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Flower Power: Blending Floral Teas

April 21st, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

When thinking about adding flowers to teas made of Camellia sinensis leaves and herbal teas, several things come to mind. The aroma of a nice tea is pretty subtle, which is why some people like to flavor teas. Flowers as a group tend to communicate aroma and taste, but rarely in equal measure. Consider the rose, which contributes about 90% aroma and 10% taste. If you’re thinking of adding rose to a green tea, brew the green tea leaves and smell rose petals in your hand for a preview of what that blend will taste like. People don’t really like to drink just rose petals steeped—it tastes like rosewater and your palate wants more because there’s nothing to back up the aroma. Mandarin Rose brings together black tea with rose for a tea that has a bit of a feminine edge. It would make a wonderful afternoon tea party tea or as an iced tea for enjoying outdoors on a warm day.

Rose and jasmine are very flowery in the aroma department. Jasmine-scented green tea is normally given as a gift in parts of China around Chinese New Year in February. It’s really cold there and the idea behind this particular gift is that the scent of the tea captures the summer from the previous year and is a reminder of the coming spring when enjoyed during winter. In my mind, Organic Spring Jasmine is a tea I associate with drinking during the afternoon or with Chinese cuisine.

Hibiscus is on the opposite part of the spectrum than rose since it’s 10% aroma and 90% taste. You can a smell a cup of hibiscus and it’s subtle until you get it on the palate—it’s thick, dark, sour, and bittersweet. Hibiscus will radically change the taste, color, sweet-sour-bitter balance of a tea. Since rose and hibiscus are at opposite in aroma and taste, they could play well together. Hibiscus-based herbal teas are wonderful—I like the sourness, the red wine aspect of hibiscus. Wild Berry Hibiscus is the blend of ours with the most prominent hibiscus flavor. It’s great sweetened and drunk during winter. It makes a really good iced tea in the summer too as it turns into a refreshing drink in the way that cranberry juice is refreshing. Hibiscus, as a flavor, rejuvenates the palate and makes you salivate. To describe the taste of hibiscus, it would be in the center of a map of where cranberry juice, red wine, strawberry and cherry flavors intersect. It’s a flower that’s really fruity, and it tends not to play well with others – you wouldn’t want to add milk to a hibiscus tea, and it wouldn’t swap in for a good-with-milk-tea to serve with food, much like it’s rare to see red wine served with scones.

Other flowers like linden flower are sweet and rounded with body, making them interesting additions to tea even though those flowers are not as well known. Chrysanthemum blossoms make for a good anytime herbal tea. I can imagine drinking this infusion in the morning or evening, when it’s cold or hot outside. It’s very sturdy in that way and pairs well with lighter flavors of food or can be served by itself. Within China this herbal tea is very popular; it’s one of the classic herbal teas enjoyed within the country that created tea. You can also spike chrysanthemum with other ingredients, blending in mint, chamomile or if you’re feeling adventurous, another tea bag. Chrysanthemum gets used in blends a lot.

Blending flowers into herbal teas, it’s important to consider they have a different mouth structure—herbs are not astringent and tend to be softer on the palate. A successful herbal tea blend balances aroma and taste. Take pure chamomile. By itself, this flower has a sweet aroma and some body but it doesn’t have much structure on your palate. Just drinking good chamomile will exhibit apple-y, honey sweetness but a limited flavor range. One of our most popular herbal tea blends, Chamomile Citrus brings a complex flavor interest to the cup. It’s a brilliant blend with rosehips, lemon, orange, lemongrass, and a touch of mint to give the chamomile backbone and aromatic dimension. I can’t take any responsibility for this blend as it was a blend created by the founders of Mighty Leaf. Chamomile herbal tea is drunk whenever Peter Rabbit’s mother says you should drink it. Seriously though, with the word chamomile in the name of Chamomile Citrus, it has a soothing taste and effect. The citrus is more tart and I tend to think of this as a blend enjoyed in the afternoon or evening to be served by itself or with food.

A tea flower is another description for a blooming tea. Blooming teas are almost all green teas and resemble balls or cones of tea leaves tied together with a flower inside that blooms when you brew the tea. If you’ve heard them described as flowering teas or tea flowers, they’re actually known in the tea world as blooming teas or display teas. They’re meant to “display” themselves by unfurling from their original shape when placed in hot water. The teas as a group are very difficult to make since they’re totally handmade. They look fantastic. The rare thing is to find good tasting ones. I’ve seen some of these made in China—it takes so long to form them that the green tea leaf often suffers in the process. To make the large balls, they have to dry them so much to dry the center of the leaf. Mighty Leaf only has one blooming tea in our collection, 1000 Days Red Jasmine with a jasmine blossom that unfurls from the center as the tea steeps. We carry this blooming tea because the tea producer is able to manipulate the tea quickly to finish it or skillfully for a good tea. The blooming teas from Fujian and Anhui provinces are the best ones.

