Thursday, February 14, 2019

Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice vs. Hot Apple Spice

Whenever I remember to check my blog stats, there is one post that always comes out on top, an old review of Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea. This is Harney's best selling tea, and in my review I was surprised to learn that it contains artificial flavors. Turns out that many of you were surprised as well, and sounded off in the comments section. I was content to leave it all at that, until I had the pleasure of attending a tea and cheese tasting at The French Cheese Board with tea pairings from none other than Harney & Sons. Emeric Harney, grandson of founder John Harney was on hand to discuss the teas they served along with the delicious cheeses. During the event he happened to mention Hot Cinnamon Spice, and how it contains natural and artificial flavors. Well, at that point I knew I had to tell him about my post, and ask him what he thought.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Tea History: Adding Milk To Tea

Many cultures add milk to their tea. British style tea, Taiwanese milk tea, masala chai and teh tarik are just a few that come to mind. Perhaps as you're reading this you are enjoying a milky tea latte. But when did milk get introduced into tea, and why? Adding milk to tea is not just for altering the flavor.

You may think that Western Europeans (most notably Britain) would be the first to add milk to their tea since it's such an important tradition today. People fight about adding the milk first, or tea first, and there are strong arguments for both. Perhaps you've heard a bit more about the subject, and you are either a 'miffy' or a 'tiffy'. But when did this all really start?

The History of Adding Milk To Tea
If you think about it, Tibetan butter tea has been around for far longer than European milky tea. One of my favorite tea history books, The True History Of Tea, mentions that tea could have been brought to Tibet in as early as 781 when a Chinese ambassador brought tea with him on his journey. In Mongolia the earliest record of adding dairy to tea comes from a court doctor:
The Yin Shan Zheng Yao (Essentials of Food And Drink) compiled by the Mongolian court doctor Hoshoi in 1332 contains the earliest description of the Mongolian use of butter and the preparation of tea...tea leaves were roasted in a wok until red, then boiled with butter and curd...
Tea was introduced to Mongolia from China, and butter and milk have been added to Mongolian tea for centuries. This was documented in the mid 1800s by French Missionary Évariste Régis Huc, who wrote about the tea was offered while visiting a Tibetan monastery. Once again from The True History Of Tea:
Like the Tibetans, they subsisted on a heavy diet of meat, milk products, and grain, and prized tea for its digestive properties. An ordinary cup of Mongol tea was prepared by breaking a tea brick into pieces with an axe, crushing the tea in a mortar, and boling the crumbs with water and a pinch of soda to extract all the strength and flavor. This infusion was set aside, and cow's or goat's milk oiled with an ample amount of salt. The tea infusion was then mixed with the milk, and some flour and Mongolain-style butter, made by boiling cream at a low heat, added. When this yellow broth had been brought to a boil, it was transferred to a Mongolian teapot- a two-foot cylindrical brass container with a handle on the side and two holes in the soldered lid: one for tea and one for air, and served in simple wooden bowls.

Adding Milk To Tea for Nutrition
In the case of Tibetan tea, yak milk and butter is added to increase the nutrition and caloric content of the tea. This tea will warm you up, give you energy, and keep you hydrated at the intense altitude of a cold, nomadic lifestyle. In areas of Mongolia, yak, horse, or sheep's milk would be added. I've only  had Tibetan tea in restaurants, and I'm guessing it's not exactly like the stuff you'd get at the source. But the tea I've had is heavy, salty, and...barnyard-y. It'll definitely fill you up and keep you warm. I found this interesting article from Eater that mentions a type of yak milk tea from Tibet. It'll give you a good idea of what the brew is like, and gives interesting cultural insight into the tea.

Why The British Add Milk To Their Tea
When the Dutch and British started adding milk to their tea, it could be because it was mimicked by what they saw in China. But others argue that it was to temper the delicate porcelain cups they created. Chinese porcelain cups were small and the tea was made to be consumed quickly. But when Europeans started manufacturing their own porcelain, they made the cups larger, which of course held more tea. This larger amount of tea sat in the cups longer, and would cause the delicate porcelain crack. But adding the milk first would lower the temperature, saving the precious pieces. Adding milk was reportedly popularized by Madame de la Sablière, an important figure in French society who in 1680 served tea with milk at her famous Paris salon. She supposedly added the milk because she wanted to save her delicate porcelain cups from cracking. This certainly makes sense, but there are other reasons why milk was added.

The quality of tea in the 17th and 18th century wasn't very good, due to poor storage and long ship voyages. Adding milk would dilute the pungent favors created from the poor quality tea. Another reason came a little later, as working class British citizens sought something to revive them in the middle of the day, and a brew of tea and sugar would do just that. I've often read books where coal miners and other laborers took flasks of milky sweet tea with them to revive them throughout the day.  This idea is related to 'high' tea and 'low' tea, but that's for another blog post!

