Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yes Chef: The Grey Matter!

Not only do I have a Tea Sommelier Certificate from George Brown College, but I also have a Baking Arts Certificate. George Brown is very well known for its culinary and hospitality programs. From my baking course, I learned how to make cakes, breads, pies, cookies and squares. I’m going to share a basic muffin recipe and add a couple of other ingredients: Earl Grey tea and lavender, which work very well together creating a lovely, sweet aroma.

This recipe is very simple and will yield 12 muffins. It will also include a light glaze like the kind found on plain donuts.

For Muffins
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 5 tablespoons Earl Grey loose leaf tea
  • 3 tablespoons lavender leaves

For Glaze

  • 1 ½ cup icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of milk or water
  • 2 tablespoons lavender leaves

Instructions for muffins:
  • Preheat oven to 180 °C. 
  • Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl. 
  • Add 4 tablespoons of Earl Grey tea leaves. I chopped my tea leaves to make them smaller. 
  • Add lavender leaves. Chop them up. 
  • Add slightly beaten eggs and melted butter. 
  • Warm milk and steep with remaining tea leaves. Allow to cool before adding to the mixture. 
  • Mix all ingredients together, but don’t overdo it. 
  • Spoon the batter into the muffin pans lined with baking cups about 2/3 full. 
  • Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. Stick a toothpick in a muffin. If it comes out clean, they’re done!

Batter up!

Fresh out of the oven!

Instructions for glaze:
  • Sift the icing sugar to remove any lumps and dump into a bowl. 
  • Add the milk or water and mix. I used milk. 3 tablespoons worked well, but check for consistency. It should not be too thick or too runny. 
  • Add the lavender leaves. Again, chop them up a bit. 
  • Mix well and drizzle the glaze onto cooled muffins. 

Sweet drizzle!

Looking a little glazed.

Eat and be merry! Enjoy these delights with a cup of Earl Grey tea. They’re perfect for Afternoon Tea

More please!

Cooking Tips:
  • Feel free to rip open Earl Grey tea bags and use its content instead. 
  • Save time and use a boxed cake mix instead. Nothing wrong with that, I won’t tell anyone! 


  • Add nuts to your batter, perhaps chopped walnuts. 
  • Use another type of milk such as almond, coconut, or rice. 
  • I used dry lavender leaves, but use fresh leaves if you have them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steeped in History: 50 Shades of Earl Grey!

Earl Grey is a very popular tea especially drunk for breakfast and Afternoon Tea. It is a black (red)  tea that has been flavoured with the oils from the rind of a bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia). These oranges are grown commercially in the Mediterranean, mainly Italy. They give Earl Grey its distinct citrus and floral, aroma and taste. Originally, a Keemun tea from China was used, but now it's often prepared using teas from Sri Lanka.

The tea was named after an English politician named Charles Grey, the 2nd. He gained the title of “Earl” after the passing of his father, Charles Grey, the 1st. The 2nd Grey was a member of the Whig Party and he went on to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom holding office from 1830 – 1834. His most notable achievements were the Reform Act 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. 

Grey Matter

How did the tea get its name? Well, it's not all black or white. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a definitive answer. There are many stories surrounding its origins each with its own variation. Some popular suggestions include the following:

  • The recipe was created and given as a gift to Earl Charles Grey by a man whose son was saved from drowning by Grey while visiting China. However, there is no record of Grey ever having travelled to China.
  • The blend was created by a Chinese friend of Grey’s in order to offset the mineral taste of the water where Grey lived. The story goes on to say that Grey’s wife, Mary Elizabeth, served it often when entertaining guests. Apparently, a tea company called Twinings began creating and selling it after its popularity grew.  
  • Jacksons of Piccadilly, a competitor of Twinings at that time, also claimed to have created the recipe in honour of Earl Charles Grey. This tea merchant was later bought out by Twinings. 

The Oxford English Dictionary even put out an appeal to the public for any information on the teas origins. There are various dates and reports on the mention of a tea or mixture flavoured with bergamot. Though nothing has been confirmed, Earl Grey continues to be one of the most popular teas.

You can find different twists to the original blend. Some variations include:

  • Lady Grey:  Earl Grey mixed with blue cornflower blossoms
  • Earl Green:  Green tea perfumed with bergamot orange
  • Russian Earl Grey:  Pieces of citrus peel mixed into Earl Grey
  • Earl Rooibos:  A tisane flavoured with bergamot orange
  • London Fog:  An Earl Grey tea latte and vanilla syrup

Earl Grey tea also makes a great cooking ingredient to create wonderful sauces, broths, and even as a component in baked goods. I have taken some baking classes in the past, so, I may share a recipe with you for a little something using Earl Grey, with a twist of course!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Steeped in History: The Lowdown on Afternoon Tea!

I often hear the terms “Afternoon Tea” and “High Tea” being used interchangeably. Are they the same, and if so, why the different terms? Well, actually, they are two different things, though the lines have blurred over time. Also, what’s this “Low Tea” I sometimes hear about?

