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Spicing up couscous

Jamaica Red Rooibos

Jamaica Red Rooibos, courtesy of Rishi Tea

I have played around quite a bit with tea as a flavoring for vegetables, rice, fish, and other dishes. A few months ago, I was trying to decide on a good tea combo for adding some extra flavor to couscous. Most of the time, I use actual tea (made from the Camellia sinensis plant). Late one evening, however, when I was enjoying a cup of rooibos — a.k.a. African red bush — it occurred to me that it might make a great ingredient as well.

Straight rooibos wasn’t quite the flavor I was looking for, but one of the more popular blends at our tea bar seemed like just the ticket: Jamaica Red Rooibos from Rishi Tea.

The tea is named for the Jamaica flower, which is one of the nicknames for a variety of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) commonly used in tea. Rishi’s blend is complex. In addition to the rooibos and hibiscus flowers, it also contains lemongrass, schizandra berries, rosehips, licorice root, orange peel, passion fruit flavor, essential oils of orange and tangerine, mango flavor, and essential clove oil.

After a bit of monkeying around, I settled on a very simple recipe:

  1. Following the instructions with your particular couscous, bring enough water for four servings to a boil, and remove from heat.
  2. Add 2-3 tablespoons of Jamaica Red Rooibos and steep for seven minutes.
  3. Remove the leaves. I used a disposable tea filter. You could just as easily dump the leaves in the water and pour through a strainer.
  4. Bring the water back to a boil and add the couscous.
  5. Continue as you would for unflavored couscous.

For a little bit of extra texture, try adding a few tablespoons of chopped walnuts.

You can buy this tea from a variety of sources, including (of course) our own tea bar.

UPDATE May 2012: The Tea Bar’s website is now up and running, and you can order Jamaica Red Rooibos here.

Most popular teas of 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, I am looking over the numbers from our tea bar to see what have been our most popular and least popular blends. When we opened the tea bar I expected our biggest sellers to be what people are most used to, like English Breakfast and Earl Grey, and that’s essentially what the top two slots were. Beyond that, however, I got some surprises…

Red Lodge Books & Tea Bar#1: Ancient-Tree Earl Grey

This organic Earl Grey is made from 100-year-old tea trees and blended with pure bergamot oil. I’ve tried a lot of Earl Grey tea in my time, and this is probably my favorite, although recently I’ve been drinking more of our new house blend: Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey.

#2: Gary’s Scottish Breakfast

This is a nice, strong, kick-in-the-pants first cup of the morning. It’s a blend of Kenya and Assam black tea. Traditionalists would steep it a long time and drink it with milk. I tend to prefer a fairly short steep (around 3 minutes), and I drink it black.

[Update: This is the tea I used in the Hipster Hummus recipe for our Chamber of Commerce mixer in February 2012]

#3: Organic Premium Masala Chai

I suppose this one shouldn’t have surprised me. There are a lot of chai fans out there, and the coffee shops tend to make their chai from mixes instead of brewing it up fresh like we do. I typically make this with milk and locally-produced honey.

#4: Organic Moroccan Mint

The popularity of this tea crosses seasons, as we sell just as much of it iced in the summer as we do hot in the winter. It’s a Chinese green tea with jasmine blossoms and peppermint leaves. I’m doing some experiments now as to the best way to aerate it when we serve it, which is typically accomplished by pouring it into the cup while holding the pot high in the air.

#5: Apricot Honeybush

This one took me by surprise. We have a lot of different rooibos and honeybush blends in the tea bar, and I added this one initially just as something fun and different. Who knew it would end up as our most popular caffeine-free drink?

#6: Peach White

This Chinese Pai Mu Tan white tea with delicate peach flavoring is the most popular iced tea in the tea bar, but it’s also wonderful hot.

#7: Montana Gold

This is a rooibos blend from our friends up at Montana Tea & Spice company in Missoula. They add cinnamon, orange peel,  cloves, and other goodies to produce a spicy caffeine-free concoction that definitely plays in Red Lodge.

#8: Chocolate Maté Chai

Dessert in a mug! This velvety chai is made with yerba maté and pu-erh instead of black tea, and the standard masala chai spices are enhanced with cacao nibs & husks, vanilla, coconut, and long pepper. We usually prepare it with vanilla soy milk and local honey. It was also very popular during the summer as a base for boba tea.

#9: Carnival Maté

This is not your basic yerba maté. This yummy south-Argentina style beverage uses roasted maté with caramel bits, marigold, and Spanish safflower petals. I’ve converted a lot of coffee drinkers using this one!

#10: Jamaica Red Rooibos

This one sounded a little strange to me, but I brought it in to the tea bar on a whim. It’s another organic fair-trade blend. The Jamaica flower (Hibiscus Sabdariffa) is blended with organic red rooibos, along with lemongrass, schizandra berries, rosehips, licorice root, orange peel, natural passion fruit flavor, natural essential oils of orange and tangerine, natural mango flavor and natural essential clove oil. It’s awesome. I don’t just drink it, I cook with it, too.

What will be the big sellers in 2012? I think many of these will stay on the list, but we have some new blends that are selling strong right now (like our Hammer and Cremesickle Red and the aforementioned Mr. Excellent’s Post-Apocalyptic Earl Grey), and a lot more planned for the coming months. Half of the top ten for 2011 are organic, and I’m curious whether that trend will continue. Even though the organic teas tend to cost a bit more, people are willing to pay the difference.

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