Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tea Recipe -- Black Tea Linzer Cookies

This cookie reciepe was acutalloy inspired by a Vanilla Almond Black Tea that I really enjoy. 

I decided to make a black tea jam by cooking down strong black tea with apples (to provide petin) and lemon (to add acid).  The fragrance of the jam was amazing while it was cooking, with the black tea as the predominant note.  You do taste a lot of the apple.  If you want a purer tea taste, just let the liquid drip through the strainer, and don't press the apple pieces through.  Either way, you will wind up with more jam than you need to fill the cookies.  Put the extra in a lidded jar and store in the referigerator. 

What better way to show off the resulting tea-hued preserve than peeking through the window of a Linzer cookie?  Linzer cookies already have almonds, and I upped the vanilla to make it a little more like the tea.

Black Tea Linzer Cookies

2 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 1/2 c. strong black tea (English Breakfast or similar)
2 c. sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 c. slivered almonds

2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, brought to room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon 

Combine apple pieces, tea, sugar and lemon in a medium pot over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to thicken.  Continue, stirring frequently, until the mixutre reaches the soft ball stage.  Place a strainer over a medium bowl.  Pour the apple mixture in, letting the liquid drip through, then press the apples through.  Stir to combine.  Set aside until needed.

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl.  Add the vanilla, egg yolks and lemon zest and beat to combine.  Use a nut grinder to turn the almonds into nut meal.  Add to butter mixture, and beat to combine.  In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon and salt.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three additions, beating between additions.  Divide dough in half.  Wrap each half in plastic wrap and referigerate for an hour or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchament paper.  Roll out one half of cookie dough on floured surface to 1/4"thick and cut out using a pair of matching cookie cutters, one of which has a "window" in the middle (or using a separate smaller cutter to make holes in the top cookie).  Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Cool completely on cooling rack.

If you have referigerated everything overnight, heat 2/3 c. of the jam in a microwave for 20-30 seconds, or until it reaches an easily spreadable consistancy.   Use a spoon to spread a thin layer of jam onto the base cookie.  Place the cookie with the cutout on top.  Carefully spoon more jam into the hole to fill it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tea of the Week: Republic of Tea Daily Green Honey Ginseng

Reupblic of Tea's Honey Ginseng Green has been one of my favorite go-to teas for a while now.  It has a light flavor, doesn't even tempt me to add sweeteners, and has an added heath benefit from the ginseng.  I usually get it at Whole Foods.
Liquor -- light, but with a warm golden tint

Aroma -- Sweet, but with a slightly herbal undertone

Body -- light

Flavors -- .The main note here is the vegetal green of the tea, which is complimented by the subtler sweetness of the honey.  You do not taste as much of the ginsing as you think you would by the aroma.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What is the "Agony of the Leaves?"

If you are into loose teas, you have probably heard the term "the agony of the leaves."  What does that really mean?

This refers to the hydrating of lfull-leaf tea.  It only actually occurs in tea that has been twisted or rolled, but the term is often used in relation to any loose tea.  As the leaves unfurl, they twist and writhe, almost as though they are in pain (although some tea drinker prefer to think of the leaves as dancing in joy).  This is most noticible in fine oolongs, which expand the most.  If you want to watch it happen, brew your tea in a glass teapot.

Look at how much leaves from a basic Chinese green tea expand in this infuser.

Sure it is poetic and beautiful to watch, but what is the practicality to you as a tea drinker?  For one thing, you never want to overfill your tea ball or infuser (I try not to go over 1/3 full with the dry tea).  The leaves need room to expand.  If you don't give them that room, they won't release as much of the plant oils, producing an inferior cup from often very expensive tea.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tea of the Week: Shan Wai Shan Dong Ding Oolong

Dong Ding Oolongs are Tiawanese Formosa Oolongs, grown on the Dong Ding mountain (which translates as Frozen Summit).  I found the Shan Wai Shan brand at my favorite oriental grocery.  I picked it up off the shelf because I was drawn to the attractive canister.  It is inexpensively priced, but offers a pleasing cup.

