There’s a Tea for Everything

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, WinterzauberOsterntee, 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.

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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.

Not kidding about the urination tea.
Not kidding about the urination tea.

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.’

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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.).

25 Replies to “There’s a Tea for Everything”

  1. What a timely, enjoyable post Liv! My Australian friend skyped me today complaining about her child being prescribed antibiotics too often. We discussed the merits of the German Prescription – a tea brew for every ailment!

  2. We drink a lot of tea in fall and winter in Thüringen. During Advent we think tea without milk tastes better with German Christmas cookies and especially Lebkuchen. But we also drink tea with supper( Abendbrot) every evening. For Abendbrot , we prefer spiced or fruit teas, because we can’t sleep,if we drink black teas. One of our favorites is “Constant Comment,” it’s an American Spiced Tea. It’s great on a cold winter evening. I bring it and
    “Red Rose Tea ” from Canada. The Germans I know love them both.

  3. I absolutely agree, I’ll raise my mug of tea to that!! Nothing beats a decent mug of black tea with a splash of milk. I’ve been breastfeeding for nearly 6 months now and managed perfectly well without all that herbal tea stuff. Plenty water and a couple of mugs of tea each day n we are doing just fine. Oh and the odd coffee doesn’t go amiss after a “short” night 😉

  4. Everyone knows that fennel is a galactogogue. As is oats. Lots of oats and fennel tea for breakfast will put hair on your baby’s chest 😀

  5. Well, not all of it is rubbish, herbs do contain various components that have medicinal use 😉 But yeah, most people here overdo it with the weird teas, and personally I doubt an infusion of the kind of ground up old dried dust in teabags has any remnant of its original properties. I salute my Russian parents for raising me with a thorough appreciation for a good cup of strong black tea (and none of that nonsense of spoiling perfectly good tea with milk, pah!) We buy ours either from local russian or turkish supermarkets.

    We do keep a little stock of different green teas, which is perfectly legitimate – it is after all proper tea! But no herbal stuff and only one standard fruit tea for my brother (his excuse: he was born here). Resistance is possible!

    1. I feel my resistance crumbling … I tossed an ‘orange and ginger’ tea into the trolley the other day, for no reason. Help me.

  6. Liv, I have just visited my rellies in Germany, which I left some 28 years ago. Every time I go back, the increase in tea weirdness astounds me. And this time, it was mind boggling.
    What I find strangest at all is that the concoctions I drank all seem to include Süssholz, which makes any brew absurdly sweet… Thank goodness for Ostfriesentee!

  7. The ‘Cream Tea’ thing isn’t so much putting cream in tea (which I can’t imagine ever doing) as opposed to being an event or afternoon tea. A Cream Tea is an afternoon tea consisting of a combination of Scones, Clotted Cream and Jam. Very nice indeed.

    1. Oh I completely agree! I should have made myself clearer, I meant cream teas as in the bizarre flavours of tea one finds here like ‘raspberry and cream’ tea.

  8. I also find this burst of herbal and fruit tea combinations during the last couple of years with such weird names like “Inner calmness” rather bewildering. I think it’s just a great marketing strategy that tea companies have come up with to catch customers and increase profit. But tea drinking has no real tradition here in Germany outside of Ostfriesland (where it was adopted from the Dutch that were importing tea from their Asian colonies since the 17th century).
    I myself prefer a good Darjeeling or an Indian Chai (self made from good quality Assam black tea and my own spice mixture). I only drink herbal or fruit teas such as peppermint or rose hip when I have a cold. And I totally resent tea bags. After having visited a tea plantation in India I saw with my own eyes that these bags are just filled with the dust that remains when all the proper high quality tea leaves have been sieved out and packed seperately. Nothing beats the flavor of tea brewed from whole leaves!

    1. Super interesting re: the tea culture in Ostfriesland coming from the Dutch. And you are right – apart from that, there is no tea drinking culture in Germany beyond the love of medicinal herbal brews. I am also aghast at your description of tea bags (which I always use for my black tea, namely because I am lazy.) But I might just have to hit the pot a bit more often now, I want the real leaves!

      1. I know that lazyness problem, but there’s a solution: you can get single use “Teefilter” in the supermarket here. Just fill them with the loose tea leaves and then dip them in the cup or kettle like an ordinary tea bag.

  9. Good that my family has its roots in Ostfriesland (East Friesland) – hence I was brought up with black tea, Kandis (rock sugar) and milk.

  10. It’s funny that I found that post now. I just mentioned the weird varieties of teas in Germany on my blog. I miss this variety of these teas even though I know it’s mostly good marketing but mainly because I miss going to stores like dm and Rossmann! I’m pretty sure that Germans love to believe that the tea can provide you with the “Innere Ruhe” or “Tiefe Kraft” you need 😉 Do you know Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen? He actually had some hilarious lines about all that tea a few years ago.

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