Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Turning Over a New Leaf.

I'll keep this short and sweet as I’m sure everyone is busy getting ready for debauchery tonight!

I know most will be ringing in the New Year with champagne or beer and perhaps even a bit of both!  Like alcohol, tea is very much a social drink also.  In the East, there once was a time when groups of men would gather together in tea houses to play cards and immerse themselves in deep conversation while being served pots of tea along with light confections.  If you've read Memoirs of a Geisha, one of my favourite books, you'll know what I mean.  This was in a much different time.  In the West, afternoon tea is most popular especially among women who get together for chit-chat over dainty finger sandwiches, scones and clotted-cream.  I’ll be going over tea ceremonies and afternoon tea etiquette in future posts. Right now, I want you to consider tea as a source of comfort during solitude when you're alone with just your thoughts.  I love spending time in cafés, sipping my tea, gazing out the windows on a rainy day or a chilly night.  I also enjoy pots of tea in the cozy comfort of my home, while I lounge in a chair by my balcony doors, enjoying the serenity even in the middle of the city.

As we come to the end of another year, tea for me has been a welcomed delight while I reflect on a year gone by and contemplate on what the New Year will bring forth.  Some interesting things have happened to me this past year which have made me stop and think about where I am heading in life and what is most important to me.  2013 was not the greatest year for me and I’m really looking forward to nailing it shut!  However, I am looking at my whole experience as a life lesson to learn from and move forward.  Sometimes you need that kick to set you on the correct path!  It hasn’t been easy, especially these past few months with unpleasant thoughts running through my mind.

As I slowly sip on my Assam and finish off the final few pages of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (a book that resonates far more for me this time around than when I first read it a few years back) I’m thinking about what will unfold for me in 2014.  For the first time in a long while, I’m actually looking forward to my journey and whatever the future holds for me...the cast of characters that will enter my life…who will be disappearing from my world...the challenges waiting for me...where I’ll be in life.

I don’t have any exciting plans this year on the big night…just time alone, lingering over a pot of good tea and better thoughts! 

Wishing everyone a wonderful and prosperous New Year! Cheers!

Words to live by.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Yes Chef: Chana Masala Supreme!

Chana Masala is a traditional Indian dish that I’m sure most people are familiar with. This is a staple buffet item at practically every Indian restaurant. It is delish and a big favourite of mine! Chana masala is garbanzo beans or chickpeas in a rich tomato-based gravy with spices. You can adjust the spices to make it as hot as you wish. I like mine with a medium heat, just enough to taste everything with a little kick.

There are countless of recipes for chana masala available on the web, and quite a few of them do call for tea as an ingredient. I do include tea in my own recipe as I find it adds a more meaty flavour and richer colour to the garbanzo beans.

With the exception of baking, I don’t really bother with exact measurements in my cookery. I use a bit of this and a bit of that, observe, and taste until I think it’s just right! I added just a little more of each spice than the amounts I listed for this dish. Anything less than these amounts may be too bland, so do some tasting and adjust as you require. 

  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 3-5 tomatoes
  • 5 Tsp. of black (red) tea 
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1-2 medium onions
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans

The goods!

  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. turmeric
  • 1 Tsp. paprika
  • ½ Tsp. coriander seeds grinded
  • ½ Tsp. cumin seeds grinded
  • ½ Tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tsp. garam masala
  • ½ Tsp. ginger powder
  • ½ Tsp. chili pepper flakes

The kick!

  • Chop or purée in a blender, the tomatoes, pepper, garlic, and onions. 
  • Prepare the tea according to directions. I used 5 teaspoons of Assam steeped in 5 cups of water.
  • On medium, heat the chopped or puréed ingredients to ensure everything combines. You may need to start adding the steeped Assam tea as moisture starts to reduce. Go for it! 

Tomato base.

  • Add the garbanzo beans and spices. 

Add the beans.

  • Slowly continue to add in the tea liquor until you get the consistency you want. 5 cups gave me a good consistency with enough gravy.
  • Heat on low for another 10 minutes until the garbanzo beans become tender and then set aside. It’s done!

Enjoy with rice, roti, or naan, some plain yogurt, and a side salad.

Final product.