Liquor -- Pale greenish gold
Aroma -- Nutty

Body -- Exceptional light

Flavors -- .The main note is the roasted, nutty taste.  There is a slightly floral undertone that mellows into a plesantly faint grassy aftertaste.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New Teapot

I got a new tea set.  I held an oriental-themed tea party to take pictures for the tea party plan book I am working on, and it was a great excuse to splurge -- though the whole set only cost about 20 bucks. 

I wanted to use one of the teacups to make the centerpiece.  (I'm posting just one pic, as sort of a sneak-peek).

It came in a golden cardboard box, with each piece nestled in golden satin.  Since I bought it for the picture on the outside of the cups, I was surprised to find out how well made it really is.  The cups are somewhat small on the inside, but the double wall of the cup keeps them from getting hot to hold.  There is a mark on this set, but I can't read it.

The best thing about this set?  The generous strainer that practically fills the pot!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Taking Tea in Dallas: The Adolphus Hotel

Yesterday we were able to get reservations for afternoon tea at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas.  It was everything you could expect from a historic hotel (the Adolphus is turning 100 next month).  They have been doing afternoon tea since the early 1980s, so they have had plenty of time to get everything right.  Tables are set up in the lobby living room, and there is a live pianist playing classical music to set the mood.  The hotel has hosted a number of connoisseurs for tea, from the Queen of England to food writer Kerry Vincent (who featured the Adolphus on the Finger Food episode of Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate).

Yet, we still felt special, seated among the antiques, and treated to impeccable service.  Louis, who served as our guide to the teas presented, was both knowledgeable and accommodating.  

For the first course, we received an assortment of tea sandwiches (our favorite was the egg salad on brioche, followed by the curried chicken salad) along with a pot of Africa Amber (a red rooibos with hibiscus).

Next we got a scone with clotted cream and raspberry preserves (it was so delicious I forgot to take a picture), alongside a pot of Orange Jasmine (a black tea with a delicate citrusy/floral note).

The third course was an assortment of mini-desserts.  We both agreed that the tie for best flavors was between the mini-cheesecake and the pistachio macaroon.  This came with a pot of pear caramel (another black tea, with a pleasing flavor, though I had a hard time actually tasting the pear).

Louis did offer other teas, and we listened to other tea drinkers describing their choices.  Next time, I definitely want to try the vanilla black tea and the Provence-inspired blend.

If you want to attend the afternoon tea at the Adolphus, tea is served Friday through Sunday from 2pm to 4pm in the lobby living room at the front of the hotel.  Reservations are required.
You can contact them at (214)742-8200.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tea of the Week: Zhi Tea's Ancient Forest

When I was at Zhi Tea's shop in Austin, I was able to smell thier Ancient Forest tea in an open canister.  The aroma even of the dry leaves was amazing, rich and complex.  I just had to buy it. It is wildcrafted in Vietnam from tea plants that are estimated to be 500-800 years old.
Liquor -- Deep, warm amber

Aroma -- Rich, with a hint of caramely sweetness

Body -- Medium

Flavors -- Unusually low astrigancy for a black tea, with a note of maltiness. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't Spend All Your Tea in One Place

I bought a tea brick to use as a prop, and I was surprised at how beautiful it is.  But tea bricks also have a rich history.

Tea was used in China as money since ancient times (early on, they were used to pay taxes to the Emperor).  It also became an important element for trade with Tibet and other surrounding nations -- and eventually, with the English.  Tea bricks were an important commodity on the Silk Road.

The brick form made it easy to transport, and the bricks could be broken as needed to make change (often determined by weight).  However, it was harder to set a standard value on the bricks, as they varied in quality (though some of the resources I have been looking at have listed standard exchange rates, such as one tea brick being worth eight Tibetan Tangka coins, or one horse being worth twenty tea bricks in Russia. 

The quality of the tea tended to improve the farther from China the tea was going to be used.  Some of the finest bricks were intended for use in Russia, and they weren't often preserved in bick form, so bricks with Russian writing are considered the most rare.  Some of the lowest quality bricks included impurities ranging from wood to dung.  The recipient of a tea brick also had to be careful, as soot was sometimes added to make inferior tea bricks look richer.

