Black currant tea is the thing to drink in the summer. In Britain, at least.
Black currant tea is a type of black tea, usually made from a base of Assam, which is a black tea with medium astringency and bitterness, and dried currants. The fruit in this bright, summery tea doesn’t mask those traditional black tea flavors, but it does absolutely stand up to it. Black currants are intensely flavorful fruits. Their flavor is somewhere between grapes and blueberries, but tangier. They add a tangy, fruity flavor to this traditional black tea which makes it just as summery as any tisane or white tea.
The important question here is why, if black currants are so great, have you never heard of them? There’s actually a great story behind that. Black currants are native to Europe. In the early 1900’s, they were quite popular in Britain. And several parts of the United States, such as New York and New England, have exactly the cold, short-summered, damp growing conditions which black currants just adore. However, black currants are a vector of white pine blister rust. In the early 1900’s, white pine blister rust came to the United States and ruined the grove of many a logger.
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As a reminder, logging is a high-risk industry to be in. Logging itself is very dangerous, but the real danger in growing trees is time. If you plant a crop of corn, and a blight wipes it out, you have lost a year, and have the ability to rebuild. If you’ve planted trees, though, you can’t just plant those trees again next year. Those trees have to grow for decades before they’re ready to harvest. If you decide to plant a few acres in your twenties, they’ll be ready to harvest when you’re getting ready to retire. Therefore, when loggers lost their groves of white pine trees to the pine blight, they had a great deal to be angry about. They went to congress, and lobbied to make growing black currant illegal everywhere in the U.S. And they succeeded. From the early 1900’s to 1966, it was illegal to grow black currant in the United States. In 1966, states were given jurisdiction over the legality of this forbidden fruit. To this day, it is still illegal to grow black currant in Main, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, in Britain, the black currant was enjoying skyrocketing popularity. This little berry is absurdly healthy. It is full of vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants. During WWII, the British government encouraged the growth of this plant. This is because most other fruits which contain high quantities of vitamin C, which is to say citrus, don’t grow well in Britain’s damp, cloudy weather. Currants were used to protect the population of Britain from scurvy during the war. Black currants are actually so healthy that, in the years immediately following the war, black currant syrup was distributed, for free, to families with children under the age of two, by the government. To this day, it is frequently mixed with whey to make delicious health drinks.
But in this country, most people have never heard of it.
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