Cooking Tips:
  • Place onions in the refrigerator for about an hour to prevent tears. Sadly, this happens to me quite often!
  • Use tea bags instead. Red Rose, Tetley, Salada…any black tea bag will do. Saves time and bags are just easier for cooking with.
  • Yes, you may use dry garbanzo beans. Just soak them in water until they’re tender and hydrated.

  • Instead of garbanzo beans, use kidney beans, chicken pieces, or even potatoes and green peas.
  • Squeeze lemon juice over the beans for a tangy twist!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Steeped in History: The Tea Tossing Incident!

Today is the 240th anniversary of “the destruction of the tea”, or “The Boston Tea Party” as it has fondly been referred to about 50 years later. On the evening of December 16, 1773, The Sons of Liberty who were a group of colonists, boarded ships docked in Boston Harbor and destroyed all the chests of tea by throwing them overboard into the waters. OMG!! WTF!?!? What were these would-be Americans thinking? This was their way of protesting against the Tea Act, a tax levied on them by the British Government. The colonists were sipping mad about being taxed by the British Government without any discussion or their consent. The tax itself was not the issue (apparently they were actually getting a tax break on the tea), but the fact that it was being passed without their representation. 

Time for a good ol' fashioned tea party!

There is a whole lot more to this incident, but I’m not interested in getting into the details leading up to the event on December 16 or the aftermath. I’m more interested in the precious tea that was put in peril! This is a tea blog after all! There are plenty of websites that provide historical accounts of what happened and can easily be Googled if you want more information. Depending on the site you visit, details, facts, and dates on what occurred may differ. Hey, it’s not like they had video surveillance, digital cameras or Instagram back then!

You might think it was tea from India that was destroyed because it was The East India Company tea that was shipped. However, this incident occurred well before tea was cultivated in India in the 19th century. The tea, in fact, was actually produced in China. The East India Company did have some tea business running in China around that time.

So, what tea in particular was dumped? From my research, I found articles pointing to The Boston Tea Party written by Benjamin Woods Labaree, which states that the ships contained the following:

  • 240 chests of Bohea (boo-hee) black tea 
  • 15 chests of Congou (kung-foo) black tea
  • 10 chests of Souchong black tea
  • 60 chests of Singlo green tea 
  • 17 chests of Hyson green tea

They were all loose leaf teas as the colonists were not into the brick variety and tea bags were not invented until 1908. Apparently, these teas were plucked in 1770 and 1771. They were shipped to London where they were stored in warehouses before finally being transported to the colonies in 1773 awaiting their doom.

The tea chests were distributed on 3 ships: Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanor. There was another ship carrying tea as well, William, but it was lost at sea. The Sons of Liberty boarded the 3 ships that arrived in Boston Harbour, and within a few hours, broke apart and emptied all 342 chests of tea into the waters, even returning the next day and using their oars and paddles to beat down any chests that were floating. The cargo was valued at £9,659.00 by The East India Company. It’s estimated that approximately 92,000 pounds of tea turned the waters of Boston Harbour into a giant teapot, enough to make 19 million cups of tea!

What lies beneath.

The Boston Tea Party was a rebellious act that remains an iconic event in American history, one that other political protests to this day often refer to. This incident built-up tension between the British and the colonists leading to further division allowing America to become more independent and a nation of its own in 1776, just a few short years later.

The company whose tea chests were destroyed in this tea tossing event are still in business. Davison, Newman & Co. of London sells a Boston Harbour Tea which you can purchase online. However, this product is a blend of Ceylon and Darjeeling teas. Not at all one of the Chinese teas doomed for destruction. Thank goodness these fine teas did not drown in the waters of Boston! I love Darjeeling!

What's this I see?

If you’re ever in the Boston area, visit the Boston Tea Party Museum. You can view and board restored ships of the Eleanor and the Beaver, participate in re-enactments, see films, and enjoy afternoon tea in a tearoom. As well, the museum has one of two known surviving tea chests from the tea dumping incident included in their permanent collection. Something definitely worth checking-out if I ever make it out to Boston. Hopefully for a marathon!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Cuppa: It’s All Assam to Me!

One of the most popular teas in the world is Assam. This assamica variety of Camellia sinensis is grown in the Brahmaputra Valley in the Assam region of northeastern India.  The climate in this area varies from cold, dry winters, to hot and humid during the rainy season. It's also home to some of the most nutrient rich soil.  Harvesting Assam generally occurs twice a year; once in late March, and the other, which is prime time for plucking, is during the summer months from June to August.

