Monday, December 29, 2014

specimens of the literature of Sweden - tea and glögg

Swedes are notoriously heavy coffee drinkers (according to stereotype anyway) but tea does play quite a big part in Swedish culture too; and not only in the form of Lipton's Yellow Label, the brand that owns all of mainland Europe.

Particularly noticeable are the various tea mixtures that appear on sale in markets, with more or less persuasive claims to local provenance. These teas, often spicy, come into their own in winter.

1. On the left, glögg-style tea from the heaving Christmas market at Sigtuna near Stockholm. For glögg, see below!

(Sigtuna, on a branch of Mälaren, is Sweden's oldest town (from 980), and is much visited for its picturesque medieval streets. Overtaken by the rise of Stockholm and Uppsala (around the year 1300), its population had dwindled to 600 by the end of the 19th c. but has subsequently risen to >8,000, due mainly to the proximity of Arlanda airport.)

Manufacturer: Johan & Nyström (coffee- and tea- merchants), based in Tullinge, an outer suburb of south-west Stockholm (on the way to Södertälje).

Ingredienser / Ingredients: Svart te (black tea), kanel (cinnamon), apelsinskal (orange-peel), ingefära (ginger), kryddnejlika (cloves), peppar (pepper), kardemumma (cardamom), arom (flavour).

The pepper is a bit of a surprise. I wonder if the Swedish biscuits called "pepparkakor", though marketed elsewhere as "ginger thins" etc, originally contained some pepper? Our family recipe certainly doesn't.

2. The Christmas tea mixture in the centre of the photo was is by Kaffehuset i Karlstad AB, a subsidiary of the Löfbergs Lila group. (Sunny Karlstad, on the shores of Vänern, is the capital of Värmland.)

I don't need to go into Swedish here because this is an export pack. The ingredients are: Black leaf tea 79%, Fruit pieces 12% (Orange peel, Apple, Rosehip), Spices 7% (Coriander, Clove, Cinnamon), Flavour.

3. If you are looking for something a bit less big-business-ish, then that can be found too. My sister lives in Kallhäll, a suburb of Stockholm at the eastern end of Mälaren, and the third tea-packet is a product of, or rather for, that very specific place: it's "Mari and Laila's Red Kallhäll-est". In fact what Mari and Laila have done is employ the services of a company called Aftek (based in Arbrå in Hälsingland), who will mix tea to the buyer's specification and assist with its preparation for a local market (bagging, labels, etc).

This is the mixture that Mari and Laila chose to represent the essence of Kallhäll:

Rooibos te smaksatt med smultron, svartvinbär, grädde och limearom samt rosor, jordgubbsbitar och svartvinbärsblad

Rooibos tea flavoured with wild strawberries, blackcurrants, cream and lime-flavour, together with rose (-petals? -hips?), strawberry pieces  and blackcurrant leaves. 

I'm touched by something personal in this local concoction (and even more so by the fact that Miranda thought of me when she came across it). Though it's the produce of more than one country. Locality that can be preserved is a feat of commerce and imagination; a "souvenir" is an idea that belongs to the age of oil.

In June, you could easily go out behind the houses and pick a bowlful of wild strawberries that come from Kallhäll itself. But those strawberries wouldn't taste of represented essence; they'd have a different meaning.


Anyway, let's get on to glögg, which is basically mulled wine. Of course it is fun to mix this up yourself at a party, getting half-cut from the fumes sloshing in vodka fishing out the bag of spices sloshing in more vodka and giving yourself metal poisoning from the aluminium pan.

But you can also get it ready-mixed, like the bottle on the left; this is fortified with brandy and, at an impressive 21%, is a sipping drink best enjoyed out of a dinky little glögg-glass (sort of like a shot-glass, but with a bell-rim to cradle the heat and spicy scent).

You can also get non-alcoholic glögg, like the spicy hjortron (cloudberry) mix on the right.You can either enjoy this on its own, as we Good Templars will, or beef it up with a bit of brandy, as suggested on the label.



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