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.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Accio Magical Black Tea

I've been running and listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks, as it is the only way I can convince myself to run. I am now near the end of the Order of the Phoenix, and I'm thinking Mrs. Rowling was not a big tea drinker – for tea isn't very much in the books at all. Just a quick mention here, and a quick mention there. I mean, if she can imagine up drinks called Butter Beer and Pumpkin Juice, there could have been some fantastical tea drink exclusive to the wizarding world. Anyways, here are the references to tea that I've found/listened to so far.

If you think about it, the most constant and enthusiastic tea drinker would be Rubius Hagrid. From the beginning, whenever the three Gryffindors students went to visit him, he'd put the copper kettle over the fire and serve some tea in mugs. He'd also pull out some hard as stone rock cake. But what kind of tea did he serve? It never says.

The next tea drinker would be Remus Lupin, as Harry got some during a afternoon with the Werewolf professor. He also boiled water in a kettle, and preferred to serve tea from bags rather than loose. It again never mentions what tea it was.

Professor Sybill Trewlaney served tea for lessons in her divination class, and the students had to decipher their futures from the tea leaves. Harry of course saw the grim, but as to what type of tea they drank, it never mentioned. You'd think the type of tea best for tea reading would be in their lesson plan. After trying my hand at tea reading, I found that PG Tips has the perfect size leaves.

Finally, the despicable Dolores Umbridge served tea to Harry that was supposed to be spiked with Veritaserum. She made his tea with milk and without sugar, but that's all you really know. Once again, there is no insight to the type of tea.

Now outside of the castle, in the village of Hogsmead, there is a teashop, or two – maybe. I say maybe because Harry and Cho Chang definitely went to one. At Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop, one dreary valentines day, Harry was visually assaulted with tacky décor and heart confetti. More horrible than that is the fact that they both ordered coffee.
Now according to LEGO Harry Potter there is another tea shop, the Rosa Lee Teabag teashop. This tea shop is never mentioned in the books, and seems to be only a addition to the game – which I think is disappointing. I bet they aren't full of tacky décor and crammed tables with people making out.

So when I went down to Florida to spend the week at Disneyworld, we took a day to travel to Universal Studios where we wandered the streets of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I can tell you from personal experience that they regrettably did NOT have any shops labeled Madam Puddifoots or Rosa Lee. But they did make up for it by selling Butter Beer and Pumpkin Juice.
I bought a Butter Beer and consumed it on the spot. It was a creamy butterscotch drink, sweet and heavenly. I -still- think of it, and have looked for authentic recipes on the internet to make my own. It makes me think that if you found a black tea that contained vanilla and butterscotch or caramel flavourings, and make sure to add cream and sugar, you could make your own version of a Butter Beer tea.

As for pumpkin Juice, well I have been aching to drink some for awhile. Every morning Potter, Granger and the Weasleys had some, and it seemed like it was very tasty. But how could anything made with pumpkins be tasty? We've all make jack-o-lanterns and I am sure no one has ever thought that it would be a good idea to drink the goo you're scraping out. So when I saw it for sale in Hogsmead, I bought one and brought it home with me (I was too full of butter beer to drink it there.) The bottle is delightful, and the drink is delicious! Imagine drinking a pumpkin/apple pie. The ingredients are listed as apple juice, pumpkin puree, and apricot puree, with [pumpkin pie type] spices. Yes, it is good, and yes I wish I could buy cases off the internet.

Now when the summer season is over and people start looking forward to Thanksgiving and Halloween, a specialty tea called Stash's Decaf Pumpkin Spice makes its way to grocery store shelves. It is very much like drinking pumpkin pie, and with Harry Potter and Pumpkin Juice on the brain, I had to brew some before the autumn season. Thankfully I had some from last year and the expiry date was still fine. It is delicious, and if there was a Harry Potter tea, I think this is the closest.
If you want an even bigger treat, pour half a cup of boiling water into half a cup of apple cider (or just apple juice if you have it) and steep Stash's Pumpkin Tea until it is nice and dark (3-5 minutes.) To make sure the drink is really nice and hot, you might want to warm up the apple cider first. Just so you know, the acidic apple would curdle any milk, so this is a dariy-free tea if you do try it.

So, while the wizarding world didn't specifically have magical teas, I think these two tea substitutes make up for that horrible gaping hole.

Caramel/butterscotch, Vanilla tea anyone? I know Bigelow has a flavour like this, maybe I'll pick one up.