In some areas where vegetation was hard to come by, tea bricks could fill a nutritional need.  Pieces of the brick would be roasted, then consumed in a soup-like form, with added savory ingredients.
While tea bricks were prefered by some cultures (such as the Cantonese), they were eschewed by the American colonists (so no tea bricks were thrown overboard during the Boston Tea Party).

Tea bricks are considered collector's items today, and some of them can be worth thousands of dollars.  Fermented teas (such as pu-erh) are still usually sold in brick -- or some other compressed shape -- form.

 According to this resource:  Tea Money of China: http://www.charm.ru/coins/misc/teamoney.shtml
the design with a Chinese image and chinese characters on one side and the distinctive break marks with swirls could be pre-WWII (and considered "original") or it could be from the mid 70s to mid 80s, when they were sold as novelty pieces in grocery stores.  Or, it could be used for a current brick, as you can buy similar designs new from any number of on-line resources. While I bought mine on Etsy, I'm pretty sure it is a current design.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tea of the Week: Harney and Sons Paris

I think the most comprehensive book on tea flavors I've ever read is The Harney and Sons Guide To Tea.  I've been wanting to try thier Paris blend for a while.  I found it while window shopping at William Sonoma.  I must say it didn't disappoint.

Liquor -- deep mahogany
Aroma -- complex, but with a main note of caramely bergamot.

Body -- medium

Flavors -- This tea reminds me of an Earl Gray, only sweeter and fruitier, with a slight nod to vanilla.  The flavors blend together well, though there is more emphasis on the slightly astringint black tea than the aroma suggests. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

People in Tea: Jessica Evans

While we were in Austin over the weekend, I was able to sit down with Jessica Evans of Zhi Tea.  Zhi, owned by Jeffrey Lorien,  specializes in organic whole-leaf artisinal teas that they blend themselves.  They are fair trade certified.  They also specialize in educating their customers about the entire tea experience.  Jessaca brewed samples of several teas for us to try, including a rooibos-based blend called Sweet Desert Delight, which was the first Zhi custom blend.  The shop had a relaxing scent in the air, and the whole place was very serene. 

Q. What got you into the tea industry?

A.  I worked in the natural foods industry and I got to know the best local resources for everything from local beef to local tea.  I was impressed by Zhi Tea's reputation.  I liked the way they focused on community relations and were always ready to donate to non-profits.  When I was looking for a job, I decided I wanted to work for them.

(They also offer discounts on re-fills for their tins, to save on the carbon footprint impact of their packaging.)

Q.  What is your favorite tea?

A.  Actually, it is difficult to choose just one favorite.  There are so many great teas that there is one for every mood and one for every part of the day.  Today, I'm in the mood for tropical green.  It just matches a sunny day and helps me keep up my energy.

(The shop was offering all customers samples of iced Kenya Chai, again a rooibos-based blend.  They do have a full selection of black and green teas as well, including the cleverly named Austin Breakfast.)

Q. Do you have a favorite teapot or teacup?

A. I really like this one.

Q.  What do you want people to know about Zhi Tea?

A.  Zhi's Jeffery Lorien has made tea his passion.  He samples thousands of teas, and only picks the best.  He is like a curator of tea, and he has put together an exquisite collection. 

Also, we are featuring a new way to make tea that allows you to steep iced tea without heat and without it becoming overly astringent.

Q.  What do you want people to know about tea in general?

There are some things you can do to make tea, which is already super healthy, even healthier.  If you want to avoid adding sugar to tea, you can steep some stevia leaves right along with the tea.  You can also make caffieinated tea into decaf by steeping once, discarding the tea and steeping it again.  Using tea concentrate instead of water is also a great way to add extra flavor to recipes. 

Sometimes people say that the don't like tea, or that they only like coffee.  This is often because they have only sampled one or two varieties of tea.  There are blends for every taste, which is why we display our teas in containers people can open and experience.  I would encourage people to continue exploring tea and trying new teas.  Remember to stay curious and always have a sense of wonder.

