Love and Tea for Italy

Today’s post is an ode to Italy, and a prayer for the swift recovery of the Italian people. Coincidentally (there are no coincidences, though, right?), back in December, Babingtons Tea Room of Rome shipped us a very generous sampling of their private blend teas, which we’ll review later in this post, to remind us that even in dark times, there is creativity, beauty and good things brewing.

St. Mark’s Square, Venice, 1999

Our Hearts Are with Italy

Italy has always been my past and imagined future. My great-grandparents were born there, and their roots reach into our family’s traditions and culture to this day. Every visit with my parents, I hear my father reciting with my children, “Because what’s the most important thing? La famiglia!” All my life, it seemed obvious to me that I should one day return to Italy — …for an epic trip? …every year like cousin Ann who has reconnected with our Italian cousins? …forever? — to live a nonmaterialistic, back-to-the-land, romantic, delicious life; to immerse myself in my favorite language until I’m fluent; to stay until my blood sings that I belong in this place. Fittingly, the way I idolize Italy is almost operatic.

Italian tenor Maurizio Marchini sings “Nessun Dorma” off his balcony in Florence to lift the spirits of his neighbors during the national lockdown. The song ends with the words, “With the dawn, I will win.”

Devastatingly, this beloved country is now the epicenter of coronavirus fatalities in the world, with double the death toll of China, where the virus began. In part, the Italians’ way of caring for their elderly, with multiple generations living together under one roof — a beautiful and important psychosocial health practice — is now cited as one of the major factors in the quick spread of Covid-19 there. This is particularly heartbreaking, as I feel strongly that the Italians have it right, just like many other world cultures where older generations are prized as valuable, contributing members of the family structure and community. It feels terribly unjust, that these families’ closeness made them vulnerable to infection. Yet, that same caring spirit is helping the Italian people uplift each other during their national lockdown.

Italian communities cheer each other with balcony choirs.

Touching online comments show that people all over the world are pulling for Italy, encouraging them with loving messages. This Covid-19 PSA from an Italian grandma is great, and it captures the resilience, humor and kindness of the Italian spirit.

#RestateACasa (#StayHome) e Bevete il Tè!

To give yourself a break from thoughts of the pandemic, we prescribe at-home tea parties for families home from work and school, because cooking or baking together and setting a pretty tea table will cheer you and make the day feel a bit special. (Babingtons is helping Italians take tea at home by offering free shipping on tea orders throughout Italy with code FREE2020E.)

Sì, perché anche se stiamo tutti in casa, i fiori sbocciano, le giornate si allungano e la nostra voglia di “vitalità” è sempre più forte.”
– Babingtons Tea Room, March 21, 2020 Facebook post

[“Yes, because even if we are all in the house, the flowers bloom, the days get longer and our desire for “vitality” is always stronger.”]

Aspetta, Do Italians Even Like Tea?

With such an established espresso-loving culture, do Italians drink tea? Yes, in growing numbers, according to Italian-born Anna of The Tea Squirrel, who says, “Up until a decade or so ago, the only teas most Italians were familiar with were English Breakfast and Earl Grey, and with the British tradition of afternoon tea.” In her 2017 post she explains that in many ways, “this has changed.”

Babingtons Tea Room, at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, was founded in 1893 by two young women — Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington — at a time when tea was only found at the chemist’s, because it was seen as purely medicinal. More than 125 years later, Isabel’s great-grandchildren continue to run the thriving, historic tearoom.