 

Tea Culture: the Japanese Tea Ceremony

March 25th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

The Japanese tea ceremony dates back to Sen no Rikyu, a tea master who served General Oda Nobunaga and then with his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He’s credited with his influence on the way of tea, also known as chado. The way of tea incorporated all of the major components of Japanese philosophy and aesthetics 500 years ago. Rikyu’s influence extended to introducing the concept of wabi-sabi – an appreciation for beauty that is imperfect and impermanent into the tea ceremony, a style known as wabi-cha. The classical Japanese art seen in calligraphy and ikebana, the Japanese style of flower arranging are brought into the tea ceremony along with the issue of harmony and balance, finding the universal in the immediate and simple thing in front of you.

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony lasts 4 hours. To do it right, you have a dedicated ceremonial room in the back of your garden with a low door. The low door symbolizes that whether you are a peasant or emperor, you have to bend down to get in, bringing each person into the same posture for the tea ceremony, among the stratified society. The tea ceremony is a place where everyone can be equal. The space where the ritual takes place is bare of adornment except for one flower arrangement and one piece of artwork hanging on the wall, usually a painting of nature or calligraphy. Typically, one to three guests take part at a time and they admire the painting and flower, commenting politely. Then, the tea-making begins. The coals are heated. The kettle is placed on them. The tea used in the ceremony should be high quality Matcha green tea. The pot and the chawan bowls should be expertly made but slightly imperfect, an element of zen Buddhism. When the tea is poured, the technique of the host is demonstrated as they use the chasen bamboo tea whisk to froth the Matcha. The host then drinks the tea first. He or she will then turn the bowl a quarter and pass the cup to the person on their right. This process is incredibly elaborate and stylized. These days even in Japan, the tea ceremony typically is abbreviated to only 45 minutes but still observes a relatively quiet, studied, meditative experience centered around the tea.

Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality shares her insights on how Japanese culture and the tea ceremony have influenced the tea programs she sets up for our four and five star hotels in Japan. “The aesthetic plays an important role—everything needs to look right and be in the right place. All the details are important. No one element sits by itself. Instead, it’s how the cup, teapot, and tea all combine together.”

Speaking of tea, the history of Matcha starts off in China where it was super-finely ground and found popularity there. Originally developed in China, in the 1300’s Matcha made its way to Japan. Matcha’s popularity died out in China after several hundred years, but flourished in its new home. Japan’s history has selected certain aspects of Chinese culture over the years and made them their own. So much extra work and care goes into making Matcha, and this green tea became uniquely Japanese. Matcha is typically reserved for use in the tea ceremony where its required focus and preparation come to life, but even in Japan it is now often consumed in smoothies, lattes, and the like.

Rooibos: Herbal Tea for Black Tea Drinkers

February 22nd, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

New ingredients come in every year in the tea world. If you consider the herbal tea world, there are half a dozen bases for all herbal teas. These include chamomile, mint, hibiscus, and rosehips, which form the flavor foundation for many herbal teas. They’re all many centuries old and used widely. But rooibos has only been a worldwide tea ingredient for 25 years.

In the early 1990s, rooibos began circulating into the United States. For many years, well before colonizers arrived in South Africa, local South African tribes had harvested rooibos leaves and made a beverage out of them. Over 100 years ago, a Russian immigrant with a tea background immigrated to South Africa, tried rooibos, liked it, and started popularizing it in the country. There wasn’t much trade with South Africa until political changes happened through the leadership of Nelson Mandela and the fall of apartheid. Then rooibos first made its way to Europe where there’s a rich herbal tea drinking tradition and later it came to the United States.

I first heard about rooibos from a German company. I had trouble saying the name, just like most people do when they first see it, but I liked the flavor. They said that four out of five people who try it, like it. And, I can concur that it’s a likeable herbal tea. Rooibos is now a common drink. Most people now know how to say it (roy-bus). It’s very much accepted and widely blended as a base in herbal teas. The key to its success lies in the exact reason why I drink it.