Of course, milk tea is popular all around the world today, and as I type this I'm craving a strong masala chai latte. For one of the unique ways of adding milk to tea, check out my post about East Frisian tea. Have you tried Tibetan butter tea? What other unique ways do you add milk to your tea?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Teaware History: What Is Bone China?

I love learning about vintage teaware, especially its history. Lately I've been reading about the history of porcelain for an exciting project that I'll share soon, and I came across information on bone china. I have many vintage bone china teacups in my collection, but never really thought about what bone china actually is. I assumed it was called 'bone' because of the color. This is partially true, but I never thought it would pertain to what's actually added to the porcelain, to make it so...boney...

Porcelain is generally a mixture of kaolin clay, and feldspar. When you see 'china' as a material, usually it means it's made of porcelain. Bone china has one important addition, which is bone ash. Yes, it's made with charred animal bones, usually cow bones. From Wikipedia:
Once cleaned, the bone is heated to about 1000 °C (1832 °F) so that all additional organic material is removed from the bone and the bone becomes sterilized. Lastly, the newly sterilized bone is ground with water into fine particles which can be used as a raw material for bone china.
All of these cups are made with bone china

Bone China History
This all made me wonder, who decided to try adding bone ash to a clay mixture? In the early 18th century, European manufacturers desperately wanted to recreate the beautiful porcelain pieces imported from China, but had difficulty doing so. Before the discovery of hard paste porcelain in Germany, manufacturers were using all sorts of techniques to create a durable material. In the UK it was discovered that adding bone ash to soft-paste porcelain would strengthen the material during firing. English potter Josiah Spode is credited with perfecting the formula for bone china in the 1790s. From what I've read, the bone ash doesn't necessarily make the material stronger, but it does impart a creamier, white color that is difficult to otherwise achieve. The material is also quite thin and translucent. This delicate appearance was greatly sought after in teaware and other porcelain objects After the success of Spode, other English potters started developing formulas for bone china in the early 1800s.

From a blog dedicated to Spode history:
The Spode manufactory was the first to perfect a body using about 50% animal bone combined with the ingredients for true porcelain ie china stone and china clay. This is the formula which is now described as bone china. 
Bone china is translucent. See the silhouette of my fingers through this Shelley cup?

Identifying Bone China
Bone china is supposed to have a warm, creamy appearance, and the material is more translucent than regular porcelain clays. To be called 'bone' china the material should have at least 25% bone ash added, although it's tough to know how much was used. If you're wondering if you have a piece of bone china, hold it up to the light and put your hand behind it. Can you see it? If you can, it's likely  bone china. As with other fine china pieces, if you give the edge of a piece a flick with your fingernail, it should have a nice ring to it. Although if it doesn't it may not mean it's not bone china, it could mean there is a crack in the piece. But if you get some experience handling fine and bone china pieces, you'll start to have an idea for the look and feel of it. The easiest way to check? Look at the backstamp, if there is one. Along with the maker, it should include the words 'Bone China', 'Fine Bone China', 'British Bone China', etc.

Collecting Bone China
Bone china is generally more expensive than other china, because of the bone ash. The labor is more intensive to create the material. Bone china is easy to find today in stores that sell teaware and dishware. I prefer to collect vintage pieces that I find online and at flea markets and antique stores. I also found this helpful book that will help you clearly identify your china. Bone china was originally manufactured in England, so many of the older pieces you find will be from the UK.

The Question of Ethics- for Vegetarians and Vegans
If you're vegetarian or vegan, I'd be curious to know- would you knowingly purchase bone china?I am curious to know what you all think! Please leave a note in the comments.

Ok, I have to share one last strange my research got a bit out of hand, and I came across china pieces you can have created with HUMAN bones, as a memorial. This is definitely bringing bone china to a new level.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Teaching Kids Through Tea Parties

Throwing a tea party is a fun way to teach kids about tea, and they can learn important life skills too. Children benefit from all forms of play where they're able to use their imagination and get creative. Why not use a tea party to fuel those growing minds? I've written about the benefits of sharing tea with kids, and tea parties are a perfect way to help kids learn the etiquette of tea party manners, taking turns, learning to be mindful, and get a little knowledge about tea along the way. Children as young as 4 can enjoy sitting at a tea party and learn the importance of interacting with friends. I recently written about the history of tea sets for kids, but why not take those tea sets and make them more than just toys?

Setting Up
You don't need a fancy tea set-up for your kids' tea party. Adult or kid sized cups will do, and actually mismatched cups make things more colorful and fun. You can do any sort savory and sweet foods you'd like. I like to serve everything as finger food, since that's a traditional way to serve afternoon tea treats. You can even just keep it to a simple tea sandwich and a few cookies. Get the children involved in the planning and set-up, they'll feel more ownership and involvement in the party.