Tasting Babingtons’ Teas

babingtons teas

When Babingtons reached out to see if we’d like to sample their teas, I was a bit awestruck. After all, Babingtons is one of the world’s oldest tearooms (founded in 1893), written about in TeaTime Magazine and frequented by my aforementioned Cousin Ann on her trips to Roma. And then the package arrived…with TEN TEAS from Babingtons: five black, two green and three herbal. I was over the moon! Also included inside the Babingtons gift bags was a bi-lingual booklet explaining the history of Babingtons. In it, I was touched to learn that Babingtons Tea Room stayed open throughout World War II, despite the fact that co-founder Isabel and daughter Dorothy evacuated to Northern Italy, where sadly, Isabel passed away:

It was difficult to imagine how the tea rooms would survive both the war and [Dorothy’s] loss. And yet, amazingly, when Dorothy managed to return to Rome she discovered that three of the staff, Crescenza, Giulia and Anita, had been walking from home to open Babingtons every day, using their own rations to invent nut croquettes, potato-flour bread, chick-pea-flour scones and dried-chestnut-flour cakes.”

– “Parte del Grand Tour”, Babingtons Tea Room booklet
babingtons tea packaging

I also learned that the cat famously portrayed in Babingtons’ logo, designed by Isabel’s grandson Valerio, was inspired by the waitstaff’s adopted cat Mascherino, who would doze on the cozy tearoom cushions.

To the unveiling of this tea stash! First impression: a 19th-century gentleman poses with a teacup on the packaging, which includes brewing instructions by tea type. As a former Italian language student, I loved the exercise of translating the Italian labels, seeing what I still remembered from college days.

tasting notes of Babingtons teas
I prepare one 4 oz. teacup of each tea, and write my tasting notes in the Babingtons booklet.
Babingtons black teas from Rome, Italy
Sweet Temptation is chocolate-forward!: Ceylon tea, cocoa, strawberry, vanilla and rosehip blend.
Miss Babington’s Blend is reminiscent of the Elderflower Gin & Tonics we drank in Ireland: Ceylon and China black teas delicately flavored with natural honey flavor, elderflower, rose petals, blueberries and juniper berries.
Karha Chai is a family favorite, a smooth and savory chai with: Assam black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and pink peppercorns.
Special Blend is indeed special, the 1st Babingtons’ blend from the 50’s: Ceylon, Darjeeling and China Keemum, which produces a straightforward, lighter breakfast brew.
Afternoon Blend is an Angela favorite because of the smoky notes of the Lapsang Souchong blended with Darjeeling.
green teas from Babingtons Tea in Rome, Italy
Cherry Rose is a tea we’ve recommended in the past and this yummy version adds other subtle flavors by combining: Sencha green tea, hibiscus, apple, rosehips, rose petals, red cornflower, orange peel, blueberry and cherries.
Blue Lady creates a gem red liquor and is a bit cloying, but likely popular with fans of fruity teas with a blend of: Chinese green tea with rhubarb, strawberries, figs, cherries and pineapple pieces.
babingtons' tisanes from Rome, Italy
Full disclosure: I do not typically reach for an herbal tea, otherwise known as a “tisane” (tee-zahn), but I do appreciate the whole, dried botanicals that are visibly a part of these blends.
Relax combines chamomile, linden blossom and orange blossom.
African Nights is a red rooibos.
Sleepy is the most diversely flavored with a blend of chamomile, rose petals, fennel, lemon balm, linden blossom and lavender.

Sincere thanks to Babingtons Tea Room for sending us such a generous sampling of their delicious teas!

Get Well Italy

For this post, I dug out my Europe photo albums, with pics from my junior year of college (before the age of the smart-phone-camera). I found a few precious shots taken on my Olympus camera from my one short jaunt to Italy, so long ago. I remember at the time wishing there were more meals in the day, and suggesting we eat gelato at least three times a day. The history, the personality, the food culture, the vistas, the people, they call you back to Italy. And now, add to that, the growing tea culture!

Italy, we wish you swift healing and fortitude. Your comeback will be the world’s happiness.

DestinationTea
Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

4 Comments

  1. Ciao bella! Thanks for your beautiful words. I Always read your post because I’m a real tea addicted. I Hope this sad period finish as soon as possible and lovely people like you can return to visit our country. God bless you and your “famiglia”

  2. I really loved this article, which I found intresting and touching.
    Thank you very much!
    Lots of love from an Italian tealover currently living in Tokyo.

    elisa

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