Pumpkin spice is only available during the September-ish to Decemberish, but don't quote me on that. Luckily, when the time comes, it is available in most grocery stores -- just keep a look out for it! Or, of course, you can just buy it online!

Just a note: I am aware that in the UK that when tea is offered, you assume it is just plain black tea. A selection of flavoured black tea isn't expected, and you just say whether you like milk or sugar. This tea ritual is not what I wish was different in the Harry Potter books. It's just, if pumpkin juice and butter beer are the norm, why can't a fantastical tea also be the norm? When so many other foods and drinks are given a make-over, it is a shame that tea was kept the same. I understand that it might be unsettling for some if the long tradition of black tea was changed, but it's still a disappointment we didn't get a crazy Wizarding World specialty tea too.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Caffinated coffee & tea rivalry

Okay, I really didn’t want to get into this. But I think, as a tea drinker, you need to know. In the great rivalry between coffee and tea, the coffee drinkers always had one strong advantage over us tea drinkers: caffeine.
Coffee has more and tea has less.

And now here is the reason I really didn’t want to get into this: science.

Oh, now, don’t look at me like that you guys. I like science, and I like biology. But I don’t like writing about scientific things loaded with scientific jargon. So with that in mind, I will try to do the explaining as painlessly and as simply as possible. If you want to go in depth in what I am talking about, please go google your heart out.
Now, if you want to know the numbers, decaffeinated coffee has 5mg of caffeine, black tea has 40mg, your regular cup-of-joe is 80-90mg, and the espresso is a whopping 160mg of caffeine. That might be the reason why many Canadians, Americans, Australians, and Europeans grab a cup of coffee in the morning, rather a good cuppa brew.

Of course, we tea drinkers have an ace in the sleeve: Caffeine from tea lasts longer than coffee’s.

Tea, as well as containing caffeine, has antioxidants. Most people know about antioxidants because of TV and products in grocery stores, and we also know that it is good for us --score one for tea! The reason our AWAKE (the term I’ve named for the wakeful state caffeine puts us in) lasts longer, is because the antioxidants actually slows our absorption of caffeine. This means tea wakes us up gradually to the AWAKE peak, and then slowly drops the caffeine level so it doesn’t leave us jittery.
Coffee BAM hits you, and then HAHA SUCKER it’s gone and you’re shaking from the sudden departure.
But even the amount of caffeine in our black tea also isn’t a sure thing. There are variables, you see?

Oxidized tea (that’s regular ol’ black tea to you) has a higher level of caffeine then green, white and oolong. Why? Fermenting changes the molecular structure of the leaf, and it causes the caffeine to be easily leaked out into hot water. There is also the steep time to consider. You steep black much longer than green or white, and that give the caffeine more time to diffuse. And the hotter the water, the better the caffeine is dissolved. Plus which part of the plant you use also dictates how much caffeine there is. The tips of the plants have more concentration, and the older leaves have less. So something like PG Tips will have more caffeine.

Yet the fact still remains that the level of caffeine is higher for coffee than tea.
If you want to be very VERY awake, it looks like tea might just not do it for you.

But hold on just a minute!
You didn’t think tea companies are going to let coffee take the lead without a fight.
There is a new caffeinated player on the field, and when added to tea, it makes a strong contender for your morning wake up drink: Yerba Mate! It has been the South American choice of drink for some time now, and they used to drink it out of a gourd with a hole filled straw. It is a little woodsy, and a little bitter if you put it straight into boiling water instead of just hot. Well, when I saw the new Celestial Seasonings tea called MORNING THUNDER (snicker) that had mate in it, I had to try it.

The morning after I purchased it, I made my mother and I a cup of tea. Well, we each took a sip, and made a face. Then I said “BLEH.” She seconded it.
Sorry Mate fans, but I did not like it. Even with three sugars, it was bitter and woodsy. It was bitter even after I made sure to not put it in boiling water, and only let it steep under a minute. It was BLEH. I could perhaps see the mate being successful if it was a ghost ingredient -- that is, if it wasn’t the only other flavour other than the black tea. But I am pretty sure I’d always pick out that woodsy taste and put my cup down saying “bleh.” The extra caffeine just isn’t enticing enough to make me drink it.

But on the other hand, I wasn’t completely sad that I didn’t like the mate. When filtering through the internet for information on it, I found some pretty scary facts about it. Scientific testing has really only started, and there isn’t any hard evidence, but there has been some links between people who drink more than a litre of Mate a day and cancer. I think there was a 60% higher chance of getting mouth, throat and stomach cancer, and that’s just plain frightening. People who smoke and drink tons of Mate are at an even higher risk. I bought the mate knowing the risk, not because I was reckless, but because I was just having a cup of tea that had some of the stuff in it. Nothing would entice me to drink litres of it daily.

