Tea in Israel and India

Guest blog by Susan R. Eisenstein


With the weather getting colder, we just want to curl up with a good book, or article from iKonnect and a hot beverage; preferably, tea! Let's hear more about the tea culture in Israel.


I have always loved tea. Eating out with friends (pre-Covid, of course), when the server asked, coffee or tea, and everyone said coffee, I would be the one dissenting voice. Then I would wait, repeat my request, and finally, the tea came. It seems that tea was not a drink of choice. This is puzzling, as tea, first cultivated in China almost 5,000 years ago, is the most consumed beverage in the world after water.

5 orange ceramic cups filled with milky tea with two hands taking two of the cups off the plate
Steaming cups of tea / Susan Eisenstein

One of my favorite teas is Wissotzky (tea company based in Israel, founded in 1849 in Moscow Russia) Nana Tea, a blend of fine black cut tea and spearmint leaves. And happy to say, Israelis love mint also. Israelis will often leave a tea bag by the side of the cup, untouched, making tea with nana by simply having boiled water in a glass, mug, or cup, with fresh mint and sometimes a piece of lemon. Mint tea is commonly served in Israel after dinner, not only to cleanse the palate but also to draw on its soothing properties after a meal. It is also used for the Israeli summer drink, Limonana. Limonana is a blend of mint, lemon juice, sugar, and lots of ice, a refreshing drink, perfect for summer.

Mint is also used in Middle Eastern cooking. Although there are many varieties of mint, it is spearmint that is most commonly grown and used for cooking. Examples are in dishes such as tabbouleh, Israeli salads, both with fruits and vegetables, as well as in most recipes for kibbeh. Israel does not grow regular tea as they do in India, as tea leaves are not traditionally grown in Israel. Tea in Israel differs between different ethnic groups. The Russians tend to drink strong sweet tea. Jewish Israeli Sabras drink a lot of herbal teas or tea with mint. The Arabs tend to drink boiling water with fresh mint (without black tea as we know it) and call that tea. They also drink a tisane from a plant called white savory or sometimes wild sage tea, as a medicinal. Likewise, olive leaves make a bitter tea that is said to have medicinal properties.

Multiple glasses filled with mint leave with saucers on a table
Glasses ready for mint tea.

In winter, the Arabs drink a tea called mehrli, which is regular tea with lots and lots of aromatic spices, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and more. It is usually prepared quite sweet and ground walnuts are often served next to it, the idea being you add the ground walnuts to your cup of tea after it is poured. It's really delicious, we recommend giving it a try. It is thought to be especially good for new mothers who have just given birth and aids in milk production. The Christians have taken this a step further and drink it, especially around Christmas, being symbolic of the birth of Christ, though all the Arabic-speaking ethnic groups do drink it in winter. Paul Nirens, owner and founder of Galileat in Israel, since 2013, was kind enough to share his knowledge of tea with me as well as this recipe.

Ingredients

Cinnamon, cloves, dry ginger, holingan (which is dried galangal). No one could tell me proportions, but it's mostly cinnamon-sticks, not ground. The other spices are aromatics that you don't add too much or they will be overwhelming.

Instructions

For two pints of water, it is probably six quills of whole cinnamon, four whole cloves. Three one-inch pieces of dried ginger and two pieces of holingan. Fresh galangal is no good. Place all the ingredients into a pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for one hour. You can add ingredients and water and just keep it going for up to three days. For all things food in Galilee, and for the most unusual food-related experiences that you could hope to have, check out Galileat. Email: paul@galileat.com, www.galileat.com

 

Our tea adventures continue in India. Rahel Musleah of Explore Jewish India, brings us her authentic "Chai & Chat" Kits, bringing the flavor of India's rich, spiced, milky tea, or masala chai (tea) to us at home. Some things just cannot be replicated virtually! Chai truly reflects life in India! Chai wallahs, people who make or sell tea on the streets, are ubiquitous in India, offering tea brewed with jaggery (unrefined sugar), ginger, cardamom, and other spices, and mixed with warm milk. Chai wallahs revel in pouring a stream of the tea from high above the pot (called pulling the chai), almost like a pizza maker twirls dough high in the air. Chai is made with lots of milk and is delicious with savory deep-fried snacks. For the New Year, you can drink this tea and say L-Chaiim. Chai it, you'll like it! For more information, email rahel@explorejewishindia.com or check out Jewish India! So grab some tea, transport yourself to Israel or India, and enjoy!