Tea or coffee?

04-06-2005

Welcome to the ABC of Czech where this season we pay special attention to vocabulary related to food and cuisine. Today we'll look at hot drinks.

"You drink coffee, I take tea, my dear," goes the line in Sting's famous song "Englishman in New York".

Czechs like both - and if someone has ever carried out a survey on which of the two drinks is more popular, I would love to see the results.

The Czech word for tea is čaj. The most common is black tea, which is usually drunk straight or with lemon - čaj s citronem, less often with milk - čaj s mlékem, and sometimes sweetened with honey - čaj s medem. A popular winter variety which is sure to warm you up is black tea with Czech rum - čaj s rumem.

Herbal teas have a long tradition and are still sought for at times of illness or just as hot caffeine-free drinks. Especially rosehip tea - Šípkový čaj and a tea made from the dried blossoms of the linden tree - lipový čaj. Sometimes you can still hear the old-fashioned word for tea - thé as in lipové thé. An affectionate word for tea would be čajíček, which is also what you usually say to little children.

Now on to coffee. The Czech word is káva but you will rarely hear it spoken. The widespread word is kafe or kafíčko - if you really like your coffee or if it's a nice little cup of coffee. With the political and economic changes, all the different varieties of Italian and American coffee have arrived in the Czech Republic but many people still prefer the traditional Czech variety - which is called Turkish coffee - turecká káva or simply turek even though it has little to do with the coffee as made by the Turks. Basically, you just pour boiling water over ground coffee and drink it with the dregs still in the cup.

When the generation of our grandparents was growing up, real coffee was often scarce. So there were a number of coffee substitutes, usually made from roasted barley and rye and flavoured with roasted chicory - cikorka. The mix was boiled, hot milk was added, and the product, still called kafe or melta, was in many families actually eaten, not drunk, as people liked to dunk bits of bread in it.

Today, these caffeine-free coffee substitutes are becoming popular again, with many varieties, even instant ones available on the market. But real coffee - to je jiný kafe - literally, it's different coffee - a phrase meaning something like "that's more like it".

And that's all for today, till next time good bye.

04-06-2005