What is commonly sold as “breakfast” tea such as English Breakfast Tea or Irish Breakfast Tea is really Assam either on its own or in combination with other teas to create a blend. These other teas can actually be from an entirely different tea growing region such as Sri Lanka or Kenya.  As well, they are normally CTC (cut-tear-curl) teas.

Organic Golden Assam Tea

To produce Assam, it goes through most of the steps involved in manufacturing as outlined in a previous post on how to make tea. Generally, the process for Assam is as follows:

  • Plucking fresh leaves
  • Withering to reduce the moisture content
  • Rolling full leaves or mechanically pulverizing leaves to produce CTC tea
  • Allowing leaves to ferment in their own juices
  • Drying the leaves by applying hot air to extract any remaining moisture
  • Sorting leaves according to their size
  • Packing and shipping

To make a cup of Assam is fairly easy and something most Westerners are already familiar with, though I am referring to whole leaves here, not tea bags!  Properly prepared, Assam can be enjoyed on its own.  However, if you desire, you may combine it with milk, sugar, honey, lemon etc…

1.   Bring water to a full boil. 95°C - 100°C (203°F - 212°F).

2.   Measure out the right amount of tea leaves and dump them into your teapot.  I am using my glass teapot with a built-in filter.  For optimal results, 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for every cup (250 ml) of water.

3.   Water can be poured onto the leaves straight off the boil.  I like to wait for about 3 minutes before pouring the water onto the leaves.

4.   Steep for 3 - 5 minutes.  You may wish to steep a little longer if you prefer a stronger brew but not too long otherwise the liquor will become bitter.

5.   Enjoy your tea on its own or with the addition of milk, sugar, honey etc…whatever you like.

Pouring liquid gold

As always, this is just a guideline and everyone has their own taste preferences.  Feel free to play around with the amount of tea leaves, water temperature, or steep time to create your own unique experience. 

The colour of the liquor is a beautiful amber after steeping for 3 minutes.  It becomes a golden reddish colour after a longer steep time.  The brew smells like roses, even a bit like caramel to me. Cooked yams or cherries also come to mind.  The taste is smooth, a bit malty, not at all bitter or astringent even after a 5 minute steep time.  I drank the tea on its own, nothing else.
A perfect cup to enjoy!

It’s a lovely tea and I can detect similarities to the “breakfast” teas. Now all I need are some scones, jam, and clotted-cream, and I’m a happy girl!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Teaology 101: Tea and a game of checkers!

In some of my previous posts, you might have noticed that when I mention black tea, I often indicate red tea in brackets beside it. There is a perfectly good reason for this. Black tea and red tea are the same types of tea. The references can be used interchangeably, with terminology and perhaps your geographical location being the only difference. In North America, black tea is referred to as red tea in the East, specifically in China.

In an earlier post, I indicated that all tea comes from the same plant called Camellia sinensis. The differences such as the aroma, appearance, and taste of the teas are the result from the different processing methods of the leaves. However, in the West, black tea is so called based on the colour of the dried tea leaves. In China, red tea references the colour of the brew from the infused tea leaves. The fact that the colour of the liquor actually refers to the tea type and not the tea leaves makes much more sense to me. There are some green tea leaves that almost look black in their dry format but produce green or even yellow liquor. Black tea leaves actually produce beautiful mahogany, burgundy, and sometimes amber liquors. Take a look at your brew in a clear glass mug the next time you infuse a black tea. It is far from black.

Close-up of tea being infused.

Liquor from infused leaves.

There is a tea that produces a black brew. It’s called Pu-erh. The liquor for this tea almost looks like diesel oil. Pu-erh is a wonderful tea, but an acquired taste, with an interesting aroma. I’ll go over it in a future write-up.

Whether you want to call it black tea or red tea is solely up to you, but, don’t confuse them with Rooibos, which literally means "red bush" and is often called "Red Tea". Aspalathus linearis, the botanical name for Rooibos, is a plant grown in South Africa, and is a member of the legume family. Rooibos is actually a tisane. Do you recall what a tisane is? A tisane is a beverage brewed much like tea but does not contain any tea. Aspalathus linearis is not related to Camellia sinensis.

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