Monday, April 27, 2015

Dr Who, Would you come to Tea?

 Dr Who, Would you come to Tea?

                                    Here you go for lovers of Dr Who - a video link to enjoy!

Check this one out as well:
There is an amazing  short video showing a person pouring tea.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

MyTea Brew

My Tea Friend, Donna

It is always a pleasure to drop by and visit Donna Sikora, owner of MyTea Brew. She sells premium quality loose leaf teas and tea blends. Her company reaches into the community at local market places in the Toronto area. Donna is selling MyTea Brew teas at Humber Bay Shores Farmers Market until the end of the 2014 season. Drop by and tell I sent you!

Donna and I are fellow certified Tea Sommeliers and were among the first year graduates from the tea school at George Brown College. We laugh and share stories and recipes and ideas. Sometimes we meet up for a chat over tea with other tea school graduates.

Donna always has a little something special and today she was serving samples of  Sweet Prickly Pear Herbal Tea. This exceptional tea is flavoured with green tea, bits of melon, papaya, pineapple and mango and  has attractive yellow sunflower and blue cornflower blossoms.  The tea can be served hot or cold. Mytea Brew has other teas that work at all levels of the senses. You can see and feel  the tea leaves from the sampler. Smell it, taste it ! My fav is the little yogurt stars in Cinnamon Star!),

Now here is a great tip for iced tea: To keep the beverage cold for family, visitors or guests, make the tea in advance and freeze some in a reserved yogurt container or other mold. Pop out the frozen block of tea and add it to a large iced tea  pitcher or serving urn like the one pictured here with Donna.  The frozen iced tea will keep the beverage cold and will not dilute the drink. You can also freeze edible flowers, sliced fruit or herbs such as mint leaves into the ice block for an extra special presentation.

I find most teas make excellent iced tea brews. I prefer to use the cold steep method*(see below for instructions). Its fast and easy to prepare and ready to drink without the fuss of making ice cubes and ending up with a diluted drink.  However, I find that more flavours develop with a hot tea brew and are more intense. So, you have to use a little bit more tea when using a cold brew. To freshen up a tea containing herbs, rub the leaves gently between your fingers before brewing. This will help release some of the essential oils and flavours during brewing. Crack open any cardamom seeds to get extra flavour or add an extra stick of cinnamon for more intense flavour. I use the cold steep method when using Japanese teas such sencha or flavoured sencha

Donna has very flavourful teas some of which she has blended herself. From my experience, they are all wonderful and you should try a new one every week to maintain your gastronomic interest. Check out Donna's web site for descriptive ingredients and pricing.  I had a delightful hot cup of White Jasmine Goddess this afternoon. It was fragrant with Jasmine leaves and the floral scent of Ti Kuan Yin oolong tea. Very aromatic and gently relaxing for the afternoon and very aptly named as the liquor is pale. Later tonight, I will have a Camomile & Lemon before bed.

* Cold Tea Brew Method

Fill a carafe such as a Bodum Ice Tea Jug with cool filtered water. Add tea in the ratio of 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 ml) to 250 ml ( 8.4 oz) of water to a paper tea filter, large tea ball or a section of cheese cloth tied with string. Loose tea is messy and you will need to filter the tea before drinking. Drop the tea bag into the water, swish until leaves are wet, then cover. Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 7 hours. Remove the tea and filter the cold beverage if necessary before serving.
If you are using tea bags, try using 4 tea bags to 3 cups of water, One of my favourite cold tea recipes is combining  2 chamomile and 1 mint tea bags in 3 cups of water.  Serve with fresh mint. Or try 2 mint tea bags and sliced cucumber in 3 cups water.
A cold brew mellows out the high notes from the tea and makes it less bitter and thus more sweet tasting. People who use sugar may find a cold brewed tea sweet enough. Adding natural sweeteners such as Honey, Stevia or Agave can compliment iced teas.
Remember, you can add additional herbs and/or sliced fruit to play up the notes in the tea. For Prickly Pear Tea, add speared cubes of fresh prickly pear into a glass before serving. Star Fruit, Dragon Fruit and other exotic fruits are often fragrant and maybe a bit bland tasting but really look pretty as a garnish.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Wee Bit of Irish Tea

Road Trip!

