A Tea Culture
Being born and raised in Indonesia, I grew up knowing the taste of tea. In fact, free-flow rounds of tea are more common than glasses of water in some regions. Indonesia is a major exporter and grower of tea and whenever I would take a trip up the Puncak area, tea plantations would dress the mountain side like silk of a chartreuse hue. While tea beverages come in various forms and flavours now, such as green tea, oolong tea, apple tea, peach tea, and blueberry tea (among many others), I was initiated with the good old sweetened black tea with sugar. Sometimes milk was added, sometimes not. In fact, in Indonesia, a brand named Sosro is known for a drink called teh botol or “bottled tea”, which was pretty much sweetened black tea. It was the drink that defined a large portion of my childhood.
Even in my mid-twenties, I still like my tea, though I admit that I’m not the type of person who is concerned about the temperature of water before brewing or duration of brewing unless the discrepancy between properly and improperly prepared tea is very apparent (Example: If I see a little frog swimming in my glass. Just kidding — maybe.). Also, whenever possible, I prefer my drinks cold.
Whenever I am eating outside and feel like ordering tea, I tend to go for the most common type of tea they have. That tends to alternate between “iced tea” or “iced lemon tea”, depending on whether I wanted something sweet or sweet and sour. In Indonesia, the option for both types of drinks is generally available, and in Singapore, there is the option of a milky alternative. But from my experience, what tends to be absolutely constant in both cultures is the distinction between “iced tea” and “iced lemon tea”. It is a distinction ingrained in my cold-tea-loving system, and so instinctual that the probability of it leaving my own personal culture is about as likely as me voting for a conservative political party.
A Refreshing Nomenclature
Though the difference depends on regional aspects, from my experience, there is a distinction between the “iced tea” served in Indonesia and in Singapore. In Indonesia, “iced tea” or es teh usually means tea with ice, and is commonly served sweetened. There is the option of having it without sugar: “iced tea without sugar” or es teh tawar. Also, there is the occasional restaurant that serves “iced tea” in the form of adding milk, but the addition of another ingredient tends to be defined as a style specific to a certain locality.
In Singapore, “iced tea” has similar categorisations, although named differently. Iced tea (or teh peng or iced teh-C) tends to refer to the works: a cold drink of tea, sugar, and milk, served in the famous Hong Kong style of milk tea. Chilled tea with sugar would be teh-O peng or iced teh-O. Plain cold tea without sugar or milk would be referred to be teh-kosong or “blank tea”. There’s also the famous Malaysian pulled tea, or teh tarik, which falls under the category of milk tea, and iced lemon tea commonly came bottled or canned.
I don’t remember ever deviating from the general nomenclature of the following three teas (yes, I made the visual myself):
My Personal Tea Nomenclature
Several years ago — I won’t mention where — when I made an order for “iced lemon tea”, the waiter looked at me as though I invoked an evil spirit. Poor little bugger was frightened out of his mind! After that awkward moment, it was explained that the term “iced lemon tea” is unknown, because every single chilled tea beverage is simply named “iced tea”, and almost all chilled tea there had some sweet and sour syrupy flavour. It would then be my turn to descend into stunned silence. For me, iced tea and iced lemon tea are different precisely because of what their name implies: one doesn’t have lemon, and the other one does. They were always different. On the other hand, iced tea and iced milk tea have always been a bit more flexible in terms of names for me, but for a place that served what was essentially iced lemon tea, milk tea was pretty much elusive for that time. So to avoid a recurrence of that (and to placate the poor waiter), I ordered a different beverage. During that stint, whenever I wanted just plain tea with sugar, I had to resort to buying my own tea bags and brewing my own drink; ordering hot tea would not even salvage me from the little piece of a particular citrus fruit that sat calmly on the side of the cup.
All this made me realise that regardless of whoever subscribes to the milk, the lemon, the “They’re all the same thing!”, or the “Not a fan of tea!” schools of thought, it is amazing how much how much of an effect it has in an upbringing in a place that puts forward such a distinction. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever happen upon the day I get served an iced milk tea drink with a touch of lemon. Mmm… sour milk tea.
What About You?
What’s your favourite beverage? Do you have a personal nomenclature with it?