Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Tea-Infused Chili Recipe

I love to cook (as does the Littlest Tea Critic), and I've been known to dabble a little bit here and there with adding tea as an ingredient. A few weeks ago I was cooking and decided to add some smoked paprika to the recipe. 'Smells like lapsang' was my first reaction when I opened the spice jar. I tucked that information away for later, and I recently got the chance to use it.

When Arbor Teas reached out to collaborate on a creative project using a tea of my choice, I thought it would be fun to try and create a recipe with one of their teas. It's still winter here in the northeast, and I decided to make something warm and comforting. I like creating variations on chili, as it's easily whipped up for a crowd, and the flavors can be tinkered with. I like to make mine with at least two different kinds of beans, and a sweet potato. Ok, so this isn't exactly a traditional chili recipe, but trust me, it works. To give my chili added comfort, I decided to use Arbor Teas lapsang souchong. The powerful flavor of this tea becomes a subtle smoky addition to the chili, similar to smoked paprika. The Littlest Tea Critic and I made this over the weekend, and I think she ate more of it than anyone else. She gives is a big thumbs up, which is a huge endorsement!

The Tea Happiness Smoky Lapsang Vegetarian Chili

2 15oz cans of beans, rinsed (I like to use kidney and cannelini, but it's your choice)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, seeds removed, chopped (these are often be found in small cans)
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 small sweet potato, diced (about 1.5 cups)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/8 tsp cinnamon
A splash of red wine vinegar (about a tablespoon)
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper 

1 cup water
2 tsp lapsang souchong (I used this one from Arbor Teas)

Add the lapsang souchong to a small bowl or mug. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil (you can do this in a kettle), pour over the tea and steep for 8 minutes. Strain and set aside.

In a dutch oven or large pot, heat the olive oil over medium/high until hot, add garlic, carrot, celery, and onion and cook until soft. Add sweet potato and about 1 tsp salt and a pinch (or a few grinds) of pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes more. 

Add the drained beans, chopped chipotle, chili powder and cinnamon. Stir well. Add in the steeped tea, vegetable broth, and red wine vinegar. Everything should be covered in the liquid, so add a little more broth (or water) if necessary. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Keep the pot mostly covered- I like to leave a little space for the steam to escape and let the broth reduce a bit. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper as desired (I like to add quite a bit of salt to mine, but not everyone agrees).

I like to serve my chili on a bed of rice, but you can use it top nachos, or add in a taco or quesadilla, whatever you feel like. It freezes really well too, which is nice if you want to plan ahead. 

Do you cook with tea? If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes! You can sub out any of the ingredients or add in more vegetables. Get creative with your chili, but don't forget to add tea. It's great for the winter weather, but also light enough for an early spring evening.

Speaking of tea, if you're interested in trying the Arbor Teas lapsang souchong, stay tuned! Next week I will be posting a giveaway where you can win a bag of this versatile tea. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Tasting: Mana Organics Assam Tea

Today's tasting is with a robust organic Assam from Mana Organics. It's a certified organic tippy golden flowery orange pekoe Assam black tea, to be exact.This basically means there are lots of buds included among the tea leaves.

Mana is enabling tea farmers to be self sufficient and organic. This Assam is from the Chota Tingrai Tea Estate, a family owned estate established in 1943. It is an organic 2nd flush tea. To learn more about Mana's organic farming practices check out my interview with Mana co-founder Avantika Jalan. Here are a few details on the company directly from Mana:
At Chota Tingrai Tea Estate, Mana Organics works directly with tea workers and management to oversee more than 100 hectares of certified organic tea land. We make all our compost and bio-controls on site. Additionally, Mana Organics invests a portion of our profits in projects that we operate with our worker communities. We are providing extra teachers for the estate schools, and a waste collection system in the worker villages.

The dry leaves are super sweet and floral. The sweet aroma is full of dates and honey. I'm getting a nuttiness as well. It smells like a selection of delicious snacks! It reminds me of a perfect afternoon respite with a selection of toast, honey, cheeses and nuts. The snacks are on a table topped with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Actually, this Assam would pair perfectly with those snacks. Are you as hungry as I am now? Sorry, on to the tea...

