Make Your Own Sparkling Teas

ceylon_crop-webSparkling Teas . . .

are coming soon to your local grocery store, if they haven’t already shown up.

But you can make sparkling tea today—

  • by yourself,
  • with your favorite tea, and
  • with total control of just how much, if any, sugar they contain.

To compare, the new Sanpellegrino + Tea (by Nestlé Waters) contains organic tea extract, real fruit juice, and cane sugar; there are 50 calories per serving (Dobos 2018).

Another sparkling tea called SoMATCHAAH! by Matchaah is also pending. According to its website, the new beverage will contain matcha tea, carbonated water, cane sugar, citric acid, and natural flavors. Although it touts the antioxidant benefits of matcha, again, there’s the cane sugar.

While these teas are undeniably convenient, it’s too bad they contain sugar.

Back in 2015 a study found that:

Consumption of SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages] such as soft drinks . . . was associated with higher type 2 diabetes risk independently of socio-demographic, lifestyle and dietary factors. . . . Our findings suggest that reducing consumption of sweet beverages, in particular soft drinks and sweetened-milk beverages, and promoting drinking water and unsweetened tea or coffee as alternatives may help curb the escalating diabetes epidemic. (O’Connor et al. 2015) [emphasis added]

Further, the study suggests that if water or unsweetened tea or coffee is substituted for just one sugar-sweetened beverage on a daily basis, the diabetes risk evidently decreases by 14–25%, which seems decently significant!

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So why not enjoy tea’s health benefits without the added sugar?

TeaHaus suggests a couple of ways to make amazingly refreshing sparkling tea. And depending on the tea used (fruit teas really shine here), you can come up with something similar to lightly flavored sparkling water or a concoction more like a soft drink.

Note: You can add carbonation to any tea. Simply start with concentrated tea and add carbonated water and ice, adjusting the ratios to your personal preference.

Method One

Measure out three times the amount of tea you would normally use. For example, if you are making a 20-ounce glass of iced carbonated tea, use triple the amount of tea and add 6 oz of hot water (use temperature and brew time specified for that particular tea).

Fill a 20-ounce glass about half full with ice.

Pour in the brewed tea and add carbonated water to fill the glass (you can either make your own carbonated water with a carbonation machine or use bottled sparkling water).

Top off with ice.

Note:  If you prefer, add agave or honey while the tea is brewing.

lade_final-webMethod Two

Make a tea-infused syrup and add to any sparkling water (or sparkling wine!—though I suppose that may negate some of the health benefits you are going for, depending on which side of the “wine is good/bad for you” debate you support).

Syrup:  Add 12 grams (about ½ ounce) of tea to 16 ounces of boiling water; allow to infuse for 15 minutes to overnight. Strain and cool completely.

And Enjoy . . .


Sources:
–Dobos, E. “Budding products: new carbonated teas,” World Tea News, April 9, 2018.
–Matchaah. http://www.matchaah.com/so-matchaah.
–O’Connor, L. et al. “Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions,” Diabetologia, March 6, 2015.

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Springtime Buds include Darjeeling First-Flush Tea

Every spring bud holds a promise.

And this is true of tea plants as well, for the tea-budfirst buds that begin to open in spring constitute the first flush or “spring” harvest—especially vital in places like Darjeeling, where the first-flush teas command the highest prices.

Tea plucking in Darjeeling began a couple weeks ago with “only reluctant support from workers” (Bolton 2018).

Many had not yet received the 19.75% bonus for 2016–2017 that they had been promised back in September (Gazmer 2018), following a months-long strike that shut down the tea gardens. The Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labourers’ Union, which had been threatening to stop the harvest, eventually said that plucking could take place in those gardens “that will give written assurance to pay the remaining bonus within a time frame” (Gazmer 2018).

leaves-webThis is not trivial—to the workers whose livelihood this is, or to the tea industry in Darjeeling, as this first plucking brings in 35% of the year’s profits; last year’s strike meant a loss of around $61.6 million (Bolton 2018).

Plus, Nepal growers are only too ready to step in, offering comparable tea at a far lower cost (see my earlier post on Nepali teas).

The first harvest runs through April, with generally over 18 million pounds of tea produced! Two to three weeks after the first-flush harvest has ended, the second-flush plucking will begin.
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Shown above is first-flush Steinthal, with dark green and brownish leaves. (Steinthal is one of the oldest tea gardens in Darjeeling.)leaves-in-basket-web

While black teas are usually brewed for several minutes, a first-flush Darjeeling is brewed for a shorter time because its leaves are more delicate, being the bud and tender new leaves.

The green of the leaves becomes more pronounced during brewing, with the brewed leaves ranging from celery to dark green, and definitely looking more like green tea than black.

