Part 1 – Tea, Coffee, Wine and Beer
Over the years, readers have often asked me if I was a serious drinker, or even if I was an alcoholic. No folks, I’m neither of the above. I enjoy a cold beer, or a nice glass of wine occasionally, but that’s a far as it goes. The problem with travel (that’s a problem?) is when you get wrapped up in another culture, enjoying other foods, you encounter other drinks, and of course you must try them.
My problem is when I try some of these new drinks, I think “Wow!, wouldn’t that be a nice one to have a home, to offer our friends when they come over for dinner.” So what happens is that I end up with a cabinet with at least one entire shelf taken up with various liqueurs, wines, schnapps or other specialty drinks we have collected from various countries and cultural experiences. There are times I try something and think “This doesn’t taste half as good as it did in . . . . .” wherever!
Perhaps I should not joke about it so much, people tend to take me seriously, like when I say “I must go back to Greece for some ‘Ouzo-therapia’. Or I suggest a shot of ouzo or raki as a cure for covid or the common cold. “Just joking, folks!” So I admit, a lot of the attraction of various beverages is the location, ambience, and the company present at the first time you tried them.
First, I should explain that this is not an expert treatise or technical paper on international beverages, just the comments and ramblings of a traveller who has learned a few interesting things about various drinks around the world, along with a few facts gleaned from Google or Wikipedia. Some of these comments come with a warning.
That said, there are still a lot of these that we all enjoy, wherever and whenever we are!
Lets start with mild one – Tea. One of the most popular beverages enjoyed world-wide for hundreds of years. China of course if the greatest consumer of tea, but according to Wikipedia, on a per capita basis, Turkey is the leader. The UK, which everyone thinks of as a serious tea drinker, is way down in fourth position, and Canada barely in the race at twenty-first.
When we traveled in Turkey, everywhere we went there was somebody, often a small boy, carrying a tray of glasses of tea or what they call Rize çayı. This tea is a black tea, served in pretty little glass containers, often with a glass stir-stick to help dissolve a sugar cube if you want one. It is sold on the street, in the markets, even in some of the shops.
This photo is of a small boy taking advantage of the pause when our tour bus had a flat tire and we were all standing around waiting for it to be fixed. On this tour we saw many examples of this, men running around with a tray full of glasses of tea, usually with a small bowl of sugar cubes.
Over the years, I have tried a few teas, green, black, white and various herbal teas. I have at least two or three favourites; Darjeerling for a lovely, mild, floral, almost fruity tea, not as dark or astringent as a black, and the all-time favourite citrus (bergamot) flavoured tea like Earl Grey, named after a British Prime Minister from the 1830’s. For many years, I have also enjoyed the infamous Lapsang Souchong, also referred to as a ‘smokey, tarry tea’. This is definitely an acquired taste, but one which grows on you. I have seen many people try it and almost choke on the strong, smokey flavour. Some refer to it as ‘old gum boots’, campfire flavoured, tarry, or “What the Hell is that?” I used this tea in my ‘Westcoast’ series as the favourite tea of our Captain of the ‘Shanghai Lady’.
Some drinkers prefer their tea with sugar and milk or cream, while others like it with a little lemon.
Coffee is a different matter, coming from the beans (seeds) of the plant rather than the leaves. The popularity of tea vs coffee varies dramatically from country to country. Also, the brewing of coffee varies greatly from country to country. From the strong, gritty, boiled brew of Turkish and Greek coffee, to the mild, frothy ‘lattes’ served by Starbucks. In Australia, they really know how to make a decent coffee, and when it is served with milk, it is called a “flat white”.
We have found that coffee served in Europe was always better, usually a dark roast, and we recall the hiss and roar of the machine every morning as they made our coffee at breakfast, wherever we were staying. I have never been a fan of American coffee, it seemed they did not like strong, flavourful coffee. It wasn’t until the ‘70’s and ‘80’s that someone from Seattle went to Italy and checked out the coffee houses and decided to try something like that back home. I think Starbucks must have started the unique ordering system for a coffee. For most of my life, people just ordered a coffee, either black or with milk. Now, it sounds like a supply list for a new construction project – “A grande, vente, non fat, soy, organic, low cal, vegan with a shot of . . . “ and so it goes! I am always amazed at the detail in the order, and even more amazed that the young barista behind the counter understands and remembers the order. Apparently, according to Google/Starbucks, there can be mathematically up to 87,000 combinations of coffee orders with the choices they have. What ever happened to “One black, and one with milk, please”.