The steeped liquor smells like honey spread on toasted bread. It tastes slightly spicy along with honey, malt, and toast. I want to take a bite of that tasty toast (guess I really am hungry)! There is a slight astringency with a touch of dryness and it works well with this brisk tea. Overall it's a smooth, bold cup that has a pleasing flavor. I have a generous bag of this tea and I've been drinking it every morning. It's a great way to jumpstart the day.

The infused leaves smell sweet and malty, reminiscent of dates and sweet potatoes. I can smell the 'golden blossom honey' we used to put in our tea growing up. This tea is sweet and flavorful and doesn't need any milk or sweetener added. As I mentioned, it is a nice morning tea.

I'm curious to learn more about the company and their organic sustainable farming efforts. An interview is in the works, so stay tuned. Thank you to Mana Organics for this sample.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Steep Thoughts: Avantika Jalan of Mana Organics

Avantika Jalan

There are many tea companies that support sustainable organic farming, but there is often no explanation of what this really means. I recently had the chance to learn more about Mana Organics and taste their organic Assam tea (review will be posted tomorrow). I was curious to learn more about the company, and was able to correspond with Avantika, co-founder of the company, 'agri-specalist', and tea grower. Read on below to learn about Avantika, organic tea farming, and the challenges it poses in India.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Tasting: Nepal Tea Kumari Gold

There are many companies working to help improve tea growing communities around the world, and today's tasting is from Nepal Tea LLC a relatively new company helping tea farmers in Nepal by providing education, housing, and agriculture.

Here is a little more background on the company, from their website:
Nepal Tea was conceived in May 2016, when Nishchal came back to the US from his trip to his homeland, Nepal. He stayed on the tea farm, which his father started in 1984. After seeing the impact tea-farming had on the community – he wanted to expand on the idea and start a social venture that not only promotes organic teas from Nepal, but also enriches the lives of farmers and creates sustainable communities.
We are Nishchal Banskota and Sashreek Shrestha, two liberal arts college graduates who majored in business and are interested in social development. We are both Nepalese and see the opportunity to improve the lives of people in our homeland and put Nepal's tea on the world map.
They recently ran a kickstarter campaign that ended this week, and you can read all about their efforts here. I like that the company has complete transparency in the entire growing/processing/packing process, so you know exactly where your tea is coming from.

I was sent a few samples and decided on the Kumari Gold for this tasting. The name sounds sunny and inviting, which is perfect for this unpredictable early March weather. It was warm yesterday but supposed to snow tomorrow! Tea to the rescue...

This is a black tea produced by the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate. The dry leaves are lovely shades of brown and green with lots of fuzzy golden buds. The dry leaves smell very sweet, slightly floral with an aroma that reminds me of golden raisins. An inviting scent.

The brew holds that floral aroma and has bready notes, along with those golden raisins. The liquor is very smooth, with a light floral honey flavor. There is a mellow fruit flavor, similar to grapes or apples that have been stewed. It reminds me a little bit of a 'fruit compote' my grandmother used to make me as a child. Always warm and comforting. The tea has a slight citrusy finish which gives it a bit of astringency, but not much.

This is a medium-bodied tea, one that can be enjoyed in the morning or early afternoon. I'd pair it with avocado toast or perhaps an apple tart. This tea has enough strength for milk and sweetener, but I personally wouldn't recommend it. It has delicate nuances best enjoyed alone. It's a cup of liquid golden sunshine on a chilly winter day.

From the Nepal Tea website, I love this little tidbit about the name Kumari:
Fun Fact: The name "Kumari" represents the only form of living God in Nepal and also happens to be the middle name of the Mr. Deepak Prakash Baskota's wife. She planted the first tea bush in the Tea Estate (which was their backyard back then) in 1984. She has truly been the living God of all the farmers and their children who work for our factory.

Thank you to Nepal Tea LLC for the sample. I look forward to trying more, and learning more about the company's ongoing endeavors.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Tasting: Origins Tea Wen Shan Bao Zhong

This week's tasting is a spring-like bao zhong oolong from Origins Tea. This is the 2nd tea review from Origins Tea (you can find the first one here). This oolong is from the Wen Shan mountains (Shan means mountain) in northern Taiwan. I shared this oolong with a friend this week, and realized I should do a review. This was a perfect tea to share with a tea-loving friend that doesn't often drink green oolongs. It's a light yet satisfying tea that helped us get through the afternoon.