As for the rivalry, there was a girl I knew, and she never ate any sugar. When she did come across something that was even a tiny bit sweet to me, she’d taste the sweetness acutely. I’m going on a limb here, and will say perhaps it is the same with tea. If you only ever drink black tea, perhaps that’s just what your body needs to get the wakeful feeling you need? It certainly does the job for me, and a cup of tea has been known, against her wishes, to keep my mother up until the wee hours of the morning.

If you would like to try this tea, look in your local grocery store. If you have a taste for bitter and woodsy, this might be your tea. Not mine though.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hot tea in the tropics

The sun has finally arrived in my (cold) neck of the woods. Vancouver has simply had the coldest spring on record. Filled with rain and cold weather, it was a very depressing and discouraging season. So now that it has begun to warm up, and I can go running outside without two layers and a sweater, there is much rejoicing. But there is always a problem for me… with such warm weather, who wants to drink a hot cup of tea? It’s true that sometimes I can only have that hot cuppa early in the morning, or late into the evening (though sometimes caffeine has been known to keep me long awake.)

So would I partake in tea at the proper afternoon tea-time?
Goodness me no.

And yet……

I have heard of people who drink hot things in summer, and consume cold things in the winter. I’ve even sold ice cream bars in the dead of winter to people who are going outside to go play mini golf. They claim it is the best way to keep cool and warm, respectively. I was decidedly thinking it was a bunch of hooey, but more and more people came through swearing by it. Was it all hogwash, or did it have some merit in reality.
Perhaps there was some truth to the theory, because when you think about it the places hot beverages originate from tend to be very hot locations.

Coffee is produce in quite warm climates, and thought to originate in Ethiopia. Chocolate, and the chocolate drink that inevitable followed, were first consumed by the Mayans. Ancient Mayan pots with remnants point to Honduras as being another hot drink origin. Finally botanists suggesting tea first grew wild in Assam, India. Of course the drink was cultivated by the Chinese, and now there are the largest crops grown in India, Southern China and Sri Lanka. All of which are hot places.

So what are they doing drinking such hot beverages in these hot locations? Well I’ve read one theory that these places originally were quite rustic, and water was boiled to clear out organic contaminates. If you put your ingredients (tea leaves, coffee, or chocolate) inside to flavour the water, would you want to wait for it to cool down first? Still, I have my doubts. In some of the hottest places, the liquid would take its sweet time to cool, and would end up not cooling all that much. So, rather than decontamination, would people drink it hot to cool themselves down? Would it really work?

Theory would suggest that no, it can't. It would then suggest that yes, it can.
After hearing about the act of drinking a hot liquid on a hot day numerous of times, I decided to do a little research. There are lots of theories on why it would work – and why it wouldn't.
Some would say a cold drink is simply better, because your body puts its own heat into it.
Then I'd read hot drinks would work better because your body doesn’t have to heat the liquid up, therefore using less energy.
Cold drinks will cool you down through you core body.
Hot drinks will warm the body, to equal the heat you feel on your skin, and that would feel less intense.
The back and forth continued on.

But the best theory, the one that had some science to it, was that a hot drink heats up the core of your body. Your brain, which is hypersensitive to the temperature of your body’s core, reacts by putting the rest of your body into hyper self-cooling mode: mostly by sweating.
So the sweat helps cool your body, but it isn’t all that much better than cooling down your core via a cold drink instead.

So then, what will you do? Will you go the way of many South Americans and have their ice tea? I personally don’t like it because of the lack of sugar. The Canadian version I prefer, but to me it doesn’t even belong in the category of tea – the taste is so dissimilar. What about taking one of my hot teas with all the fixin’s and putting it into the fridge for later? Like an iced coffee? Well luckily for me I found a company willing to do that for me.

I saw this in a grocery store and had to buy it. It's made with tea extract and powdered milk.
It tastes awful.
Of course it does, and I was expecting it. But, more importantly, there was also a wrongness of the coldness. Ever distractedly drink from a mug of cold tea that you’d forgotten about while surfing the internet? It is gross and this is the same. The only tea beverage that could be cold and tasty would be Chai, and I have personally had very good frozen chai’s before.

