As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.
OK — if you’ve not only seen this project’s introductory post but also some of my posts in the context of the year-end Festive Tasks game (or you know me from BookLikes), you may be surprised to see me mentioning tea as part of this series of posts after all, as in that case you can hardly have missed that tea is something like a minor obsession of mine. But seeing as this is not just intended for those who already know me, and (unlike my cats — or cats, generally) tea doesn’t make much of an appearance in my blog posts throughout the majority of the year, it’s very much a thing to be included here.
I’ve grown up in a family of tea drinkers: Afternoon tea was a daily ritual with my grandparents, who had charge of me after I returned from kindergarten and elementary school when I was little. Similarly, tea — typically Darjeeling (considered by them the most refined of teas) –, never coffee, was served whenever family reunions took place or adjourned, in the afternoon, to my grandparents’ home; and my mom, who unlike her parents did drink coffee every so often, like them for the longest time didn’t even own a coffee maker. (I think the first one she bought was when I was about halfway through high school.) When I was in my teens, flavored black teas, and owning your own tea set (Asian style: teapot and bowls, not mugs or cups) were the rage of the moment — and with one thing or another, tea eventually became a habit with me, the same as with (especially) my grandparents. I had a comparatively brief “coffee phase” in university, but soon discovered that black coffee, especially if consumed in large quantities, gave me heartburn (whereas tea never does); so the only thing that has stayed with me from those years is a preference for the Viennese and Southern European creations (espresso, caffè latte / café au lait, cappuccino / Wiener Melange, latte macchiato, cortado, Einspänner, Kapuziner, Franziskaner, etc.), or for that matter, Irish coffee or in summer, the German version of iced coffee — in other words, anything other than straight black coffee. Even of these, I’ll rarely have more than one cup at a time, however, whereas I have a mug of tea sitting next to me literally all day long, from breakfast until bedtime. Unlike coffee, tea — including black tea — also does not interfere with my sleep. And like my grandparents and, for the longest time, my mom, I don’t own a coffee maker; I simply have no use for one.
Though by no means a connoisseur, I love the variety that comes with different kinds of teas, even from the same region or, as with Earl Grey, based on the same recipe. While flavoured teas are still included in the assortment I keep at home, for daily use I’ll now typically resort to a “straight” black tea — which one, is pretty much a spur of the moment choice — or an Oolong (these look like black teas, but are actually something between black and green teas, as their leaves are allowed to oxidize longer than those of green, but not as long as those of black teas), or if flavoured, more likely than not an Earl Grey.
In the past (almost) two decades, my main sources of tea have been three places: The first one of these is an individually-owned specialty food store in Frankfurt, which I discovered while apartment hunting there after my return from the U.S., and which specializes in tea — mostly single-plantation products straight from the grower, as well as their own varieties of flavoured teas, though they do offer an assortment of the major commercial lines as well — complete with tea accessories, as well as their own blends of spiced rice and lentils and a large selection of spices, chutneys, condiments, candy and chocolates, and similar types of specialty food items. Even after I moved away from Frankfurt, my BFF and I continued to go shopping there; for much more than their mouthwatering range of merchandise: they really go out of their way to make you feel welcome, they put an incredible amount of care and research into the selection of the products they sell, and when it comes to tea, they actually take the trouble to travel to Asia to visit the growers with whom they trade (or at least some of them) — if you speak German, you can read all about these trips in their tea blog: obviously, Corona prevented a trip in 2020, so the most recent one was in 2019 –, and they even had several of their employees trained in Japan and Taiwan, and regularly host events with Japanese and Taiwanese tea masters in their shop as well. (Or, well, they used to before Corona.) Fortunately, they have an online store, too, so there is no risk of ever having to go entirely without their offering of riches, but I very much hope we’ll soon be able to visit them in person again, too … and by far not only because their online shop only covers a fraction of their merchandise to begin with. (I’ve shared the outcome of some of our past excursions to their store here, here, here, here, here and here; see also photos below.)
My other main sources of tea are larger enterprises; one of them being Whittard of Chelsea, which I discovered during a trip to London while still living in the U.S., and whose products (chiefly tea, hot chocolate, mugs and accessories) I have been lugging home (wherever “home” would be at any given time) ever since from pretty much every single trip to Britain. In the year or so prior to Brexit taking full effect, I placed several large scale orders with them, to guard against the possibility of post-Brexit delivery problems — which seems to have been a good idea, as according to their website’s “delivery” page, (as of 2021) their “international delivery options are currently limited” (and for a while, it even used to say that they were completely unable to deliver to continental Europe); so I’m glad I can let them sort out what needs to be done while not having to fear I’ll run out of their contribution to my tea supply any time soon. Unlike the above-mentioned Frankfurt store, Whittard (like most large commercial sellers) doesn’t offer single plantation teas — their black and green teas, as well as Oolongs, are typically blends of teas from several plantations / sources within a given region — but I like their teas for daily use, not least because they offer, or anyway used to offer, “loose leaf” teabags (which combine the higher quality of loose leaf tea and the convenience of teabags, so you sort of get the best of both worlds, which is a nice option to have if you’re not making a whole pot of tea but just a single mug), the overall quality of their merchandise is dependable, and they’re also rather creative about their flavoured teas.
