Friday, August 26, 2011

Darn that Cardiologist

My cardiologist has asked me to start drinking decaf tea. When he saw the horrified, not to mention stubbornly negative, expression on my face, he amended that to one cup of caffeinated tea a day and the rest decaf. I dutifully started checking the internet for decaf teas. Most decaf teas I have come across ... and my search has not been particularly extensive and certainly not exhaustive as yet ... have tended to be flavored teas. Now I suspect flavored teas often have,as their base, teas I wouldn't buy on a bet. I know, that statement is sheer snobbery. But I have discovered so many lovely teas in the recent years, especially among green and white teas, that I am loathe to lower my standards. In deference to my doctor, I have recently purchased one decaf black tea, flavored with peach and apricot bits. As flavorings go, peach and apricot are the ones I find least offensive ... even at times, actually pleasant. This tea, from Culinary Teas, is an unspecified black tea flavored with bits of dried apricot and peach. This is my very first cup. I have done everything I can to elevate the experience, psyching myself up with a beautiful cup and saucer, a dainty little teaspoon, some buttered toast as an accompaniment. And still my verdict is a grudging "Okay, this is acceptable." As I expected, the strongest note is peach and the underlying tea has a slightly astringent but not unpleasant taste. It is pictured here in one of my depression glass tea and biscuit cup and saucers. I have a set of four that I found in a not- quite-antique-shop-but-not-exactly-junk-shop ... a sort of indoor flea market.

Tea drinking has been a pleasure in the past. It feels rather flat to demote it to a merely acceptable experience. And, damn it, I like the taste of tea. When I want the flavor of fruit, I'll drink juice or eat fruit. When I lift a teacup, I want to taste tea. I suspect I'll follow my doctor's regimen in other ways: loose more weight, exercise more frequently, practice my Tai Chi more assiduously, learn deep-breathing exercises to slow my heart rate, take my medicine faithfully. Maybe even reduce my caffeinated tea intake from six to eight cups a day down to three or four. But there I draw the line! At least until I find more enjoyable decaf teas. Being a sensible soul, I will keep looking.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Pretty Cup on a Dreary Morning

I enjoy checking out antique shops, thrift stores and flea markets for tea cups and other tea accessories. I found a pair of these pretty hand-painted tea cups and saucers from A.C. Schmidt & Sons [New York] in a shop on the western shore of the Cheasapeake Bay in Maryland. Rather odd, for a native New Yorker to have to travel to Maryland to find tea things originally manufactured in New York. I especially enjoy using a pretty cup like this on a morning when the weather is not particularly cheery. It starts the day with a bit of a lift, a touch of beauty to cheer the heart. The tea is my last bit of Assam Golden Rain from Teavana, a workmanlike morning brew, brisk, with a clean taste and a slightly vegetal aftertaste. Not spectacular and not something I would purchase again. It seems to me that I get the same level of quality in an Assam tea for a lower price whenever I purchase a basic Irish Breakfast Blend, which is, admittedly, my most frequently brewed morning tea. For my morning tea I like to use a bit of agave nectar as a sweetener and, heresy of all heresies, a small splash of half & half. I find Irish Breakfast teas not only stand up to that kind of treatment but taste delicious when served that way.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Search of the Elusive Tea Biscuit

Our local bakery stopped making a favorite of mine: a tea biscuit. I realize that in the British Isles, a biscuit is what we in the States call a cookie. Not so, with this biscuit. This Tea Biscuit is a yeast-raised bun similar to a Hot Cross Bun, with a slightly less cake like texture and raisins rather than candied citron. Oh, and the Tea Biscuits are round rather than square like Hot Cross Buns and haven't any icing or glaze. And the tops are probably brushed with water before baking to give them a bit of a shine.

Since I don't want to do without such a treat, I am currently casting about to find a recipe that is close [exact would be better]. My first stop was my go-to book for all tea time treats: The Afternoon Tea Book by Michael Smith. Copyrighted 1986. Hailing from the north of England, Mr. Smith wrote of childhood teas, afternoon tea with just the family and teatimes of a more lavish sort, tea at the Ritz. His book is part memoir, part history of tea lore and part cookbook. But alas, nothing like a tea biscuit was in his recipe section. His recipe for Plain Christmas Cake may be adaptable. I shall have to try it out: first as directed and then as modified by me. At least, I shall have to give it a go if I don't find anything else better suited to my needs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Culinary Tea Order Arrived ...

... a day later than advertised but intact. It is too early to tell, since I have only tasted the Irish Breakfast Blend, but my quest to find a replacement for the now defunct SpecialTeas may have to continue. I will withhold judgement till I have tasted the Assam and Nilgiri. The Irish Breakfast Blend is a decent, workmanlike tea ... a good wake-up tea. Culinary's version is a coarse, granular powder. I filled an infuser and brewed a large cup in my oversized ceramic "cup", sweetened with a bit of agave nectar and lightened with a splash of milk. Enjoyable, though not quite the equal of my old love. This tea stood up well to a second infusion: a real plus on a busy weekday morning. I find myself wondering if I am just being nostalgic for my previous vendor ... I don't handle change real well, especially when it comes to food and beverages ... with each sip, I am enjoying this strong, fragrant tea just a little bit more.