The British tradition of Afternoon Tea is an event usually occurring around 5 pm. This afternoon affair usually involves a cackle of ladies, lace doilies, and a spread of various tiny foods like dainty finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted-cream, confectioneries, and pots of tea.

Afternoon Tea was started in the mid-1800s by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. Back in Anna’s time, there were only two meals each day – a late morning meal, and a dinner held much later in the evening hours of 8 or 9 pm. The story goes that poor Anna had a “sinking feeling” of hunger pangs late in the afternoon. So what’s a girl to do? She decided to have an assortment of snacks alongside cups of tea in her boudoir. Later on, she began inviting her gal pals to join her and made it a social affair. Other bored ladies picked up on the idea and began having their own little parties, and soon, the practice spread across high society. Today, Afternoon Tea is enjoyed by all and out from the privacy of the bedrooms! Hey, who would want breadcrumbs in their beds anyway?

High Tea, on the other hand, was actually a substantial meal had by the working class after a long, hard day at work. It was eaten around 6 pm and consisted of meat dishes, cheese, bread, potatoes, beans, and pots of tea. The working class needed something far heartier to feel fulfilled after putting in hours of labour.

This isn't your grandma's tea party!

So, what’s the terminology difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea? Apparently, it all has to do with the height of the table rather than the class one belonged to. High Tea was served at the dinner table with dining chairs. Afternoon Tea was enjoyed sitting in low, comfortable chairs like sofas or chaise lounges. Thus, Afternoon Tea was also referred to as “Low Tea”. As time passed, the upper class created a combined version of both High Tea and Afternoon Tea which included more substantial food items.

Apparently, High Tea is still practiced in some areas of the United Kingdom. However, in North America, the event is more similar to traditional Afternoon Tea though both terms are used interchangeably. 
There you have it.  The highs and lows of drinking tea.  Pinkies out now!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Teaology 101: OMG WTF is FTGFOP?!

Okay, I've been dreading this article for the longest time! I needed time to select the right words in order to provide a proper explanation. This is about orange pekoe. Let’s get the easier stuff out of the way first: pronunciation. Pekoe is pronounced “peck-oh” as in “birds peck”, not “peek-oh” as in “take a peek”. Supposedly the term comes from a translation of a Chinese dialect which means “white down” or “white hair”. It refers to the fine white hairs that cover the buds and some of the newer leaves.

Orange has nothing to do with the fruit. There is no orange flavouring in orange pekoe. Though it is not certain where the “orange” part of the term originated, the following explanations are generally accepted, with the first one being the most popular:

  • The Dutch East India Company was one of the most prosperous companies that helped bring tea to Europe. Only the finest teas were reserved for the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange.
  • Oxidized leaves produce a coppery colour prior to the drying stage. Also, an orange colour is the result of fully oxidized finished pekoe leaves.
Hence, orange pekoe, fine tea fit for royalty!

Orange pekoe is not a type of tea. It is actually a grading system that applies to black (red) teas mainly from India, Sri Lanka, and some African nations. It can get pretty complicated! I’m going to keep things as simple as possible. The higher grades are referred to as orange pekoe and are composed of the first flushes. The season will also play a part in leaf evaluation. A flush is a bud and the two youngest leaves. The new smaller, younger leaves are more valuable than the larger, older leaves. Below is a diagram of the Camellia sinensis plant with the terms of some of the leaves.

When the plucked flushes go through the manufacturing process, the finished, dried leaves are sorted and graded according to size and condition by sifting through various sizes of mesh trays. The larger leaves will sit at the top, and the smaller particles will drop through to the bottom trays.

Finer particles will steep quicker, and are mainly used for tea bags. There are some teas that produce a great cup using these smaller particles, so don't dismiss them. As well, some companies will actually purchase these fannings from tea manufacturers for use in their own products. The soda companies are perfect examples. Broken tea leaves and whole tea leaves will unfurl over time during their infusions which will have a greater impact on taste.

Classifying the leaves by the grading system consists of using letters and even the occasional number. Orange Pekoe (OP) is the standard grade. A broken leaf is Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP). Leaves can be distinguished further with additional characteristics such as Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (GBOP). Further below are fannings or dust such as Pekoe Fannings (PF). Then there are grades above OP such as Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP), or Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe grade 1 (SFTGFOP1). See the confusion now? What's even worse is that there is no standardized system. Grading can vary from country to country as well as manufacturer to manufacturer. You'll find extensive complicated lists through Google.

The simple chart I created above shows some of the grade terminologies. They are just a few of many more acronyms! The point I really wanted to get across in this post is to explain that orange pekoe is not a genre of tea, but a grading system for tea. Hopefully I've achieved that.

BTW, FTGFOP stands for Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe or as some tea jokesters like to call it, Far Too Good For Ordinary People! ROTFLMFAO!