Category Archives: Food & Tea
Every Saturday afternoon, I do a tea tasting/class at my shop (the Phoenix Pearl Tea Tavern). Yesterday, the subject was mint. The class examined peppermint, spearmint, and wintergreen, and then tasted a variety of teas and tisanes that we blend with the various mint leaves and extracts.
My wife, Kathy, decided that since it was a couple of days before Christmas, we should have a special treat. We’ve done a fair amount of cooking with tea, especially matcha (you can browse through some of the recipes here), and we have a brand-new peppermint matcha at the shop, so she decided to do a quick and easy matcha fudge.
It’s a white chocolate bakeless recipe; Kathy calls it “cheater” fudge.
- 16 oz white chocolate
- 1 ten-oz (300 ml) can of sweetened condensed milk
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tsp unsweetened matcha (we used the Maghreb Mint from Phoenix Pearl)
- 1/2 cup of chopped unsalted almonds
- Combine the white chocolate and condensed milk in a double boiler over simmering water (a microwave works too). Stir regularly and make sure everything is completely melted.
- Stir in the matcha and pinch of salt. Blend it very thoroughly and make sure there are no little patches of dry matcha powder left.
- Once it’s completely smooth, pour into a greased 8×8 inch baking dish.
- Sprinkle the nuts over the top, and press them down gently to make sure they’re well attached.
- Chill overnight in the fridge, (at least three hours) and then cut into small pieces (about 1″ to 1-1/2″ square)
You can use this same process with other flavored matcha, although you probably won’t want to use sweet matchas designed for lattes.
Have you ever sat down to a cup of hot, energizing breakfast tea and wondered what the heck makes it a breakfast blend? You never see anyone selling lunch teas or dinner teas. Why breakfast tea? And what’s the difference between Scottish, Irish, and English breakfast teas? Let me explain!
When we first get up in the morning, most of us aren’t in the mood for something delicate, flowery, and subtle. We want caffeine and we want it now! And by golly, we want to be able to taste it! Breakfast, as any nutritionist will tell you, is the most important meal of the day. You probably haven’t eaten in ten or twelve hours, and you need energy for your morning work. A full-flavored hearty breakfast will overwhelm the taste of a white tea or a jasmine tea, so Americans and Europeans, unlike our Eastern friends, usually go for a black tea (or perhaps a heavily-oxidized oolong) with our breakfast. This is the origin of the “breakfast tea.”
Breakfast teas in the U.K. were originally Chinese tea. When supplies from China were threatened and the British East India Company established tea plantations in Assam, those Indian teas began to replace the Chinese teas at breakfast, and that’s also when they started to become blends rather than straight tea. One of the words you’ll often hear to describe breakfast teas is “malty.” That flavor comes from the Assam teas. Their isn’t a standard formula for any breakfast tea, and no two tea producers will agree on the perfect teas or the perfect blend percentages. Generally, though, the Assam is blended with a strong traditional black tea from Sri Lanka (a Ceylon tea) or Kenya. Some blends are simple combinations of two base teas; some are complex combinations of four or five.
There also isn’t a standard for strength. Generally, though, you can assume that Scottish and Irish breakfast teas will be stronger than English breakfast teas, and when you’re in the U.K., you can count on all of them being served with milk.
An American might start the day with biscuits and sausage gravy with an egg on top — or perhaps a big stack of pancakes. A Scotsman, however, may sit down to a “full breakfast,” which would include eggs, bacon (what an American would call “Canadian bacon” and a Canadian would call “back bacon”), toast, sausage, black pudding, grilled tomato, and — if he’s lucky — some haggis and tattie scones. No wimpy tea will work with a meal like that! It calls for a full pot of Scottish breakfast tea!
At my tea bar, I started out with stock blends for all three breakfast teas. Soon, though, my Scottish heritage gave me the urge to experiment. I’ve known the folks from the Khongea Estate in Assam for a while, and they have a variety that made the perfect start. Lots of malty flavor, lots of caffeine, but not too much astringency. Unlike my ancestors, you see, I don’t put milk in my tea, so I look for less bitterness than most Scots.