I am still waiting for my sampler package from Carolina Plantation Teas [Bigelow]. I am very curious to see if I will detect a difference between an American grown tea and the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Sri Lankan teas I have enjoyed in the past.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Silver Needle White

I have been choosing more delicate teas for my daily cuppa in recent days. Today, I filled this lovely Limoges teacup with a pale gold Silver Needle White, a Chinese white tea. There is something about a really fine cup, with its thin porcelain lip, that complements a delicate beverage like Silver Needle. If I were more knowledgeable, I could talk of finishes and aromas but all I am competent to say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this slightly sweet tea. Again, the steeping recommendations involved steaming but not boiling water and a steeping time of 3 to 4 minutes. I settled on 3 minutes and then decanted the tea to a second warmed pot. I find over-steeping tends to spoil white teas, bringing out a very nasty bitter edge. This is the first time I actually used the Limoges cup and saucer since I found it in an antique shop on the Western Shore [Md] of the Cheasapeake Bay. I must say I could easily become addicted to such fine things. It may be silly to think this tea tasted better when sipped from a dainty cup rather than from a sturdy mug ... but that is my take on it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chun Mee

I thought I would start today with a green tea: Chun Mee Organic, a Chinese Green Tea. The steeping directions state to use water from a kettle that has begun to steam nicely but hasn't yet come to a boil and to steep for two minutes. I find it best to follow these directions carefully and if I am making more than one cup, to decant this tea into a second pot at the end of the steeping time. This particular tea is not very forgiving if over-steeped, acquiring a bitter and overly vegetal edge. But properly prepared, it has a light, bright, clean taste without any vegetal undertones. Perhaps it is best served as an afternoon tea. It is not exactly a brisk, wake-me-up sort of brew. But, as I said, I was in the mood for something light. I have shown it here with one of my favorite teapots, a blue green Japanese pot in a lotus blossom design. The cup, a light green depression glass, does not show the pale gold liquor properly ... I should have used a china cup with a white interior for the photo. Live and learn. I am new to blogging about and photographing tea.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Origins of Tea-Reg

My secretary once warned a colleague who offerred to make me a cup of tea, "withdraw the offer immediately and avoid injury." She was overstating the case, of course, but I am known to be rather particular about my tea. I prefer properly brewed tea made with quality leaves and not the floor sweepings normally found in grocery store tea bags. I stand revealed as an unapologetic tea snob! Hence, the ferocity: a veritable Tea-Reg!

Until it closed up shop, I purchased my tea from When they sold their client list to Teavana, I did try the new vendor site but found it to be rather limited in scope. So I cast about the Internet for a new source as I was rapidly running out of my favorite black teas although I have a healthy supply of green and white teas. Indeed, this morning, I brewed a pot of a lovely delicate white tea flavored with peach pieces. The deep coral color comes from the dried pieces of peach [with skin]. As you pour the tea, it seems quite a pale gold but deepens to coral as the cup fills. The aroma is redolent of peach. A perfect tea for a summer Sunday.

I found and placed an order for 1lb of Assam, 1lb of Irish Breakfast blend and 1/2lb of Nilgiri as well as a sampler of the berry flavored teas favored by my husband. The new order should arrive on Wednesday and we shall see if I have found a reliable new source or need to keep looking. I wanted to check out some everyday teas before I invested in some Keemun or Pu-erh. If the quality of the basic stuff is good, I'll order some of the more expensive and exotic favorites. While I was in an ordering mood and because I was curious, I ordered a tea sampler from the oldest tea plantation here in the States: Plantation Teas in South Carolina. So the coming week should be interesting as the new-to-me teas arrive to be tasted.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Jumping Right In

I thought I'd start as I mean to go on: discussing teas, tea accessories, tea ware, tea books and tea recipes.

So today it will be a recipe. Inspired by the latest Laura Childs tea shop mystery, Scones and Bones, I decided to look in the larder and see what I had on hand to create a tea luncheon for my husband and myself today. [Aside: I realize the teashop series is hardly high literature but the books are great fun and certainly all I can handle when the temps climb into the 90s]. Anyway, what I ferreted out of fridge and pantry was: two boneless chicken breast halves, a bag of slivered almonds, a bottle of cold pressed olive oil, a sweet onion, some mayonnaise and a jar of apricot preserves.

Apricot Glazed Chicken Salad

Step One: In a teflon coated saute pan, dry toast 1/3 c slivered almonds, tossing frequently. Remove from pan and set aside.

Step Two: Add 2T olive oil to pan, tilt to coat the pan evenly. Gently lay the chicken breast halves in the pan. Cook on each side for three minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop about 1/3 c of sweet onion. Add to pan and saute till slightly softened.

Step Three: Add just enough water to deglaze the pan.

Step Four: Place a heaping tablespoon of apricot preserves on the top of each chicken breast, letting it melt down into the pan juices. Stir pan juices to incorporate melted apricot preserves. Add just enough water to keep preserves from burning [a Tbs. at a time]. Turn chicken breasts to coat both sides. Reduce to simmer. Cover pan. Simmer for another 20 minutes, checking, from time to time, to make sure glaze is not getting too thick [it'll burn] and turning the chicken.

Step Five: Remove chicken. Set aside to cool. Reduce the onion/glaze mixture, stirring constantly. Once it is nice and thick, remove from heat and set it aside in a bowl to cool.

Step Six: In a bowl combine 2T mayonnaise with enough of the glaze mixture to give it a nice sweet flavor [this is a matter of taste]. If mixture is too thick, thin with a bit of orange juice. Meanwhile, cube the cooled chicken. Fold chicken cubes into the mayo mixture. Stir in toasted slivered almonds.

Serving suggestions:

Line mini-croissants with a small leaf of Boston lettuce and fill with chicken salad to make a dainty sandwich

Fill lettuce cups with chicken salad, garnish with crumbled blue cheese or mandarin orange sections

Top toast rounds with chicken salad for an open faced tea sandwich, garnish as above