Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tea Poached Cherries

I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t heard of these before, or why I never thought of poaching cherries in tea. Tea cooked cherries are simple, easy, and delicious. Put a raw cherry in the bottom of your cup, prepare tea as per usual, and drink. The heat of the tea will cook the cherry as you make your way down to it creating what is essentially a poached cherry; a warm, soft, cherry pie like morsel that will have picked up hints of whatever flavor tea it was poached in. It actually reminds me a bit of mulled wine at Christmas time. 
It is delicious, and perhaps slightly addictive. Going to have another cup of tea? Just throw in another cherry and start again. It is like the firework finale at the end of your tea. Or rather, the low fat dessert for the health conscious tea drinker. 

As simple as making poached cherries sounds, there are a few tips and tricks (and one large warning.)
Since the tea should be piping hot, you’ll be sipping the tea and not guzzling it down. You need to give the cherry time to cook in the heat of the tea – and you don’t want to accidentally swallow and choke on the cherry.  
If you are drinking out of a dainty tea cup, go through few cups of tea before you eat the cherry. 

Since fruits can be acidic, take care not to pierce the flesh of the cherry if you drink your tea with milk. I don’t think the juice of a cherry is acidic enough to curdle milk, but play is safe so you don’t end up with a cup of chunky tea.

Finally, If you are making this for someone else, let them know there is a cherry (or at least something they may choke on if they don’t drink with care) at the bottom. Unless you are very comfortable giving the Heimlich maneuver, a simple cherry can really ruin a tea party.
So, take advantage of the current cherry season, and give tea poached cherries a try. You might not have another cup of tea sans cherry until the cherry season is well and truly over.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tea Flavoured Apples

So, whilst my daily grind at work, I happened upon an interesting discovery. In my lunch bag there are always two things, an apple and a bag of tea. Often my apple would end up being placed directly on top of the tea, and it would all be sealed up and stored for hours in the lunch bag.
I do believe the first time both these items shared a small space for a few hours, I took a bite out of the apple and thought "golly this apple is delicious." Well, more so than a Gala apple normally is anyways.

It turns out that apples have a lovely ability to absorb the scent and even a little of the flavour of any tea leaves that is in close proximity to it. Did you know that? When I realized this was happening, I began to experiment. Basically I put a whole apple in a lot of tea leaves for a day, and then ate the apple. It was delicious. It tasted like tea and apples and calendula petals and vanilla and etc. 

Now before you try it, I've found that very floral teas do not make good tea flavoured apples. Too perfumed and not appetizing. Dessert teas make amazing tea apples, and just try it with some chai -- it is divine. 

For those who don't feel like reading, or need some pictures to illustrate what I am saying, here is a quick visual guide.

Step one: Get an apple. Preferably get one with a thin skin. I always use Gala apples, but try the ones you own before you go to the grocer for any special types of apple. 

Step two: Get yourself some dried tea leaves in a seal-able container. Even some tea in a Ziploc baggie would do the trick.  Try not to pick teas that are too floral (but hey, who knows, you might like that.) I recommend chai or dessert styled teas.

Step three: Put an apple in there, seal it up, and wait. It will start taking the scent and flavour after a few hours, but will be decently potent if you wait a day. Just don't forget about it in there. A rotting apple will ruin all your tea, and wouldn't you feel like a knob. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A tropical mistake

You know what tastes terrible with tea? Pineapple. I had fresh pineapple this summer (learned how to prepare a whole pineapple while I was at it) and I sat down with a fresh cuppa. First I took a sip of tea, and then a bite of tasty tropical fruit. It was a very tasty mix until I had another sip of tea. The juice of the pineapple had coated my tongue with its sweet acidic juice. Mixing that with milky tea, well, I should have known better. It was terrible. Blech. There was no way I could have finished that cup of tea, though I did eat the rest of the pineapple.

If you are a tea drinker who happens to be on vacation in Hawaii or the Caribbean, and fresh pineapple is being served, please learn from my mistake. Pineapple is much too acidic to be mixed with milk tea. Although, if you don't drink your tea with milk, or drink herbal tisanes, then just ignore this lesson.