After playing around with other teas, I settled on another estate-grown variety as the second ingredient. It’s a fairly high-altitude tea that grows near the base of Mount Kenya. It adds strength and complexity to the Assam, and I decided no other ingredients were needed. Once I was happy with the flavor, I needed a name. Scottish Breakfast Tea is just a bit too boring for me, so I called it “Gary’s Kilty Pleasure.”
For the curious, that’s my plaid in the logo: the Clan Gunn weathered tartan.
I got a very big surprise from this tea. American tea tastes run toward flavored teas. The majority of sales at my tea bar are Earl Grey, masala chai, fruity blends, and the like. Despite that, Gary’s Kilty Pleasure has remained one of the top five sellers for four straight years, out of a field of well over 100 loose teas. The most common comment I get back is that it goes well with milk, but it is perfectly good without — and that makes me happy!
So whether you choose my Scottish breakfast tea (buy it here) or a blend from your favorite supplier, brew it up strong with a hearty breakfast, and get your day off to a great start!
I have started adding a paragraph at the end of each blog post describing the tea I was drinking when I wrote the post. It seems kind of silly at the end of this one! Come on, people. What do you THINK I was drinking?
I’m a big fan of beer. In fact, I used to write a beer column for a local newspaper a few years back. I’ll often have a beer when I start dinner, and switch to tea at the end. I even took a seminar at World Tea Expo about pairing tea and beer, looking for common flavor characteristics in different styles of the two beverages. A conversation with fellow tea blogger Robert Godden (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts), however, got me thinking about the possibility of actually combining the two. You know, putting beer and tea in the same glass. Yeah, Robert’s a strange one.
But why not?
There are beer styles exemplified by certain flavors, which you might get from additives like fruit or other grains, or you might get from doing strange things to the barley, like smoking it. Why not get those flavors from tea? Especially that smoky one…
A buddy of mine, Doug “Beerbarian” Bailey, works at our local brewery, Red Lodge Ales. Doug is a sales guy, but he still understands beer pretty well. He and I both go for smoky flavors. We drink lapsang souchong and Russian caravan tea. We drink smoky rauschbier. We drink Islay Scotches like Laphroaig, which just ooze peat and smoke. We even enjoy the same pipe tobaccos.
So Doug and I had a long discussion about flavoring beer with tea — especially about making our own variety of rauschbier by adding smoked tea to a nice robust beer. It was a wonderful discussion, but we didn’t follow through on it. And then, months later, I get a private message from him on Facebook:
Initially, we’d been talking about actually adding the tea leaves to the kettle while brewing the beer, but Doug was in a hurry. He proposed adding the tea to beer that was already brewed and sitting in the keg. This brings up a few complications, like how to avoid watering down the beer and how to pour tea into a full keg of carbonated beer.
The solution to the first problem was simple: just make the tea really strong so we don’t have to use much of it. In fact, to avoid diluting the flavor of the beer, we went right past “really strong” to “stupid strong.” And as for the second problem, Doug came up with a set of fittings that allowed us to put the tea into an empty keg, pressurize it, and then add the contents of a full keg of beer to it.
The more we talked about the solutions to the problems, the more we realized making just one beer wasn’t going to cut it, so when experiment day arrived, Doug grabbed the kegs of beer and I brewed three stupid strong batches of tea from Red Lodge Books & Tea to match them.
We started by adding carefully measured amounts of the übertea to glasses of beer. Instead of wrecking our palates with the smoked tea, we started with a lighter one. The beer is Helio Hefeweizen, a light and citrusy unfiltered wheat beer. I paired that with a cinnamon orange spice rooibos tea. I had brewed the tea with 1 ounce of leaf to 8 ounces of boiling water and steeped it for six minutes. It didn’t take a whole lot of tea to give the beer a wondrous spicy flavor with an orangy nose. We settled on 940 ml of strong tea in the 5-gallon keg of beer. It was a rousing triumph. We made a bit extra so I could take a growler home with me.
