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East Friesland and its Tea Culture
Cold winds have always influenced the way of life in the towns and countryside of East Friesland, northwest Germany. It is a mixture of coastal mudflats, dikes with lighthouses, meadows, woods, lakes, unspoilt sandy beaches and heath land, with centuries of seagoing traditions, fishing and farming.
There are castles, ancient churches and abbeys. Villages built on artificial mounds, ancient windmills, canals and a wealth of flora and fauna that covers the countryside. And throughout the region historic traditions are a part of everyday life.
One is Friesentee, "Frisian tea" with its tea ceremony.
Unlike the rest of Germany, where coffee is more popular than beer, the number one beverage for East Friesens is their tea. With an average of 300 liters, more than 80 gallons, for each person every year, they drink twelve times as much as other Germans, and are first place in the World Tea Drinkers Championship.
Coffee does have some fans in Ostfriesland, but anyone who spurns tea is known as a "Koffjenöös"...a Coffee Nose.
Tea is so firmly rooted in East Frisian culture that during WWII East Frisians were the only Germans granted extra tea rations. Beginning with 20 grams per month for anyone over 35 years old, this ration was later increased to 30 grams as they complained it was not enough, and in addition they were also given "Teetabletten". Candy made from sugar with tea flavoring.
The tea drinking tradition is based upon an old Frisian proverb "Dree is Ostfriesenrecht" - An East Frisian has Three. This means three cups for each of the four breaks that take place every day.
Starting with "wake up" or "warm up" early in the morning; another before noon, the "Elf'rtje"; one in the afternoon around 3 pm, mixed with rock sugar and cream or, especially on a cold winters day, with Koem, a locally distilled rum. To end the day, after 8 pm, a tea that is often brewed with herbs.
When enjoying a warming cup of Frisian tea away from an ever present North Sea wind, which forms "Windlopers" the wind bent trees that line streets, it is easy to imagine how the tradition grew among the wives of 18th century seafaring men, who left their cold and damp coastal homes to meet each other for a few hours on hard winter days.
Tea was first brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company in 1610, Freisland shares a border with the Netherlands, and it was introduced to the Frisians at the beginning of the 18th century. They drank it as an alternative to the alcohol that their Calvinist culture frowned upon; and also used it as a medicine.
The good health and long lives of the Japanese and Chinese, who the traders and explorers had met and described, seemed to show tea to be some type of magic herb that heightened resistance to disease and cured all ills; from headaches and stomach problems to stress. In addition boiling water had proved to make it safer to drink, while the area is at a low altitude and has peaty soil, so tea disguised the salty, earthy taste of the local water.
"Opwachten un Tee drinken" is another East Friesland proverb; "Wait and see and drink some tea", and it sums up the region's leisurely and "gemütlich", cozy, lifestyle.
Especially during the frequent windy, rainy weather.
Nevertheless the entire process of brewing and drinking Friesen Tea is almost like a sacred ritual, a tea ceremony filled with tradition, etiquette and superstition.
The traditional tea itself is a strong blend of black tea with a malty, spicy and aromatic taste, mixed to various "secret" recipes, and mainly second flush Assam with quite small amounts of Sumatra, Java, Darjeeling and Ceylon teas.
Each year, after the tea is harvested and has arrived in Germany, tea testers try up to 400 different varieties a day, all from different plantations and areas in the world. Then choose between ten and twenty different teas to obtain the unique Frisian taste.
There is quite a ceremony involved in making that cup of tea, which is always served with special sugar and cream.
Kluntjes are large, single clear crystals of brown or white sugar that are impossible to bite, difficult to suck, and are left to dissolve in the tea.
The "lower classes" could not afford to buy sugar in the early days of its European production from beet, however they collected the residue from the bottom of sugar barrels where the dregs of syrup had solidified during refining. These pieces of sugar, Kluntjes, were treasured and each small lump had to be used in several cups of tea, then anything left in the cup was given to children as a treat.
Finding cream was easy as most households had a goat, but today a special cow's cream not found outside East Frisia is used; although single cream makes an excellent substitute.
The Tea Ceremony
First warm a ceramic tea pot with boiling water and empty it
Put the tea leaves in the warmed teapot, one teaspoon for every cup and one extra spoon for the pot
Pour water that has been brought to boiling point, but not allowed to boil, onto the leaves until they are just about covered
Steep it for three minutes and you will have a "stimulating" brew, steeping for five minutes a "calming" - very strong - one
Top up the pot with boiling water
Put several of the Kluntjes in each cup, one at a time because putting to many in at once is believed to bring bad luck. These will crackle as the cup fills with tea which has been poured through a sieve and that sound is the start of the ceremony.
The cream is put "on the tea" with a special cream spoon along the edge of the cup, letting it spill from right to left. No real reason it is just tradition. The cold cream runs down into the hot tea and makes a cloudy "Wulkje" effect
Cream is too overpowering for most teas, but not the East Frisian variety.
Served in special small German china cups, often with a traditional design, it must never be stirred because the real experience comes from the three different taste sensations:
First the cream, which symbolizes "Sky" and lines the stomach for the bitter flavor of the tea; "Water" follows, and finally the sweetness of the sugar "Land". And sometimes, especially in the cold and windy winter season, rum.
The sugar must stay in the bottom of the cup because it will be immediately refilled until you have had at least three cups.
A spoon has to be placed into the cup when you have had enough, otherwise the signal you are giving is that you would like more so the cup will be constantly refilled.
Friesen tea is accompanied by spiced or butter cookies or on special occasions by a slice of Friesentorte, Frisian Cream Cake, with its layers of puff pastry, plum jam or puree and whipped cream. Meanwhile the un-strained tea is kept warm on a little stove heated by a night light until all those spoons are in the cups, and this tea ceremony is over.
For anyone who is touring in Germany, and finds themselves in East Frisia, then "Nu is Teetiet"..........Now it's teatime.
Leer East Friesland, Touristik GmbH Südliches Ostfriesland - East Friesen tea service table setting, Public Domain, East Friesen Tea blend photographer Frank van Anken - 'Kluntjes' Sugar Crystals, photographer Elke Freese - typical East Frisian Tea cup with Ostfriesische Rose, an East Frisian rose, photographer Stefan Scheer - Courtesy de.Wikipedia
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