 I went off to Niagara On The Lake before Christmas for a day trip. Sure, there are lots of tea places in this quaint Ontario town. However, I visited  The Irish Shop, scouting out the gluten-free goodies for friend. I found a delightful tea room at the back of the store.

There something nice about being served tea in stainless steel. You know there will probably be no odours left from prior teas scented with peppermint or bergamot.

The tea bread was soft, moist and delicious with the sweet churned butter.

I will return when the weather is warmer before there are too many tourists.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Tea Cart - For Serving English Tea

This is a Gibbard-built "1642 Tea Wagon". Gibbard was an amazing quality furniture company located in Napanee, Ontario, Canada that started in 1835 and produced much of the fine furniture in the southern Ontario region. They prided themselves in having well-developed designs and on hand polished furniture. Sadly, the business folded in 2008.

 This tea wagon is made of mahogany veneer and measures 18"W x 27"D x 30"H.

There is a drop handle and a drawer. There are two wings that lock extending the surface to a full 39". There are 2 large cartwheels and 2 smaller stabilizing wheels. The larger wheels have a band of rubber to dampen the bumps along the way. Its value today is in the range of $200-$400. These carts were very popular for the serving tea when entertainment in one's home was popular. The carts were made in different woods and styles. If you have one, it is best if left in the original condition. There are some replacement parts still available, such as the wheels.

Lets have a chat about some of the uses of the wagon for tea. Certainly it is a convenience to have a table with wheels for any home. I doubt that in 1624 there would have been such a table made. Tea was just coming to Europe and was not at a stage where afternoon teas were served in the style as they were later a century later. It wasn't until the mid to late 19th century that tea was a popular beverage and served among the gentry with fancy sandwiches and dainties (pastries and other sweets).

This tea cart has two shelves below the table top. There is one tiny drawer for silver teaspoons and sugar tongs. There is a detachable handle used to push or pull the cart to and from the kitchen,  and as needed to guests across a broad room. The most wonderful thing about this piece is the two elegant drop leafs that are able to lock in place. They serve as table extensions.

Typically the cart would be wheeled into the kitchen and loaded up with items for a fancy tea. The maid or hostess would wheel the cart out, with tea cups clinking lightly. The sandwiches and sweets and plates would be tucked on the shelves underneath.  The tea service (tea pot, cream and sugar   containers) would sit on top of the wagon. The hostess would prepare and pour the tea for her guests either from the top of the wagon or transferred to a table top. "Low tea" would be served from a low table, at coffee-table height while the hostess would sit on the edge of a sofa.

The glass tray is an elegant addition. However, only light items could be set on the glass. Tea would be poured by the hostess and the maid or a responsible girl from the family would go around the sitting room and offer the tea cup with milk and sugar from the tray to seated guests.

So, if you have a tea wagon, take care of it. Get out your good china and silverware and fancy napkins and make tea a party! If you need some guidance on tea party-ing, consult The Tea Party Guide.

Update - July 2014:
I found a few photos of a vintage tea cart on display at the Rutherford House in Edmonton, Canada, the home of Alberta's first premier, A.C Rutherford. The home is restored to circa 1911 and is open for public viewing and tours.  In the living room, there is a lovely silver tea pot on a tea cart. Fine homes would have enjoyed serving guests tea by a maid servant wheeling the tea cart across to guests around a large room.

Rutherford House, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Rutherford House Tea Cart - Profile

Rutherford House Tea Cart

The ornate silver tea pot pictured above and below is suspended in a cradle or stand from a pin at each side of the vessel. This permits the hostess to pour from her chair elegantly by tipping the heavy tea pot over each cup. The cup would be passed to either the guest or a maid would take the cup to a seated guest on a tray. This style of tea pot may also be used for guests to serve themselves. It is stationary so there is more control, less chances of spillage and easy access for refills.

Magpie at the Rutherford House
Tilting Silver Tea Pot on Stand

Update: May 19, 2015. Added additional views of the tea cart

A Canadian Japanese Tea Ceremony

I am teaching myself Japanese Tea Ceremony.