With a crisp and slightly grassy aroma, the liquor of Steinthal Darjeeling is a bit nutty but more astringent—as any good first flush should be. spring-montage-web

Springtime buds . . .
the promise of blossoms,
the promise of beauty,
the promise of harvest. 


Sources:
–Bolton, D. “Darjeeling first flush experiencing jittery start,” World Tea News, March 13, 2018.
–Gazmer, D. “Union threatens to stop Darjeeling tea first flush pluck,” The Times of India, March 13, 2018.
Darjeeling Steinthal is available at TeaHaus.com.

Cambodia’s Lotus Tea

Magnificent temple complexes, some nearly engulfed by huge trees, captivate.

tea-pkg-webThis is Cambodia, once part of the China-India-Southeast Asia trade route.

It is also home to a Cambodian subspecies of tea, Camellia assamica subspecies lasiocalyx, although an article published in 2016 maintains it is more accurately a variety and not a subspecies.

Either way, lasiocalyx grows as a tree, around 15 feet high, as opposed to Camellia sinensis, which is considered a bush, although it too can reach 15 feet high. (C. sinensis is native to China whereas C. assamica is native to India.)

Also found in Cambodia is lotus tea.

The lotus “symbolizes purity, beauty, majesty, grace, fertility, wealth, richness, knowledge and serenity” (The Flower Expert) and is entwined in the artwork, culture, and religions of Asia.

All parts of the lotus plant are edible, and the light pink petals interspersed with tea leaves make a pretty composition.

Although the package of this lotus tea (Product of Cambodia for Artisans Angkor by Senteurs d’Angkor), brought back from Cambodia by my daughter and son-in-law, says it is a “black tea delicately flavored with lotus from Cambodia,” the loosely rolled leaves look far more like green, or a green oolong, tea.

leaves-web

The brewed cup is an antique gold color, with an aroma lightly floral, reminiscent of jasmine.tea-teapot-4-web

With a subtle floral flavor—more on the vegetal bright side than oxidized—this tea agrees with its aroma and reminds of jasmine green tea. It is not sweet, and is overall a very delicate (and delightful) tea.

Sipping lotus tea conjures up images of Cambodia for my daughter and her husband:

seeing lotus flowers across from the rice fields while traveling a red dirt road on a tuk tuk,

or

strolling through a temple with the pleasant wafting of incense.

Tea can take you across the world. . . .

water-lilies-web


Sources:
–Das, A. P. and C. Ghosh. “New combination name for the Cambod variety of tea,” Pleione 10(1):167–68. 2016.
–The Flower Expert. “Lotus flowers,” www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/exoticflowers/lotus.
–Pettigrew, J. The Tea Companion, Running Press, Philadelphia, 2004.

“Storm in a Teacup”?

Yeah, yeah, “don’t judge a book by its cover”—but in reality, that cover and that title are exactly what make us pick up and open said book!

So when confronted with the Irish tea blend “Storm in a Teacup,” well of course I had to pick it up and buy it.

storm-leaves-web

I expected a rather rousing brew, especially as the package promises “a stormy, spicy herbal blend with a breeze of anise taste.”

The tea itself, a Special House Blend by Cupán Tae in Galway, is a very pretty blend of blackberry leaves, fennel, mullein flowers, balm, aniseed, ribwort leaves, apple bits, rosehip peels, marigold petals, elder flowers, elderberries, peony petals, and peppermint.

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The brew is a dark brick color, with an herbal aroma of fennel and mint.

And the flavor? Mild, muted, definitely not what I’d consider “stormy spicy.” It’s pleasant, with a flavor less fennel-y than the aroma suggests. A bit floral but not like flowers. It’s herbal sweet.

This would be a great tea at bedtime, soothing and calming. But storm? Not so much.

However, storm in a teacup? Well, that’s a different thing.

So What Is a Storm in a Teacup?

This idiom—meaning something that has been exaggerated out of proportion—goes back centuries. Around 52 BC, Roman statesman Cicero wrote Excitabat fluctus in simpulo meaning “He was stirring up billows in a ladle” (The Phrase Finder) or Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo ut dicitur Gratidius, translated as “For Gratidius raised a tempest in a ladle, as the saying is” (Wikipedia).

