Given the large collection of tea which was stuffed into my rucksack as I boarded a plane from Stansted to Bologna last week, it would be fair to surmise that I have somewhat of an obsession with tea.
All week I've been handing out teabags as gifts to students, awarding them as prizes, or using them as visual aids in class. I also used the occasion to check my students' knowledge of vocabulary and verb tenses by asking them to narrate my actions as I prepared a cup of tea during a class.
Despite living in the land of the iconic espresso, it's time to address the question, how does the humble cup of tea feature in Italian culture? If indeed, at all.
In Italy, tea is commonly associated with sickness. For this reason, tea is a homeopathic concoction usually consumed at home rather than when you're out and about. It's main role is relaxation rather than perking people up and so camomille occupies a large proportion of the tea aisle in all its physical forms: powders, soluble tablets, syrups, and loose dried flowers.
Tea is inextricably related to the digestion of the Italian nation. Half the minimalist tea sections in Italian supermarkets are aimed at the digestive system. In particular, the shelves are lined with locally produced fennel teas. And just a sidestep away from the anise-flavoured teas, you can find rows of detox tisanes, weightloss blends, and green teas which are becoming increasingly popular among the health conscious.
As a side note, pay attention to ingredients if you're not a fan of fennel, anise, or liquorice. You'll find this flavour in practically everything: sweets, ice creams, biscuits, pizza, salads, and chewing gum. There have been so many times when I've begun nonchalantly nibbling on slice of onion only to find that it's actually a hefty piece of fennel!
When I ask Italians which black teas they drink, they usually refer me to Twinings English Breakfast, Liptons or Prince of Wales tea. Neither teas are what I'd consider everyday brews along the lines of Tetleys, PG tips or good old Yorkshire tea.
Other tea brands usually have English sounding names like 'Lord Nelson' but these are more often than not they are German products masquerading as English ones. These black teas are rather weak and rarely merit the title of black. They would more accurately be described as beige. Then again, without milk they are often more bitter than an English cuppa.
In Italy, the stove is king. So much so that small apartments often forego an oven. All is you need is pasta anyway, right?
The stove is used for preparing espresso and for boiling water for hot drinks. Kettles are not considered essential household items here unlike in the UK where it's the first item students smuggle into their halls of residence. Kettles are available in shops but few people have them or if they do, they rarely use it for tea.
In fact, I sent my husband out to buy a teapot this week and he came back with a whistling kettle for the stove because it had been given the name 'teiera' in Italian which is the same name given to teapots!
How do Italians serve tea?
Italians usually serve cups full of hot water with a choice of tea bags and a slice of lemon on the side. But to a British mind, black tea with lemon sounds incredibly bitter as we're used to balancing tea with sweet dairy. Without that counterbalance, one could argue that Italians are actually more die-hard when it comes to tea. An English person would most likely turn their nose up at straight black tea or say it was disgusting.
Does your country have a strong tea culture?
What varieties are available?
How is the tea served?