Of course, fresh and flavoured are two entirely different things. At this very moment (of my writing this, not you reading this) I am drinking pineapple flavoured black tea. With cream. Truly! And since the cup is half empty, you can assume it is a better mix than fresh pineapple and milk tea. I was hesitant about adding milk to this tea, much like I was hesitant in adding milk to that disastrous peach tea. But tea isn't tea unless it has a dairy product in it, so I took the chance and was glad when I didn't see any curdles floating on the surface.

The odd. No bad, but not great. It tastes fruity and sweet, but doesn't taste like pineapple until the tea reaches the back of my tongue. Then it has that same harsh sweetness, the sugary acidic bite. But that makes sense since the bitter receptors are at the back. Now that I am finished the tea, it has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Reminds me of the time when I ate fresh pineapple with tea.

I am glad I only had one of these teas to try, because I doubt I’d have any more. It would, as most acidic teas would, make a much better herbal tea than it does a milky black tea. In fact, this would make a great herbal tea, or fantastic iced tea. Just don't offer any to me.

I got this tea from a friend, so while I know what little boutique shop sells the Serengeti Tea Company around here, you might not find a little boutique shop that sells it around you. Their website lists some Canadian locations, (but oddly not the store I know my tea came from,) or you could buy it in bulk from the online store - and hopefully like it.

I do, however, must say that they have pretty cool tube-like tea bags.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wish you a Merry Cuppa

It’s the holidays, have you noticed? Well sure, you’ve probably seen the trees surfing on the roofs of home bound vehicles. And you couldn’t have gone into any retail store without hearing some beloved (or less so) Christmas carols. You might even been flipping through channels on TV and found yourself watching an animated reindeer with a glowing red nose. Yes, it’s the holidays, and that’s a good time to drink some Christmas tea.
I’ve found two this year and highly recommend both – though for different reasons. First though, how have you incorporated tea into your holidays?

Before the 12th month of the year rolled on in, I had been looking for a tea advent calendar. Can you believe that in November I couldn't find one this side of the world? The only one that existed was from a company in Austria called Sonnentor Tea. So I got a regular chocolate calendar that doesn't have the best quality of chocolate. I've supplemented by purchasing small bags of quality chocolate that is actually meant for stocking stuffers. Anyways, for the purpose of this blog, I went and did a search for tea advent calendars. Would you believe that there are now more tea advent calendars available, including one sold in my neck of the woods? I can't quite express the rage I felt when I saw that, and saw that it was sold out. Way to advertise, you inconsiderate....ahem. I hope that in the future, David's Tea has their advent calendar listed before December. Theoretically, you could make your own tea. If you're like me, you probably have enough if you double up a few teas. But then the surprise wouldn't be there. Perhaps organize a swap between another tea enthusiast? Anyways, tea advent calendars are a excellent way to include tea into the holidays.

But what else? How about Christmas cards? When you write Christmas cards, why not stick a single tea bag inside the card? Unless your card is already tipping the scale, a teabag won't cause you to add more stamps. Of course I didn't think of this until the end of my Christmas card sending, but I think I will do it next year. Now they need to be tea bags, not loose leaf for obvious reasons. I would prefer having a sealed teabag as well. I don't know how items are processed at the post, but it is probably safer to mail sealed food.
But that's sending tea away, and we would all want to enjoy tea, right? So how about we go traditional here, and have a Holiday Tea Party? It isn't too hard, and there aren't too many rules here. Have a Christmas tea to serve, but if you can't find any, serve eggnog instead of milk. If you do wish to have a Christmas tea, buy any you see in stores, regardless of how early in the season it is. I bought some in early November, and have never seen it again. It just isn't worth it to take chances on the tea. If you are a traditional Christmas person, put out your best dishes and nice linens. If you are a character Christmas person, put out the cutesie snowman/reindeer plates and the other whimsical center pieces. Put out some baking, turn on some Christmas carols on low, and enjoy the company over a hot cup of tea.

One thing you shouldn't do, however, is invite people over for tea in your Christmas cards. The invitation isn't taken seriously, and you end up waiting for someone to get back to you. And wait and wait REALLY GUYS, I MEANT THE INVITATIONS. Why aren't you calling me?

