One of the more, er, interesting aspects of life in the country is the wildlife. Now I’m not talking about the wonderful bird life that we enjoy, or the koalas that fight at night or even our beautiful black cattle. The kind of wildlife that has been preoccupying me of late is small, grey and furry – mice! At the end of every spring, as the weather gets colder and (hopefully) wetter these cursed little rodents start to try and find somewhere warm and cosy to spend their winter – and inside the house looks pretty good to them. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of something tiny and grey scuttling past me in the pantry or we hear small scuffling sounds in the cupboard, but often we don’t see them, just the signs of where they have been. It seems to be impossible to keep them out and I have yet to have any success with trapping them, so discrete little boxes of something tasty are tucked away in corners for them to find.
I don’t drink coffee at all, but adore tea – black, green, white, India or China – I love’em all. Now, in my kitchen, I have one of those awkward, deep corner cupboards that are so hard to keep organised and that is where I keep my – not insignificant – stash of teas. One of the wee little beasties got in there, lured, I suspect by a particularly nice packet of hot chocolate that I had bought at a gourmet shop, chewed a hole in the bag and had eaten the lot, necessitating a major clean out and re-organisation of the cupboard. While I was aware that I had a nice selection of teas and certainly enough variety to ensure that any urgent tea requirements can be met, even I was surprised to find that I had 32 different types there – and that doesn’t count the ones that were years out of date that I threw out!
Tea has been drunk for up to 5,000 years in China and the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, grew wild in the Brahmaputra Valley region of Assam in India. As with many plants, tea was used initially medicinally and, in some parts of China, as currency. It wasn’t introduced into Europe until the 17th century when trade routes to the far East were opened up, but gained popularity quickly, becoming the British national drink by the mid 18th century. British dependancy upon Chinese tea grew to be a problem when it became clear that the Chinese did not need the goods that Britain wished to trade for tea. The British began to produce opium in their colonies in India and introduced it to the Chinese to create a market, subsequently forcing the Chinese to trade tea for opium in treaties after the Chinese lost the Opium Wars of the mid 19th century. British tea needs were also behind the focus on tea plantations in India and it became one of the more important items in British global trade – even today, tea is seen as a symbol of “Britishness”!
Being of “bog Irish” stock I won’t be making any claims of “Britishness”, but I do enjoy a cup of tea. It is arguably the most popular beverage in the world today and modern science has now shown that it has beneficial effects on, among other areas, the immune system, mental alertness and skin damage. My brain struggles to fire up before I’ve had black tea with sugar first thing in the morning to get me going and I then work my way towards sugar-free green or white tea in the afternoon. I love flavoured teas – but only if they are well made and without artificial additives – and one of my very favourites is mint tea. Not at all like the bags of peppermint flavoured tea that you buy in the supermarkets – which I always think taste a bit like drinking toothpaste – it is an infusion of green tea and fresh mint which is generally heavily sweetened and is just as good served hot, as it is served very chilled on a hot day. One of my fondest memories of my last (and only!) trip to Paris was sitting in a Middle Eastern cafe on a very cold winters day, warming my hands around a perfect glass of mint tea that had just been poured with great panache, and from a great height, from an elegant silver teapot.
- 1 Tbsp green tea
- 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
- 500 mls boiling water
- sugar to taste
- Pour the water over the tea and mint and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes before serving.
- Traditionally, this is sweetened in the pot and is served quite sweet, but I’ll leave that up to you and your insulin levels!!