I’m not an herbal tea guy – most herbal teas are too… herbal. I can appreciate and cup herbal teas, but when I’m sitting down to a cup of tea, I drink mostly black tea like Darjeeling or Keemun. Rooibos is the perfect herbal tea for black tea drinkers like me. The color of rooibos is similar to black tea and its flavor is herbaceous and neutral. Not all rooibos is the same. A good rooibos will have sturdy body, a little bit of a dry kick to it though not astringent. And I differ with others who describe the flavor as earthy. Instead, a magical combination coalesces into tasting like a combination of vanilla, saffron, and redwood bark. If it’s low quality rooibos, it can taste moldy. When I think of rooibos, I think of red rooibos, but green rooibos also exists. Just like tea, rooibos leaves oxidize. So, when green tea became popular, someone had an idea to make green rooibos. I wouldn’t put green rooibos on the same level as green tea though. To me, green rooibos tastes raw and is missing the red color I enjoy. Only about 5-10% of rooibos leaves get reserved for green rooibos.

What makes rooibos a big deal is that it’s the only wildly consumed base herbal tea that’s recently come onto the market. It seems like it’s available everywhere and yet rooibos comes from one specific place in the world. To this day, it only grows in one mountain range in one country of the world, the Western Cape area of the Cedarburg Mountain range in South Africa. There have been attempts to get the seeds and plant them elsewhere in the world but those attempts have failed. Organic rooibos is available in large part because not much else grows in the dry desert-like climate where it thrives. The small seeds can be hard to propagate. Rooibos harvest happens during the Southern hemisphere summer where the leaves are cut with a hand-scythe from the fields or out in the wild to later be processed in a factory.

Culturally speaking, in South Africa, it has a reputation for being good for your skin and for babies. Apparently, it would help with colicky babies and babies with skin rashes. It became something nursing mothers would drink. That’s probably its biggest reputation as a healthy beverage. In South Africa, you can find shampoo and soaps with rooibos in them too. Recently, some studies have purported that rooibos is also rich in antioxidants.

At one time, a pocket of the population in the U.S. referred to rooibos as red tea, which is a bit confusing. Rooibos doesn’t come from the Camellia Sinensis plant and if you visit China, you will find that the Chinese refer to what we would call black tea as red tea because the term in Mandarin for what we know as black tea is “hong cha” which directly translates to “red tea.”

As a base for herbal teas, rooibos blends best with tastes that would go with black tea, like vanilla. That’s probably one of my favorite flavors to pair with it. Rooibos chai works well too, as our popular Coco Chai loose tea indicates. You don’t see it quite as often blended with chamomile and occasionally it is found in blends with mint like our Chocolate Mint Truffle. It doesn’t play as well with flowers. Rooibos is more on the fruit and spice side and is often the 80 – 90% base of a blend.

Appealing to a lot of people creates a platform to make a lot of intriguing herbal flavors. More Americans drink black tea than any other type of tea. It’s still number one. Rooibos is the only herbal that comes close to how black tea taste. If you think about it, rooibos is like everybody’s best friend. It tastes great hot or iced. It mixes well with other ingredients, making it accessible with a subtle taste for easy drinking.

American Tea Culture

January 28th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

China, Japan, Great Britain, and other cultures offer a tea ceremony that is uniquely theirs. In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants and an American tea culture reflects this. As the American traditional approach to food has revolved around producing and consuming large quantities, there is a shift at play, demanding higher quality. With tea, we had a strong cultural bias early on because so many British came and settled here. Paul Revere was a silversmith and made teapots. The New England area was a little England. American colonists emulated the British style of tea-making to a degree up until the American war of Independence. Then, tea went from being the beloved drink of the country to a symbol of oppression. We became a coffee-drinking nation at that point, encouraged by the British-rival French who had already begun coffee cultivation in Martinique. In the 21st century, we are now becoming more well-versed in tea. The cultures of tea around the world are becoming more known and popular here too.

Americans like and want tea for what tea wants to give them: a moment of reflection and quiet. This characteristic of tea is different than that of coffee. There aren’t elaborate cups or pots for coffee. Americans like that element and long for it because we are fundamentally impatient. We want convenience. We love iced tea even though for most of the rest of the world tea is drunk warm. American culture is less ceremonial than many cultures around the world. There’s no such thing as an American tea ceremony. We pick and choose aspects of ceremonies and make them our own. Chai is a great example of this—can we prepare it quickly and with a big machine? We’ve got stuff to do and places to go.

Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality talks about how American culture impacts the tea programs she sets up for our four and five star hotel clients. “Our whole perspective is to celebrate the tea leaf which is why the tea pouches are important. People can have appreciation of the whole leaf whether through acknowledging the agricultural element to the amazing liquor in the cup that helps you slow down, relax, and enjoy the moment. In the U.S., perhaps not as much time is given as with the British afternoon tea, but if you’re willing to spend more time brewing tea, the experience lasts longer than a cup of coffee. The goal is to reflect, be involved, and watch the tea leaves produce the end product. For my American hotel clients, tea pouches are quite popular, although a growing interest in loose tea has been cropping up too. The teapot size varies quite a bit, but they’re often not quite as large as the British teapots. Tea is often served with dessert or pastry.”

Mighty Leaf Tea has established itself as a modern American tea brand. Much of our success and business have come from our tea pouches because many Americans like to drink tea that way. Our tea line takes influences from different culinary backgrounds. Organic African Nectar is a good example of this, since it includes a South African herb that tea people in the United States didn’t know about 25 years ago. Pull out your best teapot and serve any of our tea pouches for an exceptional experience. The tea pouches envelop high quality tea leaves that can be prepared conveniently. You can drink good tea on the go with them. People feel harried and why not? Email is calling for attention. Texts on the phone ask a person to be in 10 places at once. A cup of tea in hand invites you to stop and taste something from the other side of the world. If you have those moments in the day, you can get through our modern life.

British Tea Ceremony

January 22nd, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot Jordan tea-team

Britain’s relationship with tea has everything to do with the British empire. The demand for tea made the empire happen. Without the demand for tea, I don’t think it would have gotten as big as it did.* Morning is one part of the ritual as the traditional cuppa breakfast tea is drunk first thing, usually prepared with black loose tea. The ritual of tea continues into the afternoon tea. High tea derived its name from tea set on high tables for maids, cooks, and butlers of the big houses where they had a cup of tea and snacks at around 4 p.m., standing around a high table because there was no time to sit down. Low tea was the name for the tea service presented upstairs to the estate owners at low tables, and among finery.

The tea set and food make up a big part of the British tea ceremony. Upstairs you would find silver or porcelain tea sets, whereas downstairs you would find brown betty teapots. In a British tea service the cups have handles, saucers, and are typically part of a matching set with a pitcher for cream and a server for sugar. Whereas Japan and China use plain cups in their tea rituals, the British love flourish whether that includes floral prints or gold rimmed cups. The teapots used in Great Britain are quite large at 24 – 36 ounces in size and involve a tea strainer set over the tea cup to strain out the tea leaves in the pot. The British diet is heavy and dairy-based, so tea is served with milk and sugar. Scones, clotted cream, jam, crumpets, and finger sandwiches make up an array of afternoon tea foods, which is really a meal. I think this is still true that at 4 p.m. the country comes to a halt for a national teatime.

British tea leans toward black tea all the way, typically teas from India, Sri Lanka or Kenya. Their appreciation for strong tea runs deep. This includes brewing the tea strong by adding a lot of tea to the pot and also selecting dark-liquoring, pungent teas.

Setting up tea programs for our four and five star hotel clients with our distributor in Great Britain, VP of Hospitality, Joane Filler-Varty, adds: “Simpler teas are desired with an emphasis on black teas, a few green teas are added for the health conscious and a few herbal infusions too. Great variation exists between contemporary and traditional set-up, but the British tend to be traditional and the type of teaware used tends to be more formal. Some higher end hotels use loose tea for room service, while others use whole leaf tea pouches for in-room dining.”

While the British tea ritual might be vastly different than the Chinese tea ceremony or the Japanese tea ceremony, there are nuances that articulate how particular details come together in this tea practice that is passed down. Details exist specific to the British tea service such as “backing the pot.” This refers to pulling the teapot back prior to serving guests tea as a way to circulate the liquid before serving it.

 

 

*For more on this, check out the book, For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose.

 

Chinese Tea Ritual

January 6th, 2016 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot-tea-team

If you go to China and partake in a traditional Chinese tea ritual, you will find the Chinese tea ceremony celebrates the tea itself and puts a lot of emphasis on the style and skill of the person brewing it. The ceremony is social and can be very formal or informal. One person takes charge of the brewing and commands the tea. The practice uses a gongfu style of multiple infusions that is done using a wooden tray with a small teapot and cups. The vessel that actually steeps the tea can either be a typical teapot with handle and spout, or it can be a special lidded cup called a gaiwan. The gaiwan cups consist of three parts: the saucer, small cups without handles, and lid. The lid keeps the tea warm inside the cup and acts as a strainer when sipping. With a teapot, hot water gets poured over the pot and is also used to refresh the leaves. The teapot might be a yixing terracotta teapot that is dedicated to brewing just one type of tea, or one simply made of porcelain or glass.

