Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Tea Spot: What kinda tea do you have on tap?

Okay, I was not planning on posting this as I did not feel this was a true tea experience, but a couple of people twisted my arm after I told them all about it.  Here you go!

This last Sunday, I decided to partake in a day trip offered through ShortTrips.ca, a company owned by my good friend Sash.  On this particular day, Sash organized an outing taking place around the Brantford, Hamilton, and Dundas area of Ontario. 

Sash enjoying a beer for afternoon tea!

The day started off at the Olde Schoolhouse Restaurant for brunch which was delicious and my table companions were a hoot!  

Afterwards, we headed off to tour a lavender farm at Weirs Lane Lavender Farm & Apiary.  I didn't even know lavender grew in Canada.  I thought it was a very European thing.  Who knew? 

Weirs Lane Lavender Farm

To end the day off, we headed to the town of Dundas which was a complete ghost town on a Sunday afternoon.  After aimlessly strolling around town which took about 20 minutes, we made our way to a charming and delightful little tea house for afternoon tea.  NOT!  We were accommodated in the bowels of a bar called Collin's Brewhouse!  Yeah baby!  This is not your girly-girl tea hangout with doilies, chandeliers, and paintings of floral arrangements. Nope!  I'm sure this is where guys held their stags watching vacant-looking strippers perform their routines!  The d├ęcor had all the makings of a sports bar private room:  several television screens, a pool table, a bar, and folding chairs.  All it needed was some loud rock music, a Leafs game on the TV's, and guys chowing down on chicken wings along with pints of beer.

Collin's Brewhouse private function room.

English billiards with your English tea?

The staff at Collin's was great!  High five gang!  They provided a delicious food spread, though a bit on the large scale.  No dainty, crust-free, finger sandwiches with light fillings here!  We were offered MANwiches!  I went for the turkey wrap, veggie manwich, and a fruit salad.  My dessert consisted of a chocolate brownie, carrot cake, and a Nanaimo bar.  Quite good!  Tea was a disappointment, but I wasn't expecting them to have the appropriate tea vessels, diffusers and a list of high-end loose-leaf teas.  They provided Higgins & Burke tea bags.  I had a green tea which I found to be a bit tart.  I noticed I was the only one who had tea.  Everyone else went for beer and cocktails!  Hey, they know they're in a bar!

For the hungry man!

My green tea in a bag.


Though, this is not what I was expecting in afternoon tea, it was enjoyable and I made the most of it, especially since I was dressed appropriately for a bar.  I looked like I was on my way to a Pearl Jam concert!  It's the plaid shirt.

I'm with the band!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Tea Story: The Drama of Bodhidharma.

A long, long, time ago, there was this monk named Bodhidharma who was so dedicated to his unpaid profession that he spent 9 years of his precious life meditating in a cave with his gaze fixed to a wall!  That’s right, 9 years!  I can’t even meditate for 5 minutes in my yoga class without losing focus and thinking about food, sex, money, or sex!  Did I say that already?  Back to the story…when year 7 rolled around, Bodhidharma was so exhausted and sleep-deprived that he began to lose concentration and started to doze-off.  Angry at himself for his lack of drive and control, he ripped-off his eyelids and threw them to the ground ensuring no way of ever falling asleep on the job again!  Wow!  I thought I had issues!  KIDS, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!  Stick with the Red Bull, you’ll be just fine!  Where the eyelids fell on the ground, sprouted a majestic tea tree.  Bodhidharma picked a few of the tea leaves and began to chew on them.  All of a sudden, he was sitting much taller, feeling alive and alert, but relaxed at the same time.  Hmmmmmmm…must be the slow-release of caffeine! ;)  This enabled Bodhidharma to go on and complete his meditation for the remainder of his 9 years and looking permanently shocked while doing so.  That’s the drama, of Bodhidharma.  The end.

Bodhidharma with tea!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Teaology 101: I can't believe it's not tea!