When it comes to the actual holiday tea, there are plenty of holiday flavours to choose from. Gingerbread, eggnog, and peppermint teas are often on the grocery shelves. If you are in Trader Joe's, I'd recommend picking up their Cinnamon and Vanilla black tea. But the teas I got this year are a bit different. I like to think of them as the traditional and the character Christmas.

I'm on the shelf when it comes to Stash teas, in general. I'm not a fan of their Earl Grey (too strong of bergamot) and their awake tea isn't anything fantastical. What is delicious is their Vanilla Nut Tea, and more relevantly, their Christmas Morning tea. It has no other ingredients than tea, but as you don't put anything other than your best china for Christmas dinner, Stash has put the best into this tea. You can taste the quality, and the complexity of the tea. Which I always find surprising, because all said and done, it is really the same tea plant. This caffeinated tea is smooth, and steeps really well. It also has a nutty, almost cocoa aftertaste that I love.

My other Christmas tea is from one of my favourite tea suppliers, Murchie's. They've done Lavendar Tea, the tea served at the Empress hotel, and the summer tasting Coconut Cream Banana. I have difficulty not buying tea at Murchie's, and when I saw their Christmas Blend tea in the holiday tin, it was most certainly coming home with me. It isn't simply black tea, but blended with spices that together create the flavour of the holidays. Maybe it is the cloves and cinnamon that reminds me of baking. Or the orange peel that tastes like the season's mandarin oranges. Or the vanilla, that makes any tea super smooth.

If you do manage to invite people over for a Christmas tea, hopefully you can served them something festive. But if not, at least you are having a little tea with your holidays.

Murchie's Christmas Blend tea can be purchased in store or online. Stash's Christmas Morning tea can be purchased at your local grocery- hopefully. If you can't find it there, there is always online!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A storm in a teacup

I always have the weirdest musings when I sit down alone for tea. I was drinking another glorious tea blend from Murchies called “The Emperor’s Bride” today when I started wondering about blue. Why, when someone got married, they needed to wear blue? What if they didn’t wear blue? What if their clothing was all new, or all old? Where did this superstition come from, and isn’t it silly enough for us to ignore? And yet, most brides won’t walk the aisle without these good luck charms. But these superstitions aren’t restricted simply to brides, or the play-offs. For in my hot cup of tea, there were bubbles. When there are bubbles in your tea, it means money. It wasn’t soon after that I left to go to my shift at work. Nobody said I’d get the money for free, did they? So I thought about superstition and rituals, and went hunting for ones relating to tea. I found some, and thought for everyone’s sake I better share them.
So I present to you a guide to surviving tea without causing yourself (or others) unhappiness. Now lets educate the reader (you) by going through a normal tea party scenario.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve invited four ladies over for tea: Phyllis, Betsy, Dolores, and Chen. Alright, let’s start with the making of the tea. You’ve got a pot ready to go, full of loose tea leaves. You take a peek inside, just to make sure it is steeped to your standards. You can’t really tell, and you take your spoon to give it a stir...STOP! Don’t you know that stirring the leaves before you’ve begun pouring is bad luck? Clearly you do not. At least there is tea in there, the lack of would mean a coming misfortune, and that doesn’t exactly sound pleasant.

Okay, let’s just pour the tea, shall we? That’s right, just pour for yourself, and then fill the cups of others. Good, now sit down for a nice cup of tea and sympathy with your guests. Did you notice Phyllis's cup is getting empty? It is now nearly down to the very bottom! She’s reaching for the pot, and she’s about to pour herself another cup OH GOOD HEAVENS SOMEONE STOP HER. It is bad luck for two people to pour out of the same pot! We stopped a near calamity. Worse, that lady would have most certainly become pregnant. Oh, why yes, once the hostess has poured the first cup, then only she can serve without the risk of getting knocked up, perhaps even with twins. That would have been a travesty, considering Phyllis is in her late 80’s. But what, you may ask, if it was a man who serves himself? Why then the hostess and the man will be fated to knock boots and she’ll get pregnant. Better to not invite men to tea parties, I would think.

