Sharing of food and drink has always fascinated me primarily as social ritual. Travelling as a stranger in desolate places, I have taken special note of how refreshments and nourishment are offered as part of cultural interaction.
The way that food and drink function on a symbolic level depends largely upon context. For instance, in a place where the mercury rarely descends below 100 degrees F, there is no more lavish gesture of welcome than a glass of ice-water, further cooled by a slab of peeled cucumber, a crushed sprig of mint leaves, and the piercingly tart juice of tiny limes.
Humans have also historically used foods, spices and seasonings to send messages of status, prestige and wealth, similar to the appeal of luxury designer goods today. Both tea and sugar have a shared history as a prestige import, and this is, in part, why sugar is conventionally part of tea-drinking in the West.
Author John Keay illuminates some of this history in his fascinating book, THE SPICE ROUTE – A History (University of California Press, 2006), where he chronicles the trade boom around stimulants (tea, coffee, sugar) as well as many other kitchen-commodities which, though familiar to us now, were once exotic beyond compare. Salt and pepper, for example, were once as valuable as precious metals.
Poor-quality tea also invites intervention. Since the 1930s, commercially produced tea-bags, filled with “fannings” which are essentially the dust from the broken remains of tea leaves, call out for cream, sugar, honey, lemon. These traditional augmentations cut the raw-feeling bitterness and mustiness of an inferior brew. Tea purists understandably rankle at this, and nutritionists warn against our current sugar consumption.
But the sugar bowl and creamer predate the modern teabag by centuries. Like the salt cellar, these containers for precious condiments once broadcast the worldly affluence of the owner, and thus occupied a place of honor on the formal dining tables of imperialist Europe and Britain.
Times change, and now premium teas from everywhere on earth are available and accessible for brewing and enjoyment. From a historical perspective, this is an unprecedented opportunity to enjoy tea in its most immaculate state.
Because we now are able to experience the freshness of tea, we also have the opportunity to shelve the sugar bowl for baking. Just as an aside—in the quest for a sugar-free alternative, have you ever had even a lovely cup of tea dosed with Stevia? A bit like sipping through a rolled-up ball of aluminum foil.
Buddhists say that life is simply a moment, and that life is comprised of moments. Art of Tea specializes in creating teas for every one of these moments, including the craving for a bit of sweetness (when you really want to go there, check out Art of Tea’s new tea-infused gourmet chocolates!).
Blending the essences of natural fruits, spices and other botanicals releases subtler, mellower and more complex sweet notes than interaction with sugar, aloe-syrup or honey, much less the yellow, pink or blue packet.
For the move from fall to winter, Pumpkin Pie (Caffeine Free), Cinnamon Fig, Cherry Amaretto (Caffeine Free), Caramelized Pear (Caffeine Free), Italian Blood Orange, award-winning Lychee Peach and Peach Oolong bring the last bit of ripeness from the harvest and orchard to the cup.
In a holiday mood, or want to get there? Chocolatey-vanilla Velvet Tea, White Coconut Crème, Coconut Cacao Puerh, Hot Sweet Cinnamon and Vanilla Berry Truffle warm as well as sweeten the palate, perfect for sharing with friends around the fireplace.
These blends open the experience of tea in its uninterrupted state—a bit like drinking real tea for the first time.