Saturday, 10 October 2009

Polly, put the kettle on...

Tonight, Husband was watching Babylon A.D. with Vin Diesel. As he pointed out afterwards, the only good thing about that movie is that it was free.

There is no point living in denial: autumn is here. It is getting cold and gorgeous outside, leaves turning golden and auburn. Perfect time for a good cuppa, as the English would say.

Tea is quite important for both Azeries and the English. For both nations, drinking tea is a significant tradition.

On my mother’s first trip to the UK, we were visiting my then future in-laws.
After a few days, mother decided it was time to stop acting like a guest, and make tea for us all. She went to the kitchen and put the kettle on.

Fortunately, I caught her just in time. In a proper Azeri style, she made chay with zavarka.

Zavarka is basically a very strong brew, which is made in a small tea pot. The pot is then placed on a heat diffuser, over a small fire, and left to sit there for a few minutes. When ready, zavarka gets diluted in individual cups by freshly boiled water. Which works fantastically well if you take your tea black.

However, adding milk on top of the already diluted tea creates a repulsive looking milky-grey watery solution. I quickly poured it all out.

But I have to say, I do miss Azeri chay.

First of all, whenever I visit someone in the UK, they forget that I take my tea black and serve it white anyway. It is a very unnatural thing for the Brits to not add milk in tea. I then appear all fussy and weird when I explain that there is no way I could drink that. I feel rude, but have to ask for them to make me another cup.

I blame my childhood. My grandmother had Tatar roots, and believed in the ancient powers of tatar-chay. Every time I had a bit of cold, she insisted I drunk up that disgusting mixture of a strong tea, full fat milk, chopped bread and some butter. Served in a large bowl, like a soup.

But it is not the milk that is my problem. Tea here is just boring. Take a tea bag, put it in a cup, add water. Where is the skill and thrill in that? Even the new trendy brands, like teapigs, are just not the same. Nobody, even my in-laws, bother with proper tea leaves anymore.

So, imagine how much I look forward to visiting my Azeri friends, who are just so good at brewing that special, gorgeous Azeri chay. (Using Indian or Iranian tea leaves, of course.)

I watch them working their magic over a little pot, mixing in not only different types of leaves but also spices, black peppercorns, thyme and whatever else only they seem to know about. (Every single chay-maker I know has his own special little chay secret.)

I, on the other hand, having got lazy using Twinings tea bags every day, am just left to silently admire their talents.

My mother is going back home soon, so I asked my dad if there was anything specific he would like me to send with her.

-Oh, -he said- I would love some ‘proper’ tea please! Some real Assam and Ceylon from England!

I guess, tea is always greener on the other side.


  1. I expected any answer from your dad... but the actual one!
    I guess it is always hard to adapt ourselves to new cultures, uses, habits. I admire people who manage to do so, and survive to tell others about that. Even better when a touch of humor is added, as you masterfully do.

  2. S'true. People don't make tea properly anymore. Although I have to say that if you DO get good tea leaves, heat the pot, pour boiling water over it and let it steep enough, the result is awesome.

    But I do like it with milk. And I would like to know how to make chay - post your favourite recipe?!

  3. I agree that teabags are a travesty, but they are indispensable in offices.

    Here's my favorite tea recipe from Britain's own George Orwell:

  4. Interesting. I don't think anyone else makes tea like the English (not sure if that's a good thing or not). Wherever I've been around the world I've struggled to get a good, strong cup of tea. It's the thing I miss most when I'm away. Oh no, just realised, I'm going the the US next year - disaster tea wise!

  5. I go through fazes of coffee and tea drinking, at times (prepare for the unforgiving).. I have the two, on the same, day.

    I know, I know... I should never speak of this again. My wife is Japanese (hence the tea, green mainly), and I am Colombian (we live off of coffee)... and we both enjoy each others beverages very much. But you are right, there are things that should never be done, like the milk you describe above. But sometimes, it's good to experiment. We have recently discovered the pleasure of chai tea with condensed milk.. its sounds weird, but tastes great...

    Oh, and I wrote a piece on Steven Seagal, I hope you'll find entertaining.

  6. Riyad: Thanks for the link, enjoyed it.

    Gabriela: I liked the way you said : "and survive to tell the others" LOL

    Working Mum: You see? It is so much about personal taste, isn't it. But maybe you do it properly? Share your secret.

    @ Jm Diaz: Ah, well my man, you have not tried coffee with condensed milk! It is lovely. :)))

  7. I really enjoy reading your posts!! It is rare to come across shared experiences of Azeries in Uk who moved here permenantly.

  8. I guess I am not a good Azeri as i am really not that big on chai, actually tea of any kind. Chai with milk - no please, I'll pass. I have tried it once and didn't like it at all. I guess it's a matter of taste mixed with culture:)

  9. I enjoy to read your post as well )))
    u know....Once prepared pot tea for my in-laws...and they are coming every week and asking for pot tea :-0

  10. It's amazing how much we actually have in common, my maternal Grandmother was tatar as well and she drank her tea with sugar, milk and dipping "suxari" in it, so I've always known that way of drinking tea, with milk in it, as "tatar" way until I married and my British mother-in-law introduced me to the classic english tea. I always remember my loving grandma when I see my Mother-in-law drink her english tea. It's also a favorite of my 5 year old daughter, unlike my husband and I who take black or herbal tea, sometimes with honey and a slice of lemon which is also azeri tradition. And I love my azeri friend's special tea: she makes zavarka in a small pot using Ahmad tea leaves and a couple of clove seads which add a wonderful flavor.