Woodsmoke and tea


When I was little, our family used to drink loose leaf tea a lot more than we do now.

For me, childhood has the over-arching scent-memory of woodsmoke and apples. We had open fires in our house and my father would store racks of Bramley Apples from the wonderful tree in the middle of our lawn in the cellar each autumn. The sweet smell of slowly maturing apples would waft up through the old wooden floors throughout autumn and winter; even our family couldn’t eat that many baked apples and crumble so a fair number of wizened waxy stragglers would be taken out to the compost in Spring. But then maybe the most valued thing was the sweet scent they brought during their stay after all.

Sunday afternoons in late summer and early autumn meant dog walks along the river bank collecting seed heads, pebbles and feathers and other small treasures to fill a child’s pockets and delight the imagination. Once the weather turned cooler, we’d come back to light the fire, toast crumpets on a fork in front of it and someone would make a pot of tea. The tins sitting by the Aga contained various blends but the one imprinted on my senses was the half and half mix we made from Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong; an autumn afternoon in a teacup.

I’d forgotten this for years. I’m mostly a coffee drinker and I like my coffee hot and strong. I like good coffee – such as my favourite Coaltown Coffee, roasted in South Wales and served in the best Deli in the world a.k.a The High Street Delicatessen run by the awesome Mr & Mrs Deli. (you should make time to visit it if you’re in the area. Seriously, you’ll simply want to sell up and move here. It’s that good.)

However I never drink coffee beyond midday because whilst an energised morning Black Sheep is a Good Thing, an over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived one tearfully chewing the duvet at 2am is not a pretty sight.

I’ve been alarmed at discovering recently that some teabags are made with plastic fibres. I’m not sure a tisane of synthetic polymers is quite the postprandial pickup I was looking for. And they’re not really going to help with the problem of micro-plastics in the environment, whether soil or water. This situation is changing thankfully and some companies pledge to use plastic-free alternatives – here’s a really interesting blog post researching it so you can see if your favourite brand is on it.

But given I brew coffee from beans in a moka pot, it seems silly not to make tea old school style too. It’s easy enough with an infuser, in a teapot with a tea strainer or even these handy little fill-your-own disposable tea bags from places like Spice Boutique. Switching back to loose tea a while back reminded me of the half and half Earl Grey and Lapsang blend of my childhood and I’ve enjoyed drinking that lately in the afternoon.

Looking at various blends available online, it occurred to me I could have fun blending my own flavoured teas occasionally. For workaday purposes, an ordinary black tea will do me just fine. I’m not a fan of sickly synthetic tasting novelty teas you can buy for exorbitant prices but I did think it might be fun to make up tiny amounts of black tea with different flavourings in the same way it’s fun creating twists on favourite recipes.

This one above has dried apple, cinnamon, cloves, crushed almonds and base mix of smokey black teas. It’s delicious and very autumnal feeling which is slightly alarming … but then I am sitting here sipping it under a merino blanket looking at the wind buffeting the trees outside so it doesn’t feel too far off the mark just at the moment.

I’m hoping to buy some fresh supplies of dried rosebuds soon for an aromatic rose and mint infusion – maybe that will help to conjure up a a few more weeks of summer before it lets go and bids us farewell!

4 Replies to “Woodsmoke and tea”

  1. Your description of woodsmoke and tea takes me back some 50+ years to the place I grew up. While there was no cellar there were wood plank floors with lots of space between them and an open fireplace where coffee was put on by my father first thing in the morning. I too am alarmed at the idea of plastic fibres in tea bags. While I have not gotten round to buying loose leaf tea I do like the idea of returning to percolating my own coffee from beans. Thanks for your very emotive and evocative words. Enjoy your new blends. I may join you in doing something like this.

    1. Ah thank you for sharing your memories too! The oldest memories stay with us the best don’t they, especially where there are scents associated with them. I hope you enjoy brewing your fresh coffee. Best wishes

  2. This post is inspiring me to do some blending with the tea & accouterments we’ve built up over the coughyearscough. Erik & I really like smoky tea.

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