When I left for the Philippines I knew it wasn’t a big tea-drinking country. It wasn’t even a small tea-drinking country. Whenever I asked for tea at restaurants the most common response was the splat of a Lipton’s Hot or Iced teabag in my cup and a sad look from the waiter. Expressions of, “Poor girl, asking for tea. She must not know we have coffee,” Or “Oh, she must be sick,” appeared on their faces.
The truth is, the best teas to drink in the archipelago are not made of camellia sinensis. They’re herbal infusions, often with a base of ginger, turmeric or lemongrass.
The most well-known is Salabat, a fresh ginger tea with honey and lemon. It’s popular during winter in the Philippines and is typically served hot with a sweet rice cake. It’s also killer at fixing sore throats.Filipinos are snack masters. Here are some rice-flour treats from a bakery in Bohol! (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Recipe for Salabat
Like most comfort recipes, each person makes salabat a bit different. Honey and lemon might be substituted for brown sugar and kalamansi — a tiny Filipino lemon-lime fruit.
It’s all good as long as you remember to use a hell of a lot of ginger.
- 3 cups of water
- A piece of ginger about the size of your palm
- 1 Lemon
- 1/4 cup honey
- Put the water on the stove to boil.
- Slice the ginger and add it with the honey to the pot.
- Lower the heat and simmer for as long as desired. 10 minutes is fine if you’re in a hurry, but longer will give you a more potent ginger taste.
- Strain and serve with a slice of lemon, or a squeeze of lemon.
Don’t Forget Turmeric Tea
Less popular but still easy to find is turmeric tea.
Wherever you find turmeric tea it’s almost certain you’ll find a sign listing its inexhaustible health claims, saying it’s good for anything from indigestion to Alzheimer’s. As a not-doctor I haven’t researched all these claims, but I have researched its taste. Findings: Turmeric tea is delicious.
Now you’re prepared to drink tea like a boss in the Philippines
Well, herbal teas anyway.
Before I end this post I want to give a shout out to Banaue Homestay in Ifugao, where I stayed while visiting the famous UNESCO rice terraces, and the lovely Beatriz, who was great in organizing our treks and served me some of the best ginger tea I’ve ever had.
Banaue Homestay gets their salabat dry mix from a local woman. Because she is a gem of a human being she let us buy a couple of her stash. It’s the orange-topped bottle in the header photo.
If you don’t have someone as wonderful as Beatrice in your life, you can also buy salabat mix in Filipino grocery stores, or on Amazon.
Alternatively, ward off the winter months by whipping yourself up some salabat at home.
As they say in Tagalog, Mabuhay! (Cheers!)