Saturday, May 30, 2015

My Cuppa: G'day Mate!

Referred to as "The Drink of The Gods", Yerba Mate is a popular, caffeinated beverage from South America, specifically Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Known by their botanical name, Ilex paraguariensis, they are a species of the holly family, and much like Camellia sinensis, they are evergreens in that they begin as a shrubs and grow into trees.

Fresh herbs!

Depending on where you live, there are a couple of different pronunciations. Yerba, rhymes with herb-ah. Mate can be pronounced mah-tay, which rhymes with latte. Or, just mate, rhyming with late. You may have seen an accent above the “e” to appear as Yerba Maté. Apparently this is 
an English thing.  It would never be written with the accent in Spanish or Portuguese.

Yerba Mate is loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. It has many health benefits including managing weight, boosting your energy, preventing certain diseases and cancers, and lowering blood pressure.

Traditionally, Yerba Mate is served in a gourd or mate. The dried herbs, or yerba are placed in the mate and hot water is poured over them. The infusion is then sipped through a straw called a bombilla, pronounced bome-bee-ja.

Good gourd!

Yerba Mate is quite versatile. It can be made hot or cold, drunk as is, or enjoyed with milk and sugar. It is available as blends mixed with other ingredients such as peppermint, vanilla, and even orange rinds. The liquor can even be mixed with various fruit juices. It is sold as a loose leaf as well as bagged. Yerba Mate is very much a social drink where the prepared gourds are passed around among a circle of friends. It is equivalent to coffee and tea meetups in North America.

The flavour of Yerba Mate is said to be herbal, vegetal, and grassy. Some people even detect hints of chocolate while others find the taste similar to some green teas. I've had Yerba Mate a few times and have enjoyed it. I find the flavour vegetal and very smooth without any bitterness. Most recently, I purchased a package blended with mint and carob. Labelled Mocha Mint, it’s produced by a company called Mate Factor.

Mocha Mint!

There is actually a whole procedure on how to prepare Yerba Mate, but I’m going to keep things simple here and just make it as I would tea. As well, I don't own a gourd or bombilla. These traditional wares can be purchased readily from the same shops one buys teapots from or online.

As instructed on the package, I steeped 1 tablespoon of loose leaves for every 1 cup of water at a temperature of 70 – 80 °C for 5 – 10 minutes. Yerba Mate is much like other tisanes in that it doesn't really become bitter even after a lengthy steep time. The liquor that resulted was a deep, dark amber. The aroma was phenomenal! I could smell hints of chocolate, mint, and steamed greens like asparagus. The taste was smooth, minty and vegetal. I noticed the colour of the liquor grew darker the longer it steeped, but it didn't hurt the taste.

Drink of the Gods!

The flavour of Yerba Mate is an acquired taste. If you've never had it, it may take some time getting used to, but it’s definitely worth trying especially for all its health benefits. If you need to, start with some of the flavoured blends before going straight to the basic, plain version. Enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Cuppa: I've got the blues!

When attending tea functions, conversations naturally turn to all things related to tea. One brand in particular that I noticed was mentioned quite often was for a company called Celestial Seasonings. I've heard of this company, but have never had the chance to try their products.

Whilst out shopping in a health food store recently, I came across their packages lined up on a shelf. There were many different blends of teas and herbal infusions. Wanting something light with the warmer weather approaching, I decided to go for a tisane called True Blueberry. It was something different than what I normally drink. Plus, I love blueberries! 

True blue!

True Blueberry contained other ingredients besides blueberry flavouring. The list included:

  • Hibiscus
  • Rosehips
  • Orange Peel
  • Natural Flavours (Contain Soy Lecithin)
  • Blackberry Leaves
  • Wild Blueberries
  • Blueberry Leaves

The aroma that escaped the box upon opening was so delicious! Fresh, fruity, and floral. The directions on the box indicated to use 1 teabag for every 1 cup of water and steeping for about 4 – 6 minutes. I always like to cool down the water after boiling for about 3 minutes before using it.

As the water began to change colour and appear more like a red wine, I was hit with light scents of blueberries, oranges, and flowers. The taste was tart and tangy. I could detect flavours of blueberries and oranges with each sip. It was quite pleasant actually. The box did indicate that the drink could be sweetened, but I think that would work best drunk cold over ice. I rather liked the tartness. 

