I feature in the new issue of Apartamento magazine with an article I wrote about one of my favorite tea houses in Mozambique, a nursery with teas and coffees which can be found nowhere else, and which we nicknamed ‘estufa’.
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The story begins when I was a kid. My mother and I are queuing at a food outlet in Maputo, my hometown. At this time Mozambique had a Marxist-Leninist regime, and all food was rationed. In some stores there was nothing but empty shelves. When people got hold of 5 liters of oil, they would swap some of it with others who had been given enough rice, butter or eggs. We had a booklet in which we wrote down everything we received, all the quantities were controlled by the government - my father still has that booklet in the kitchen. Near the food outlet where I used to queue with my mother there was a nursery, and, when my mother didn’t drive to the beach to pick wild sunflowers, she bought plants there. There wasn’t much to buy, but I think she bought any nice plants that they had.
I grew up, the civil war ended, Mozambique’s economy grew while I moved away to study, and the nursery was lost somewhere in my memory. The country had suddenly changed and there were so many new things. People who didn’t get anything back then really wanted to get everything now. The old spaces gave way to new ones. I’d visit newly-opened spaces every time I was home. Finally, when I had looked at all the new places, I began looking back at the old ones. Times had been difficult for most people in the eighties, but those old places held something special in my memory, something good.
So, one day I went back to the nursery. It was a strange thing to be back. The nursery was now a café and it had many more plants than back then. The inside was very much like before. Its structure was interesting, shaped like an O. I must have been fascinated by this as a kid. The café had a few unusual teas and coffees with combinations I’d never heard of - coffee with pineapple juice, and teas made from herbs that were not used anywhere else.
Isabel, the nursery owner, had been a guerrilla fighter during the war for independence in Mozambique, until the country became independent from Portugal in 1975. She says that, at the time when she was fighting, tea was hard to come by. During the week they drank tea from a herb that was easier to find in the bush, balacate (Cymbopogon citratus) with no sugar, and in the weekends they would get condensed milk in the tea. It was wonderful!
When she started up the café, Isabel remembered the days of fighting and re-created her Nachingweia Tea, named after the fighting camp in which she was a soldier. For two years she tried out many new tea recipes and the result was an ‘endemic’ tea menu, this time adding sugar and cream instead of condensed milk. And despite its name, Café Luna Azul, we still call it ‘a estufa’, or ‘the nursery’, despite not having seen anyone buying plants there recently.
Nachingweia Tea (milk, tea, sugar, cream balacate leaves)
Isabel Rose Tea (rose essence, cream, cinnamon)
Café Corso (cold coffee, pineapple juice, chocolate)
Café Luna Azul
Rua Pereira do Lago
Tel: (+258) 8232 86720