Our second experiment was completely off the wall. Doug did say he wanted something “wacky,” so I paired their Beartooth Pale Ale with an infusion of one of my own special tea blends, which I call “Coyotes of the Purple Sage.” It’s an Earl Grey made with black tea, sage, and a hint of mint. I didn’t brew it quite as strong (same amount of leaf as the first one, but with a 5 minute infusion). Our first experiment was rather overwhelming, so we backed down the ratio, using 750 ml of tea in the 5-gallon keg.
I’m not going to call this one an overwhelming success. The sage and bergamot was just a little strange in the pale ale.
The final beer was the one that started all this. We used a Russian Caravan tea, 1 ounce of leaf per 8 ounces of water, brewed for 4 minutes. The base beer is Jack’s Scottish Ale. We played around with the proportions for a bit, and ended up using 900 ml of tea per five gallon keg. We made two kegs: one for Doug’s special event, and one to put on tap in the tasting room that night. Doug named it “Smokin’ Jack.” It was exactly what we were trying to accomplish!
This will not be the last time I bring together my loves of beer and tea. Maybe it’s getting to be time to dust off all of my old homebrewing equipment and get to work.
On our way back from a book conference in Tacoma, Washington, my wife pointed out that we were passing an awful lot of stands selling fresh apples. Since it was the season, we picked a big place and stopped.
What an experience!
I knew there were different varieties of apples (Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Fuji…), but I had no idea how many there were. Different colors, sizes, and flavors. Apples that are great for munching, others great for cider, and still others great for applesauce. There are over 7,500 cultivars of apple, and even though this farm had fewer than 50 of them, I was completely and utterly overwhelmed.
And then the epiphany hit me: The way I felt looking at these apples, that deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, was just what I’ve seen on people’s faces the first time they walk into my tea bar. As an aficionado, I walk into a tea shop and start hunting for things I’ve never tried, strange varieties I’ve heard of but never seen, and old favorites that they may bring in from a different source than I do. To a newcomer, though, those 150 jars behind the tea bar might as well be full of pixie dust as tea.
The way the apple farmer led us through our selection is different from the way we guide people at the tea bar, but the general philosophy is the same. His job, like our job, is to help a customer pick something that will make them happy. if you’re going to be making apple butter, he’s eager to help you find just the right apples and suggest just the right procedure. That way, you’ll be back the next time you need apples. We do the same with tea.
Sometimes, we have the customer who knows exactly what they want. “Do you have a jasmine green tea?” they’ll ask. Or, “Can I get an English Breakfast Tea with a spot of milk?” Those folks are easy.
We also have the people who have a general idea of what they’re looking for, but they’re eager to experiment. “I’m looking for a cup of strong tea. What’s the difference between your Rwandan and your Malawi black teas?”
But the challenge comes when somebody has no idea what they’re after. That’s when we play a kind of twenty-questions game.
Q. Are you looking for a straight tea or something flavored?
A. Oh, just straight tea, I think.
Q. Do you like black tea? Green tea? Oolong?
A. I like green tea.
Q. Do you prefer the grassy Japanese styles or the pan-fired Chinese styles?
A. I had a really good Japanese tea one time that tasted really nutty. They called it green tea but the leaves were brown.
Q. Was it roasted? Does the name Houjicha sound familiar?
A. I’m not sure.
Q. Here. Smell this.
A. That smells great! I’ll have a cup of that!
This kind of conversation is what it takes to guide someone to something new. Hopefully something they’ll like so much that they’ll keep coming back for more. To expedite the process, we’re reorganizing the teas behind the bar.
On one side, we’re putting straight tea — and some straight herbs and related drinks like rooibos, honeybush, yerba mate, guayusa, and so forth. They’re organized first by style, so all of the white teas are together and all of the pu-erh teas are together. Within that grouping, they’re organized by origin: Ceylons, Assams, Kenyans, and so forth.
The other side has the flavored and scented teas, and it’s organized quite differently. Most people looking for a mango tea really couldn’t care less whether the base is white tea or green tea. All they care about is whether it has caffeine (and whether it tastes like mango, of course). To that end, the flavored side is grouped by flavor profiles: minty, fruity, flowery, and so forth. All of the berry teas are together, all of the masala chai is together, all of the Earl Grey is together, etc.