For the tea, you can use all sorts of herbal blends. I've done workshops for kids using floral, fruity, and herbaceous blends and the kids really are game for trying everything. I wouldn't recommend giving children large amounts caffeinated tea, but a a sip or two of green, black, oolong, or white tea could help them better understand different types of tea. If you're serving even a sip of caffeinated tea to children other than your own, you should get permission from the parents first. Also having the leaves available to touch and smell is a great way for them to interact with the tea.

Learning Life Skills Through Tea Etiquette
Throwing a tea party will teach kids valuable life skills through tea etiquette. Here are a few examples:
-Learning how to behave around a table. Sitting (relatively) still, listening to the individual talking, and learning how to ask questions are all things you do at a tea party, and these are important skills to work on at an early age.
-Waiting your turn is an important skill, and the tea party setting makes it fun. Waiting your turn to take tea and sweets, or waiting your turn to ask or answer a question.
-Sharing! Need I say more?
-The absence of electronics- knowing when to put the devices away is so vital these days.
-Saying 'please' and 'thank you'. This takes constant practice and repetition. Putting it in the context of a tea party makes it fun, and it will become second nature after enough practice.
-The fun in tasting and trying new things. Kids will be more interested in trying new foods if it's in a setting where they see their peers enjoying it. They'll also learn to slow down and taste.
-Learning that tea is for everyone, not just adults, and for both girls and boys.

Learning Basics About Tea
Through a simple tea party, kids can learn simple basics about tea. Here are just a few of them:
-Learning how to prepare tea in a pot. You can use loose leaves or tea bags, but it's helpful for kids to learn how tea is made.
-If you're using loose tea leaves, kids will get to see how tea can vary in shape, size, and color based on how it's processed.
-They'll learn there are different types of tea, and also how different herbs and flowers can be used for tisanes.
-Children will see how a tea set isn't just something you play with, it's for enjoying tea with friends.

Once children are in elementary school other subjects can be added, such as:
-How different cultures drink tea.
-Historical tea facts.
-More in-depth information on tea growing and processing.

As you can see, there is so much children can learn through a simple tea party! Teaching kids about tea is a new series I'll be featuring much more on the blog in the coming months. I've given tea seminars to children in the past, and as a mother of two little ones I have a bit of first hand experience in the matter. I look forward to sharing more with everyone soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Recipe: Fresh Turmeric And Ginger Tea

Living in NY means being in contact with innumerable of people on a daily basis. In one subway car alone, you're stuffed in surrounded by people who are often coughing and sneezing (and who knows what else). This is the time of year when everyone at the office is sick, and the kids keep coming home with sniffles. I decided it was time to pull out the soothing wintertime teas. I like to drink tisanes with turmeric and ginger when the cold and flu season hits. I find turmeric, honey and ginger incredibly soothing for coughs, sniffles, and sore throats. Add in a bit of lemon, and it's even better. I recently created a recipe for fresh turmeric and ginger tea that is the perfect remedy for the wintertime blues.

A few months ago a neighbor gave me a jar of a Korean tea concentrate that is essentially a thick concentrated paste of yuzu, ginger, and honey all mixed together. To prepare, you simply dissolve a few teaspoons in hot water. I love the ease of having this concentrate in the fridge. But the store-bought tea is a bit too sweet for me and it's not always easy to find in the store, so I thought I'd create my own version of zingy ginger tea and add a healthy dose of turmeric.

Turmeric always seems like a good idea, especially during cold and flu season. Lemon too, for the added vitamin C. I love how the yuzu flavor tastes in the jarred version that I have, but yuzu is quite difficult to find and lemon is a great substitute. Fresh turmeric can also be tricky to find (I had to check a couple of stores before I found it), so you can substitute ground turmeric in the recipe if necessary.

Tips To Consider
- If you're using fresh turmeric, be careful of staining! This stuff is potent. My fingernails were yellow for a couple of hours afterwards, even after vigorous hand washing.
-I grated my ginger and turmeric by hand, which can be a bit of a pain. If you have a food processor or mini-chopper, use it!
-I like to use raw honey in this preparation, it supposedly has more nutrients. But any honey will do.
-You can absolutely use ground ginger and turmeric for this recipe, but you won't need as much. Fresh turmeric is difficult to find, and can be expensive, so please go ahead and use ground. I note the measurements in the recipe below.
-You can thinly slice pieces of lemon and add it to this mixture, but I prefer just using the zest and juice. The white pith of the lemon isn't as pleasant to chew on, but it is edible.
-To zest the lemon, I love using a microplane to get every last bit of zest, but a regular grater with tiny holes also works just fine.
-This recipe makes enough for quite a few teaspoons of concentrated tea paste. I like to keep mine in a sanitized jar in the fridge, as it keeps for a couple of weeks. I hoard small jars after they've been used, exactly for this kind of purpose. My husband gets a bit annoyed with our cabinet overflowing with empty jars, but hey, they come in handy!

