A Little Bit of Wales

A Welsh Tea House in the State of Chubut, Argentina

Today’s post is the result of finding a business card in Spanish for one of our 2011 Argentina destinations. It was part of the best day on that particular trip. In the morning, Martine and I went to the giant Magellanic penguin rookery at Punta Tombo where we saw baby penguin eggs hatching under the watchful eyes of hungry shore birds. Then we drove to the Welsh settlement at Gaiman where we had high tea at the Ty Gwyn.

Although we were many thousands of miles from Wales, it was as if we were in the Old Country. The tea, sandwiches, and cakes were absolutely delicious. In fact, we had such a good time that we took a bus from Puerto Madryn back to Gaiman and had another high tea.

High Tea at Ty Gwyn

The State of Chubut was originally settled by the Welsh who settled in a number of communities, including Gaiman, Puerto Madryn, Trelew, and Dolavon. At the souvenir shops at the Trelew airport, a conspicuous presence were the packages of Torta Negra Galesa, the dark Welsh Cake that is the highlight of a Welsh tea.

The only other places where Martine and I had high tea were at Blenheim Palace in England—the birthplace of Winston Churchill—and Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. It is interesting that the Welsh in Argentina were easily on a par with the other two.


The Tea Drinker

I Am Addicted to Drinking Tea

I drink mine not from bone china, but from a Harris Ranch mug, which I bought to replace an earlier one broken while being washed. The nights in Los Angeles are getting cold (down to the forties in Fahrenheit and the single digits Celsius). What keeps me going is mostly Indian black tea. In the mornings, I brew a pot of mixed Darjeeling and Ceylon. For lunch today at the Moon House, I had about four or five cups of green tea, Tonight, as I read Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc mystery Murder in the Sentier,  I brewed myself a cup of Indian chai masala.

Coffee? What’s that? I’m told I’m probably the only person in the Continental United States who never touches the stuff. In fact, I am repelled by the taste and the smell of bitter beans, as I refer to them.

As I look forward to the coming new year, I will probably drink hundreds of cups of hot tea and, when it gets hot, hundreds of glasses of iced tea (the same blend as my morning pot).

I make no special claims for tea, other than that I love the smooth taste. Drinking it makes me feel calm, even just before going to bed.

My parents told me that, as a small child, I used to sip their coffee. What happened in my childhood years that made me turn so vehemently against the stuff? Did I have a bad cap of joe? Did I spill some on myself and burn myself? Apparently, even my mother and father didn’t know.


What Flows Through My Veins

No, It’s Not Coffee … Ever!

With most Americans, I would wager that what flows in their veins is either coffee or Coca-Cola. With me, it’s tea—either hot or iced. And my tea is occasionally made with tea bags, but most of the time with tea leaves which I store in bulk. Although I also drink Chinese and Japanese green teas with my Chinese or Japanese food, my tea of choice for my own cooking is Indian black tea. Darjeeling is by far the best, but the better grades can be fiendishly expensive. So I usually blend it with Ceylon or Assam depending on the time of year.

When it gets cooler, as it is now, I like to mix the Darjeeling with a “wake-me-up” Assam like Baruti or Ghalami. I -purchase the tea in bulk either from an Indian or Persian grocery store. One pound of any loose black tea will last me the better part of a year.

I have a cheap Japanese metal pot with a removable insert so that I don’t need a strainer to remove the infused tea leaves from my cup. After making a couple of cups of hot tea for breakfast, I save the rest of the tea in the pot for iced tea, adding two or three ice cubes per glass. During the summer, I usually drink iced tea all the time, including for breakfast.

My iced tea is usually unsweetened. For hot tea, I like to add mesquite honey and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Sometimes I don’t even think of myself as an American because I’m not hooked on coffee and Coke. Although I will occasionally drink a Coke when the only alternative is iced tea adulterated with passion fruit, raspberries, or kumquats. Adulterated iced tea is an abomination and to be avoided at all costs.


Camellias Are My Life

Red Camellia Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Red Camellia Blossom at Descanso Gardens

Yesterday, Martine and I visited Descanso Gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge. At this time of year, the garden is still pretty dead—except for the camellias. The blossom above, fo example, caught my eye.

The title of this post refers not only to the flowers, which are stunning, but also to the fact that I am addicted to the Camellia sinensis, which is the scientific name for tea. I do not drink coffee, and I don’t particularly like carbonated beverages. In this cold month of January, I make a pot of Indian black tea every morning. I drink the tea hot for breakfast and iced for dinner and as a snack. Other than water, that’s about all I drink, ever. I might have a beer when it gets really hot, but no more than a dozen or so times a year.