It looks like a hot tea will be the only solution for my afternoon tea, but it can’t be just any tea. It has to be a summer inspired tea. Luckily for me, Murchie’s recently came out with a new tea called Coconut Cream Banana.

Coconut and banana are the main players, but it also has the smooth flavour of vanilla, and everything mixes so perfectly together. This doesn’t taste like artificial coconut that invades many of our baked culinary foods. It doesn’t taste like bad artificial banana you find in terrible hard candies. It tastes like you are in a hammock in the tropics, and someone just offered you a hot drink of paradise. It is by far my favourite tea I own at the moment, and I honestly had to keep from shouting “Day-O” between sips while drinking it. My mother can attest that I wasn’t always successful. My only complaint is that it is a very light tea : I have to let it steep quite a bit before it reached even a medium dark flavour and colour.

So if you are going to do something that feels completely unnatural – that is drink a hot beverage on a hot day—then at least find yourself a spectacular summer inspired tea. I obviously recommend this one, though I probably could drink Coconut Cream Banana tea on the sun and still be contented.

You can buy Murchie’s Coconut Cream Banana in store or online.
I don’t know if they will always carry it, as it could just be the fad of the season. It hasn’t gotten its own packaging yet, being sold only in bulk. Let’s hope it becomes a Murchie’s staple though.

You can find that Cold Earl Grey Boxed tea at grocery stores, though I found this one at T&T Supermarket. I don’t know why you’d want to, however.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WillKat Royal Tea

I have a lot (tea-wise) to thank the British for:

The first thank you would be for a specific British person: the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Russell. In the early 1800's, there was a breakfast, and a dinner that usually happened past 7:00pm. A new meal called a luncheon was created, but many felt their stomachs grumble before dinner time came around. The luncheon was a light meal, and the Duchess Anna Russell often complained of hunger pains. Not wanting to disturb the servants who were busy preparing her a hearty dinner, she decided she would take tea at around 3:00pm. Originally she only had buttered bread with her tea, but it slowly grew into a more lavish and ritualized event with scones and tasty sandwiches. She enjoyed this tea time so much, she started inviting her friends (one of which was Her Majesty Queen Victoria) to join her. And whatever the Queen did, the upper class did. And whatever the upper class did, everyone else would follow suit. Thank you, dear Duchess, for creating the afternoon high tea.

Next would be a thank you for Her Majesty the Queen, who wakes every morning at 7:30am to have her tea which is brought to her by a chambermaid. It is usually Earl Grey, and is always made with Malvern Water. In fact, she always makes her tea with Malvern water, no matter where she is in the world -- she brings her own if she has to. For most, tea time is around 3:00pm, but I've read that the Queen takes her tea at 5:00pm --and she insists on pouring the tea herself. Most of this information is just hearsay, and unverified. But everyone loves a little mystery! In fact, it caused me to ponder a question: what brand or type of tea does Queen Elizabeth II drink? Well, it isn’t explicitly said, but there are some clues.

She, along with her husband His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and their son His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales, have the ability to assign Royal Warrants.

Ever heard of these? I hadn't either.
Now a warrant, in one of its definitions is: Something that provides assurance or confirmation; a guarantee or proof.
So, if your trade business has a branch in England, sells high quality items, is all around excellent, and has supplied such goods to one of these three royals for a minimum of 5 years, they can bestow this warrant to you. Basically they are telling all others that your business is first class. Once you have this warrant, you can use their logo on your product/stationary/building, boast about it to your competitors, and join the Royal Warrant Holder's Association. The association's website actually has a list of the members, and you can check out what companies the royals are fond of.

I know only one of their preferred tea companies, Twining's! They are so popular with the royals, the Queen gave her warrant in 1955 and Prince Charles gave his own in 1993!

Two other teas were also listed of which I hadn't heard anything about. Forthum & Mason was given a warrant in 1996 by Prince Charles, and the other company, Darvilles of Windsor, was given their warrant in 1969 by the Queen. I haven't heard even a whisper about them, but because royalty likes them, it makes me inclined to want to try them.

Other than their tea, the royals favour certain “fishmongers,” “cheesemongers,” tobasco sauce companies, carriage builders, and Coca Cola.
Thank you, your Majesty, for doing your part to make Twinings popular, so they could make their way to my neck of the woods.