Various sources offer differing timelines of the sentiment as used in English. According to The Phrase Finder, the first English version is found in a 1678 letter from the Duke of Ormond to the Earl of Arlington:

“Our skirmish . . .  is but a storm in a cream bowl,”

and the first English “tempest in a teapot” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, in 1825:

What is the ‘tempest raging o’er the realms of ice’? A tempest in a teapot!

followed a few years later by Catherine Sinclair writing:

“As for your father’s good-humoured jests being ever taken up as a serious affair, it really is like raising a storm in a teacup.” (Modern Accomplishments 1838)

Wikipedia, however, says that Lord Chancellor Thurlow of England used “tempest in a teapot” in the late 1700s, and that the Prime Minister

is credited for popularizing this phrase as characterizing the outbreak of American colonists against the tax on tea.

Irish landscapeAlthough Thurlow was quite wrong about those colonists, this phrase could actually fit the Irish tea blend—trumpeting “storm,” but actually brewing up into a soothing and understated balm.


Sources:
–Martin, G. “The meaning and origin of the expression: tempest in a teapot,” The Phrase Finder, 2018.
–Wikipedia. “Tempest in a teapot,” October 21, 2017.

Misty Morning Dew, an Irish Herbal Tea

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, Ireland may well be on our minds. Or beer. But it’s still morning so I’m going with tea.

Like this quintessentially Irish tea (at least by name), Misty Morning Dew, blended by an Irish tea shop.

misty-cliffsWhile the poetic name evokes softness, the tea itself is actually quite bright.
mmdew-bag-web
Purchased at Cupán Tae in Galway, the package describes this Special House Blend simply as a “naturally flavored blend of herbs and fruit melange,” forcing me to go to their website for more complete information.

The ingredient list: lemon grass, hibiscus, peppermint, and natural flavor.

Not sure where the “fruit” is, but this caffeine-free blend consists of sage-green lemon grass  interspersed with green peppermint leaves and bright hibiscus.

mmd-leaves-web

The tisane is a strong red color with a hint of brown, and yields an aroma that is dominated by lemon grass.mmd-brew-2-webThe flavor, as expected, was also strongly lemon grass, but in a pleasant way. A slight citrusy fruity note peeks through. There was also a feeling of mint—a sort of cooling in the back of your throat—more than a flavor of mint.k-w-mmd-web

This light and refreshing tea doesn’t really say misty morning dew to either my daughter (shown here) or me.

 

Rather, its brightness more clears the mist, which is, after all, a very pleasant way to greet the day.

(And although we didn’t intend it, our choice of a “bright eyed and bushy tailed” mug was entirely fitting!)


Misty Morning Dew is available for purchase at cupantae.eu.

To read a bit about why the Irish are known for their teas, see my March 2017 blog: Tea in Ireland: Mainstay—to Moral Decay—to Mainstay

Pairing Tea with Chocolate: A Heavenly Match!

Chocolate and tea. They form the base of my food pyramid—hey, they both arguably offer health benefits!

And paired? Well, that’s just another name for perfection.

pair-1_web
Orange Blossom oolong & Pure 67% Chocolate

Because the right pairing of chocolate and tea will bring out incredibly delicious nuances of both.

But you do want to use high-quality loose leaf tea and high-quality chocolate because only then will you have the complexities and layering of flavors that make pairing so wonderful.

Here’s an example of how this can work:

lts_webLast night Lisa, of TeaHaus (Ann Arbor, MI, shown here), and Dana, of Mindo Chocolate Makers (Dexter, MI, and Mindo, Ecuador), teamed up for a tasting.

Mindo was one of the U.S.’s first bean-to-bar chocolate makers. They buy organically grown heirloom Arriba Nacional cacao beans (which have a chocolaty–nutty flavor) directly from the growers in Ecuador, and then oversee the fermentation and drying stages.

They complete the process themselves, with no part of the cocoa pod going to waste. The pods themselves are used as compost under the cocoa trees, also conveniently housing the midges that pollinate the trees.

bean-nibs-choc-pair-2_web
upper left: roasted cocoa bean; lower left: nibs; right: Vanilla Rustic chocolate

The shells of the roasted beans are used to flavor other products—including tea! TeaHaus adds cocoa shells and nibs (the part of the bean used to make chocolate) to several teas to impart a wonderful chocolate flavor.

The pulpy fruit of the pod is made into Miel de Cacao, which is a bit like balsamic vinegar. And the nibs themselves are stone ground, and the chocolate then tempered and molded.

With Pure 67% Chocolate, Lisa paired Orange Blossom oolong tea (pictured at the beginning of this post). The tea’s light floral liquor balances well with the chocolate’s tanginess. With a higher content of cocoa, 70% or more, you could go instead with a full-out orange tea.

The Vanilla Rustic chocolate, shown above, is crunchy rather than smooth. Rustic chocolate is ground for less time than smooth chocolate, and the organic sugar crystals are stirred in afterward rather than being ground with the cocoa beans. In this case, the chocolate was paired with Nepal Mystic tea, which is similar to a first-flush Darjeeling. It has a smooth finish, and, due to when it is harvested, has a slight bite, which makes it ideal with the bourbon vanilla of the chocolate.