Okay, now you know what tea is. Now, I’m going to tell you what is not tea. There are plenty of drinks on the market impersonating themselves as teas because we prepare and drink them much like, well, tea. There are the fruity beverages that include ingredients like apples, berries, oranges, and lemons on their own or combined with other ingredients like ginger, cinnamon, and ginseng. Then there are the botanical drinks that contain mint, jasmine, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, and of course chamomile. Also, there are lesser known, but, becoming increasing popular beverages, like rooibos and yerba mate. All these drinks are brewed much like tea: the ingredients are infused in hot water. However, because they do not contain the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, they cannot be classified as a tea. They are actually categorized as herbal teas or even better, tisanes. Go on….say it! TISANES!

Please do not shun the tisanes! There’s room for both! Tisanes have wonderful aromas, flavours and health benefits of their own. The following are just a few examples:

Peppermint is known to aid digestion, used as a cold and flu remedy, and contains cancer-fighting ingredients.

Chamomile soothes muscle, stomach and back aches, reduces feelings of anxiety, nervousness and depression, and can help induce sleep.

Hibiscus has been shown to lower blood pressure, maintain cholesterol levels, and prevent certain types of cancer.

Yerba mate is a plant found in South America. This is rich in antioxidants and can slow down the signs of aging, detoxify the blood, and control your weight.

Note: these are just the claims formed from research in labs. It’s best to discuss exactly what they can do for you with a nutritionist or a homeopathologist, which I am neither.

Many of these items can be combined with various types of teas to form a kickass drink with all the flavours, aromas and health benefits from both worlds. How does mint and green tea sound to you? What about a raspberry white tea? Maybe a red (black) tea with ginger and oranges is to your liking? You’ll find a lot of these interesting combo drinks at shops like
David’s Tea and Teavana. I can understand the allure of such beverages. Tea on its own is an acquired taste especially in the Western world where most people take their Red Rose tea with milk and sugar. Some tea lovers do fully understand the benefits of tea but can’t get past the taste. So, in order for them to reap the benefits of tea, they can go for these fusion drinks; they get the health benefits of green tea but enjoy it tasting like mint. With an added bonus, they get the health benefits of the mint too! A double-dose of goodness in a cup!

So, once again, tisanes are drinks that are brewed like teas but are not teas as they do not contain the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Teaology 101: What the heck is tea anyway?

Tea is a subtropical plant that goes by the botanical name of Camellia sinensis.  It is an evergreen that produces small white flowers.  These plants will grow into trees if left on their own, but for commercial purposes, they are pruned to waist height to make plucking the leaves much easier.

There are several varieties of Camellia sinensis, with the two main ones being Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, used mainly for Chinese teas, and Camellia sinensis var. assamica, used mainly for Indian teas.  However, either variation can be used to make any type of tea.  This versatility is what I found the most fascinating when I was taking my tea courses, and still do; that ALL teas -- white, green, yellow, red (black), oolong, pu-erh -- come from the same plant.  That’s right!  In its simplest form, tea, the kind you drink, is any beverage using the processed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and infusing them in hot water.  How cool is that?

Tea plantation in Cameron Highlands Malaysia
The composition of tea includes:

  • Essential Oils: these provide tea their flavour and aroma

  • Polyphenols: these are antioxidants that carry the health benefits.  It also provides tea its briskness and astringency
  • Theanine: this is the caffeine that gives tea its natural energy boost

The composition of tea can change in chemistry as they go through the manufacturing process.  For example, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is an antioxidant that is found only in green tea.  Water temperature and brew time may also change the chemical makeup of your tea.  You don’t want to be pouring scalding hot water over some delicate white tea leaves!  This will make you tea taste bitter and you could lose the health benefits this tea has to offer.  There have also been studies done that say adding milk and sugar to your tea can change its health benefits, BUT, these were not very extensive studies and depending on your research and which articles you read, some of these studies have been proven false.  Therefore, more studies on this debate are required before coming to a conclusion.  So, for those who enjoy their tea with milk and a sweetening agent, go for it!  Sugar is likely the only additive you might want to re-think putting into your cup.


Two leaves and a bud!

Where the plant originated will affect the flavour, aroma, and characteristics of the tea.  This is called terroir; the altitude, soil type, plant variety and age along with other factors will all go into creating a unique tea experience.  How the leaves are processed and manufactured will add an even greater dimension to the tea!  I’ll tell you all about it.  Stay tuned!