Friday, February 19, 2021

Tea and Oranges: A Classic Pair


“…and she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China…”

If you’re a fan of folk music or remember the ‘60s, you may know these famous lines from Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne. There’s something about the line that feels mysterious and delightful. Tea and oranges are both simple but wonderful treats that humankind has been enjoying for generations, and there has long been a lucrative worldwide trade in both. In a lot of ways, they just seem to “go” together…and for many years, in many ways, they have.

Oranges, Tea, and...Everything

One can buy tens, hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of loose-leaf teas and tea bags with oranges as one of their flavors, or the primary flavor. One thing I’ve noticed about the sweet, fresh taste and scent of oranges is that they seem to go with almost everything. I have seen tea flavored with orange and: cloves, cinnamon, ginger, passionfruit, peach, lemon, licorice, hibiscus, mint, lemongrass, apple, lavender, vanilla, and schizandra berries (don’t ask me what those are), to name a few.

Healing Powers?

Part of the appeal may be that orange tea feels healing. Orange tea of one variety or another is often suggested as a cure for the common cold, sore throats, the flu, and so one. Orange peel is a natural decongestant and is healthy for us, too—it’s full of micronutrients and antioxidants. To brew a cold-busting orange tea, boil orange peels on the stove and add your choice of other fragrant and health-boosting ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, or turmeric, and serve with honey. Ahhh.

Delicious Orange Tea Treats

Of course, sometimes “tea with oranges” is purely a culinary delight. Have you heard of “Russian tea”? While tea is a major part of Russian culture, the "Russian tea" made popular here in the US doesn’t bear much, if any, resemblance to the strong and often smoky tea consumed in that culture. This cozy hot drink became popular in the southern US in the '60s and '70s and is often associated with church cookbooks and church gatherings; it usually contains black tea, orange juice or orange peel, and spices like cinnamon and cloves. There are even some “instant” versions out there that include Tang! (Remember Tang? Yikes.)

I've learned of another treat that combines jasmine tea with orange juice. Jasmine tea, if you’ve never had it, is a wonderfully delicate tea that combines tea with the indescribably haunting fragrance of jasmine flowers. Made by layering drying tea leaves with jasmine blossoms, the tea is very special. This drink plays off the floral and sweet flavors of the tea, and is served either hot or cold. I can imagine this being really wonderful with freshly squeezed and strained juice.

Let’s not forget about orange iced tea, a classic for good reason. Often associated with the south, this drink may be made by brewing one of the many “orange teas” previously mentioned, by adding fresh orange slices to regular black iced tea, or by combining iced tea with orange juice. Sometimes mint is included to make the flavor even fresher. No matter how you prepare it, the addition of fresh orange flavor to this delicious drink is perfection.

So what’s the story with the “tea and oranges” in Cohen’s song? I was delighted to learn that the tea mentioned is apparently one that my own mother has enjoyed for years, Bigelow’s Constant Comment. Many decades ago, the family behind this tea discovered an old recipe that included orange peel and warm spices, and gave it that name because of the “constant comments” they got on its delicious flavor. The rest, as they say, has been history for this classic pair.

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