Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Cuppa: Masala Hottie!

I’m having the February blahs. The shortest month in the year is the one I hate the most because it’s a teaser month. I know that Spring is slowly making its way in, but Winter is not quite ready to leave. Thought I’d end this month and close off my love theme on a spicy note. In a previous post, I discussed the whole chai tea redundancy. Now, I’m going to show you how I prepare my masala chai.

There are many ways to make masala chai. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll find a multitude of recipes using various ingredients. I do experiment myself using a wide variety of ingredients in different doses. Sometimes I just throw spices right into a pot and other times I make up a spice mix and measure out the amount I require. Depending on what I have in my pantry and refrigerator, I may use fresh ingredients like ginger or use a powdered version of it. The following is a spice mix I made:
A round of spices!

  • 1 Tbsp. ginger powder 
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon powder 
  • 1 ½ Tsp. cardamom grinded 
  • 1 Tsp. nutmeg grated 
  • 1 Tsp. cloves grinded 
  • ½ Tsp. Black peppercorns grinded
A hit of heat!

I like to make small portions of my spice mix because I don’t want them sitting around. Spices do have expiration dates and will lose their flavour and aroma over time, but feel free to make a larger amount and place it in an airtight container away from light.

The tea you will want to use should be strong. Something that’s capable of working well with all the spices. I like to use a mamri Assam tea. “Mamri” which means “little grain”, is a CTC (cut-tear-curl) tea that looks very much like instant coffee granules. You may use loose leaf Assam tea, but I suggest saving that to enjoy on its own. To make a masala chai, you’re really cooking the tea. As well, the spices will take over the flavour and aroma of the tea. This mamri tea is cheap and strong. It’s perfect for cooking with all these spices. Tea bags also work very well, so feel free to use those instead. 
Little grain Assam!


1.   Simmer water in a pot. I used 3 cups of water.

2.   Throw 1 tsp. of the spice mix into the water. You may use more, but these spices are very strong. Play around with the portions. I find less works best. Heat for 10 minutes.

3.   Use 3 tsp. of the mamri Assam. Heat for another 5 – 10 minutes.

4.   Add milk. I usually just eye the amount I need. I look for a certain colour I like.

5.   Transfer the tea from the pot into a teapot with a sieve to separate the solids.

6.   Pour tea into a cup and add sugar. I like to sprinkle a bit of cayenne pepper on top of my tea for an extra kick of heat!
Tea transfer.

Separating the solids. 

Enjoy your masala chai! 

Cuppa hottie!

  • Experiment with different spices. Try fennel seeds, star anise, or cumin. Maybe use bits of dark chocolate.
  • Try different sweeteners as well. I used raw sugar, but you can try stevia, honey, or maple syrup. 
  • There are even different types of milks you can try like coconut or almond. I used 2% milk for this recipe.

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Cuppa: My Rendezvous with Rooibos!

Sadly, Rooibos is not a person!  Sounds like an exotic name for a man, huh?  Hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s! Yes, it’s only one day, but why end things there? I’m continuing with my February love theme by taking a little detour from tea and talking about one of my favourite tisanes: Rooibos.  Such an appropriate topic of discussion for this month of love with its sexy rouge colour, flowery fragrance, and sweet taste.

You may recall from a previous post that the scientific name for Rooibos is Aspalathus linearis and that it is a member of the legume family. Rooibos, which means "red bush", is grown in a very small area of South Africa. It was produced by the Dutch settlers who needed a substitute to satisfy their tea cravings which was very expensive to ship in from Europe. Though Rooibos has a long history, its popularity in North America has grown fairly recently.

The leaves for Rooibos go through a manufacturing process similar to tea or Camellia sinensis. The leaves are chopped and bruised and then piled into heaps outdoors. Water is added to the heaps as the air is too dry to allow for proper fermentation to occur. Over several hours of turning and rotating the heaps with a pitchfork, the leaves begin to change colour, and the aroma is much like that of oxidized apples. Afterwards, the piles of leaves are spread out evenly and allowed to dry in the sun where it continues to change colour. The final dry leaves take on a deep reddish-brown, needle-like appearance.

I heart Rooibos!

Making a cup of Rooibos is simple:

1.   Bring water to a boil. I like to wait a minutes before pouring the water over my leaves

2.   Measure out amount of Rooibos leaves required. I used 1 teaspoon for 1 cup of water

3.   Pour the heated water over the leaves and allow it to steep for about 5 minutes

4.   Use a sieve to separate the liquor from the leaves. I used my teapot with a built-in filter

5.   Enjoy your Rooibos tisane

Tisane and a good book!

The colour of the liquor is a gorgeous red, the aroma is sweet and floral, and the taste is sweet and mild. There was no bitterness or aftertaste. You may drink Rooibos on its own, or add milk and sugar if you wish. It does not hurt to brew Rooibos longer than 5 minutes unlike some teas which can become bitter. I did attempt a second infusion, but found the liquor too thin and weak. One infusion is perfect.

