A perfect impetus to give an orientation to teas, especially what’s available in Cairo, is the November Coffee and Tea convention in Dubai and the Raj Indian restaurant’s enthusiastic orientation to the continent's tea.
Chef Arvinth gives Ahram Online tips on what makes a good masala tea. Firstly, is the quality of the spices, which leads to a good aroma (masala, does, after all, mean “spices”). The process counts, since you don’t want leaves that are overboiled. Lastly the colour. Too much milk, for instance, signals that the tea may not be good; the tea should be quality and potent.
A little research reveals that the concept of tea was first heard of in China. Legend has it that the emperor of China in 2737BC, Shennong, as always, asked his drinking water be boiled and one day dead leaves fell in the water. Finding it refreshing, energising and no doubt interesting for his scientific mind, he started to drink it regularly that way. Shennong is elevated in history for his scientific mind and for being a patron of the arts.
Tea was highly prized, medicinally, among the wealthy as a status symbol and by the general population as one of the “seven necessities” of Chinese life.
In India, likewise, it was used in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine). As ambitions grew in Europe, more explorations into the East rubbed off new traditions in Europe: tea drinking.
The British East India Company entered India in the 1600’s and began the heavy commercialisation in the tea trade. Traditions such as Low Tea (the correct term for afternoon tea time) took root in the UK.
Nowadays, everyone in India has tea to wake up in the morning and then has another tea in the evening, says Chef Arvinth. As the biggest tea producer in the world, in India they still consume 70 per cent of their production.
Although the pharaohs used chamomile and favoured hibiscus tea to cool themselves in the summer as well as for its healthy properties, such as reducing blood pressure and high vitamin C content, it was the Venetians who brought what we think of as tea – from the camellia sinensis plant - to the Arab world.
Apparently, Alexandria, a port city on the Mediterranean and Egypt’s second city, was the point where the Venetians imported the spices to then sell it on. Today, many of the importers are still found in the Alexandria port city. Most of the tea in Egypt is imported from Kenya or Sri Lanka.
Today, in Egypt, according to Al Arossa, an Egyptian tea brand, tea represents 70 per cent of the beverage market. A Wikipedia posting ranks Egypt 27th in a list of 155 countries in terms of per capita tea consumption.
Most of the teas in Egypt nowadays are harvested from Kenya or Sri Lanka.
The Fairmont (where Chef Arvinth's Raj Indian Restaurant is located) uses a customised brand of tea, which they highlighted with great delight in their tea introduction on 10 November.
Many other hotels and specialty tea places use already-existing brands, such as Dammann, which belongs to Illy - yes, the coffee giant.
In winter, reveals chef Arvinth, they add more ginger and pepper to the tea in India because they say those spices warm up the body.
The tea, however “…is spices; not spicey,” Chef Arvinth nods once with a twinkle in his eye.
Masala tea recipe Chef Arvinth offers:
Black peppercorns 4pcs
Greedn cardamom pods, light crushed 10pcs
Green fennel seeds 2gms
Cinnamon stick 2gms
Fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced 10gms
Black tea 10gms
Sugar, to taste
1. Heat the water and milk in a pan with the spices and ginger until it comes to a boil
2. Turn the heat down and cook over a low- to medium-heat for 15 minutes (be careful that the milk does not boil over)
3. Once the volume is reduced to a large cupful, add the teabag and let brew for one minute - longer if you like strong tea
4. To serve, strain into a cup and add sugar, to taste
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