In a Chinese tea ceremony, they use their best teas. Most of the country drinks green tea such as Dragonwell. You might find oolong teas like Ti Kuan Yin and pu erh teas like Ancient Trees Pu Erh used in the Chinese tea ritual because those styles of tea can be manipulated in a small teapot to brew strong tea. Keep note of how the tea changes from infusion to infusion. Perhaps even keep tabs on how many infusions you can get out of one pot of tea. Oolong teas are great for brewing gongfu style.

I asked Joane Filler-Varty, our VP of hospitality to share her insights on how local tea rituals inform how she creates tea programs at four and five-star hotels around the world. Here’s what she had to say about setting up tea menus and service with our Chinese hotel clients:

“In hospitality, you have to consider two different dynamics: what the Chinese clientele want might be different from what the tourists desire and a hotel has to address both. Some properties want to bring in a contemporary universal teapot that is a cross between Chinese-style and British porcelain, while smaller yixing teapots or small glass or porcelain teapots might be used for a more specialty afternoon tea. The actual gongfu tea ceremony doesn’t occur in most hotels on a day-to-day basis. It’s offered at a specific time during afternoon tea. That interplay of style also works its way into the tea offerings themselves as Dragonwell and Ti Kuan Yin warm up to English Breakfast and Earl Grey on the tea menus.”

What strikes me about the Chinese tea ceremony that I love is that it’s not that ceremonial. It’s really about the tea and the social aspect, so it can be enjoyed among tea professionals and laymen. It’s okay to talk about tea and politics—it’s like Chinese culture—there’s a lot of room for interpretation.

 

4 Ideas for Baking Tea Cookies

December 17th, 2015 by Anni Pattee

Anni - tea team

The holidays are a great time to play around with teas while you bake. Inviting friends to gather and bring a few batches of cookies to share over a pot of tea is a great way to celebrate. And, if you think about it, tea has become quite popular in baking. Part of that has to do with social media. Platforms like Pinterest help streamline baking with tea into a mass cultural frame of mind. Anytime I see tea cookies on a menu, I’m intrigued and tend to try them. I’ve eaten a lot of tea cookies and the one thing I’m left with is the notion that there is not enough tea flavor in the cookies—this is true with chai and matcha. Perhaps that’s a lack of understanding how to make the tea flavor strong in baking without taking it too far? Here are a few ways I like to bake cookies with tea.

Matcha Powdered Sugar

Matcha has also become more accessible to people. For a long time, many Americans didn’t know what it was outside of a ceremonial tea or tea used behind the barista bar. One thing that makes Matcha such a natural ingredient to use in baking is it being in powder form, which makes it easy to add to recipes for baked goods. One time, I made Mexican wedding cookies dusted with a matcha-laced powdered sugar. I liked the light flavor and color the green tea added.

Tea Frosted Cookies

Another idea for infusing some tea flavor into your holiday cookies is to stir in Matcha into frosting. That telltale bright green color is festive especially when icing Christmas tree cookies.

Tea Cookie Dough

You can also pulverize the tea leaves and add them to the cookie dough for a bit of color, flavor, and texture that’s fun too.

Flavor Pairings

Now that we’ve talked about a few ways to include tea in your cookies, Here are my suggestions for which teas would work well folded into cookie recipes. If  you make tea cookies, share your favorite tea cookie in the comments. Oatmeal raisin cookies or gingersnaps would be excellent with chai—the spiciness of the tea would play well with the flavors typically in those styles of cookies. Organic African Nectar would be great incorporated into a sugar cookie as it would add a vanilla and floral note to the cookie. Orange Dulce would be marvelous whipped into a frosting for pumpkin spice cookies, letting the citrus and vanilla come through. I like Chamomile Citrus with thumbprint cookies because it adds a creamy, vanilla and citrus flavor with the earthier notes of chamomile. Earl Grey baked into a shortbread cookie would add a nice citrusy note. You could drink the tea featured in the cookie to continue to tease out the tea flavor too.

Chai: Journey in a Tea Cup

December 5th, 2015 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot-tea-team

When the average American thinks of chai, I would venture to say what they envision is what you can purchase at coffee shops or cafes and is expected to be a pretty milky, sweet, and spicy black tea concoction made at the espresso machine with steaming milk.

Now, if you walk into a restaurant in India and ask for chai they will bring you a cup of unsweetened tea. You have to ask for masala chai (masala means a mixture of spices)– we think of chai and mean masala chai. No self-respecting tea seller in India would sell you tea already mixed with spices. They expect you to add the spices at home. Each street vendor in India prides his or herself on their special blend of spices. The term, Masala got dropped as chai came to the U.S.