Try Rooibos on its own or as a blend with teas and other flavours such as vanilla or chocolate. I once had a Rooibos with a fragrance and taste that resembled rosewater. I’d love to make a simple syrup out of it and pour it over baklava! Tea manufacturers are really playing around with Rooibos and creating lattes, espressos, and iced versions of the drink. As well, Rooibos can be used as a cooking ingredient for marinades, cupcakes and frosting, and even smoothies.

Like tea, Rooibos has been purported to have a number of health benefits as well. Studies have shown it to be high in antioxidants, can lower blood pressure, prevent DNA damage, and lower the risk of heart disease. Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free so no worries about a sleepless night!

Ravishing Red!

Though I’ve never tasted nor seen it, there is green Rooibos. The fermentation step is omitted for green Rooibos. The leaves are just cut and dried immediately. I’ll definitely do a write-up on it once I get my hands on a package.

So, put the tea aside for now, make a pot of red-hot Rooibos, perhaps enjoy it with some chocolate-covered strawberries, cozy up with your sweetie and…

Monday, February 10, 2014

Teaology 101: A chai tea to go please!

You ever hear those people who say “ATM machine” or “PIN number”? What they just said is “automated teller machine machine” or “personal identification number number”. It’s redundant! The same redundancy applies to chai tea. You’re saying chai chai or tea tea. Chai is not a specific tea. It’s just tea in two different languages: Hindi and English.

Now, the Persian term chay is derived from chá which originates from Mandarin. Chay eventually became chai as it passed over to other areas of Asia including India and Russia. This is a very simplified explanation on the evolution of the word. The word tea also has quite a history behind it too. However, I want to focus on the usage of chai in the West.

When requesting chai tea, Westerners believe they are specifying a type of Indian tea. A spicy tea called chai that consists of a combination of spices including star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves as well as other goodies depending on the maker, along with milk and sugar. In India, however, there are different types of chai or tea. The main tea regions are Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. The teas are actually named after the regions much like French wines are named after the regions the grapes are grown in. Thus, there is Darjeeling Chai, Assam Chai, or Nilgiri Chai and so on. Some teas are even named after the estates that produce the teas. Though not necessary, the spices can be added to these teas, specifically Assam, to create that spiced-up chai that Westerners have become so fond of.

Really, the term should be renamed Masala Chai, Spicy Tea, Indian Style Tea or some other variation as such, but I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Much like many other words, I think chai has just been swallowed up by the English language! Any marketing gurus out there? Some of the tea companies could do wonderful campaigns and set the record straight on chai, (along with orange pekoe, but I’ll save that for another time).

In a future post, I will show you how I make my masala tea. A little something to spice things up in this month of love!

A cuppa love!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Tea Lovers Unite!

Ahhh…February, the month of love. It’s a time to express your deepest feelings to the love of your life and shower them with gifts of flowers, cards, and chocolates. Or not. This past weekend, all lovers of tea got together for the second annual Toronto Tea Festival.

It's demo time!

I was a volunteer at this year’s tea festival which was held in the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library. This particular tea festival is pretty small in comparison to some other giants like the World Tea Expo, but it is in its infancy, so it has a long way to go. It was pretty packed, so a definite success I’d say. A tea lover’s delight! There was plenty to do and stuff to buy: tea-tastings, artwork, tea ceremony demonstrations, tea wares, lectures etc… 

OMG!  I love macaroons!

My duty as a volunteer was to provide support to the exhibitors by fetching water for tea making, help setting-up their displays, keep watch of their booth while they stepped out etc… Any help they needed in order to make things run smoothly for them. 

Rose buds.

Upon my arrival, I dutifully went to each vendor in the section I was stationed at to see if they required my assistance. With a few minor exceptions, it seemed all were set and ready to roll, so my help was not required just yet. Throughout my shift on each day, I rotated around to each vendor several times to see how things were going for them. All was well, and I eventually found myself just doing laps through the whole hall checking out the booths and watching the tea ceremony demonstrations taking place on stage. I did keep an eye on the exhibitors, but really, other volunteers along with myself did not have a whole lot to do. I even saw a few of the volunteers strolling up and down the aisles texting on their phones, and others sampling the teas and pastries being offered to them. With 20 minutes left in my shift on the first day, I decided to grab my camera to take pictures for this post. 

Tea samples.

I talked to quite a few exhibitors over the two days, even exchanging e-mails with some of them, so it was a great opportunity to network. As well, all volunteers got a Libre Mug as a gift for our time, so that was cool. It wasn't a bad event to volunteer at, but I have volunteered at much larger events doing longer shifts with plenty to do to pass away the time. 

Korean Tea Ceremony.

Hopefully with bigger sponsors and more vendors with each passing year, this festival will become just as big as the other tea festivals in other cities. I even heard they were planning to move to a larger venue next year. Volunteering on the festival committee had crossed my mind, especially now that I have an idea on how the show ran. Something to consider for sure, as I get myself more involved with one of my passions!

Funky candle holder.