Thanks Jessica!  Want to try out Zhi Tea for yourself?  Next weekend is their fifth anniversary, and they're having a ton of special events.  If you want to go to the cocktail party (Friday 9/7), you will need to RSVP on facebook:

They are also having a picnic on Sunday (9/9), where everyone is invited to bring their best tea-inspired potluck item for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate.  Check their web site for other related events, though for some of them, seating is limited. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Where Did Tea Bags Come From?

Over the course of history, tea has been processed in different ways in the name of convenience for transport and consumption.  Individual leaves have been rolled into pellets,  and larger amounts of leaves have been molded into bird's nests.  But perhaps no packaging method has impacted the way people consume tea as the tea bag.

Legend has it that in 1908, tea importer Thomas Sullivan decided to send samples of his tea to his customers.  He packaged them attractively in small silk bags.  Said customers were delighted when they found they could steep the entire sachet in their teapot.  They started clambering for more (and complaining when their orders did not show up in sachets), and voila, the tea bag was born.  Cost constraints caused Sullivan to switch from silk to gauze, and later producers moved to the paper fiber bags you often see today. 

But, romantic as this story is, was the tea bag really invented by accident?  There is some question, as there were patents for tea bags on file as early as 1903. 

For the manufacturer, the tea bag was an obvious benefit.  It allows small bits of dust (fannings) to become a useful grade of tea.  Tea could be marketed as a portable, mess free affair.

It is also useful for the tea drinker, if you want to take your tea on the go (making it easy to order a cup of hot water at a restaurant and still enjoy your favorites), if you don't have time to wash a tea infuser, or if you have a lot of people over, and you want an easy clean-up.

However, higher grades of tea are reserved for loose teas, and tea-bag only consumers were never motivated to taste truly special infusions.  And some people claim they can taste the paper.  Today, some tea makers are trying to offer the best of both worlds by packaging broken leaf, or even whole leaf teas in large nylon sachets (which allow room for the tea leaves to unfurl properly).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tea of The Week: Celestial Seasonings Honey Lemon Ginsing Green

When I visited my mom, I told her that we don't do sodas anymore, and asked her to get us some ginseng greeen tea.  This is the one she came up with.  It wasn't what I was expecting, but I liked it a lot.  Celestial Seasonings has a long history of adding herbs to tea, which started back in 1969, when the owners harvested and dried their own herbs in the Rocky Mountains. 

Liquor -- Pale gold

Aroma -- The lemon scent is very pronounced.

Body -- Light

Flavors -- The lemon flavor is the first thing that hits the tongue.  It has a hint of natural sweetness, which makes the ginsing flavor almost disappear.  The taste of the green tea is there, underneath everything else.  It is a very light tea with only a touch of astringancy. 

Other -- This tea is a flavored blend.

NOTE: I evaluate tea blends on this blog based on what came in the canister, so these tasting notes do not reflect any addition of dairy or sweeteners.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What are Tannins?

If you steep your tea for a long time, you may notice a bitter, astringent aftertaste.  This is causes by tannins, naturally occuring substances that are also found in wine and chocolate.  And interestingly, in rooibos, an herb also known as "bush tea," pictured below.  This herb does not come from the same plant as true teas, but it does have many of the same characteristcs. 

These are not the same as the tannic acid used for preserving leather (those acids are extracted from oak leaves.)  Rather, they are antioxidant-rich bioflavonoids, as well as catechins (which may help you loose weight).   Everybody wants more antioxidants, right?  And to get the most benifit, many sources claim you need to be drinking 8 cups of green or black tea a day (as the different varieties contain different phytochemicals, only some of which are tannins).

There is one possible concern.  Tannins may interfere with iron absorbtion, but this is only something to worry about if you are restricting iron intake (such as if you are vegetarian/vegan) or if you are anemic. 

Tannins are also thought to kill bacteria in your mouth an help prevent bacteria, so if you don't have iron issues, the more unsweetened tea the better.