Tea Happiness' Fresh Turmeric and Ginger Tea 

2 tbsp fresh grated turmeric, or 3 tsp ground
3 tbsp fresh grated ginger, or 1 tbsp ground 
1/4 C. Honey
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon 

1 cup freshly boiled water

Peel fresh turmeric and ginger before grating. Once grated, combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly to create a marmalade-like paste. Add 1-2 teaspoons of the paste to a mug, and pour in hot water. Stir to dissolve. 

Add the remaining paste to a clean, small jar, it keeps in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

Add as many teaspoons of this tasty mixture as you like to hot or cold water for tea. Too much ginger for your liking? You can use more water, and less paste. I also sometimes top up my mug with a bit more lemon juice if I'm feeling really under the weather. This is a versatile drink you can make hot or cold, but I love a steamy cup of this in the winter or any time I'm feeling sick.

Even when I'm not feeling sniffly, I love keeping this tea in the fridge to enjoy on winter evenings. Just plop a few teaspoons in a mug and mix with hot water for a soothing, delicious warm hug. For a more authentic Korean yuzu citron tea, check out Jee's recipe at Oh How Civilized. For something warming with a bit of booze, try my chai spiced hot toddy recipe. How are you staying healthy and warm this winter? Would love to know all of your hot tea remedies!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

How To Grow Tea, Pt. 1: Growing Camellia Sinensis

watering the tea plants
One of my most favorite tea activities of 2018 was watching tea seeds grow into new little seedlings. Discussing new beginnings and growth felt like the perfect way to welcome in 2019, so here we go! My first post all about growing tea at home. I'll walk through everything I did, mention what worked, and what didn't. Growing tea at home is a learning process, so this is part 1 of the installment: germinating the seeds through transplanting to mid-sized pots.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Festive Earl Grey Champagne Cocktail

As you can see, I've been obsessing over tea cocktails lately. I love a festive cocktail, and holiday time is the perfect excuse to get creative. New Year's Eve is almost here, and I've been thinking about tea and champagne, as one does. Wouldn't it feel glamorous to sip on a tea infused champagne cocktail while ringing in the new year?

I was going back and forth about what type of tea to add to the champagne, and settled on earl grey. If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you'll know I'm not a fan of earl grey on its own, but I love adding it to things. In this cocktail it gives a bright citrus accent that works nicely with the fizzy wine.

Earl grey is black tea with added bergamot flavor (either natural or otherwise). I was originally going to also add orange juice to this cocktail, to enhance the citrus kick from the tea. But I was thinking it should be a little bit more boozy, given the occasion. I decided cointreau would work nicely since it has a strong orange flavor.

Tips To Consider:
-You can use tea bags or loose tea here, whatever you have in your cabinet. But...
-If you are using loose leaf tea, I find it's easier to infuse the tea in a teapot, then strain the mixture into a pan to dissolve the sugar.
-Any sparking wine will do here- champagne, cava, or prosecco, any bubbly wine with a similar flavor profile would work.
-I use a homemade earl grey simple syrup for this cocktail (recipe below), but if you don't have time to make it, you could just steep up a cup of earl grey tea and add sugar to taste. But the earl grey simple syrup really adds a bit of extra flavor to this cocktail.
-You can serve this cocktail in champagne flutes, and I also love old-fashioned coupe glasses, they give a little bit of extra style.
-For garnish you could add a curl of orange or lemon peel. I love using edible gold stars, they are a fun way to add a little bit of bling to the situation.

Tea Happiness' Earl Grey Champagne Cocktail
Makes 2 cocktails

Earl grey simple syrup (1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 3 tbsp earl grey tea)
Champagne, or similar sparkling wine

First, make the earl grey simple syrup: bring 1 cup water to a boil, turn off the heat and add 3 tbsp of earl grey tea, or three teabags. Allow to steep for 5-10 minutes and strain (I like to use a teapot for this step). Bring the tea back to a medium heat (you don't want to boil here) and add in the sugar. This may seem like a crazy amount of sugar, but trust me it works. Stir until completely dissolved. Allow this mixture to cool, and put it in the fridge until chilled. A couple of hours should do it.

Assemble the cocktail: put two tbsp of chilled earl grey simple syrup in the bottom of your champagne glass, then add 1 tbsp of cointreau. Top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with a curl of lemon or orange peel if desired. Or for a little bit of sparkle, try adding a few edible gold stars.

This cocktail is perfect for a New Year's Eve celebration, or even for weekend brunch. Why save the festive feeling for just a special occasion? It makes a great addition to sweet or savory brunch foods. And really, who doesn't love a little bit of bubbly now and again? Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! Thank you so much for reading the blog, and I look forward to a new, tea-filled year to come. I have lots new tea stories to share. Cheers!