Have you ever noticed how often when you are trying something that is culturally new to you – especially sampling the cuisine of another ethnicity – there is most often a cup of tea at hand? I am always delighted at how different cultures have different teas and at the ways in which those teas can evoke memories of cultures and connection to cultural experiences.
Around fourteen years ago, I moved to the Greater Toronto Area from Montréal for work. When I set out to explore the city, tea was one of the door openers to the many different ethnicities of the GTA. Coming from a culturally rich and ethnically mixed city such as Montréal, I was slightly apprehensive about losing my connection to the diversity that I had come to value so much in my life. Over breakfast with a friend in Toronto last week, I was reflecting on the role of tea in helping me to get acquainted with my new home.
For example, in Montréal, I had enjoyed plenty of experience with Indian culture but much less with Pakistani culture and it was actually a lovely cup of pink Kashmiri Chai that led me to the discovery the Pakistani culture of Gerrard St.
If you haven’t tried Kashmiri Chai, it is a fragrant, slightly thick, sweet and salty tea. It is made from boiled green tea with cardamom and cinnamon. I’m pretty sure this cup had a hint of rosewater as well. The syrupy tea base is mixed with milk and sugar, creating a creamy pink tea that is then served with chopped pisatchios on top. Beautiful and tasty, this tea tipped me off that I wasn’t quite in Little India, although I was only steps away.
Of course, the reason I had even wandered into this spot is because I was seeking Indian culture and cuisine. A rich, spicy cup of Masala chai has to one of the most satisfying drinks on earth, wouldn’t you agree? Brewed with black tea and somewhat spicier than the pink Kashmiri version, Masala chai has been a go-to comfort drink for me for many years.
Back in Montreal, I was first introduced to the marvelous green sencha of Japan in the Montreal Botanical Garden. The garden houses a traditional Japanese teahouse, or chashitsu, that was a gift to the botanical garden from Japan. Here you can experience the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, a most unique ritual. You are seated on pillows at a low table where you must to sit in a certain way, turn your cup a certain number of times while you enjoy your tea as you are served little jellied sweets with your tea. During the springtime, there are cherry blossoms everywhere and it feels like you’re actually in Japan.
It took very little time of living in the GTA to realize that I loved to do my grocery shopping in Markham, especially if I am looking for fresh or exotic seafood as well as many less common pantry items. In the Markham area, any Chinese restaurant is likely to be serving beautiful jasmine tea. Typically there is no pop or water on these tables – just delightful pots of piping hot tea. The incredibly fragrant, delicious Dragon Tears tea makes for a luxurious accompaniment to a Chinese meal and a delightful way to experience the culture.
Funny – I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘tea person’ but after years of drinking authentic Indian chai and an endless succession of Chinese and Japanese teas for much of my adult life, it’s time to own up!
In Canadian culture, it used to be we would all drink Orange Pekoe due to our ties to the British Empire, and I suppose that’s why I’ve never thought of myself as a tea person. Multiculturalism in our country has enriched our lives so much by connecting us with ancient (and often delicious!) learning and traditions from all over the globe; each with it’s own particular cup of tea!