Hopefully, this will be a big help to people who think visually. They will be able to scan the jars and narrow in on something they like. When we’re done, we’ll post some pictures.
In the meantime, if you are a tea retailer, keep on talking to people. If you’re a tea consumer, keep on asking questions!
I love you. Really I do. I’m not a picky guy. I’m certainly not a snob. I love a five-course meal at a five-star restaurant, but I also must confess a fondness for a “Snag Burger” at the bar down the street from my shop. I love a good Indian buffet, a medium-rare steak, authentic London fish and chips, and an authentic Inverness haggis with neeps & tatties. Basically, if the chef cares about how the food tastes, I’m probably going to enjoy it. And if your servers care about serving the customers, I’m probably going to enjoy being in your restaurant. I love eating out.
But we’ve really got to talk about your tea.
First, if your restaurant is even half a notch above fast food, you have more than one type of tea, right? It may be powdered sweepings from the factory floor in a Lipton teabag, but you’ll have a black tea, a green tea, something without caffeine, and either Earl Grey or Moroccan Mint. If you don’t offer at least those four, you’d might as well hang a sign that says, “Tea Drinkers Not Welcome.”
So let’s start with that. When we order a cup of hot tea, either ask what kind we want, or present us with a basket or box containing a selection to choose from. Don’t just bring out a cup of black tea and then let us find out later that you had other options.
RULE 1: Tell us (or show us) the options!
Next, don’t grab the water until you’re on the way to the table. If we’re ordering black tea (and that includes Earl Grey), then we want that water boiling, or darned close to it.
RULE 2: Hot water. Really hot water.
And now, a big no-no. Don’t ever ever put the tea leaves (or tea bag) in the water before you bring it to us. The only exception to this rule is if you run a tea shop and your waitstaff plans to monitor the entire steeping process for us, in which case you’ll be controlling the steep time as well.
RULE 3: The tea meets the water at the table.
There are several reasons for this.
First, most serious tea drinkers have their own opinions on how long their tea should be steeped. I typically short-steep my black teas and drink them straight. My friend Angela steeps hers long and strong and adds milk. There’s no way to prepare a cup of tea that will make both of us happy. You have to let us do it ourselves.
That said, if you start the tea steeping in the kitchen, we have no idea how long the leaves have been in the water when it gets to our table. A glass carafe (like the one in this post’s header) helps that, but if we don’t know the particular brand and style of tea you’re serving, it’s really hard to judge by the color.
Additionally, not all tea takes the same water temperature. If I’m drinking black tea, I’ll pour in that boiling water the second it gets to me. If I’m drinking green or white tea, I’m going to let the water cool a bit first. Boiling water makes green tea bitter.
Once our tea is steeped to our liking, we’re going to want to remove the leaves from the water — or pour the water off of the leaves.
RULE 4: Give us something to do with used leaves or teabags.
I’ve been in many restaurants that give me a cup of water and a teabag, but no saucer to put the bag on when I’m done steeping it. I really don’t want a soggy teabag on my dinner plate, and you probably don’t want it on the tablecloth or place mat. Even the nice places that bring me a pot of water with a strainer full of leaves and a cozy to keep the pot warm sometimes don’t provide a place to put that strainer. Oh, and this reminds me of rule five:
RULE 5: Don’t just dump leaves loose in a pot with a spout strainer unless it’s a single-serving pot.
It’s frustrating to pour off a cup of tea and know that by the time I’m ready for the second cup, it will be oversteeped and nasty and there’s not a thing I can do about it.
Those five rules will cover the basics. All but the real tea snobs can make something acceptable to drink if you have a few choices (which need to include unflavored options — don’t just give us Earl Grey, mint, fruity stuff, and herbal stuff) and serve it properly. But if you’d like to upgrade the experience and really make us tea drinkers feel welcome, here are a couple of bonus tips:
BONUS TIP #1: Make sure all of your servers can answer rudimentary questions about your tea selection.
