When straying from England, it is common for the average Brit to encounter difficulties when it comes to finding good tea and comforting biscuits. Though the burden of this is usually softened by the drinkers having brought their own tea bags to the foreign land, explorers further afield must eventually endure the terrifying reality of life without the blends and biscuits they know and love. On such an adventure myself, the absence of familiar tea is soon to become very real (I’m down to my final ten bags of Whittard’s English Breakfast), however, the problem of lacking chewable accompaniment has been solved. I have discovered a stunningly adequate alternative option;”Cereal Mix”.
Coming from a strong background of Chocolate Digestives and Hobnobs, I was surprised that this more healthy alternative could give adequate satisfaction to one who is not in general a “fruit biscuit fan” (FBF). And yet there is something so delightfully delicious about this biscuit, that once you have had one or two, the third, fourth and fifth seem to follow pretty quickly afterwards. The S/S (Sweet/Salty) ratio is on par, is ticks the crunchy-but-not-too-dry box, and before you know it you’ve managed to inhale an entire packet of them. In short, a genuine page turner of a biscuit. They go along divinely with a good cup of English Breakfast, and are recommended for the hotter climate, being lighter and more granola-y in consistency, as well as free from any ‘melting over the fingers’ risk. They come in a variety of flavours, but personally I would recommend the Apple ones (pictured below). They taste like the apple nutri-grain bars (of the late 2008 era), but with a crunchier attitude. All in all, a winning combination.As I mentioned before, I have not yet had to go without a proper cup of brown stuff, and thank goodness, because the Argentinian alternative is horrifying. It makes even the most eccentric habits of English tea drinkers pale in comparison. At a first glance, Mate (Mah-teh) seems to strike many similarities with its English relative; it’s a drink made by mixing hot water with dry leaves (although the optimum water temperature is 80 degrees, not 100, so timing when to take the kettle off the stove is a nightmare), and is drunk fairly regularly throughout the day as a means of being sociable. I usually encounter Mate drinking 4 times a day here; once in the morning at breakfast with my landlady, twice at school during the break times in the staff room, and once back at home whilst musing over the days findings. So far, so good.
But then we get to the equipment used to drink it. Toss aside any ideas of mugs and teapots, and picture a large hollowed-out, wooden fruit shell and a long thing metal straw with a tea strainer on the end. The fruit shell apparently comes from the original indigenous peoples of South America who used to hollow them out to drink the Mate leaves, but as far as I can make out, the straw with the small sieve on the end seems to be a lazy way of drinking the concoction without having to bother about removing the tea leaves first. The shredded leaf remains in the shell whilst you drink, and as long as you drain all the water before you take a break from the mixture, you can return to top it up as many times as you like, and hence continue the pleasure of drinking this acrid, energy-filled brew all day long. There are special Mate on-the-go kits which are designed to house a box of leaves, a thermos of hot water, a box of sugar (should you be one of those who needs its unpleasant and bitter taste to be sweetened before ingesting) and a compartment for the cup and straw. You will see Argentinians shopping, sight seeing, on holiday, at lunch parties, at school, reading books, on the train, in the queue for the mobile phone shop, decorating for the office Christmas party – ANYWHERE with a Mate kit for company. The Spanish in Madrid smoke, but the Argentinians have opted for the healthier, and infinitely more lumbersome option. Why slip a packet of cigarettes in your pocket when you could sport a highly trendy Mate bag on the shoulder? Should you ever get the urge to purchase one, there are a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours to suit even the most peculiar tastes.
Never did I think I would find something that would trump the stereotypical English obsession with tea. But I see now how wrong I was.
Written with inspiration from, and apologies to, one of the more eccentric tea and biscuit websites: http://www.nicecupofteaandasitdown.com