Now, what if the hostess is slow, and the guests are parched? She sets the ready pot down before her guests as she then attends to some finger sandwiches. The guests eye each other, and Dolores sets out a tentative hand to reach for the pot. Her fingers stretch and curl around the handle, except it isn’t the handle she grips. She finds her hand gripped upon Chen's (oh no!) for she had also reached out for the pot! The results of this are unavoidable; one of you will become pregnant. Worse, it isn’t just one babe that will pop out, but two, and they will be red headed. Though some people would love a set of Weasly twins today (though perhaps not Dolores), centuries ago people had thought (for some silly reason) that this was an appalling possibility. Of course if Chen is the lady who ends up with the red headed twins, she will definitely have some explaining to do to her husband.

Alright ladies, now know to keep our hands to ourselves? Well, the ladies still have hot cups of tea in front of them, and Betsy notices the bubbles in her cup. They float in the middle of the cup, which tell us that she will be coming into money shortly (wasn’t Betsy just talking taking insurance out on her husband?) If they are near the side of the cup, like they are for Phyllis, it means she will be getting kisses. Seems Phyllis is quite the popular lady in her nursing home.

Now Dolores, having left her teaspoon in the sugar (this is why we never invite her anywhere), looks around for something to stir her tea and grabs a butter knife. OH! The unluckiness that will befall her if she stirs her tea with anything other than a spoon!
Betsy stops her and a good thing too!
What terrible things could have happe…HEAVENS TO BESTY! Did she just stir Dolores’s tea with her own spoon! Oh how terrible! Dolores’s tea is now stirred, but at what cost!? She has just stirred up strife and disorder in Dolores’s life. Oh the misery that will undoubtedly befall her! We certainly won’t be inviting Betsy over for tea again. Well, at least a bit of tea was spilled during that calamitous stirring: for it is a lucky omen for the woman of the house (us) though it won’t help Dolores one little bit.

There! Do you feel ready and confident in safely holding your own tea gatherings? No, I wouldn’t be either. For everyone’s sake, let’s just keep the party down to one, and enjoy some quiet thinking time with our tea. That is, unless you’ve left the lid off the pot as that means a stranger will soon come calling – and you’ll have the whole tea ordeal all over again.

The Emperor’s Bride is a delightful blend of black tea, thistle, orange and pineapple. It isn’t lively, but smooth and flavourful. Available online, or in store.

FYI, if anyone is interested where I got these superstitions, they are from the Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Tea" for Terrifying

When I was a little girl, my room in our old house had a connecting door to the attic in my closet. It wasn’t a typical attic though, for it was turned into something of a usable space. It had a floor to walk on and a large scrap piece of carpet on top of that. I had a make shift play room in there, with a miniature kitchen and tea play set, and all my stuff animals that weren’t already in my room. It was fine to play in there during the day, when the sunlight came in through the small window at the end of the space. But at night it was just pitch darkness. Worse than that, the attic had two rooms, though you couldn’t access more than the main one. You could see the mock doorway, comprised simply of a big black hole cut through on one slanted wall. There was an ocean of insulation between the edge of the play room floor and that hole, and my mother told my brothers and me that we would fall through the ceiling if we walked of the pink stuff. So we never got close, never got a good look. It was just this big, black, gaping hole that no light ever came through. Understandably I was scared of it. I am pretty sure my elder brothers were scared of it too. Sure there have been times where one of us would turn the lights off, so conveniently located next to the door, and bolt out of the attic while the other fumbled and scrambled to get out of there too. But we never locked each other in there.

(The hole is on the left hand side, out of this picture. Yes....this is truly my old attic.)

We could have. When I was young, I must have complained to my parents for they had installed a crude latch in my closet that would fall over the door to keep it shut. I would make sure that latch was close before I went to bed. I would make sure all my clothes were pushed up against that door, before I went to bed. And I would make sure my closet was closed firmly shut before I went to bed. The problem is that we had cats. They loved to go exploring in there, through the tunnels under the floor and over the insulation they were too light to fall through. And when it was time for me to go to bed, sometimes they’d run and hide in there too.

