April 26, 2010

Louisa Shafia's teatime with Tay Tea's Nini Ordoubadi

Thank you Louisa Shafia of the Lucid Food blog for this tea essay. The original post can be found here.

Persian Rose. Image courtesy of Louisa Shafia.

One day this week, when it seemed as if the rain would never end, I visited the tea-maker and artist Nini Ordoubadi at her loft in the flower district. From a wet and somber sidewalk, I was whisked into a warm room filled with color and the scent of herbs. It was 3:15 pm, and I had been invited over for, what else, tea.

The slogan of Nini’s company, Tay Tea, reads, “We drink tea to forget the noise of the world.” Nothing could have been truer as my eyes adjusted to the soft light and noticed a visual treat everywhere I looked. The first thing I saw was Nini’s beautiful haft-sinn table: in the Persian language of Farsi, haft-sinn means “seven dishes setting.” The table is displayed at Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebrated on the first day of spring. It is laid with seven elements beginning with the letter S, sinn in Farsi, including garlic for health, sprouts for rebirth, and sweets for happiness.

After examining the new year’s table, and admiring the tableaux throughout the apartment of antique family photos and artwork made by Nini or friends, I was finally persuaded to sit down and drink some of her custom blended tea. During my visit, I tasted three teas. When I smelled the first, Persian Rose, it felt as though someone was whispering softly in my ear. The tea is described as “a nostalgic blend of ceylon bergamot scented tea blended with rose petals, organic rose buds, green cardamom and borage.” The tea was served in delicate glasses, as is traditional in Iran. There was no honey in sight, but an assortment of French and Persian sweets, including madeleines, clover-shaped chickpea flour cookies called nan-e nokhochi, and rock candy swizzle sticks made with saffron strands.

What with the tea, the sweets, and the pleasing imagery of my surroundings, my senses had been fully stimulated. There’s no question that’s what Nini intends; with names like Better Than Sex, Lovers Tea, and Marry Me Again, we are talking about grown-up, sexy teas. The next one Nini prepared was made purely from herbs and flowers, without any tea leaves. While I’d serve the Persian Rose for a special occasion, the herbal Muse, made from lemon verbena, spearmint, lemon grass, lavender, and other herbs, is one I could relax with every night.

Lime and Quince. Image courtesy of Louisa Shafia.

Before leaving, I got one more treat: a tea of dried lime and quince. Nini gave me this one because I am half Persian, and she knew my palate would appreciate the delicate sourness of the limoo omani, dried limes. Drinking this was like consuming a savory, citrusy broth. This is a tea that Nini does not produce commercially ­— yet, so I will cherish the small bag that she insisted I take home. Until Nini sells it (which I plan to advocate for strongly), I look forward to trying my hand at making this blend myself, using thinly sliced limes and shaved quince dried in the oven.

When I left Nini’s, I felt as though I’d been on a vacation, magically transported by the old-world charm of an attentive Persian hostess, but also by the ritual of drinking tea, which brings time to a stop and seduces the senses to come to full attention, if only for a short while.

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