m one of those people, however, who tries to make time for it all.

I find the story of how Chai began quite fascinating, because it tells the story of tea … with all its grit, espionage, smuggling and deceit.  Chai has one of those sordid origins where it was bred out of necessity, much like soul food.  People had to eat (or in this case, drink) what was available.  If they didn’t they went hungry, and in most cases, they would die.

Let’s start at the very beginning.  It was 1848 and the East India Company had lost its monopoly on the China tea trade.  The Chinese were resentful that Britain attempted to addict their entire nation to opium and refused to do business with them.  The whole of Great Britain was now demanding “tea” and It was imperative that the British government establish its own independent tea supply.  But where and how?

Among botanist Robert Fortune’s tasks in China was to learn the procedure for manufacturing tea, as shown in this 18th century tea plantation. (The Granger Collection, New York)

A Scotsman by the name of Robert Fortune, curator and botanist of the Royal Horticultural Society, was asked by the East India Company to go on a “tea-discovery” mission to China.  Little did Fortune know that he was about to become an international man of espionage.  For three years, disguised as a Mandarin, Fortune visited the most famous tea districts, kept meticulous notes on the soil, the pruning, plucking and manufacturing process, and systematically collected seeds and plants.  By 1851, Fortune had amassed such knowledge, and plants, that he filled four vessels sailing from Hong Kong to Calcutta with thousands of plants, seedlings and had hired a team of experienced Chinese tea workers.

While Robert Fortune was busy collecting specimens, Robert Bruce, a fellow Scotsman, was meeting with one of the chiefs of the Singpho tribe in Assam, India.  The Singpho tribe, as the Chinese and other tribes in Southeast Asia, had also been making tea for centuries.   A tea committee was immediately formed to explore the possibilities of growing tea in this Assam region, which lies just to the west of China.

And then the takeover began.  Britain appeared to align themselves with the tribes, but their intent was to take over this territory.  They began by moving into this area and stripping the tribal people of their land, and then increasing the land tax to the point where the Assamese were unable to pay it.  This forced the Assamese to work clearing their own swampy, mosquito-laden land for the future tea gardens of their new British land “lords”.

These indigenous people had no experience laboring in this manner, and under deplorable working conditions.  The  British viewed them as “lazy, indolent and miserable”.  As a result, the British began “importing” labor from other parts of India. This “importing” of labor was, in fact, slavery.  Recruiting agents were sent into rural areas and promised a good wage and better life to men, women and children … ‘recruits’ who willing to immigrate to Assam.  When they had enough ‘recruits’ from one area, they loaded them onto overcrowded boats with appalling conditions for the six- to eight-week trip up the Brahmaputra River.  Many of the men, women and children, or ‘coolies’ as they were called (the term ‘coolie’ is believed to originate from the Tamil word for wages, ‘kuli’), died from cholera, dysentery, malaria or typhoid fever.  The ones who did survive were put to work no matter how sick, hungry or tired.  They were managed with whips, lived in pitiful huts, were chronically ill and malnourished, and unable to escape.

Most often the only source of nourishment for the ‘coolies’ was rice and tea.  No, not a good quality tea, but tea made from the dregs of the pluckings, infused with some milk for nourishment, sugar for energy, and spices to cover up the bad taste.   As a result, coolies suffered a very high mortality rate.  Between 1863 and 1866 half of the 84,000 laborers brought into this area died.  As I said, the history of “tea” and this now-beloved drink isn’t the sweetest tale.  Many thousands upon thousands of people died from malnourishment, disease and mistreatment.

Born out of necessity, today “chai” is the national drink of India. From sipping chai in someone’s home, while making a purchase in a shop, at a train station, or on a street corner, you can’t visit India without experiencing this unique culture.   Chaiwallahs are on every street corner in every village and town, ready to serve you a small cup or glass of this wonderful beverage.  Each may have their own special recipe or preparation style, but rest assured, each is as delicious as the next.

Everywhere in India there are chaiwallahs on the street with large kettles selling their spicy tea steeped with boiled milk and sugar. Because of the stiff competition between chaiwallahs, each tries to develop a unique style.

While specific recipes can vary, the black tea is always brewed with a blend of spices, generally cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, ginger, and cloves, with the addition of milk and sugar or honey.  In the U.S., some folks steep their tea together with milk, spices and sweetener. Others steep the tea and spices together, then add the milk and sweetener. A third group steeps the tea, stirs in the sweetener, and enjoys it without milk. It’s your choice.

We enjoy ours best steeped in a saucepan for 10 minutes or more with equal parts water and milk and one teaspoon of tea, spices and sugar for every 8 ounces of liquid.  Milk may burn if the heat is too high, so steep the heat at a medium temperature for about 10 to 15 minutes. After steeping, strain into a pot, and enjoy.

