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?


denimflyz said...

Unfortunatly, where I live in the High Plains of Nebraska, US, I have to make exceptions, I can get some loose tea at the health food store, but fair trade, is almost impossible to find here.
During the Great Depressions, my grandparents, who were ex-Amish, used Chicory, in place of coffee. It is a root found in the deep south of the US and is strong, but makes a good substitute. I have had it, I made it weak and added cream and a little sugar to it to tame it down a little, but it is good.
Wonderful post this morning.

jessieimproved said...

I honestly believe that the real answer is a mix of a local and global economy, with a very strong emphasis on the local. If you're getting all your other products locally, I don't think it's a horrible thing to have your fair trade coffee. It's all the "organic" produce from California in my grocery store that's the real shame. CA is nearly 2000 miles away from me, and we are perfectly capable of growing almost all of it here in Georgia. However, I will not feel bad about having the occasional Costa Rican banana if I buy/grow everything else right here.

From The Homesteading Cottage said...

Such a great post (: Our beverage of choice is water, but tea is cherished (: Living in the south, the summer is never the same without black tea and lemon, but ginger tea has now become a favorite. Peel the root and store in the freezer. When you're ready for a cup, use a microplane to grate about a tablespoon (or more!) in your tea cup and pour in hot water. Add a squeeze of lemon or honey. It's great for the tummy and the smell is amazing! So glad to find your blog!


Anonymous said...

I don't drink coffee, but keep a jar of fair-trade instant for visitors who do.

I drink copious amounts of leaf tea, and am fortunate that Australia has it's own plantation. It blends its own leaf with fairtrade Ceylon and Indian.

Anonymous said...

There is a tea plantation at Tregothnan in Cornwall, just up the road from me. Lovely mellow tea, nice with lemon.

We don't drink coffee but tea is always on hand.

Pippa x

Orkneyflowers said...

Nice post - I'm a traditional coffee kinda gal - so I guess it would be coffee for me. I love herbal teas so could almost manage but coffee. I've promised myself one day to try out all of the references in 'Plants for a Future' Database refering to 'can be roasted and used as a coffee subsitute'......

I try and buy local honey and UK sugar from beet - so I'd be OK there and I'm no fan of chocolate so that would be OK.......

Banana's, oranges, apples and pineapples - but then again maybe one day if I get it right I might manage to grow my own......

Well a girl can dream can't see - tropical fruits in the north of Scotland - well if they can do it in Iceland with all that geothermal energy then why not try!

Love love love your blog - thanks for including mine in your list :)


Mary Hysong said...

I ran out of tea awhile back, shortly after breaking my coffee pot. So it's all homegrown herbs now. A great deal of peppermint which has taken over my mothers yard and I cut a large armload every couple of weeks. Especially good as iced tea. Other teas at the moment are pineapple sage, catmint, pineapple mint, lemon verbena, orange mint and chocolate mint.