The dry leaves (which you can see above) are small, twisted and various shades of dark green. They smell vegetal, sweet and floral. As if I made a salad out of dried snap peas and flowers. An inviting aroma, especially since I'm pining for springtime.

A post shared by sara shacket (@tea_happiness) on

The tea is green and floral. Subtle, creamy and gentle. The flavor lingers, and it has a nice soft mouthfeel. The first few steeps have more of a sweet veggie flavor, like well-steamed snap peas. Subsequent steeps start to bring out more of the floral notes. I find that the floral notes were even more enhanced when the tea cooled a bit. This tea is delicate and sweet, like drinking a cup of fragrant crab-apple blossoms. Ok, I think I've mentioned before that I'm not very good at identifying the specific flowers in a 'floral' fragrance, but this one is an exception. Why?

I'll always remember the aroma of crab apple blossoms in early spring. Growing up we had a little squat tree that served as the perfect hideout right after the blossoms burst open. I spent many a 'hide and seek' session sitting under the tree. I'd be magically encompassed by the low canopy of branches, surrounded by the sweet scent while little white petals drifted down creating a wooded fairy wonderland.

leaves after about 4 infusions

The infused leaves have a strong vegetal aroma more like cooked green veggies, with that crab apple blossom scent clinging to the leaves. This aroma switches to more straight up floral as the steeps progress.

This is a lovely afternoon tea. It's lightly vegetal and sweet, the breath of springtime. It's a tea I could drink for a few hours and still anticipate the flavor after each infusion.

Thank you to Origins Tea for the sample! For more information on the company, you can visit their website here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tasting: Tillerman Tea Spring 2016 Dong Ding Roasted Oolong

February is always a tough month. The skies are often grey and dull. It's cold and dark when I wake up and return home from work. It's too cold to take long walks with the kids, so weekends are fidgety and anxious. For these and many other reasons, it's been a tough winter.

One of the bright spots is sharing tea with friends. It's amazing how much lighter and airy things feel after a few shared steeps. We try to cultivate this convivial feeling in the office with our weekly Tea Club meetups. We've recently tried to pay more attention to our tea and snack pairings and this week we had a successful go at it.

I love a good roasted oolong and decided to serve Tillerman Tea's Spring 2016 Dong Ding Roasted Oolong for our Office Tea Club gathering this week. We were doing a Valentine's Day theme with peach heart gummies and chocolates. I thought the roast and apricot notes would work well with the sweets. It's also been cold and snowy here and I find roasted oolongs to be super soothing and cozy in winter (but really I love them any time of year).

Dong Ding (can also be written as Tung Ting) translates to 'frozen summit'. Makes sense since the tea is grown on its namesake mountain. The Tillerman Tea website helpfully tells us the tea was grown by Chen Fang Yan with the oolong cultivar Qing Xin. It's 20% oxidized, and roasted.

The dry leaves were nutty with hints of caramel and wood with a pleasing sugary sweetness. I noticed a light floral aroma as well. I'm not well versed in flowers so I couldn't tell you what kind. The first infusion was super roasty and comforting. Almonds, apricot, and nice crunchy toast came to mind. The tea is also quite sweet, which everyone found enjoyable. Subsequent steeps found the toast and apricot flavors sticking around, and each pour was super smooth and sweet.

I tasted one of the peach gummies that had been splashed with tea and it was delicious! The toast and apricot flavors in the tea seemed to highlight the juicy sweetness in the gummy candy. I had to dunk one right in my cup after that. Anyone want to create a peach oolong candy for me?

My potpourri

I have to confess-I kept the infused leaves on my desk for a couple of days, because they smelled so good. I may have taken a sniff here and there to boost my mood. Perhaps like a toasty, fruity tea potpourri. Or aromatherapy. I'll definitely need to purchase more of this tea since it did such a nice job of dissolving my winter blues.

To learn more about Tillerman tea, check out my interview with founder David Campbell, and check out their website. Thank you to Tillerman Tea for the samples.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Steep Thoughts: David Campbell of Tillerman Tea

David Campbell of Tillerman Tea
I'm excited to bring back interviews to the blog, and I've decided to call them Steep Thoughts since we get to go behind the scenes and learn more about folks in the tea industry.This week I'm excited to present David Campbell and his company Tillerman Tea.  The company features beautiful Taiwanese teas from growers that are sustainable and environmentally friendly in their practices. Learn a little bit about David's experience and passion for tea in our interview.