LET’S THINK ABOUT TEA!

My drink is admittedly more likely to be coffee…rather dark, strong, sometimes thick and always hot!

However, I do enjoy my daily tea but not the usual blend drunk by the majority of the British. I have for years drunk rooisbosch tea. When we arrived in Middle Sabi, Zimbabwe we were introduced to this wonderful brew by the lovely Lynn. 

Middle Sabi is in the Lowveld. It is not that far, by African standards anyway, from the Mozambican border. It is very hot for nine months of the year and for the other three months can be rather grey and damp and known as ‘guti weather’ if I remember correctly. So we lay about panting for most of the year and then huddled around in big sweaters for the remaining months. 

When I say hot I mean really rather overbearing…about 35C under the trees! It has to be said that the human body does get used to this epic heat but you do spend much time perspiring gently or copiously all depending on your innate constitution. I, personally, grew accustomed to that all-enveloping heat which soaked into every pore. You stop fighting with the tentacles, the hot tongues that whisk about at midday and way beyond into late evening and simply invite it in…so much easier and a lesson for many things that were to happen in our lives for ever more! Stop resisting that which persecutes/torments you and soften into acceptance and then as the battle and control fade away there is a glimpse of an easier way…’the path of least resistance’ as the Chinese sages said.

In those days, oh so long ago, I drank less coffee, although not that much less! It just did not taste that good and I believe I’m right in remembering that we used a filter system that needed filter papers which were not readily available in Zimbabwe. So tea it was.

Rooisbos tea was readily available all those years ago in Southern Africa and it was not fashionable! You bought it in the supermarket at Chipinge. It was simply a refreshing alternative to black tea. It was good for babies and children and had no bad additives. We, originally drank it with milk but eventually gave up the dairy and have for years enjoyed it as it comes.

To make tea on our custom-built housing site in the middle of the Sabi Valley was a somewhat involved process. Water bore-holes were dug especially for us. A bowser then collected water and it was driven to our camp and decanted into large metal tanks erected on high platforms on a daily basis. From there it was simple…we just turned on our taps/showers and there was an instant supply. Except when the tank ran dry and the driver forgot to deliver! Also, as was the case wherever we lived in Africa, all drinking water needed to be boiled and filtered! 

We got used to all our water-based drinks tasting different. The minerals that came with the water formed a residue (scum!) and tea, coffee and water was a particular taste-experience which our overseas visitors found somewhat off-putting.

Nowadays tea-making is a breeze and there are so many different varieties to choose from that I still get giddy and panic buy! Recently I have discovered Honeybush which also originates in South Africa and tastes delightful.

Hot tea is very useful in such hot conditions. It causes you to sweat which enables the body to cool off.

Over the years I have enjoyed mint tea in Morocco and Tunisia but please hold back on the sugar! This causes consternation every time. I have drunk sweet chai from street vendors in the depths of the Indian countryside and enjoyed delicate green tea in South East Asia. Each occasion is special. Tea-drinking is definitely an important event. 

When working as a teacher at the Consolata School in Kenya we had tea at morning break…this was made the Kenyan way by boiling the leaves in milk and adding lots of sugar after sieving the leaves out and then drinking it with Rich Tea Biscuits. Ah, the memories and after a 5km walk to work, starting at 8am that brew tasted wonderful! Coffee was sometimes available but only ‘kahawa mara moja’, instant coffee, and this was in one of the main coffee growing areas!

A few days ago we watched a programme about tea-growing in Kenya with Simon Reeve which brought back many memories. Those picking tea get very small wages and having lived in Kericho, which was owned by Brooke Bond in our day, I recall watching them pluck the top three leaves. In order for tea to grow, there must be regular rain…and there was. We lived at 7,000ft and it rained very regularly and was cold. Not an easy place for people to live when your ‘house’ is a mbati (corrugated iron) shack with no running water. I’ll stop there otherwise it could develop into a rant. It is sufficient to say that for us to drink a lovely cuppa someone has worked all day for 30pence!

A dilemma that has no easy resolution. If we stop drinking tea,which is highly unlikely, there are no jobs and so it goes on blah blah. Fairtrade is a good start and there are many things sold in this way nowadays. 

All those years ago we would occasionally find a cooperative of women selling their produce and nowadays there is much more of that occurring.

Tea it seems, is vital to the British way of life, so maybe we need to spend a brief moment acknowledging the origins of this iconic beverage. My husband’s first job in Kenya was overseeing the construction of adequate roads to transport tea from the highlands round Mt. Kenya. We lived in a most glorious part of the world. I was 24 years old and all these years later I feel so blessed to have had that experience and it has coloured my life ever since in the most glorious way.

Sit quietly with your next cup of tea and think of the colours, scents and rhythms of that vibrant part of the world. Namaste.

Here are a couple of links to some great tea;

Chateau Rouge Tea is where I buy my Honeybush, Vanilla Rooisbos and Weidouw Rooisbos and they are all delicious. Every order comes with a free sample and this time we received Earl Grey-Royal Blue which has blue cornflours to finish off what is a perfect black tea!

The Rare Tea Company is a very new discovery in our house and yesterday the lovely postman delivered Sri Lankan Lemongrass, Wild Rooisbos and English Peppermint. I can honestly say they are all wonderful.
  

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