And speaking of Royals, I must say thank you to the WillKat (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.)
For those of you who aren't aware, WillKat is the couple name of Prince William and Kate (Catherine) Middleton – much like TomKat is Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes'. Now because of the imminent royal wedding, there are more British activities happening all over the world. And of course, the one British activity I had to partake in was high tea.
Most of the Fairmont hotels I've noticed are doing special things for the month of April, and I got to have high tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

I've done the high tea at the Empress Hotel when I was younger, but never the Vancouver Hotel. It was an experience all in its own, though it was quite pricy. We chose the Versailles Lavender Earl Grey tea, which is just ridiculous really -- drinking tea with a French name at a high tea celebrating a British couple. Now I usually like lavender in tea, and expected to like this tea as well. Instead I actually found the lavender didn't mix entirely well with the citrus bergamot oil. I suppose it serves me right.

The sandwiches were dainty, but only two were worthwhile. The curry egg sandwiches were good, and I don't typically like curry. I could have eaten more than one, but alas, you only get one. The brie and ham croissant was good, but rich enough that I could only eat one. Good thing you only get one. The other sandwiches, a salmon and a cucumber, I had to make effort to eat. Who comes up with a cucumber and watercress sandwich! I am sure it must have been some practical joke that sadly caught on. At least the scones were light and fluffy, the way that scones should be. Oh yes, do not fool yourselves; anything that resembles a paper weight is not a scone. The other deserts were very, very sweet, and I am glad they put strawberry slices to cut through the sugar. Seriously.

What I loved most was the presentation of everything at and around the table. The seats were Queen Ann chairs (I actually knew that before writing this) and the tablecloth was white,fresh, and actually cloth. The tea was served in the same set that the Empress uses (the one the Queen once drank from and then Empress declared forever more that that was the only set they would serve on) which is a shame really. In the gift lobby the Fairmont has their own tea set commemorating the marriage of WillKat. It is gold patterned, and a lot more appropriate than the slightly garish purple and blue set.

I suppose the gold set might have been too delicate, but it really is a shame. Meanwhile the Versailles tea was served in a silver teapot, with a little handle cozy to keep the heat from burning your hand. The loose leaf tea was settled in a little metal basket at the top of the teapot, and once the first cup was poured, they were no longer in contact with the water – thus the steeping halted. Clever!

The sugar was the coarse raw sugar that doesn’t clump up when ignorant tea guests use their wet teaspoons to scoop it up -- you know who you are. I was worried about the lack of sugar utensils until I saw the sugar; very clever of Fairmont! Even if there were tea utensils, regular sugar would have been subjected to a wet teaspoon eventually. One odd thing was that the only visual clue of the upcoming wedding was a rather stalkeresque shrine. It composed of a pillow with their picture on it, fake pearls, plastic tiaras/crowns, and it all rested upon another Queen Ann chair. This sat next to a fake white tiered wedding cake. Right. Still, I had a memorable time that wouldn’t have been available if Prince William wasn’t getting married. The atmosphere was fantastic, and the service friendly-- even if I was in jeans. There might never be another opportunity to have tea in dedication of Prince William's wedding, so I am very glad I could partake in this wonderful experience.
So thank you WillKat, for getting hitched, and causing the world to partake in enjoyable British activities.

Finally, thank you to the rest of the British commoners (that includes you, Kate Middleton!) for loving black tea. First as a green tea, fresh from the Orient, then as the black tea as I know and love – theirs is a love affair of tea that continues on today. Now there is a plethora of black tea in the market, and many of the best (I think) are from Britain. In fact, I have just recently discovered a new black tea called PG Tips.

The company started in the dirty 1930's and claims to be England’s number one tea. And if that’s the case, this is probably the favourite tea of a certain soon-to-be princess. Or at least the probability is there. Made only of black tea, this is a smooth tea that no other non-flavoured black tea has so far matched – even Murchie’s Afternoon Blend. The PG Tips I have is made of very fine tea leaves in teabags – not the greatest quality. It steeps really quickly, so I have to watch it close to make sure it doesn’t go from smooth to tart. I have seen loose leaf PG Tips, so there are better qualities available. When I want something a little different from Twining’s, this is the tea I reach for. And these days I have been grabbing it more often than not.

Cheers to the happy couple!

Twinings can be bought at most grocers or online.
PG Tips can be found at some grocery stores and specialty imported UK goods stores. I found mine in Cost Cutters!
Fortnum & Mason can be bought online but for a pretty penny. This might be found elsewhere though. I have heard Williams-Sonoma carries it, and I am looking into it at the moment.
Darvilles of Windsor is also available online, and they are also pricy to buy direct from England.
Looks like I'll have to just wait untilI go to England to try these teas!