Now picture this, if you please. There I was, a little girl, asleep despite my fear. Woe to me if I had forgotten to close the latch while the cats were in there.
They would slink out of the attic during the dead of night. They’d softly push the attic door open, and the sudden change in the air pressure would make the closing of the door a soft boom. I would be startled wide awake, wondering if something had just come out of the attic. The cats would start scratching on my closet door to be let out -- a soft, scratch-scratch-scratch. When the door isn’t opened for them, they would slowly push the creaky closet open. If I was brave and looked over, I’d see two lamp lit eyes, peering at me from the darkness. If I wasn’t, and I hid under the covers, they’d patter softly on the carpet and jump up onto the bed right near my head, and wait.

Eventually they’d meow or purr or I would risk a peek and see my little kitty there. But believe me when I say that this used to be a part of my childhood and I never got used to it. Thankfully it didn’t happen often as I very rarely forgot to leave the latch unlocked. If the latch was locked, and the cats were stuck in there, they’d meow and scratch the door. Now the door had foam insulation on the inside to keep cold and, incidentally, sound from seeping into my room. That foam kept the sound of their cries coming through, but not the scratch-scratch-scratch of their claws. So I would awake to hear muffled scratching in my closet, and well, I’d go get a parent to take care of that.
So, you would understand if I told you that even now I make sure the door to my now attic-free closet is closed at night. Maybe you’d also understand if I told you I have an over active imagination when it comes to scary things, and I simply don’t deal well with it.
Yep, I am a big chicken.

The most obvious example of this would be the Hollywood scary movie. I have been known to watch a scary movie, and have nightmares for weeks. I’ve been sure a hungry T-Rex would look into my bedroom window from the street, despite it have gone back to the island in Jurassic Park 2. For days I was fanatic about not letting my feet touch the ground outside, sure it would attract a creature from Tremors. And I’ve abandoned a slumber party feigning ill because they were watching 13 Ghosts.
They don’t even have to be that scary, or really of any good quality to scare me. I can’t even read it in books – I found that out after reading a bit of Cujo and stayed awake for most of the night, sure there was something in my closet. Of course this makes me feel like a wimp, and every Halloween I attempt to watch scary movies to redeem myself.
It never ends well.

So this year I have a weapon to use against all the things that go bump in the night. Or at least, the things that go bump on the TV during the month of October, Celestial Seasons Tension Tamer Tea.

Though not considered an actual tea as it is missing the plant “Camellia Sensis” I will use the term herbal tea, because that’s what is written on the box. This is also pretty much the only herbal tea I drink, and I make sure there is always a stash of it somewhere in the back of the cupboard. I am also sure it would be the only drink my cat would like to drink as catnip is an ingredient. That and Eleuthero, peppermint, cinnamon, ginger, chamomile, West Indian lemongrass, liquorice, tilia flowers and lemon flavouring. This is a drink you could, but wouldn’t want to add milk to, but sugar is okay. Honey wouldn’t be all that bad of an alternative either.
Now, I don’t know how much it actually helps calm me down, but drinking tea in itself is rather restive. Perhaps the calm is a mental thing. Anyhow, I will be drinking a lot of this tea during the slow countdown to Halloween.

You can find Tension Tamer in any grocery store all year long, or online, but you might just need it this month.

Meanwhile, do you have any horror childhood stories to share? Or maybe some calming black teas that you know about? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You ain't decaffeinating at home

Have you noticed the evenings are colder now that September is here? Autumn starts on the 23rd of this month and already I can feel the chill in the air. The trees notice it too as the leaves are already colouring. Oh this is wonderful tea weather; I can sit down for tea in a golden afternoon, or have a hot cuppa late at night before I go to bed.

 Just because tea has a lower amount of caffeine doesn't mean that it won't keep you up late. My mother has had this happen a few times when she drank the Snowflake tea last holiday season.
Many of my decaf teas are also dessert teas. That is, teas which are rich in flavourings. These are perfect after-supper teas, which are far better for you than actual desserts. Unfortunately I have some dessert teas that have caffeine in them, which will keep me tossing for a little longer than I'd like.
These teas are usually from specialty shops or for limited time only, so there isn't much chance to get them in a decaffeinated state.
Oh, if only there was a way to turn caffeinated teas into decaffeinated teas!