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Andrew’s Blend tea & Candied Orange Zest Chocolate

Candied Orange Zest on 77% chocolate is one of my favorites, and it pairs beautifully with Andrew’s Blend tea, whose chai and dark chocolate flavors meld with the orange.

Lisa noted that if cream is added to the tea, the fat will bring out the chocolate flavor even more. (BTW, Mindo shells and nibs are ingredients in this Haus blend.)

Assam Mokalbari tea, malty and complex, complements Cinnamon Rustic chocolate.

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White Peony tea & Michigan Cherry Chocolate

For the 77% Michigan Cherry, Lisa balanced the boldness of the cherry with White Peony tea, which has a 60:40 silver needle-to-leaf composition. (A full silver needle tea would be too delicate, so you want a new style white tea, which contains young leaves in addition to the silvery buds.)

And for the darkest chocolates, place the chocolate on your tongue and let hot tea wash over it. In this case, Lisa used South Korean Seogwang Sencha with its sweet grassiness luscious against the complexity of the Pure 77% chocolate.

pair-6_web
Korean Sencha & Pure 77% Chocolate

Pairing chocolate and tea encompasses more than just a cup of tea and a square of chocolate, however.

A parmesan-cheese-sprinkled-with-cocoa crisp, served with a lettuce salad—whose dressing combines Miel de Cacao, chocolate rooibos tea, pressed garlic juice, and olive oil—for example!

Or how about handmade marshmallows melted onto grahams and dipped into a warm, rich chocolate milk-Baileys-lapsang souchong tea-Mindo chocolate drink?!

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Think outside the teacup and chocolate bar!

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And thank you to Dana of Mindo Chocolate and to Lisa of TeaHaus!

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NOTE: Chocolate may be ordered at mindochocolate.com and tea at teahaus.com.

 

Eating Tea

EAT tea? As opposed to drinking it?

Why not? We eat other leaves.
EMT facade_crop_2306But first off, why tea?

Well there’s that whole fantastic flavor and huge variety thing that tea has going for it. But on top of that, brewed tea is loaded with micronutrients called polyphenols, which are found in plants.

Of the polyphenols, tea is high specifically in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids. In fact,

since nearly 95 percent of tea’s polyphenol compounds are flavonoids, tea ranks among plants with the highest total flavonoid content (Bliss 2003).

And according to the George Mateljan Foundation, “in the U.S. the largest single source of flavonoids is black and green tea.”

So are the health benefits the same if you EAT rather than drink tea?

tea leaves growing
Tea leaves

Short answer: it’s complicated.

Brewing tea leaves in hot water pulls out nutrients differently than when the leaves are simply eaten.

However, researchers have shown that compared to other green teas, matcha—tea leaves in powder form—has a much higher level of at least one type of flavonoid (Weiss and Anderson 2003).

On the other hand, heavy metal and pesticide residue may be more of an issue when eating entire leaves, so you want to ensure your leaves have been tested for these contaminants.

And why bother EATING tea when brewed tea is so delicious?

Because tea leaves can add flavor to just about anything! (Consider any health benefits from the tea itself a bonus.)

If you listened to the recent Food Bloggers Association interview with Lisa, a tea sommelier, in my last post, you heard about her businesses and learned that she is passionate about both drinking (TeaHaus) and eating tea (Eat More Tea).

spice-blend-5-webTea-infused gelato, caramel, marshmallows, hard candy, French macarons. Spice blends, from savory to sweet, with tea as the primary ingredient. Endless possibilities.

For example, I wouldn’t have ever thought of sprinkling black currant and orange blossom tea on chicken or veggies, but Lisa’s Tea Thyme Spice Blend No. 5—which includes these teas—elevates the whole over the parts.

tea-thyme_4727
Tea Thyme Spice Blend No. 5

High-quality loose leaf tea serves as the base; citrus peel along with thyme and other savory spices complete the blend. The promise of the potent aroma doesn’t disappoint—I find this flavorful combination absolutely terrific.

So the next time you want to jazz up that vanilla cake or roasted veggies, reach for the tea tins and explore the culinary diversity of tea for yourself!


Sources:
–Bliss, R. M. “Brewing up the latest tea research,” AgResearch Magazine, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2003.
–”Flavonoids,” The World’s Healthiest Foods, George Mateljan Foundation.
–Weiss, D. J. and C. R. Anderton, “Determination of catechins in matcha green tea by micellar electrokinetic chromatography,” Journal of Chromatography 1011(1–2):173-80. Sept. 5, 2003
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