Everyone who works there should know which of your teas have caffeine and which don’t. They should know the difference between green and black tea (and know that Moroccan Mint is green and Earl Grey is black). They should know the teas from the tisanes (herbals), and they should know which ones are organic and/or fair trade.
If you serve leaf tea, as opposed to bagged dust, give the staff a bit more information, like origin and style. You want your server to be able to tell a customer whether that red wine is a Merlot or Zinfandel and whether it’s from Bordeaux or Napa Valley. Why shouldn’t they be able to say whether the black tea is a Darjeeling, a Ceylon, or a Keemun?
BONUS TIP #2: Give us a couple of upgraded options.
Offering a oolong, a white tea, or a pu-erh makes me feel like you really want me to enjoy the experience. I don’t even mind paying more for a Bai Hao or a Silver Needle. It’s like offering some really nice wines in addition to the everyday wines; or offering craft beer in addition to Bud Light. That tea can make a good meal a really memorable one.
Attitude is everything in the service industry. If you and your staff are proud of the food you serve, it shows. Steak lovers look for restaurants that take pride in their steaks. Tea lovers look for restaurants that take pride in their tea. Most of the time, we’re lucky to find a restaurant that will even put a bit of effort into their tea, much less take pride in it.
If you aren’t a tea expert, find one and ask for advice. Show that you’re trying, and that you take as much pride in your drinks as you do in your food. We will notice. You will turn us into regular customers. We’ll be happy and you’ll be happy. We all win.
While writing this blog post, I was drinking Jasmine King, a jasmine silver needle white tea. The touch of woodiness in the tea blended beautifully with the heavenly aroma of the jasmine. I don’t drink a lot of white tea, but I’m getting hooked on this one.
Last weekend, we hosted an “African Tea Experience” at the tea bar. Unlike our World Tea Tasting Tour sessions, this one was a private party that we donated to a local nonprofit organization for a silent auction fundraiser. Instead of just tasting some tea we made this a more immersive experience, including — among other things — food.
My first thought was to use the Hipster Hummus that we’ve prepared here before, but it’s really more of a Middle Eastern hummus than an African one. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked.
Hummus is currently thought of as a Middle Eastern dish. Lebanon is pushing the European Commission to declare hummus a uniquely Lebanese food. In Israel, hummus is a staple. You can find it anywhere in Turkey or Palestine. But that’s not where the dish originated.
According to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, the earliest known recipes for hummus date back to 13th century cookbooks from Cairo. It’s still a popular dish throughout northern Africa, and there are few differences between the African version and the Middle Eastern version. For this event, I decided to make a more Africanized version of our regular hummus.
All hummus is based on chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) and tahini (sesame paste). The primary ingredient difference in the African version is cumin. I decided to add red rooibos, which is a uniquely South African tisane (it’s often called “tea,” but since it isn’t made from Camellia sinensis, it isn’t technically tea). What we ended up with isn’t traditional, but it did get rave reviews. Despite the hot sauce, it isn’t overly spicy. Personally, I’d consider it almost mild. You could substitute a hot paprika for the milder roasted one that I used to give it more kick, or increase the Sriracha sauce.
- One 15-oz can garbanzo beans/chickpeas
- 1-1/2 tbsp sesame tahini paste
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 ounce red rooibos leaves
- 1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
- 4 tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tbps Sriracha
- 1/4 tsp roasted Israeli paprika
- 1 tsp olive oil
- sprig of fresh parsley
- Drain the garbanzo beans/chickpeas and set aside the juice
- Heat the juice almost to boiling and add the rooibos — steep for five minutes
- Put beans, tahini, garlic, cumin, orange juice, salt, and Sriracha in a food processor
- Add 1/4 cup of the tea infusion to the food processor
- Blend everything to a smooth consistency
- Chill overnight in the fridge
- Spread hummus on plate with a dip in the center
- Drizzle olive oil through the center dip (not shown in the picture above, where I put pita chips in the middle instead)
- Sprinkle the paprika over the hummus, and garnish with parsley
- Serve with pita chips or fresh pita bread
The flavor of the rooibos definitely comes through, although it’s a bit subtle. Feel free to increase both the amount of leaf and the steeping time if you want more rooibos character.