Indians didn’t grow tea until the British brought it over from China. The Hindi word for tea, chai, is derived from the Northern Chinese term, cha. In Southern China, the word for tea is te (it’s a different pronunciation of the same characters). So, it stands to reason that countries exposed to the Northern half of China reinterpreted the word for tea that way. Other countries use derivations of cha too, like Russian tchai.

Indian Masala Chai literally means ”spiced tea” and reflects how Indian food combines multiple spices and even some dairy for a satisfying flavor. This isn’t the case in China, where the food is not focused on dairy or sweets. The tea reflects the cuisine. In Turkey, milk is not used to make chai, instead, sugar is used and a lot of times they will add fresh ginger and orange peel.

I recall how the Beatles made traveling to India cool in the late 1960’s—perhaps we can thank them for chai’s introduction in the U.S.? So many young Americans went to India and tried chai but couldn’t find it back home in America. In 1981 I first heard of chai while I was a student at UC Santa Cruz. I have sipped chai from street vendors a few times during visits to India over the years. When I travel, I love to drink the local tea.

I remember a chai stall on the road—a 6×6-foot shack with a big aluminum pot that looked 100 years old, boiling 10 gallons of a concoction of tea, sugar, spices, and local unpasteurized milk. When you order chai in India, it’s typically served in 4-6 ounces. The idea is you drink a little bit and then come back later in the day. Their version of recycled cups is pretty interesting because they give you a cup made of clay from a stack. It doesn’t take long to drink the chai and when you’re done, you throw the cup in the road and shatter it. The remnants of your cup turn into dust in a few days. I’m convinced kilns all over India crank out these disposable cups.

If you think of it, the way chai is made in the U.S. now, it has become an American drink, prepared with steamed milk and perhaps foam—we love our foam in the U.S. In India, you boil milk on the stove. You can find Masala Chai as we know it in Europe and other countries. I think the two places where Masala Chai is popular are the United States and India.

We carry several chai offerings at Mighty Leaf Tea because this style of tea is a category unto itself. If I had to come up with 20 tasting chai blends, I could probably do it. You can have so many variations, even with the same chai blends. You can brew chai with 100% milk or 25% milk to water ratio. You can add tons of sugar or no sugar. When looking for chai, consider the spice blend. Which spices and how much of each are used in chai? While turmeric plays an active role in Indian cuisine, it’s not typically used to spice chai. Basil is not used in chai either. Chai will have cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Maybe there’s some sort of heat—black pepper? You might see clove in a chai blend. A lot of American chai blends use vanilla—you’d never see that in India. Some blends use star anise. Our version of Masala Chai is a Kolkata-style chai with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, and clove. Our Bombay Chai, on the other hand is comprised of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and star anise. The difference between the two blends is noticeable.

The tea itself plays an important role. Most Indian black tea is strong and black and for a good masala chai, you need an assertive tea—small leaf teas give a lot of color and flavor. When we are blending and sourcing tea for chai, we are looking for strong teas. Our Masala Chai uses Assam tea—my favorite origin for milk teas and also has some Nilgiri black tea in the blend. Bombay Chai uses tea from similar regions but overall offers a lighter tea character indicative of South India. Some chai blends use Chinese black tea for its smooth quality. Others might use a straightforward-bodied African tea. There are even some chai blends made from green tea that follows a lesser-known tradition in Northern India with cinnamon, cardamom, and almonds. Kolkata-style chai tends to use local teas (typically Assam and a few others) and the spices tend to be heavier on cardamom, with less pepper for a more sweet, not quite as zesty-hot drink.

Chai has a really broad taste range. Whatever people are exposed to early on will impact what they think of tea. If you ask an average person in China if they drink tea, they will say yes, and probably refer to Chinese green tea. With a masala chai, most people will think of the flavor profile they were exposed to the first time. I would encourage you to embrace the nuances of each blend of chai rather than trying to discover “true chai.” True chai can be whatever you enjoy, so open up your mind. Each chai is an expression of the person who created it, whether it’s being served up at a stall in Kolkata or from a company in the U.S. Every chai recipe has a history to be enjoyed for what it is.

Creating a Tea Tradition During the Holidays

November 19th, 2015 by Anni Pattee

Anni - tea team

My family is not terribly traditional or ceremonial when it comes to the holidays. While we indulge in spiked eggnog at Christmas, tea always makes an appearance at each holiday. Here are several ideas to create your own tea tradition.

