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.