There are very few people to teach Japanese Tea Ceremony here in Canada. It is a very formal cultural practise among the Japanese as an aesthetic. It is very exclusive. So what's the problem?  I have the teacher - videos, You Tube and lots of books for reference. I have authentic tea ware. I am practising a Canadian form of Japanese Tea Ceremony. There is a mystery around this Japanese Tea Ceremony and there shouldn't be.

The Japanese tea ceremony is very ancient. According to reading material, the tea ceremony was developed at a time of strict rules of behavior during a time of military rule. The Shoguns were the warrior class. Its hard to relate to different social classes here in Canada as we are homogeneous, except for the very wealthy and the very impoverished. Perhaps we do have a Warrior class - our Military Service people, our boxers and fighters, sport competitors such as soccer, baseball, football and any activity that takes place in an arena and where there are active participants who take a position and observers (an audience). Sorry, the Anthropology background leads sometimes. Zen monks used the ceremony to provide discipline and order to everyday life. They were the original growers of tea in Japan and brought the plants over from China. Tea provided health benefits and alertness for the mind during long meditations. Soon it became a popular drink among all classes. Tea continues to have formal ceremony behind it for special occasions. When something is special, we want to take a moment to appreciate it.

We need tea ceremony more and more to counter a stressful life and to teach rules of behavior and proper conduct. Ritual provides teaching in Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a concept of watching your mind and returning to a natural state. It is taught in hospitals to help manage pain, depression and mental burnout. When you become aware of  thoughts, sensations and emotions and recognize them as phenomena of the mind, techniques can be applied to move past these challenges and behaviors. A tea ceremony helps to silence the mind through focus on what is happening in the here and now. The tea ceremony becomes a container for the mind. Drinking tea helps to wake up the mind and to provide alertness. Put the ritual and the tea together in one ceremony and you can have an enlightening experience, being both relaxed and alert. Just like a meditation.  So, when you sit and take tea, remember to reach for the noisy mental parts of yourself and offer them up for the tea to heal, to quieten the mind and to dissolve your thoughts into nothingness

In an age where there is attention deficit disorders among adults, a tea ceremony is something you work with your mind to focus on. You relax, you empty your mind of distractions. You don't know what's going to happen next. But if you do, you relax into that moment, moment by moment. Allow the nothingness to be there. Allow yourself to be aware of the nothingness and remain in that state while the tea ceremony activity continues. More of this later.

Tea Expo East - Philadelphia - Sept 8-9, 2011

Finally there is an opportunity to post a few items about the Tea Expo that a few fellow Canadian Tea Sommelliers and I attended last year, in 2011. It was an interesting experience as it was my first tea expo outside of Canada. This was also the first Tea East conference. The smaller fair provided ample opportunity to talk to some headliners such as James Norwood Pratt,  Jane Pettigrew, and Kim Roberston among others.
Yes, Here we are with Norwood James Pratt with the Canadian ladies,  Raelene Gagnon ot the left , Ingrid Folkers, and myself on the right.
A highlight was meeting the owners of various tea suppliers. I was most impressed with  represtation from African tea suppliers. I loved learning more about packaging options.

 I attended several conference sessions that were of interest to me from an educational and experiential perspective. I came away with better information and solidified some ideas for future use. Learning more about pu-erh teas flipped my perceptions. Now I am an advocate of taking pu-erh.

We also took in some local sites, such as the Philedelphia Reading Terminal Market and that street where they shoot part of the movie, "National Treasure" with Nicholas Cage running around with that worried look that never changes.  Hollywood actors seem to get their teeth realigned and veneered and sadly they all lisp or chew on their words. I digress.

I'm still sampling bits and peices I picked up during the conference, whether it is the content-rich printed material or the generous tea samples. I feel here in Canada we are still missing out on the tea market. The is more out there than the David's candy-tea and the Teopia's/Teavana one-size fits all.  I don't know what the formula is for providing new and interesting ways to promote tea as a beverage and as a health supplement. I think a lot more people would like to drink tea if they knew the health benefits. If there were more instant and ready to drink tea beverages, perhaps people would switch from those carbonated sugar beverages to something naturally sweet and healthy.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Leftover Teas - What to do with them

Jini in her fabulous kitchen
A while ago, I travelled to Vancouver for a vacation and dropped in to see my friend Jini. She's been a friend since the 1980's. She has a business called, Jini's Ethic Gourmet.  I can recommend her cook book, "Ethnic Pleasures". She's a brilliant person and makes cooking look so easy. While visiting, I offered to look through her collection of teas. Like most of us, we end up with a huge collection over the years. We don't throw out the teas for any  number of reasons. Some of which are:
1) Its dry so tea will last forever.
2) My guests might want them.
3) It gives variety to serving beverages.
4) The kitchen would look empty without them.
5) I'm trying to use it up.