Sometimes you want to add flavor to a dish without doing something complicated. A perfect example is plain white or brown rice. Here’s a nice trick, especially if you’re cooking Indian food.
All you have to do is follow the recipe for your rice, but substitute chai tea for the water. I recommend brewing the tea strong, using twice as much leaf as you’d normally use in that quantity of water. Add boiling water to the leaves and give it five to seven minutes to steep. Then strain off the leaves and spices, add the tea infusion to your rice, and follow the rest of the directions as normal.
This even works with instant rice, which can otherwise be pretty bland.
I’ve written about cooking with lapsang souchong here before, but we decided to try something new for the Chamber of Commerce party at the bookstore/tea bar last month (the same one where we served the Hipster Hummus and the Orange Spice Carrot Cake Muffins).
If you’re not familiar with lapsang souchong tea, it’s a Chinese black tea that’s dried in bamboo baskets over a fire made with wet pine wood. The smoke from the fire dries and cures the tea, giving it a wonderful campfire smell. I think it’s a great wake-up tea in the morning, and it adds a great flavor to meats and fish. The lapsang souchong I used in this recipe is Cascade Smokehouse, from our tea bar.
The meatballs for this recipe aren’t really as important as the sauce, because the flavors in the sauce mask the meatballs themselves. Any old meatball recipe will do. Here’s how to do the rest:
- 1/4 cup butter (you can use margarine if you’d like)
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 ounce lapsang souchong loose-leaf tea
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup sour cream
- Grind up the tea leaves, using a mortar & pestle or small food processor. They don’t need to be completely powdered, just broken into small pieces.
- Heat the chicken broth to boiling and add the tea leaves. Set aside for five minutes.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter and slowly stir in the flour.
- Add the salt and broth (do not filter out the tea leaves).
- Stir over medium heat until it thickens.
- Remove from stove, and stir in the sour cream.
- Put the meatballs in a crock pot over low heat, and pour the sauce over it.
We left the meatballs and sauce in the crock pot for several hours on low heat before serving them. They went over very well!
As promised, here’s the second recipe from our recent Chamber of Commerce party. Our food theme was cooking with tea, and this was a variant of a recipe that Bigelow Tea originally published. Obviously, we substituted teas that we sell at our Tea Bar for what they originally suggested.
We made mini muffins, since they were being served hors d’oeuvre style. Feel free to try this as full-sized muffins or even a cake tin. Just adjust the baking time a bit.
- 1/2 ounce of Cinnamon Orange Spice Ceylon Tea
- 1/2 cup water
- 1-3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 can of mandarin oranges
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp fresh-grated orange zest
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2-1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- Boil water and add to tea. Steep for 6 minutes and strain out leaves.
- Heat oven to 350 F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, eggs, and vegetable oil. Mix thoroughly at high speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until thick and creamy.
- Drain the can of mandarin oranges (discard the liquid), and add it to the mixing bowl, along with the tea, vanilla, and orange zest. Continue mixing until well blended.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add this blend to the mixing bowl and mix at low speed for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add the shredded carrots and continue mixing until well blended.
- Scoop the batter into muffin tins, either using paper muffin cups or spraying the tins with non-stick spray. Fill a bit over 1/2 full.
- Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
- 1/4 ounce Hammer & Cremesickle Red Tea
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 eight-ounce package of cream cheese
- 1 tbsp butter (softened)
- 3-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- Boil water and add to tea. Steep for 6 minutes and strain out leaves.
- Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Mix at high speed for one minute or until light and creamy.
- Add 2 tbsp of tea from step 1 and mix well.
- Add confectioner’s sugar and mix thoroughly for 1 to 2 minutes or until smooth and creamy.
- After the muffins have cooled, frost the top of each one with frosting.
These were a smash hit at the party, along with the Hipster Hummus recipe that I posted last week, and a couple more that I’ll be posting soon (next in the series: Meatballs in Lapsang Souchong Cream Sauce).