Zanjafeel – The Tea of the Ancient Spice Route

We’re opening our new series of tea musings with this superior chai that has once upon a time graced the Afghan court. Traditionally served only to royalty, our Zanjafeel recipe comes from the very heart of the trade route that changed the culinary world. In its heyday, the spice trade was the world’s biggest industry. It built and destroyed empires, drew people towards new continents and tipped the world power balance – and all this in pursuit of a more satisfying dinner. For all we know, the Renaissance may have been very much taste bud-driven.

Myths of the Trade

Between 1500 and 1700, merchants travelled thousands of miles to the spice-rich Orient. The journey was initially conducted by camel caravans and a single trip could sometimes take years. When products such as ginger and pepper first appeared on the European markets, they were instantly catapulted to luxury status. The spice traders made up stories in order to create a sense of mystery around their wares. They spoke of battles with ancient gods and birds of prey guarding the spice on top of high cliffs. Soon the value of spice went through the roof. Dock workers in London were paid their bonuses in cloves. Nutmeg was worth seven fattened oxen. What is now an ordinary kitchen staple has once surpassed even gold in value.

Zanjafeel: straight from the Afghan mountains

Shared with us by a friend, our authentic Zanjafeel has been praised by musicians visiting from Afghanistan itself. Although our recipe does not include cloves or nutmeg, the decadent touch lies in the use of fine Spanish saffron. This is a tea that turns the very idea of tchai on its head – the recipe uses green tea rather than black and does not contain any milk. Although Zanjafeel has all the roundedness usually associated with tchai, the depth of flavour comes from the spice itself. The order of the ingredients and the preparation method are also important. Usually a vibrant yellow colour, a cup of Zanjafeel houses a fine mist that arises from the amalgamation of different spices. Tangy lemons, plenty of warming ginger and aromatic cardamom make this an ideal tea to spice up a rainy day.