Now really. Do you want all that old tea hanging around. Bad feng shui !! Get rid of it. So, that's what I did with Jini's tea. I went through all her teas. I recommended that her herbal tea not be kept past 6 months if its unopened. Other black and green teas that were opened and had been around for a such a long long time, that you can't remember when you bought it, should be thrown out. They pick up odors and as they are organic material, they start to break down and crumble. You can keep the vacuum-sealed teas for up to 2 years. They lose their flavours and quality fairly fast after that. Unless pre-packaging has been handled very well by the manufacturer, you would not get much enjoyment out of them when you do decide to use them. Its best to start off with fresh teas and plan to consume them within 6 months. Mark the package when you buy it if it does not already have a Best-Until date on it. Rotate the storage of your tea so you consume the older ones first to finish them up. Re-package the teas that have been opened in a tight fitting lidded metal box. This will keep moisture, dust and odors from invading your prized tea. For delicate green teas, they can be stored in the refrigerator to prolong their freshness. However, be aware that unless wrapped well and used within a few months, the tea will take on other odors of the fridge especially through plastic wrap.

Use up at least 1 box before you buy more. If you like variety, go to a tea store and get several flavours in smaller qualities. You can even mix them together for a unique blend of your own. Herbal teas are easy to blend with other teas on hand. I use up old tea by mixing a herbal tea and a  green tea, such as Camomille and Jasmine Tea, or a Fruit or Berry tea with a black tea for a flavoured ice tea with a bit of  extra nutritional value.  Remember not to store flavoured teas too close to unflavoured teas or the flavours will be absorbed.

Tips for Left Over Tea
So, what can you do with old tea other than throw it out?
  • Use for compost. Enrich the earth.
  • I make a steeped cocktail of  organic green and black teas, sometimes re-using tea bags to make a delightful  fertilizer for watering your plants. Use this tea fertilizer once a week for flowering plants. My geraniums love it and blossom indoors throughout the winter. 
  •  Deodorize  your feet with a soak  in a foot bath of green tea to. No, it won't stain your skin.
  • Make a green tea bath for your skin. Soak a face cloth in warm green tea, place the tea-soaked cloth over your face and enjoy a few minutes refreshing your skin. The anti-oxidants and micro-nutrients soak into the skin for a youthful and radiant appearance. For the summer, dip a cloth in green tea, wring out slightly, roll up, place in a plastic bag and tuck in the refrigerator. Use the tea-soaked cloth on your face and back of neck to cool down. For pore cleansing and taming beard or shavers itch, use microwave to warm a green tea-soaked cloth. Blend green tea with fresh avocado for a super antioxidant facial pack. You can also add to hand cream.
  • For leftover matcha, a finely ground Japanese green tea, cooking is a great way to use up the tea and to get its health benefits more immediately into your system. Add to cakes, cookies, muffins, egg whites for "green eggs and ham", power drinks and cakes. Add to soups, fresh-made noodles and perogies. The green-coloured tea blends in well with other green dishes. The taste is generally mild enough to camouflage in many recipes, especially is you use a little.
  • For unflavoured black tea, use in soups, cooking beef meat, or in marinades. Its gives a brothy tannic taste.
  • There are lots of recipes for using black tea, from flavoured nuts  using powdered chai tea, jams and jellies using flavoured teas,  to using as an ingredient in gourmet recipes like marbled quail eggs. Some of the nicest recipes use Earl Grey tea. The Bergamot oil flavour of Earl Grey adds a citrus expression to cookies and cakes, not to mention making delicious iced tea!
If you have other suggestions for using up old tea, I'd like to hear from you.