Tea in the Sahara, and elsewhere. Or why I hate German "Frühstücksbretter"...

 Espresso at Farmer's Bottega, Mission Hills, San Diego

Espresso at Farmer's Bottega, Mission Hills, San Diego

The other afternoon, as we were talking about cultural differences over a cup of tea, we came to talking about what we eat for breakfast in our countries. Some were shocked to hear that our Chinese, Korean and Japanese counterparts never have tea or coffee or anything sweet in the morning... They enjoy starting the day with a nice bowl of soup, rice, sea weed and a bit of salmon if available! In turn, most of our Asian team was surprised to hear I enjoy a dark coffee and a chocolate croissant... Yet another proof that cultural differences encompass much more than languages...

The other day, I stumbled upon a video about the power of tea. This reminded me of a discussion I had with some of my taiji and martial arts friends over the years. They tend to be more inclined to drinking tea and always talk about the benefits of a cup of green tea. Being a fairly stressed person in general, watching this video made me reconsider. Should I trade my morning coffee for a nice, warm, soothing cup of tea? It also took me back to my younger days and reminded me of some of the breakfast and tea experiences I have had while travelling around…

Growing up, with both my parents interested in languages and cultural experiences, I was lucky enough to travel a lot and spent many summers with host families outside of France. And after the language shock, breakfast was always the second thing that astonished me the most. I used to drink a big bowl of hot cocoa and a warm croissant when I was little. Sometimes I would trade them for a “tartine de nutella” – a slice of fresh bread with a hazelnut cocoa spread. Needless to say that my few experiences abroad were quite different!

My first trips outside of France were to England and Ireland. I believe my first time abroad was in Abingdon, a small town around Oxford. After many hours on the train and on the ferry and then on the train again, the first two things that I remember are those red tall mailboxes and red phone booths. The second one, of course, is tea. Tea is not something we indulge much in over in France. As a kid, my grandpa always used to add a drop of wine in my water... Yes, I know I started early but in Ireland they put Guinness in baby’s bottles so they train them much younger! So wine I already knew, but tea was quite new to me. In any case, I think I was able to adapt fairly well to my cuppa tea and a cloud of milk.

However, I will always remember my first trip to Germany... It was just after the wall came down and I was staying in a tiny little village about 3 hours south of Berlin. Don't ask me for the name, on the life of me I can't remember! So here I am, sitting with my host family at the kitchen table, struggling with the few words of German I had learnt in school, trying to make a little conversation. And all of a sudden they put this wooden chopping board in front to me. A "Frühstücksbrett" they called it. Right. Then they bring this giant knife and put it on the chopping board. Let’s remember here that I am just a tiny little one at that stage, who never really wanted to study German in the first place and was far away from home... And my eyes are just getting larger by the second. I was just plain terrified wondering what in the world they wanted to do with me. Was it some kind of a ritual where we were going to kill a lamb and I was chosen to lead the ceremony? Was I just about to be sacrificed to the newly liberated East Germany? I finally felt a little relieved when they brought a bunch of cooked pork and dry meat, some cheese and pumpernickel bread and put those on the board. And then brought me a cup of tea! I was never so relieved to see tea in my life! But let me tell you that on this particular morning, I felt millions of miles away from my mum's comforting hot cocoa! I drank my tea with a bit of bread, nicely declining meat and cheese. Don’t get me wrong, French people are big on meat and cheese, just not for breakfast and not on a wooden chopping board! And there it was, my first cultural shock...

 Tea Ceremony in Malacca, Malaysia

Tea Ceremony in Malacca, Malaysia

This experience apart, I have enjoyed several types of breakfast while travelling around the world over the years and learnt to adapt to the foods I was offered – for the most part :-). Tea always seems to be the common denominator of my travels - outside of Southern Europe!

I tried about every type of tea for breakfast while travelling in Asia, where coffee is just simply not an option. I must admit that I really enjoyed chai while going through India, though it has nothing to do with the deceptive Venti Chai Latte they offer at Starbucks. And in India, I always made sure that the water was boiling hot!! I am also a big fan of the sweet Moroccan mint tea they serve in North Africa. In Vietnam, most teas have flowers floating in it. Though they taste ok, I still prefer my flowers in the front yard. The one time I could not finish my cup was in one of the Dong villages of Chengyang China. No matter how much I tried, my tea tasted like they had just shoved a spoonful of dirt into it...

So no matter how many breakfasts and tea I've tried or how many places I've travelled to, no matter how healthy it is… Just as the Brits cannot do without their cuppa, being French and from the South, I am sticking to my guns! It is coffee for me, short and black please!

Marie, definitely a coffee drinker...