Next to water, tea is probably the most consumed beverage worldwide. And yet, I don’t believe most people venture into the possibilities of the distinctive taste and effects that teas can offer. I am hardly a tea connoisseur and yet, I enjoy the wide array that’s available – flavourful, fruity, unique, green, black, herbal, oolong, Chinese, Turkish – with sugar, honey, lemon, or milk. To me and for most people, tea is like a potion to invigorate our minds and bodies before a busy day and also to unwind and relax at the end of it.
Growing up in Canada, my mother introduced me to the world of teas when I was very young. She gave me chamomile tea when I was unable to sleep, peppermint for a tummy ache, Earl Grey green for relaxation and invigoration and green tea for detoxification. As I grew older and the tea market expanded, I tried every kind of tea I could find. However, it was very recently that I discovered the pure beauty of loose-leaf tea compared to using teabags.
On a trip to Istanbul last Eid, we realised that even more popular than Turkish coffee was their tea that was served steaming from tulip shaped glasses. While shopping for bags, the shop owner offered us a choice of the uniquely flavoured black tea – chay – or their other famous apple tea. I took only one sip and fell in love with the fragrant glass of tantalizing chay. My next day’s itinerary was not to visit some famous tourist site, but to buy tea to take back home with me to Cairo.
My chay quest took me to the famous spice bazaar in Istanbul. I was hunting for the loose black tea powder as well as the apple tea made from pure bits of the fruit. We came across one of those shops in a little nook, nestled between other intriguing stone buildings, set apart by the bins of spices and hanging arrangements of dried herbs. I stepped inside to the warm greeting of a very friendly elderly Turkish woman. We asked her for the chay which is served all around the city. While she was packing our tea purchase for us, I stumbled across a group of bins with delightful colours and scents. I had noticed the apple tea, made from little bits of dried apple but my heart really jumped out of my chest when I realised the assortment before me – there was cherry tea, strawberry tea, orange with peppermint and something called “Love Tea” – all enticing my senses from within the bins. I knew then that I wasn’t about to leave the shop with only black chay.
Back in Cairo, I tried all my floral concoctions. I knew I was in love with them forever. Funny how I’ve always known that chamomile is a flower, yet having drunk chamomile tea from tea bags for so many years, I delighted at the sight of the actual flower in my cup. It most certainly was a tea lover’s dream come true and I truly regret not buying more while in Istanbul.
Not to despair, however. Cairo has an array of Attars – shops designed for the sole purpose of selling loose spices and herbs. They also sell many key chay ingredients like hibiscus, chamomile, rosehips, jasmine and many more if you need to create your own infusion of flower tea. The most aromatic and tantalizing flavours usually include berries, and the Turkish “love” tea was an eclectic mix of strawberry, cherry, orange and apple for a fruit explosion on your taste-buds.
The most convenient way to serve loose-leaf chay is in a teapot designed to hold the flavourful bits back when pouring. Let it sit at least five minute to maximise flavour. To heighten the floral experience for your guests, I suggest adding a few dried flowers either inside their tea cup or beside it, on a saucer. And everyone’s favourite eye tease is the chamomile flower tea with peppermint and orange – a zesty and tangy spin on the traditional white flower drink. I promise you, taking a sip of some lightly sweetened tea from your favourite mug will never be the same once you have had a flower in your cup.
Manar Umm Travis is a Canadian revert, married to an Egyptian and currently residing in Egypt. Together with her husband, she has embarked upon this journey for the sake of Allah I as travellers, adventurers, strangers in a strange world trying to make each moment count.