Thursday, 21 June 2012

Vulnerable traditions


By Aurora @ Island Dreaming


I haven't had a cup of tea or coffee in two weeks. We ran out of both at the same time and haven't been near a shop where you can buy fairtrade loose leaf tea or ground coffee. Last year we made the move away from tea bags and instant coffees, which helped us to cut our consumption quite dramatically. We have been weaning ourselves off of coffee for a while anyway as the price has risen over the last year, to just a cup a day. And now here I am, decidedly decaffeinated.

At the same time that I am tea-less, the UK is swathed in red, white and blue bunting and traditional tea party's are making a comeback thanks to the Diamond Jubilee, the football and the Olympics. Britain is the second biggest consumer of tea in the world. During world war two, tea imports were made a priority to keep morale high, for fear we might all flake out and give up the good fight without a morning cuppa. Tea  and coffee are not native to the UK (with the exception of this tea plantation in Yorkshire perhaps). It is an unfortunate vestige of our imperial past that one of our most cherished beverages and something so tied up with our national identity must be imported.

I am fully behind the local food movement, but make an exception for those delicious tropical imports - tea, coffee, chocolate and spices. Local food webs build food resilience in the face of fragile global food chains and I appreciate the security, but I am concerned that my local and national food webs would not be able to provide me with satisfying non-alcoholic beverages. I have never met a herbal or fruit tea, commercial or from the garden, that I truly savored. I like the astringent, rich bitterness of tea and coffee and my insipid herbal creations or grain coffees never quite make the cut.

In a last ditch effort to make teatime more resilient, I have sown some Monarda seeds, also known as Bergamot or Bee Balm. This apparently makes an excellent tea and was consumed in place of black tea in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. Whether they will make a more satisfying brew remains to be seen and I hope that there are no catastrophic disruptions to my tea supply before then. I am missing the ritual of a stewing teapot and the comfort of sitting quietly sipping a hot drink as cold rain returns. I am thinking about all of those things that I would miss should the UK not be able to import them - black pepper, vanilla, allspice, sweet potatoes, and making plans to cultivate them or to replace them satisfactorily.

What non local foods would you miss? Have you weaned yourself off of imports completely?