Nope...not wine!

True Blueberry is definitely a summertime drink methinks. I can see it being enjoyed in a punch or mixed with an alcohol component to make cocktails. The only thing negative I found was that the products are not offered as loose leaves, but it’s a minor issue.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Yes Chef: My pseudo Japanese style tea ceremony!

For dinner last night, I prepared a yummy feast served along with bowls of tea and Japanese treats. The history and procedure articles I wrote about on the Japanese Tea Ceremony really got me thinking about the whole intricate event and especially the food!

My meal for the evening!

Living in a place like Toronto allows me access to the many different foods from around the world. I was able to find a Japanese shop called Sanko that offers all sorts of foods, confections, and housewares. As I went about purchasing a variety of cakes in various colours and textures, my eyes kept stealing glances at the beautiful kyusu teapots on display. I will definitely have to return to make good use of my credit card!

Sweet treats!

Since the weather is getting warmer and warmer, I did not want a heavy meal especially with the many sweets I’d be indulging in. I went with a few different vegetables and a piece of protein. My final menu consisted of the following:

  • Fillet of salmon glazed with teriyaki sauce
  • Rapini with butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt
  • Red peppers and onions with butter, salt
  • Button mushrooms with butter, salt
  • Edamame with a sprinkle of salt 
  • Japanese confections
  • Bowls of Sencha tea

Main dish.

It was an easy meal to prepare that did not require much cooking either. I wanted to keep the vegetables simple and in tune with their own flavours. Nothing overpowering with sauces and seasonings to diminish their natural appearance and tastes.

The rapini was boiled first for about 2 minutes and then shocked in an ice water bath so that it keeps its vibrant green colour. Then it was sautéed with the garlic and butter mixture and a squeeze of lemon juice. The red peppers, onions, and mushrooms were quickly sautéed for a few minutes with butter and salt. The edamame was boiled and sprinkled with salt.

For the salmon, I massaged a little teriyaki sauce, placed it in a pan on high heat for about two minutes on each side. Just before removing it off the burner, I brushed a little more sauce on top.

I did not have any Matcha, which is traditional in a chanoyu, so I went for my everyday green tea, Sencha, which I always have on hand.

Everything looked so appetizing once they were all laid out just waiting to be devoured! 


Pick me, pick me!

My empty dishes said it all!

Satisfaction guaranteed!

It was a delicious meal and I took my time enjoying each item rather than inhaling it like I do with most meals I have! I even enjoyed the quietness of my place while taking sips of tea and bites of the various Japanese cakes.

The whole meal then had me thinking about re-creating an English style Afternoon Tea right at home. Menu planning is underway, so look out for it!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tea Readings: I'd like a word with you!

As you know, one of my favourite pastimes is reading. It just goes so well with tea! I drink a lot of tea and therefore read a lot of books! Since January, I've read over a dozen books already. To read as many books as I possibly can in a year is one of my New Year's Resolutions. It just kinda happened.

I still manage to make time to read news articles, poems, and even quotes. Did you know there are so many quotes by all kinds of people on tea? I knew about this for a while and even tweet the occasional quote I find interesting. I thought I'd share some of my favourite tea quotes with you. Now, some quotes have not been proven to be provided by the person credited for it, but they’re still good. So, grab yourself a cuppa whatever tea and enjoy the list!

“Make tea, not war.”
~ Monty Python

“Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.”
~ James Norwood Pratt

“Teas vary as much in appearance as the different faces of men.”
~ Hui-tsung

“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.”
~ Catherine Douzel

“Coffee is not my cup of tea.”
~ Samuel Goldwyn

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

“Honestly, if you're given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don't say ‘what kind of tea?’”
~ Neil Gaiman

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”
~ Sydney Smith, A Memoir of the Rev. Sydney Smith

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”
~ Bill Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book

“Tea is the magic key to the vault where my brain is kept.”
~ Frances Hardinge

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
~ Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living

“There are few nicer things than sitting up in bed, drinking strong tea, and reading.”
~ Alan Clark