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.