Time for Tea…Tea Break!

Blogging in Southern Africa: I composed this post over the course of 3 days. The electricity is having a self-conscious and indecisive breakdown at my current location (not low-shedding as that occurred yesterday morning) but the power has faded at least 20 times in the last 48 hours. That is not a hyperbole, and it takes electricity-dependent internet to upload posts, find sources to back up information, add pictures, and then publish on WordPress. If there are grammatical errors, ngiyaxolisisa kodwa ngizamile…Sorry but I tried (and the last word was probably wrong in isiZulu…you win and loose some).

One of the lasting remnants of English rule in South Africa is the tea break. Tea breaks are, according to the Department of Labor, 15 minute breaks that occur 2 twice a day. As the unambiguous name indicates, tea (and coffee) are served. They are a part of most South African conferences, and a chance to breathe. I do not understand why Americans avoid breaks and pride pushing our limits. Spain has siestas, and the English Sphere of Influence has tea breaks, and the American workforce gets…a lunch break. When I was in an American work environment the only food was served during meetings (and the only hot beverage offered is coffee which I cannot consume). My “breaks” were initiated by chugging enough water for biologically induced “bathroom time.”

Currently I am at a conference (In-Service training for Peace Corps), and enjoying tea breaks. The trainings we are participating are insightful, but talking about HIV/AIDS is still draining. Tea Breaks enable a brief reprieve and chance to interact with others. Networking is not an elaborate concept here in the South African NGO and PCV circle. Rather it is a by-product of interacting with fellow conference attendees.

Tea breaks consist of a hot beverage and a nice snack. The highlight of South African tea breaks is the availability of rooibos. Rooibos (ROY-bos or “red bush” in Afrikaans), is a unique tea blend grown in the Western Cape’s Cederburg region. As a uniquely African tea that is caffeine free with an earthy taste, it is my favourite tea. South Africa also embraces their tea pride with the availability of red lattes and red cappuccinos. However with 30 minutes usually there is only milk and sugar packets. I learned that including milk cools the tea down but when there is no time crunch, I prefer straight rooibos. The only downside is that it stains my teeth, and I sense a painful dentist cleaning in 2017 to address my South African habit.

A cup of plain Rooibos with Baker's Lemon Creams. I have sampled many lemon flavoured biscuits(cookies in SA) and in my research found that these are the best store bought lemony sweets.

A cup of plain Rooibos with Baker’s Lemon Creams. I have sampled many lemon flavoured biscuits(cookies in SA) and in my research found that these are the best store bought lemony sweets.

As for the snacks, there are a variety of options. For many people (PC gatherings) cheese sandwiches buttered with margarine are the staple for a morning tea. There are meat and vegetable sandwiches. Cucumber or tomato cheese sandwiches are delightful with rooibos.

Cucumber and Cheese Sandwiches

Cucumber and Cheese Sandwiches

The other flavour tea breaks feature is sweet. Queen cakes are lightly sweetened cupcakes. Sometimes they have a small dollop of icing but my host family makes them plain. Bran muffins are also a possibility.

A simple Queen Cake

A simple Queen Cake

Finally I am not sure what the exact name is for this treat but the closest is a cream tea (or if we really want to be pretentious Devonshire Tea). The treat consists it is a plain scone (the South African cousin of the American biscuit) embellished with a jam center and cream border. I have only experienced strawberry jam but am certain that other varieties are used. While it may seem unusual to have jam and cream on top of the scone as opposed to a sandwich format, this is the norm (according to one of SA’s main grocery brands.) Side note: a scone with jam and shredded cheddar cheese in any position is a surprisingly sweet and savory snack…one of my simple South African pleasures.

Cream Tea at the training in Maritzburg last month

Cream Tea at the training in Maritzburg last month

Tea breaks occur in other countries but in South Africa they are is a great excuse to eat, connect with others, and indirectly catch another glimpse of life in the Rainbow Nation. Maybe America should adopt tea breaks into the workplace.

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