Food and Drink

Searching for Camellia Sinensis

Finding "a decent cup of tea" in Mexico is tricky, but not impossible

Pouring black tea

There are a number of things that the British when traveling or living abroad find hard to come across. One of them is Marmite, another is the Daily Mirror, but the most important is “a decent cup of tea.”

The British set a lot of store by the quality of their tea, hence George Orwell’s eleven golden rules for ensuring a nice cup of tea, or Monty Python’s “oh they don’t make it properly here, do they?”

The British are best known in Mexico for the Beatles, and after that for “la hora del té.” But being renowned for this four o’clock refreshment isn’t enough to fill local stores with PG Tips.

Mexican tea culture is known for its traditional herbal teas — some of which are reputed to carry medicinal properties — and so the tea shelves at even the best-stocked Mexican supermarkets tend to be loaded with herbal and fruit infusions that reflect this culture: Manzanilla (chamomile), tila (linden flowers), azahar (orange blossom), yerbabuena (spearmint) and limón (lime) are just a few you’ll find in a colorful array of choices, but there will be only a limited supply of black tea—and that often at a higher price than you are used to paying.

The most common locally-packaged brand of black tea is Laggs. Imported Lipton tea is available at some places sometimes,  and a number of supermarkets sell imported Twinings English breakfast and Earl Grey tea bags.  But none of these come even close to delivering the experience which can be enjoyed from a freshly brewed pot of tea made using high quality whole-leaf loose tea.

Occasionally the section of fancy goods at your local supermarket — or one of the specialist food markets — will have one-off deliveries of quality whole-leaf teas — Darjeeling or Assam for example — which if you want you should snap up quickly without caviling about the price, as there are no guarantees of restocking. Stumbling upon surprises like that can make the enjoyment even greater, as things are very easily taken for granted.

Traditional wisdom says that a proper cup of tea needs to be prepared with water boiling at around 100 degrees centigrade which would pose a problem for those visiting, or living in, Mexico’s highlands, where water boils at lower temperatures.

However, tea expert and founder of the Rare Tea Company in London, Henrietta Lovell, says that the 100-degree rule is a myth, and that only mass-produced tea bags require this treatment, whereas better quality whole-leaf teas benefit from being brewed in water at lower temperatures: white teas 70-degrees, and black teas 85-degrees centigrade.

If you can’t source the better quality teas locally and can’t get used to the taste of tea from teabags here, then it’s a good idea to stock-up on your next shopping trip overseas, ore ask friends and family to pack some for you on their next visit. Otherwise, there is nothing to be done but switch to coffee, which Mexico has plenty of, and great variety.

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