Welcome Guests with a Cup of Tea

Before the big meal at Thanksgiving, make a pot of tea that you can share as guests begin arriving.  Greeting friends and family with a cup of tea sets the pace for the evening ahead. I like to serve either a simple, chocolatey smooth Yunnan or an Oolong with lots of character.

Drinks with Desserts

Hot tea definitely makes the rounds with dessert. We usually use a collection of tea bags, knowing who likes what. My sister, for instance, loves Organic Earl Grey and how its citrus flavor pairs well with sweets.

Blend Your Own Tea

I started a tradition a few years ago of bringing tea to our gatherings to make for my family. Since my mom can’t have caffeine and my sister’s kids like to make tea with me, I start with a decaf black tea. Then I like to lay out ingredients like cinnamon sticks, dried mint leaves, or orange peels for the kids to make their own blend of tea. This practice became so popular this last year, I was about to leave their home when I heard my niece call out from the front room, “Auntie, you can’t leave yet; we haven’t had tea!”

Craft a Tea Cocktail

Recently, I was playing around with our tea pouches and thinking about which liqueurs would pair best. Winter Solstice or Vanilla Bean would make wonderful hot cocktails with brandy and little honey or sugar to sweeten it. Ginger Twist would be a great option to pair with vodka, tonic, and a splash of simple syrup for Thanksgiving with its warming flavor of ginger.

Make a Seasonal Mocktail

Thanksgiving is more of a fall holiday so stick with warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. At Christmas time, peppermint and cinnamon pair well with rich flavors. New Year’s Eve can go in many directions. Wild Berry Hibiscus lends flavor profiles to the fall with its full, rich flavor. For a mocktail for adults and children, pair Wild Berry Hibiscus with sparkling apple juice to serve chilled.

How to Pick Whole Leaf Teas for Any Sized Party

November 12th, 2015 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot-tea-team

As we enter the holiday season, we enter a time of gathering together. With holiday parties, come holiday menu planning and tea can factor into the festivities.

There used to be a time where if you served tea, you would make a big pot and pour it into small cups for guests. Now, people customize. Some people want black, others prefer green, or herbal. I typically don’t serve loose tea to guests unless I’m brewing it and then only if there is a small group because how many teapots can you have? Brewing loose tea is easy. But, tea bags are easier for large parties.  Here are some suggestions to pick the right teas for any sized party.

For Small Groups

Serve One Shared Pot of Tea
When I have a small group over of six people or less, I still like to make a big pot that we can share—it’s nice to drink the same tea at the same time because it’s communal and brings people together, bridging their experiences into the greater experience. I try to pick a tea that’s crowd-pleasing, most often a plain black tea like Organic Breakfast. You can offer milk and sugar too. Chinese and Ceylon black teas also would make good options—they don’t change as easily over time after having been brewed. Yunnan black tea brews a sweet, rich tea that can be drunk in a number of ways.  Ceylon Kenilworth tends to go with anything and can be served with milk, sugar, paired with dessert, or sipped on its own—it’s even Steven, not super showy, but dependable that way. Oolong teas are really nice to accompany food, so long as the food isn’t very spicy. Oolongs are fragrant, mellow and interesting to look at, but because of the leaf size are generally not found in tea bags. For a white tea selection, White Peony is very drinkable too. It’s easy to brew that is a bit rounder with more body. I reserve Pu Erh for more of the adventurers and for those in the know. Some teas don’t airpot well—meaning if you make a large batch of it at once it won’t keep. That can be an issue when you’re making tea. You have to make it ahead of time if you’re making a big pot, otherwise you’re stuck in the kitchen instead of socializing.

 

For Large Groups

Offer Tea Pouches
When I have more than six people, I don’t make a big pot of tea. Instead, I will boil water and pour it into an airpot (a large insulated dispenser that keeps water hot). I like to pull out a variety of mugs along with a variety of tea pouches so people can choose their own tea. I’ve learned not to ask people what tea they want because they might ask for a tea I don’t have. Also, because people know what I do for a living, if I ask, they might get worried they’re not picking the right tea. More often than not, the question I ask is do you want caffeinated or non-caffeinated?

Brew Three Types of Tea
Something that can be fun to do with large groups is to keep three pots of tea going of different tea types. One pot would be black tea-based. Another would be filled with green tea. And, the third would be caffeine-free rooibos-based. For the herbal infusion, I try not to serve mint or licorice because they’re divisive flavors with permeating aromas—half the people might like them and half the people might not. Rooibos is more of a crowd pleaser that even black tea drinkers will sometimes choose.