And then … of course, there is Fortnum & Mason. Call me a pushover, but I am a complete sucker for a beautiful presentation, and honestly, who can resist this sort of creativity? (And not just for their teas alone, of course …)
Obviously, I am aware that with the price of each individual tin, the beautiful packaging and store presentation is a huge part of what you’re paying for, but come on, these tins are just too gorgeous for me not to happily do just that (and you can bet that I’m not throwing away a single one of them, either — these are keepers, one and all). As for the tea’s actual quality, the same applies as with regard to Whittard: high quality single-region blends that make for a lovely everyday experience — and yes, I know that I am spoiled –, availability of loose leaf teabags, and a creative approach to flavoured teas and multi-region blends. Once I had discovered F&M’s food hall, there was no way I would not be taking home a selection of their wares from every trip to London as well; and they, too, were one of the stores where in the year before Brexit took full effect I placed several orders to “tide me over”, as it were. (And again, that was the right idea, as their website, at the beginning of 2021, likewise read that they were unable to deliver to continental Europe, though I am happy to see that they now at least have a separate page with items available for delivery to the EU; though as it only contains a selection of the items I’ve come to love and get used to, I’m still happy I stocked up, and again not just with tea alone, while this was still possible.)
Last but not least, I also really like Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate teas (both lines are owned by the same company) — I first visited their Harrogate store during a trip to Northern England and the Midlands some 10+ years ago — as well as, for flavored teas, Kusmi. For the latter, virtually every other specialty tee shop (or department store with a specialty food department) seems to be doing a better job at presentation than their own Champs Elysées (Paris) flagship store, but their chai, spicy chocolate, ginger and lime, and (especially) Anastasia (“Earl Grey +”) blends are right up there with the best of them, and ultimately that’s what counts, of course! (Also, happily, I don’t have to order their teas from abroad but can get them right at my local supermarket or any of their other German distributors … including the above-mentioned Frankfurt store.)
Predictably, my massive “stocking up” operations during the past year at times threw my home into a bit of chaos and caused several reorganizations of my kitchen’s tea shelves (also, for the foreseeable future, I won’t be having the use of my kitchen table). But such is life, right? 🙂 (Incidentally: the pretty black and white “carpe diem” storage tins with a cat looking out of an open window, as well as the dark blue tote bag-shaped tins decorated with palm trees on the sides facing front on my shelves — and camels on their other sides — are from my much-praised favorite Frankfurt store as well.)
Lastly, the tea set of my teenage years has long since given way to a collection of mugs — my favorites for daily use, these days, being the three supersized members of the collection; a heat changing Cheshire cat mug (seriously, how could any lover of literature and tea resist such a perfect combination of the two?), a pink and grey mug that my BFF gave me, and a Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane-themed mug that was a gift from a BookLikes friend. Other than these, my collection includes Shakespeare- and other classical-literature-themed mugs, as well as mugs with floral or musical designs or with design themes recalling a particular region (Southwestern U.S., China, Frisia), and a number of mugs and supersized cups matching the earthy colors of my daily use tableware. I also own a number of cat-themed mugs, almost all of them again gifts from my BFF, which I’m keeping in my mom’s kitchen, as we usually have breakfast together at her home.
(Except specifically noted otherwise, photos in this section of the post mine.)
My set-in-stone childhood “don’t ever even come near me with that stuff” list of dislikes strikes again — for the last time, as far as this project is concerned. (And aren’t we all glad about that? 😀 ) Starting out, it included everything that even remotely smacked of “tomato”; once I’d determined that I found the fresh product’s swishy-mushy interior seriously off-putting, my dislike quickly extended not only to its taste but also to each and every related food item: basically, if “tomato” was part of its name or a prominent ingredient, I’d refuse to eat it.
The first knocks administered to that stance of mine came, perhaps predictably, by my discovery that French fries actually taste vastly more interesting when dipped into something rather than consumed plain (or just seasoned with salt). A side effect of this discovery was that I not only started to take to tomato ketchup but also to mayonnaise, which in turn. in quick succession. made me a fan of the Rhineland’s favorite version of fries, known as “Pommes ruut-wieß” in the local dialect, i.e., French fries with both ketchup and mayonnaise (“red and white”). (In the case of tomato ketchup, what chiefly fostered my change of attitude was the fact that the added vinegar substantially transforms the taste of the fresh product to such an extent that it almost becomes an entirely new and different food item.) Once the door had been opened by a crack wide enough to let in ketchup, that same crack quickly widened to also admit other forms of tomato-based sauces and soups; namely marinara and Bolognese sauces, tomato soup, pesto, and — after I had started venturing into Mexican food — chili con carne; as well as (in conjunction with my growing taste for Asian food and its chief ingredients) Germany’s favorite cousin of tomato sauce and ketchup, i.e., curry sauce / ketchup, which in turn created an opening for yet another German fast food classic, “Currywurst und Pommes” (grilled, cut up sausages with curry sauce or curry ketchup and French fries).
Even today I still don’t like the fresh product, however, nor anything that manifestly maintains or even intensifies the “fresh tomato” taste, such as canned tomatoes, as well as tomato juice and any cocktails or drinks containing it — so no Bloody Marys for me, ever, nor tomato-based vegetable juices (* shudders *). And while I don’t go so far as to dismantle a hamburger just to remove the standard slice of tomato, its presence is one of the reasons why I actually prefer cheeseburgers (where the added taste of the molten cheese does more to obliterate the presence of the tomato than does the taste of the salad and pickles alone in a hamburger), and if I can have a hamburger made to order, you’ll never guess what is not going to be included. Similarly, I prefer salad bars — which often also offer an overall greater variety of ingredients, of course — to “à la carte” mixed salads, where tomatoes are a standard ingredient ,,, and to this day my mom (who loves tomatoes) and I swap garnishments — tomato for cucumber — if both of these show up with a restaurant-served salad or main dish. (Or, well, we do so if among familiar company or eating out just the two of us [cough]. Otherwise, I just leave the tomato garnishment behind …)