Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wake Up and Smell the Teine?

The first time I asked an Italian barista for a cup of decaffeinated tea, I said, "Un tè decaffeinato, per favore." The barista, looking crisp in his white shirt and black vest, shouted to his co-barista manning the espresso machine just inches away from him, "Un caffè decaffeinato!" I quickly corrected him, "No, not a decaf coffee. A decaf tea." He looked at me as if I were on a rare field trip into reality and said, "There’s no coffee in tea." I said again, thinking, My Italian is not that bad, is it?, "No, I don't want a decaffeinated coffee. I want a decaffeinated tea, tea with no caffeine", and he said, "You mean deteinato, no teine," and I said, "What?" and he said, "What?" and I went on my way without getting my tea.

From this encounter, I deduced that (1) there is no caffeine in tea, (2) there is, rather, a mysterious substance called teine in tea, (3) teine functions much as caffeine does, i.e. it makes you jittery so some people need it to be removed. This was all quite disconcerting since I, and every other anglophone I know, grew up thinking tea had caffeine in it. It never occurred to me that the caffe in caffeine related solely to coffee and that to decaffeinate coffee was to de-coffee it in some way. It logically follows, thus, that tea would have to be de-tead or de-teid as the case may be.

Wait a minute... Have I once again fallen into the trap of dubious Italian logic? Somebody dope slap me!

This is not the first time I have doubted certain Italian truisms, not the first time I've slipped on an Italian tautology and landed on my sorry American ass. And I'm not talking about superstitions like the upside down bread or the hat on the bed. I'm talking about things, usually food-related, presented as facts. (Food commericials make up the largest slice of the advertising pie in Italy. I learned that on L'Eredità). One of you fabulous expat bloggers mentioned the miracle yogurt drinks Italians tout on TV. Today, I'm here to talk about tea.

I was reminded of the whole tè deteinato conundrum when, yesterday, my American neighbor pal C. pulled out a box of Star Tea deteinato. Under the big blue DETEINATO banner were the words "tè senza caffeina," tea without caffeine. Eureka! This bit of information led us to believe that either (1) there is no such thing as teine and Italians simply cannot shake the gnawing belief that tea should have its own word for decaffeination (like womyn instead of women) or (2) there is such a thing as teine but it has nothing to do with caffeine. To Scooby Doo this mystery, a little web research was in order. This is what I discovered... (things get a bit technical and boring from here until the last graph, so feel free to skip ahead, though I know you, reader, are so gripped by this enigma, you just have to crack the code)...

The Garzanti English-Italian Italian-English dictonary defines deteinato as detanninated and offers tè deteinato, detanninated tea, as the example of usage. Tannin! Of course! I knew about tannin, but is it the same thing as caffeine?

The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines tannin as follows:

"Any of various compounds, including tannic acid, that occur naturally in the bark and fruit of various plants, especially the nutgalls, certain oaks, and sumac. Tannins are polyphenols, and form yellowish to light brown amorphous masses that can be powdery, flaky, or spongy. They are used in photography, dyeing, in tanning leather, in clarifying wine and beer, and as an astringent in medicine. Tannins are also an important ingredient in tea."

An important ingredient, the scientists say.

The same dictionary defines caffeine as,

"A bitter white alkaloid found in tea leaves, coffee beans, and various other plant parts. It is a mild stimulant. Caffeine is a xanthine and similar in structure to theobromine and theophylline. Chemical formula: C8H10N4O2."

What do you say? From these definitions, it is pretty clear that caffeine and tannin are not the same thing. And though I don't know for sure if Italians are removing the tannins from their tea instead of the caffeine, aw shucks, I'm pretty damn sure they're not laying a finger on those poor amorphous masses, yearning to be free. So, why why why is the tea deteinato and not decaffeinato? I might have to ask an expert. Know any tea experts? Anyone? Bueller?

Yesterday, while I was scarfing down The Husband's delicious melanzane fritte, he looked up at me and said, "Sai una cosa? Mangi troppa frittura." I eat too much fried food? Is that code for "you're getting fat and you have acne?" It seems that eating too much fried food, even if that means in my case, a handful of fried eggplant 2-3 times a week, will damage your liver. The Husband -- my coffee drinking, cigarette smoking, hash partaking, wine-beer-grappa-amaro swilling, cornetto eating health nut.

Rather than turning to the web for justice, I took up my fork and pushed the remainder of my frittura into the trash.


KC said...

Thank you! I now understand why every attempt I've made at finding decaffeinated tea here has been fruitless. That teine/caffeina thing is truly absurd.

gayle said...

okay, this has motivated me to try to respond. I drink the star deteinato tea every day and am flummoxed, though am keeping my cool. Have heard of a canadian dude with a tea shop here in Locarno--will turn to him to try to sort this out. give me a week or two.
ps thank you, my asute researcher. who knew?
pps you are not fat or with acne.

romerican said...

props on your blog... i'm an american in italy too (rome), and i've just discovered this whole new & exciting world of ex-pat blogs! props also for the fact that you LIVE in naples. don't get me wrong, it is a great city but i can't imagine trying to function there. i used to work in & around naples for a few years and as much as i loved the energy, the lack of organization made me INsane... not that rome is any better, but maybe it is, just a little.
anyway- rock on with your blogging!

gayle said...

ha! you're going to wish I hadn't figured out how to comment...looking at my tea, I see that's it's actually swiss, not the the star tea from italy. Therefore, on the packaging, we have "coffeinfrei","sans cafeine" and "deteinato". who ya gonna believe, the german, french or italian? I know, the romansch speakers almost never have a say.

rompipalle said...

Great to hear from all of you. And GAYLE, I hope you make a habit of commenting. Gives us another way to communicate beyond Skype and quick trips to Rome... Baci!

Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

Hey! This deteinated thing is not exclusive to Italy. My boyfriend lived half his life in Brazil and half in Argentina, and he politely corrected me after dinner one night when I asked for "decaf tea." Maybe it's a latin-based language thing. What do the French say? Or the Ruskies?

Suki said...

I stumbled across this post in my search to sort out my own wonderment at the 'deteinato' adjective, and found your post amusing and informative.

Molte grazie!

Anonymous said...

Very strange, found your blog after searching. I am drinking the tea now and it does have tanin in it.

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