Pair Teas with Desserts
If I was throwing a large party with a wide array of desserts, it would be fun to match up teas with desserts. Stick with tea pouches and select six or seven types to pair with the desserts. You could provide tasting notes. “Try one of these two teas to pair with the chocolate mousse.” This easily elevates the experience with thoughtful flavor recommendations. When selecting the teas to pair with dessert, get the flavor in line or in contrast. Teas that are complementary flavor profiles for dessert include Earl Grey, Chinese black tea, and rooibos that go with chocolate. Another complementary pairing would selecting an herbal infusion with lemongrass or lemon myrtle to pair with lemon meringue pie. For a contrasting duo, pair a really sweet dessert with a brisk, robust black tea to cut through the cream—you would want a tea that is more astringent with a stronger taste. Watch out for sour tastes—don’t pick two sours to pair together such as lemon meringue with rosehips. Orange Dulce or Bombay Chai trend toward a sweet idea anyway.

Trick or Treat: Is Expensive Tea Worth It?

October 29th, 2015 by Eliot Jordan

Eliot-tea-team

Scour a store for tea and you will probably find that the prices for the teas offered can vary wildly. The best comparison for this kind of variance can be found in the world of wine, where a bottle of two buck Chuck can be procured as well as bottles that run in the range of several thousand dollars. Caviar is expensive. Fish sticks are cheap. Let’s explore expensive whole leaf tea to consider the cost.

To start off, expensive teas equate to better tea. But that’s also like saying a Rembrandt painting is better than a Japanese wood block. The flavor characteristics and quality of one kind of tea- say a first flush Indian Darjeeling black tea differ dramatically from that of a Japanese Gyokuro green tea. The attributes and what is highly desired in one fluctuates from the other. This also leaves room for the matter of personal taste. That question of quality and cost comes fully into view though when the origin is consistent. Pair a first pick Darjeeling to be tasted alongside one that is subpar. What you would find is that you can pick up that one is better from the other. A low quality tea is bitter, harsh, looks ugly, and has no aroma or sweetness. When you come across a high quality tea, it can surprise you with its interesting flavor, aroma, sweetness, and color.

In mulling the cost of expensive tea, Darjeeling black tea provides a good foundation from which to illustrate the idea. You can look at tea books from the 1920’s that mention Darjeeling. It has developed a reputation as the “champagne” of the tea world. Darjeeling black tea is three percent of India’s total tea output. First flush Darjeeling is produced only once a year and is prized as the first growth with unique character. Why is it expensive—because it’s rare. A lot of work goes into making a tea at that level versus a tea that is sold at $1 per pound. Let’s say there are 10 estates out of 72 which produce top grade first flush Darjeeling. We receive samples from the 10 that we taste to winnow the pool down to three, finally ordering our top selection. Darjeeling lots are very small (about 100 to 200 pounds), which might sound like a lot of tea. One hundred pounds equates to 400 4-ounce tins of loose tea. You could argue that the first flush Darjeeling selected is the best in the world and only 400 people get to drink it.

Down the road from the estate where we have bought that exquisite first flush Darjeeling, perhaps there is a factory where tea leaves plucked with hand shears are processed in a CTC machine to produce a strong cup of tea at a low price of $1 per pound. Where the first flush facility is wary of damaging the bush, the factory aims to pull as many leaves as possible that accounts for a disparity of 2 pounds plucked at the first flush estate versus 20 pounds plucked at the factory. First flush Darjeeling is weather specific: knowing when to pluck the leaves is contingent on climate. It can’t rain too much. It can’t be dry. It can’t hail. The leaves have to be plucked in the morning before it gets too hot, which in the spring yields smaller leaves because it’s cold. Tea estate managers know the first flush leaves can go for a good price, but there are eight or nine things that can go wrong and mess up the batch, making it drop to a lower grade tea. So much skill is involved in ensuring the natural changes in the leaves are manipulated well. This also speaks to why some estates consistently produce better teas; it’s like dining at a restaurant where you enjoy the steak. So much of that enjoyment stems from the skill of the chef.

Now, think about the cost of tea offerings at a store by the cup. Let’s say you walk into a market and see a box of 100 tea bags that costs $6. Each cup of tea costs six cents per serving. That’s amazing. When you taste a cup of the tea, it’s not horrible, but it’s ordinary. Perhaps instead you eye a 4-ounce tin of first flush Darjeeling loose tea for $24.50. Each cup of the champagne of tea will cost you 61 cents. You can’t even get a glass of wine for that price. Tea is one of the last great food deals anywhere. The math is compelling and if you consider the per cup cost, you can drink the best tea in the world for not very much. Life is too short to drink six-cent cups of tea. So, go ahead and treat yourself.