Continued from the previous post here: “Tea reminds me of the days of running hashish through the mountains of Tibet. No, just kidding, never did that, but my love of tea started with a tea pot I bought for my best friend Donna, so bear with me while we take a trip to find the best tea in the world.”
We start our tea journey, once upon a time, in Russia where my good friend Paul and i ventured some time ago after being chased out of Tibet on some trumped up charges. Being the world-renowned international man of mystery that he is, Paul found us refuge in Russia from the Nepal-ese syndicate who was in hot pursuit, something to do with the tea bags we purchased on the street in Kathmandu.
We take up quarters in Moscow with his then friend-girl, Ms. M. We arrive at the train station in Red Square. There are still signs of the old USSR in the station and around Moscow but offending messages have been removed.
Paul in Red Square
We make haste and find ourselves in the middle of Ms. M’s small kitchen with her friend Sergei making Russian pork dumplings. Reputed to be associated with the Russian mafia Sergei welcomes us with open arms and explains that we should help, we immediately all pitch in.
Now there are two staples to a Russian meal that are always on the table. Beets in some form such as Borshch (pic below), or in a salad, or stewed, creamed, pickled, mashed, damn I got sick of beets. Ukrainian in origin Borshch consists of BEETS, tomatoes, beef stock, wine, onion, and thats about it. Very good on those cold Russian nights.
The second staple is Vodka, good Russian Vodka, smooth good Vodka, good Vodka, good. I had a hard time keeping up with Sergei on the Vodka front.
Russian superstition: Never, ever, place an empty Vodka bottle back on the dinner table once the last drop has been poured, bad luck. Found that out the hard way.
Everyone drinks Vodka even the women and the Russians only add ice.
I ask about the tea in Russia and everyone went on about the history, tea houses in the area, and Sergei laughs and brings out a hearty brew suitable for staining hardwood floors accompanied with a lemon slice. The tea was strong, very strong, and very good.
Sergei slaps me on the back “If you want best tea, go see Ms. M’s uncle in St. Petersburg, the Bookmaker.” I glance over at Ms. M and she nods.
The Bookmaker hmmm, So the quest begins …
Russian’s love their tea. BLACK tea made up of Oolong, Keemun, and Darjeeling is Russia’s tea of choice. Once so rare only the Tsars could afford it.
The night ends and Ms. M prepares Paul’s bath. According to Ms. M, a tea bath has medicinal properties. Till this day I haven’t asked what went on that night back in Moscow, i may never know. But that next morning Paul’s skin looked fresher, a little darker, a little tea wrinkled maybe, but he had a skip in his step and a smile on his face you couldn’t remove even if he was hit with a baseball bat.
As we were having our morning Tea, footsteps could be heard running up the stairs. Ms. M peers out the window. “It’s the Nepal-ese! Hurry, I’ll stall them!”
We skedaddled out the back window. There was very little time to find the Bookmaker, Ms. M’s uncle. Paul and I made it to the station and hopped the next train out of Moscow.
We settled in for the night. Accommodations were fair, not bad, a table folds up and beds fold down. Tea is served, another strong black tea.
We make it to St. Petersburg.
home of the Winter Palace where Romanov Emperors ruled for two hundred years, the Hermitage Museum, Isaacs Cathedral, and the Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood
Now to find the Bookmakers house.
Leftover from the communist state supported housing projects we find the Bookmaker, second story, third window.
A product of Perestroika, Ms. M’s uncle sits with us and his daughter and tells of a life the way it use to be before the fall of Russia, a Russia that was bitter, harsh, and cruel.
Today is a different story and Ms. M’s uncle now has his own book repair business and is doing well. Of course he served us Black Tea.
We follow the uncle into a back room, the smell of old paper and parchment permeates the air.
Ms. M’s uncle pulls down book after ancient book and manuscripts showing us his skill and techniques.
The aging man pulls down one last book written in latin by Christian Monks traveling through South East Asia over 100 years ago. With his ink stained hand he points to the inscription and the location of where the best tea in the world can be found ….
Suddenly a knock comes to the the front door and the uncles daughter shouts out. “Father! There are some Nepal-ese men here to see you.”
The uncle’s face goes white and he drops the ancient book to the floor as he turns in a panic to leave the room.
“Quickly tell us what it says!” I begged.
This was the last time i saw the Bookmaker as he turned towards us and whispered ….
“Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.”