Drinking Tea a Thousand Miles From the Mainland
Tea and Bolo Lêvedo in the Azores
Tea and bread for breakfast sounds like a raw deal, or maybe sick rations. Except when you’re on São Miguel, one of Portugal’s Azores Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, nearly 1,000 miles from the coast of Portugal. That tea? Locally grown. That bread? Not just any bread, but a souped-up version of an English muffin that has English muffins around the world weeping. Rising for seven hours before being cooked on a hot griddle makes bolo lêvedo springy and hole-y and just about perfect.
My breakfast here is at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel in the hamlet of Furnas, which is best known for its geyser activity, a meaty dish called cozido, and the pretty, camellia-laden gardens right outside the dining room where I’m eating that local tea and bread.
Near the town of Ribera Grande, not far from my breakfast buffet, are two tea plantations where they pick, oxidize, roll, and sort tea that grows in tidy rows like a large-leafed hedge, nearly to the cliffs’ edge. Inside, the factories smell like a combination of cedar, leather, and tea-scented air freshener. The tea is only available on the Azores, in Madeira, and in mainland Portugal, and visiting Azoreans living in Canada and the US stock up on massive quantities before going home.
The bolo lêvedo is lightly sweet, but that doesn’t stop it from sandwiching beef or burgers or whatever else Azoreans are eating at lunchtime. Lucky for me, at breakfast I can have it with Azorean butter or cheese, made from milk produced by cows I see munching grass on the side of the road whenever the mist lifts long enough for me to get a glimpse. On this day, there is wild blackberry jam, too, also harvested here on the islands. One thing you can depend on when people live so very far away from the mainland is self-sufficiency. They’ve got tea. They’ve got bolo lêvedo, cheese, jam, and on this day, eggs, local pineapple, sausage, and bacon. But I’m starting with tea and bread. I might not need anything else.