Let’s switch subjects and talk about wines. The subject of wines gets very complicated and I will only touch on it briefly. My criteria to judge a wine is simple, do you like it or not! Each time I hear the wine aficionados describe a wine, I cringe. I suppose my palate and my vocabulary is not that refined that I can detect ‘hints of this’, and ‘overtones of that’, a ‘such-and-such’ finish, etc. I am not even sure I want my wine to have all of those flavours in it. I do know that in our ‘early days’, we both preferred a much sweeter wine, and as the years roll by, our tastes have changed and we enjoy a much drier wine.
Price does play a large part in my selection, but, in fact, I find many of the more expensive wines very disappointing. I feel that if it is an expensive wine, it should taste much better, but I find that some of the inexpensive blends from Australia or Spain suit me much better. I know, again, the ‘wine aficionados’ are terrified of ‘blends’, they seem to want a pure strain, a specific year, of whatever, grown in a specific vineyard, even on a specific side of the hill.
This is the French influence, very big on which family winery, which vineyard, what terroir. One year, we took a special wine tour in Provence, and learned a lot about Châteauneuf-du-Pape, terroir, and all the variations that make a good Côtes du Rhône wine. As we walked through the vineyards, I was surprised at what he called the ‘soil’ of the vineyard. In the German vineyards of the Mosel or Rhine, the ‘topsoil’ consisted of pieces of shale or slate, not a ‘soil’ at all. In this vineyard in Provence, it was more like a gravel pit or a rock pile. The ‘top soil’ consisted of a layer of rocks, up to the size of my fist. The only advantage I could see was that perhaps the rocks absorbed and held a lot of the heat during the day, releasing it to the vines overnight. Another amazing fact we learned was that the roots of these vines could reach down over thirty feet for moisture!
The French believe in the family, the winery, the vineyard, and seldom talk about the variety. Many other countries, together with myself, discuss the variety, a Riesling, Shiraz, or a Cabernet. Once the variety is established, then you can go on to the winery who made the wine, and “decide if he did a good job?”
The only other wine I’d like to mention is the infamous Greek ‘Retsina’, but I will talk about that in Part Two – “Spirits, Liqueurs and other dangerous drinks”
Beer is another matter. I will not even begin to discuss various beers, and I’ll leave that to a fellow traveller who knows more about the subject than I. Check out his web-site and blog at ‘Itsabrewtifulworld.com”, a hiking/drinking/beer loving adventure.
Beer is interesting, and also has a long, complicated history. I didn’t really appreciate beer until we began to travel in Germany in my fifties. I was never into the teenage drinking/drunken scene, but many years later discovered the enjoyment of a cold, crisp beer after a day of hiking around European tourist sites. I often say the thing I like about Germany is when you sit down and order a beer, the only question you might have to answer is ‘big or small?’. Back home, it seems that everyone is into various ales, IPA’s, lagers, stouts, etc. of one kind or another, and you are faced with the problems of choosing what flavour or what kind of brewing process you would like. I usually try to simplify the request by asking for a ‘Pilsener’, which even then, is not always available.
Germany (Bavaria) is known for its German Beer Law, or Reinheitsgebot, the first real food law, (Beer was classed as a food) that decreed in 1516 that beer must be brewed with only four ingredients, water, hops, barley and yeast. This was to standardize the brewing trade, and prevent some brewers from adding all kinds of additional materials to increase their production, increase their profits, and produce an inferior or even dangerous brew.
Several years ago, we took my ‘little sister’ Helen to Europe and introduced her to the evils of travel and drink, etc. She developed a taste for sweet Moselwines or Rieslings, a habit she never let’s me forget. Shortly after we arrived in Frankfurt, on our way walking to the hotel, I said we had to stop at a little street vendor for a German bratwurst and beer, which at that time, went down very well. She never developed a habit for beer like she did for the wines, something we still joke about years later.
Like I said, I won’t get into the precise details of any of these drinks, I don’t necessarily want to know how its made, or where it is made, I just know what I enjoy, don’t bother me with the details.
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