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.
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.”[“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.”]
– Babingtons Tea Room, March 21, 2020 Facebook post
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.”
Tasting 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
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.
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.