I’m almost halfway across India now, and surprisingly I’m barely touching caffeine at all. Being a regular coffee junkie and a ferocious consumer of pint-sized cups of tea at any chance I get, this realisation has come as a shock to me.
Obviously the heat has something to do with it – strong coffee isn’t that attractive when flustered and dehydrated – but I always thought a mug of tea was amazingly refreshing at all times. It seems that’s not quite true.
The perfect cup of tea is a very elusive and personal thing; it’s something that can be argued over for hours. Some people love tea so strong you can stand the spoon in it, some just show the water the tea bag, and for others it’s the builder’s tea that represents “a proper cuppa”. Now, I know that the 1.2 billion people of India can’t all be wrong, but in my opinion the tea here is murdered!
To say I’m a little disappointed is an understatement. I’ve always laughed at how tea grown in India or China is exported to London and labelled as “English Tea”. India is one of the world’s biggest producers of tea leaves, so I had expected to be in for a real treat. How wrong I was – there is barely any recognisable hint tea because of how sweet they make it.
Flavour-wise it’s kind of like a cross between condensed milk and sugar syrup with a hint of ginger and a much slighter essence of tea, and consistency-wise it’s nearer to a dessert than a refreshing drink! Both Indian tea and coffee is made with boiled milk, which quickly develops a custard-like skin atop your drink as it cools.
How to prepare Indian-style coffee or tea
Bring your water to rolling boil, dissolve lots of sugar into water and continue boiling as you add a very small amount of tea.
Bring a pan of milk to a boil, then fill a cup two-thirds full with boiled milk, pouring through a tea strainer to catch the custard skin. Top up with the tea-flavoured syrup and serve.
If severe thirst and or desperation strikes, then consider drinking. Otherwise avoid.
Now, at the other end of the spectrum we have Turkish tea – man alive this stuff is the espresso of the tea world, served in a shot-style glass it contains enough caffeine to bring a dead buffalo back from grave!
Every village in Turkey has a tea house that serves solely tea – no coffee, no snacks, just tea. And black tea at that. It’s very strong, and at first sip tastes like it’ll coat your mouth with the tell-tale fur feeling and dry taste of stewed tea, but this never comes. It’s more refreshing than coffee but still nearly as strong – a great combo.
How to prepare Turkish-style tea
If you don’t have a special double teapot from Turkey you’ll have to use a bowl in a saucepan– like the bain marie method used for melting chocolate. You simmer (don’t boil!) the tea in water (about a tablespoon of water per person) for around 15 minutes (yes, 15 minutes. I said it was strong!). It’s then poured into the shot glass and topped up with hot water. How much water depends on how much of a caffeine hit you’re after. The best tea for this method comes from the Black Sea coast Turkey.
It’s usually served with sugar and is a beautiful thing – but in all honestly, I’m gasping for a big mug of British tea.