Stories of teas (and how to make the perfect cup of masala chai)

Over the years, we have been exposed to our fair share of teas in many places, beyond the English cuppa.

There was the little tulip shaped glass which contained more sugar than tea (usually Lipton or Ceylon) served in the alleyways of Zainabiyya, Damascus. On other occasions, we sipped floral herbal teas, a blend of wild flowers and herbs (see here for more details), in the living room of friends who have long since left. And then there is another commonly consumed hot drink in Syria is ‘mate‘, a caffeine-rich tea that comes from South America. It is described as having the’“strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one cup!

teastrainerI gave up caffeine when we lived in Jordan, so chamomile and herbal teas were my new friends!

I found that the Saudis tended to favour copious amounts of lightly flavoured cardamom coffee  when hosting guests. During a road trip, when we stopped for drinks at the little street stalls, they would sometimes have Yemeni/Adani tea on their menu; a good milky cup of tea, sometimes spiced with ginger and cardamom.

Tea is generally consumed without milk in the Middle East. However, wherever you find Pakistani and Indian expats, you will be sure to find a top notch cup of tea with milk (albeit the evaporated ‘Rainbow’ brand kind)!

Qatar was a step up in the tea game. The famous Karak tea can be found in most places, Qatar’s answer to masala chai but with a twist. This twist is that the tea is sweetened with condensed milk. A cup of tea is a sure-fire way to get sugar rush! If you find yourself in Doha, try Chapati & Karak at Katara for a cheap, cheerful and sweet cup of tea with flaky bread. Londoners can also sample their tea (for a higher price!) in Knightsbridge.

tea

Now, a Turkish tea is a different story altogether. An important aspect of the culture here in Turkey, tea is often brewed using two stacked kettles: A small pot of very strong tea kept hot on the top of a larger one filled with boiling water.  A small amount of strong tea is poured into a little tulip-shaped glass, before the desired strength is achieved by adding the appropriate amount of hot water. The funny thing is I didn’t know that when I ordered tea off a self-service local vendor. I filled up my paper cup to the brim with strong tea. It was a bitter learning experience, literally!

Here is my recipe for the perfect cup of tea, born of Indian/Yemeni roots, nurtured in Syria, perfected in Saudi Arabia, and enjoyed in Turkey.

teaa

Ingredients (makes two)

A decent sized pot

5 cardamom pods slightly crushed open

3 cloves

3 black peppercorns

Half a cinnamon stick

Thinly cut slices of fresh ginger

Tea bags (or loose leaf tea if you are a purist but I am not there yet!)

PS. These are my favourite tea bags to use

Your choice of milk (cows, almond, oat etc)

Water (1 and 1/4 cup)

Choice of sweetener (honey, brown sugar etc)

Optional: a tiny piece of a fresh vanilla pod (I just cut mine in to tiny pieces to use)

masalas.jpg

Place the pot over the heat and the spices in the pot. Now this is the trick, tea hack, secret to this tea – toast them (yep, toast!) for about 30 seconds, or until they are slightly fragrant. This ‘toasting’ facilitates the release of their oils and permits the spices to flavour your tea more.

Then add water (I add 1 and 1/2 cup of water for every 2 cups of tea that I make). Let it brew a little. Let those spices infuse the water.

Once the water is simmering, add your tea bags. Clipper tea bags are quite strong. Depending on how potent I desire my tea to be, I use either 1 tea bag for 2 cups for a medium strength brew. If I fancy something stronger, each cup gets a tea bag!

Turn the heat down low, and when the tea has brewed, pour in the milk and stir. Watch the tea until it foams up. Take it off for a few seconds, and then place it back on the stove and let it foam up once more.

The only three things left to be done are pour, sweeten, and enjoy.

Peace out tea people.

teacup

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