Old World Tuesday: Brew Your Tea Like an Azeri
May 8, 2010 § 2 Comments
I know, I know, it’s not Tuesday. It’s Saturday. But heck, as one of my favorite Russian jokes goes, “‘Better late than never,’ said Anna Karenina, as she placed her head onto the tracks and watched the departing train disappear in the distance.”
But this post is not about great Russian literature or great Russian humor. This post is about tea.
Tea. It means a lot in the Old Country. The first thing to be offered to guests, it is so much more than a drink – a gesture of hospitality, an occasion for conversation, an opportunity to step back and savor the moment. This is not your Starbucks-on-the-go – in nearly every instance, it is brewed using loose tea – no bags, no paper in your cup, nothing but tea and water.
And snickers bars. And homemade jam.
We’ll come back to the snickers bars later. These here were brought by the Easter Bunny. Easter Bunny, you see, is highly versed in the traditions of the ancient land of my birth.
Because back home tea is served with candy, homemade preserves, and other sweets – even sugar cubes, the way to drink it is to place a spoonful of jam, a piece of sugar, or something along those lines in your mouth and follow by a big sip of steaming-hot, unsweetened black tea – never green or herbal. As far as I am concerned, that’s the only kind of tea there is.
Now for the method – normally, you brew a tea concentrate in a small ceramic teapot first, and then use this concentrate to make individual portions throughout the day, because, normally, the Azeris drink multiple glasses of tea daily, including for breakfast and after each meal. Keep in mind that back in my time we didn’t have coffee makers, Starbucks was unheard of, and all coffee was instant and came from a tin.
I got this nice teapot in this country, but the ones back home looked just like it.
First thing you wanna do is warm up your tea pot by pouring in some boiled water, swirling it around, and dumping it back out.
Next, we are going to add some loose tea to the pot – I like Earl Grey the best. You probably want to use 1 T per cup a of liquid, or more or less, depending on your taste.
Now pour in the boiling water to come nearly all the way to the top. We are now going to heat this.
While we want the tea to steep over a hot surface but not come to a boiling point, which would cause it to taste “cooked.” That’s why we need some sort of a heat diffuser. Back in the Old Country, we’d use a circular metal plate or something of the kind to place between the burner and the teapot. In America, I opted for a cast iron skillet (Note: it doesn’t hurt the skillet. I checked.).
Turn on the burner and turn the heat down to low. Place your heat diffuser of choice over it. Allow it to get hot, and then place your teapot on top. Leave the fire on. Keep the pot on top of the heat diffuser until the tea leaves swell and float to the top.
This is what it will look like.
This shouldn’t take too long, so be there to monitor the process. And – I am sorry about the terrible picture. It really ruins the spread, I think. But then again, I didn’t want to not show you what it looks like.
When you and your tea concentrate are ready for each other, place about 3/4″ of liquid on the bottom of a teacup (back in the Old Country people serve tea in special pear-shaped glasses), and fill the rest with boiling water. Depending on how dark you like your tea, and I don’t like mine very dark at all, you can play with the amounts of tea concentrate and water. I grant you my permission.
This is especially nice with a slice of lemon.
And a sliced snickers bar, if you want to be really authentic. To me, snickers bars are closely tied with the early days of the nascent market economy that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. You see, the Soviet TV didn’t have any commercials, and when, after the fall, they began showing them, snickers bars were among the first products to be advertised. For that reason, in my mind they are forever associated with the first influx of stuff from the West into the country starved for freedom and consumer goods. And the Easter Bunny knows that.
This is also good with homemade jam. This my raspberry jam from a couple of years ago. For the majority of Russians, this is the most lusted-after and, simultaneously, the most-rationed variety of fruit preserves – because the Russians believe in their fever-reducing capacity, in many households their consumption is often off-limits to healthy individuals. But not at my house. Come summer, I’ll teach you how to make this.