The camellias at Descanso this time of year are Camellia japonicas, though there are a couple of other species, such as reticulata and sasanqua are also to be found. What makes Descanso’s collection unique is that they are protected by a large forest of California Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia)—protected in the sense that camellias usually do not like direct sunlight.

Some of the Oak Forest at Descanso

Some of the Oak Forest at Descanso

There is talk that many of the oaks at Descanso are centuries old and need to be replaced little by little with some other shade tree that coexists well with camellias. I don’t know how the garden staff will accomplish this, but I am sure that their professionals will be ultra-conservative, in the best meaning of the term.


Tropical Iced Tea? Gack!

Not My Cup of Tea

Not My Cup of Tea

The following post is a reprint from my posting on Yahoo! 360 on June 28, 2007:

No one I know loves iced tea as much as I do, especially when the hot days follow one upon another. And I like fruit juices, though I prefer to eat fresh fruit with all the pulp and fibers included. But the one thing I will not abide is a mix of fruit juice with iced tea.

Los Angeles in particular is replacing regular iced tea with what is called “tropical iced tea,” consisting of tea mixed with essence of raspberry, passion fruit, kumquats, or turkey giblets. Today, I had lunch at the Noodle Planet in Westwood, where an excellent China Mist iced tea was typically on hand. But no more! The cute young waitress informed me that their China Mist was replaced by a “tropical” iced tea. She sidestepped with remarkable agility, I thought, as a three-meter flame roared out of my mouth and singed several adjoining tables.

I asked her, “How would you feel if I sprinkled some banana or coconut juice into your coffee? or if I spiked your Coca-Cola with essence of oregano and nopal cactus juice?”

The way I see it, there is a tendency to making everything tutti-frutti, whether soups, snacks, steaks, fish, beverages, or—where I do not generally object—desserts. If that is the main contribution of Southern California to haute cuisine, then I say, “Back to the basics!” Henceforth, I shall wear a brown turban and gather around me other iced tea fundamentalists. We shall strike terror into the hearts and pocketbooks of those who would adulterate tea.

Let’s face it, instead of fruit, the additives taste more like refined petrochemicals, at the same time killing the refreshing, slightly acidic taste of the tea itself.

In the end, I had to settle for water. At least, they haven’t gotten to that—yet!

NOTE: I make an exception for fresh slices of lemon, lime, and occasionally orange. This way, I can control the taste of the tea. No oil company or coal tar manufacturer is allowed to tinker with my tea!

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Tea

Looks Good: I Think I’ll Have Three Cups

Looks Good: I Think I’ll Have Three Cups

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland and Dartmouth College), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. Today the letter is “T” for Tea.

Ever since I was a small child, I have preferred tea to coffee. I don’t even like the smell or even the look of coffee, let alone its taste. You won’t find me asking for a Venti anything at Starbuck’s. Barristas would have a difficult time making a living if they had to depend on people like me. What they do at their place of work, I could do more satisfactorily in my kitchen. And then, as my pot of tea cools, I have several additional glasses of iced tea.

While my favorite variety is Darjeeling, I will occasionally switch to Ceylon or Assam for variety. I also love green tea and several non Camellia sinensis local varieties, such as Té Manzanilla (chamomile) in Mexico or Yerba Mate in Argentina. People talk about herb teas as if tea is not an herb, but it is. I generally avoid more flowery teas, though a good Chinese jasmine is not bad on occasion.

While others spend many hundreds of dollars a year on coffee, my total expenditure on tea is considerably less than fifty dollars for far more tea than I can drink. A pound of loose tea leaves makes 240 cups of tea. By contrast, how many cups of coffee does a pound of beans make? Nowhere near, I’d wager.

Tonight, as I finish reading a book of Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić ’s essays, I will have a tall glass of unsweetened iced tea made of Ahmad of London’s loose Ceylon blend.


Sick as a Dog

The Only Thing That Refreshes

The Only Thing That Refreshes

Last Thursday I came down with a bad cold, and I am still trying to shake the effects of it. You know I’m ill when I can’t read. Instead, I sat propped up in front of the television while a series of medical hucksters such as Dr. Daniel Amen of brain health fame and Dr. William Davis of “Wheat Belly” fame tried to poison me with bad medical advice. Rather than continue listening, I stumbled into the library and napped while sitting in my uncomfy chair.

As the afternoon wore on, I decided to make a mushroom barley soup, which is now merrily bubbling in the kitchen, and I’ve had several cups of hot Darjeeling tea with a Greek honey I bought at Papa Cristo’s a few weeks ago. Drinking really good hot tea when I’m sick always seems to help. (I can always add a bit of dark rum and fresh lemon juice to make it even better.)

With luck, this sick as a dog feeling will soon pass.