Yes, making it yourself does take about 15 minutes or more, and you can certainly buy prepared chai in bottles or packages, or even dry chai mixes, but taking those 15 minutes is so worthwhile.  And, if you make too much, just put it into the refrigerator and enjoy it cold the next day, over ice, or reheat it.  In the summertime, I love to make chai shakes … with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the blender.  Try it.  It’s absolutely delicious!!

I may occasionally order a chai (notice I didn’t say “chai latté”), in a café, but I really enjoy making it at home.  The aroma of those comforting spices steeping in that dark, rich tea just relaxes the senses and puts me in that “happy” place.

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References:  TEA by Roy Moxham, The Heritage of Indian Tea by D.K. Taknet, For All The Tea in China by Sarah Rose, Academia, Teatulia, Smithsonian

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TOAST

Have you wondered why I’ve named this blog ‘Tea, Toast and Travel‘?  Well the ‘tea’ seems fairly obvious as does the ‘travel’, but ‘toast’?  I’ve had that question asked more than once. For me ‘toast’ is a warm, crunchy accompaniment to a hot cuppa tea … slathered in creamy, salty butter and, most often, a thick, sweet, fruity jam.  As a child, whenever I was sick … cold, flu or just a belly ache … my Mother would make me “toast” which now epitomizes comfort food.  I also use ‘toast’ as a category for recipes that I feel pair well with a cuppa tea … whether hearty soups or quick and easy desserts.  And this blog is meant to be about me sharing what I enjoy, so “Tea, Toast and Travel” suits me to a ….. T.

Years ago, I mentioned to hubby that I would love to open a small restaurant called “TOAST” and just serve just that – ‘toast’.   High-quality, loose leaf teas would, of course, be served too, but it would be ‘toast’ with all kinds of specialty toppings from savory to sweet.  How about bacon, avocado and poached egg on toast … or a garlicky ricotta cheese and English peas spread with a hint of lemon … or a thick slab of roasted turkey breast smothered in pan roasted drippings (yes, I used to have that same lunch sitting at the Kresge’s counter with my grandmother) … or Nutella and banana slices, a sprinkle of pecans and topped with Marshmallow Fluff under the broiler all melted and gooey?  My ‘toast’ would not be thinly sliced, pre-packaged white bread. It would be crusty, thick slices of artisanal breads from sourdough to whole grains.

When I mentioned my idea to hubby little did I know I was a few years ahead of a trend.  Today it seems ‘toast’ has already become the latest fad among foodies.  There are restaurants named ‘TOAST’ in New York City, Los Angeles, Long Island, one in Michigan, another in Charleston, and there’s even one here locally. They’re all over the country and they are all individually owned … not a chain, each one with a different image and menu.  There’s even a point-of-sale system for restaurants called “toast”.

I know trends are short-lived, but how fun to ride the wave. We’ve survived the freeze-dried coffee era, the fondue dinner party fix, the ubiquitous seven-layer dip which appeared at every social gathering.  Then there were bagels:  breakfast bagels, pizza bagels, dessert bagels, bagel chips, bagel bits.  And, of course, thanks to Oprah, the never-ending parade of cupcakes.  From smoothies to sliders, mac ‘n cheese to short ribs, we now have ‘toast’.

The word ‘toast,’ in fact, comes from the Latin word tostum, meaning to scorch or burn.  It is believed that 5,000 years ago Egyptians used ‘toasting’ bread was a way of preserving it.  (Not quite sure how researchers have been able to determine that time line.) Romans also preserved bread by toasting it, and this continued to be spread throughout Europe.  The British really took to ‘toasting’ (what goes better with a cuppa?).  And, of course, anything that was popular in Europe found its way to the Americas.  Cutting slabs of bread and roasting them on an open fire sounds intoxicating and romantic to me.

Although its only been around for about 100 years, the most common household item is the electric toaster.  Doesn’t everyone have one?  The invention of the electric toaster in 1893 by a Scotsman was thought to be the greatest invention of all time, although sliced bread wasn’t invented until 1928.  I’m not sure how popular it was, having to lay your bread against the coils and and watch it, quickly taking the bread off before it burned.  It wasn’t until the 1920s when the electric toaster as we know it today was perfected, evolving into a two-slice, pop-up device with a timer.  And with the invention of pre-sliced bread, the world was changed forever.

As a child isn’t toast the first thing you learned to make?  Ask someone who may not know how to cook if they know how and you’ll probably hear “I can make toast”.  So now how do you feel about slicing bread, toasting it under some type of heat source, spreading your favorite topping on it and then sitting back and savoring its sweet, crunchy goodness?  Serve that up with a piping hot mug of tea, and I’m yours!


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References:  Thoughtco, H2G2, Today I Found Out
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