Some cultures steep tea to intentionally extract more tannins.  An example of this is Thai-style tea, which is steeped for about twenty minutes.  It begins to take on a character similar to coffee, and is then sweetened with a large dose of condensed milk.  This concoction is uaually served iced, and it is only for those with a high tolerance to sweets.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

People In Tea: Brenda Meyers, Sterling Tea

I was able to score a phone interview with Brenda Meyers, founder and owner of Sterling Tea, a local company that specializes in small batch blends of loose-leaf tea. She is a definite people person, and a delightfully gregarious speaker. He here are the highlights:

Q: What got you into the tea business?

A: I started drinking tea when I was 8 years old. I had a wealthy aunt in Michigan, and I would go over to her house, and she would serve me tea in her fine china. It was just Liptons or Red Rose, but I got to use the fine china and no one was afraid I was going to break it. I grew up in a coffee centered household, but I always drank tea. Eventually, I started collecting tea cups. My aunt gave me part of her tea cup collection. In 2006, I opened a tea house. I was repackaging mostly German teas, with the goals of getting Rockwall interested in loose leaf tea. At first, you could hear the crickets, but over time, the interest grew, one person at a time. I love doing the “show and tell,” education work. I started blending my own teas in 2008. It is trial and error, like baking a cake. We have over 60 different blends, and the outlets are growing. We are at Central Market, tea rooms, coffee shops and high end gourmet stores. People may be drinking my teas and not even know it, as we sometimes sell to people who repackage tea for themselves.

Q: Tell me a little bit about Sterling Teas

A: We are a Go TEXAN company. I am very big on using local ingredients when possible. For instance, we use Texas Pecans. We by US produced ingredients (such as Washing State apples, and West Coast peppermint) wherever available. We are also an all-woman company

Q: Do you have a favorite tea? (either yours, or someone else’s)

A: I love to pair my jasmine pearls with dark chocolate, especially in the afternoon. I love the floral hint.

Q: Do you have a favorite teapot or teacup?

A: My favorite teacup is the one my best friend gave me. She knew I loved tea, and gave it to me before I started the tea company. This is that teacup.

Q: What do you love about tea?

A: I love everything about tea. Tea people are the nicest people in the world. I’ve never had a mean customer. We are a growing clan. I do demonstrations weekly, and I find that a lot of people identify themselves as a tea person or a coffee person. More and more people are trying to add tea to their daily lives.

If you are local to the DFW area, you can meet Brenda in person at one of her demonstrations. Brenda’s next demonstration will be:

Central Market, Forth Worth – March 4 – 10:30 AM – 2:30 PM

Get a free sample of sterling tea, and get tea instruction, and general tea info.

Sterling's Apricot Oolong and Yerba Chai

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tea of the Week: Republic of Tea Vanilla Almond

On my latest trip to Whole Foods, I saw this tea.  Real vainlla beans in a black tea blend?  I'm a sucker for that.  And real almond bits?  I just had to try it.  And I'm glad I did.  I took the advice on the cainster and brewed it strong.  The tagline for this tea is, "Sweeten the Mind Tea."  The Republic of Tea may be based out of California, but they specialize in "organic and exotic" teas from around the world.
Liquor --  Deep mahogany

Aroma --  This tea smells just like an almond cookie.

Body --  Medium

Flavors -- There is a bit of natural sweetness (though it's not as sweet as it smells).  It's got a definate almond cookie flavor, but it doesn't overwhelm the black tea base, which is mellow and smooth.

Other -- This tea is a flavored blend.  It is considered a "dessert tea."

NOTE: I evaluate tea blends on this blog based on what came in the canister, so these tasting notes do not reflect any addition of dairy or sweeteners.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Tea Pot

 A friend of mine had a garage sale, and I scored this hand-painted tea set.  It is stoneware, in the Kioko pattern made for Pier One.  It has been discontinued.  I like the Japanese look and feel of the pot, which is different from most of the other pots in my collection.  It is just begging me to make matcha.  I bought a tea, but I can't read much on the package, except that it says on the back that it is made of, "powdered sencha." I don't actually own a matcha wisk, so I'm going to have to improvise!