So, how do the professionals do it? Commercial tea companies change regular tea into decaf in a few different ways: using CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), Methylene Chloride, or Ethyl Acetate.

Ethyl Acetate (a natural occurring solvent you find in glue and nail polish remover, but originates in fruits) is used in one method, but it takes out antioxidants and leaves a bit of a residue. Methylene Chloride also uses a type of solvent that the caffeine attaches itself to, but this solvent is a little more dangerous.

The Carbon Dioxide method, also known as effervescence. Mixes CO2 with water and tea, and the CO2 draws the caffeine out of the leaves. This has been the favoured method, and still pretty new in the decaffeination world.

Well that doesn't really help us here at home does it? Then again, you might have seen the hot water method around the internets? Where, if you put your tea bag in hot water for 1 – 3 minutes, the highly soluble (in hot water) caffeine will be sucked out of the tea leaves. Then you just dump the hot water, the caffeine goes along with it, and *poof* you have yourself a cup of newly decaffeinated tea. Sounds so wonderful that even I partook in the magical decaff myth.
Yes, I did just call it a myth.

You see, hot water will take out a large amount of caffeine from tea leaves, just not -your- tea leaves. Well, not unless you are using freshly picked tea leaves. That's right, before leaves are steamed (for green) or “fermented” (for black), the fresh leaves can have the caffeine boiled out. The myth, from what I can figure, came from the fact that there are privately owned tea companies in poorer districts of China, India and etc. These small businesses can't afford the price of the regular three decaff processes, either the materials, ingredients or facilities. So they boil the fresh green leaves and the caffeine is sucked out of the tea (caffeine is highly soluble in hot water.) Then they dump the first batch of water, and poof, decaf!
So why doesn't everyone use this super cheap method of decaffeination? Well, it removes a lot of the good stuff from tea, including the antioxidants. It also removes a lot of the taste, which would make it a very low quality tea. For the folks that don't have any other method, this will work. It just isn't the best.

Yet there has been so many online sites and articles claiming the hot water at home will work, there are still people saying it does do something.
So, will putting a tea bag in hot water, then throwing the water out do anything? Well yes, of course. It will get you a weaker tea.
It will also reduce the caffeine a TINY bit, but you'll have to put it in absolute boiling water, and leave it in there for a good 3-5 minutes. Not worth it. Just go out and buy yourself a good decaffeinated tea. I did, and it is Stash's Vanilla Nut Cream.

This tea is a super smooth dessert tea, and I think I know why: the vanilla. It seems all the teas that have Vanilla in it (Earl Grey Cream, Coconut Cream Banana, or Trader Joe's Cinnamon Vanilla Black tea) have been very smooth.
This tea also has vanilla and vanilla nut flavourings.
Yeah...I had to go take a look because I had no idea what the difference was. So far I've read in one place that vanilla nut is a vanilla and hazelnut mixture? I called Stash and inquired but they could only tell me it was an extract, and that's it. I'm waiting for someone in the know to call back, but I don't know if they will. I have found out that Stash uses the CO2 method to make decaf, which is the healthiest of the methods.
Update: They never called back. So I sent an email. They never emailed back. Perhaps they are ASHAMED of creating up some magical ingredient.
Update#2: They finally emailed me, and this is what they had to say :

"It's a flavor blend. All ingredients in the flavor blend are natural and there are no nuts or nut products in the flavor. They use other natural ingredients and are able to create a profile similar to a vanilla/hazelnut flavor profile without actually using anything that would have nut properties."
Well, so vanilla nut means it tastes like hazelnut, but doesn't have hazelnut in it.

Anyways, besides black tea, vanilla, and ?vanilla nut?, this drink also has sarsaparilla! Some might know this as the basis of root beer and I was very surprised to see this labelled. I didn't taste it at all, but it must be doing something good as this is one delicious tea.

So the next time you feel the nip in the evening air and you want something decadent to drink, I would recommend this tea, because hey, you probably have work early tomorrow morning.

Available in Safeway and other large grocery stores.