Getting through another snowy winter can mean finding the perfect drink to sip and enjoy.
In British Columbia, different cultures have different drinks to keep warm or feel fresh in the winter, among them native Labrador tea, Indian Cha or Chai, Chinese Pu’erh tea and Russian Kvass.
North America: Native Labrador Tea
T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss is a native ethnobotanist who has fond memories of searching for and drinking Labrador tea, also known as swamp tea.
“It’s very soothing, soothing, very good for the respiratory system … those are the things you want most in the winter,” Wyss said.
Labrador tea leaves are found all over North America, which indigenous peoples refer to as Turtle Island.
The plant usually grows in bogs and smells mostly in winter, Wyss explains.
While Labrador tea can be made in many different ways, Wyss and her daughter Senaqwila boil water and add five to seven leaves. After boiling for about 15 minutes, the tea is ready to serve.
“Working with plants is like bringing your ancestors to the table,” Senaqwila says.
“You can close your eyes and see … loving words, a warm hug, encouraging words that keep you warm during the long winter months.”
The couple reflects on how tea binds indigenous peoples across the continent.
“When we drink this tea, we think of all the stories that are being shared,” Wyss said.
India: Cha or Chai
Baljit Singh Brar prepares chai every day from kl. 6 in the morning at Gurdwara Baba Banda Singh Bahadar Sikh Society in Abbotsford
Chai has a black tea base with milk and spices. The drink is widely enjoyed all over India all year round, but its aroma, heat and spices make it perfect for winter, Brar explains.
Brar adds black tea bags, fennel, cardamom, cloves, caramel seeds, ginger and waits for it to simmer in a pot of boiling water.
The cloves and cardamom add a pleasant aroma, while caramel seeds and ginger can help with digestion, says Brar.
Next, he adds milk, brings the mixture to a boil and adds sugar.
“Cha is what gives us energy in the morning. The whole family gathers and makes tea … it makes our bodies feel fresh,” Brar said in Punjabi.
China: Pu-erh tea
Daniel Lui pours boiling water into a small clay pot filled with Pu’erh Tea, an ancient tea sourced from the Yunnan province of China.
The black tea is fermented, stored and packaged in a cake-like form, explains Lui, who owns the Chinese tea shop in Vancouver. .
“Very dark and earthy, very good at calming, warming, relaxing,” Lui says.
Lui uses a special technique to pry up the cake tin of Pu-erh tea. Then he cuts it into small pieces, adds it to a teapot and pours hot water in and on top of the clay jug to help expand the tea leaves.
He rinses the tea out, pours it on top of the teapot again to keep it warm and refills the teapot with hot water for the first official infusion of tea, then waits 18 seconds and pours the new batch into small teacups.
“Good for digestion, for stool, tea is fully fermented and very low in caffeine.”
The packaged tea is considered a family treasure that is often stored for a lifetime and passed on to the next generation, Lui says.
“I was so lucky to be able to get some Pu-erh tea from the 1960s or 50s and also taste Pu-Erh tea over 100 years old.”
Luis’ grandfather also left him Pu’erh tea from the 1970s.
For Natalia Mitrofanova, a go-to drink for the winter is Kvass, a fermented non-alcoholic or low-alcohol staple in Russia that tastes similar to beer.
Kvass is especially popular in the summer, but can also be enjoyed year-round, says Mitrofanova, owner of Russian Spoon Bakery in Vancouver.
“Russians like it because they drink it all the time,” she said.
Mitrofanova makes Kvass with rye bread, raisins, sugar and water. Honey or other dried fruits like cranberries and blueberries can also be added, she says.
Bread crumbs from a former batch of Kvazz are also used to speed up the fermentation process, Mitrofanova says.
She ferments the drink over three days in a bucket and stirs it occasionally.
Mitrofanova says that Kvass is a healthier alternative to soda, and its fermented properties can help with hangovers, especially during the winter holidays, and help boost the immune system.
“It also reminds one … of Russia. People really like it.”