Yesterday, I went looking for scissors which are usually, and somewhat inexplicably, stored in the same drawer as my tea. Upon opening the drawer, I got a slight shock and sort of reeled back in mild alarm. Crammed into the drawer alongside the scissors were two different kinds of English Breakfast, Earl Grey, chamomile, chai, peppermint, orange-ginger, fennel tea, Winterzauber, Osterntee, and a variety loose tea bags, several promising various health benefits like improved circulation. To a German, this collection may not seem noteworthy. To an non-German, it may seem somewhat excessive. This is because while us Aussies, in the grand tradition of our colonists, tend to go for a black tea with milk, the Germans are busy coming up with Cream Caramel tea and all combinations of fruits under the sun and – unless you hail from East Friesland – finding the addition of milk to black tea borderline offensive.
But the tea thing does not simply end with cream teas (how does that even work) indeed, that is where it begins. Fruit teas and herbal teas and weird combination teas in abundant numbers are merely baseline for Germanic tea drinkers. And while I find the practice of creating teas that fuse a fruit and a Christmas biscuit, or sweet dairy treat like yoghurt, somewhat gross, it isn’t what irks me most about the tea drinking culture here. Nor is, for that matter, the seemingly deliberate ignorance of a good black tea (again, outside of East Friesland). No, what I find most irksome about the tea culture here in Germany is the fact that Germans prescribe tea to treat every single malady. There is – and I make no exaggeration here – a tea for everything. And I am not talking your classic lemon and ginger for a cold, nor chamomile for a good night’s sleep. Peppermint for an upset tummy is also completely fine. But stand before the tea section in your local DM or Rossmans, or indeed your local Aldi, and you will be offered tea for your kidneys, your blood pressure and circulation, the process of urination, your entire digestive system, inner peace, general strength, pH levels, bodily relaxation, love life, career progress, psychological well-being, sexual prowess, and absolutely any aspect of life you can think of.
I remember standing in an Apotheke at the height of allergy season here, waiting to pick up my prescription for my asthma puffers. The previous evening I had had a little attack and was thus wheezing with the sort of dry, sharp asthmatic cough that can only be soothed with Ventolin. The lady behind the counter handed me my drugs and then gestured at the wall of teas behind me and asked if I would ‘like a tea for that cough.’ You mean my asthmatic hacking? The cough that is my body reacting to the fact my airways are compromised and I am having difficulty breathing properly? Why, no I do not want a tea for that, but I wouldn’t mind the steroids that will widen my breathing passages and allow a flow of air to resume, if you don’t very much mind.
The day after my daughter was born, I was schlepping around the hospital kitchen while she was smothered with Grand-parental love. I found a black tea and began preparing a cup. From behind me, my mother-in-law sang out, ‘what are you doing Livvy?’ in a tone that, in restrospect, was a little ominous. I told her I was making a tea and when she asked if it was black, I foolishly said yes. I had just gone through a harrowing twenty two hour ordeal that culminated in the midwife all but jumping on my stomach. To my mind, the least I deserved was a cup of good black tea, with plenty of milk and perhaps a sugar for strength.
‘Nein. Das geht nicht.’
She pointed to a little golden box in the row of tea options, alongside the usual fruit and herbal suspects. ‘You must drink this tea, it is for breastfeeding.’
And so began my close relationship with breastfeeding tea, which revolves around the magical herb of fennel. I was given boxes of the stuff from all and sundry, urged to assist my body with its milk-making abilities by swilling fennel and aniseed. Anyone, Germany told me, can breastfeed with the assistance of a good cup of fennel tea. Indeed, being pregnant and then having a baby resulted in my tea collection growing considerably, most notably in teas of the ‘inner strength’ variety. Incidentally, when I told my mother later of the hijacking of my black tea preparation, she said, ‘you three kids were raised on black tea.’
I knew that perhaps Germany was getting to me, when I forced my mother to purchase an anti-bloating tea when she was here last. I led her to the tea section of Rossman, which is really quite something, and selected two appropriate teas, my ears closed to any protests. I knew absolutely I was dicing with the point of no return when I went to recommend fennel tea to an Australian friend who was having problems breastfeeding. (I caught myself, by the way, before I uttered the unsolicited prescription, not least because there is nothing worse than unsolicited prescriptions, and the insult is only made graver if that prescription is tea.) And now it seems I am one of those people with thirty different types of tea in their tea drawer, ready to bombard guests with dubious sounding concoctions.
But I am confident I shall never pass the point of no return. Because I firmly believe, and always will, that absolutely nothing beats a good strong cup of black tea with a healthy slug of milk (not cream. Never cream.).