Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Cuppa: A Bancha goodness in a cup!

Today I enjoyed a tea one of my fellow tea lovers provided me with. Bancha, a tea quite similar to Sencha, is actually a great tea despite what you may have heard about. Bancha is often considered a low quality, cheap tea, mainly because it is harvested much later in the season, usually Summer to Autumn, using older leaves. Hey, if it still makes a good cup, I’m up for it! The wonderful tea I had is called Sweet Willow Bancha. This is a 2014 Summer tea harvested in Wazuka, Japan, by the Nakai Seicha Company. 

Just a Bancha leaves!

Harvested from second flush Sencha leaves, Bancha is processed much like Sencha. Brewing is so simple in that you could use water close to boiling point with a short infusion time. This makes Bancha a great everyday tea for consumption where you don’t have to concern yourself with temperature control and how long to infuse, when all you want is a cup of tea right away!

I prepared my tea according to the instructions on the package with a little tweaking in the temperature. The 85°C is suggested, but, I really recommend cooling the water down to 70°C - 75°C. You get a much sweeter taste! I used 1 teaspoon for each cup I drank and infused for 1 minute. In this 1 minute, I saw the colour of the water change to yellow-green right away, so don’t think 1 minute is not long enough. I was rewarded with a very aromatic and flavourful cup! I could detect seaweed and hints of hay without any bitterness or aftertaste. The second infusion was just as good even after increasing the infusion time by another minute.

A Bancha sips to enjoy!

My Bancha was a great tea to drink along with my meal of sushi. The combination of the various rolls and the seaweed flavour of the tea went so well together. Much better than what’s normally offered as tea in some of the sushi restaurants. Bancha is definitely not something to pass on. It’s a good everyday green tea without the fuss!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Tea Spot: A tea trek in Toronto!

On this pleasant Sunday, the weather was just perfect for a tea outing. This wasn’t my usual Afternoon Tea out with a bunch of tea lovers. This was a Tea Safari! A day of tea store hopping, shopping, and sipping. My good friend Lisa organized a meetup where we headed off to the many different tea shops in Toronto. I was really looking forward to this day because I wanted to check out some of the tea shops I had heard of but never got around to going to. We even went to a place I didn’t know about.

The list of shops that were planned for visiting were kept a secret by Lisa which added to the fun. Here’s where our tea trek took us:

I have been wanting to check out Pippins for the longest time! It’s been mentioned so often by my fellow tea lovers so I’m glad to see this was on the list. Pippins is a very British inspired tea shop that not only has many teas available, but also has teapots and cups, jams, creams, cookies, aprons, greeting cards, and even refrigerator magnets for purchase. The owner was very nice and provided each one of us with a reusable bag. 

Pippins Tea

Rooster Mugs!

Polka Dot Teapot!

David’s Tea
Okay, not everyone was too thrilled to be heading off to David’s Tea, but c’mon!They had a spot just a few doors down from Pippins, so why not? David’s Tea is all over the place much like Starbucks and have even cracked the American market. They are known for the tutti fruiti blends with funky names like “Read My Lips”, “Pink Flamingo” and “Nutty By Nature”, which makes many tea purists cringe! 

David's Tea.

Tea Filter.

This is another British inspired tea shop that is actually run by a fellow Tea Sommelier who graduated a couple of years ahead of me from tea program at George Brown College. Nice to see what he’s accomplished since graduating! Much like Pippins, Majesteas also has many tea accessories with an English twist. I was also awestruck by the potted tea plant they had sitting on their counter which they recently acquired. Very difficult to grow in Canada, but it is possible. 


Tea Plant.

Niche Coffee & Tea Company
I had passed by Niche a few times in the past, but had never stopped by. We didn’t stay for very long here. Niche has a bar like atmosphere but has a great little patio out back. The teas offered are actually provided by a local company called Pluck. Their food menu wasn’t bad. I’d swing by for brunch or a light lunch to go along with a pot of tea.

Tea for drinking.

I have been to Tealish a few times. It’s a nice little place with a cozy sit down area in the back where you can enjoy tea infused smoothies. Beside the ever present blended teas, Tealish also has a line of orthodox teas for those tea purists! 

Pretty cup.

Blue Teapot.

El Almacen
I’ve never heard of El Almacen, but boy am I glad we dropped by here. Just like Niche, this also has a bar like feel to it. The walls are displayed with beautiful paintings that may be purchased. El Almacen is known for their Yerba Mate. They also serve delicious South American food including empanadas. I enjoyed a yummy chicken empanada that really hit the spot after all the shop hopping. It was warm and flaky with just a little kick of spice. Nice!

Wall Painting.

Store Art.

Yerba Mate anyone?

Working the counter!

That was our day! A few tea shops at our service in my city. This doesn’t even cover half of them. There are still many more shops to check out, and with tea becoming more and more popular, there will be plenty new places to visit. Looking forward to each and every one of them.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Yes Chef: Afternoon Tea at home!

A few months ago, I enjoy a wonderful feast inspired by the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. I wanted to do something similar at home, only this time, re-create it fashioned around the traditional English-style Afternoon Tea. It was a delight!

Little bites!

I wanted to use food and ingredients that I would normally purchase anyway, but in keeping with what’s served if I were to attend an Afternoon Tea event at a local restaurant. My menu consisted of a mixture of savory and sweet items to be enjoyed along with cups of Earl Grey, a tea traditionally consumed during Afternoon Tea. I had the following:

  • Cucumber with jalapeño cream cheese sandwich
  • Smoked salmon with sliced onions croissant
  • Curried tuna and mayo sandwich
  • Tomato, mozzarella cheese, and basil on bread
  • Nutella with strawberry slices on bread
  • Cream cheese and blueberry jam on bread
  • Rice pudding with a sprinkle of Matcha
  • Earl Grey Tea

Salmon and onions in a croissant.

I used different types of breads in order to make the various items so that I got a different consistency and texture instead of one monotonous type. I also cut them in different shapes to make things a little fun. Just use a cookie cutter of the shape you want or cut out the shape with a knife if you have a steady hand.

Cute cuts!

On the smoked salmon croissant as well as the tomato and mozzarella cheese on bread, I drizzled a little olive oil and sprinkled a pinch of salt and pepper. The tuna sandwich was made using a mixture of mayo and curry powder. The cucumber sandwich was very easy. The jalapeño cream cheese, available on the market, added a great zing than just regular plain cream cheese.

We're jammin'!

The desserts were just as simple. I love Nutella! Paired with slices of strawberry on top of a heart-shaped piece of bread was just perfect! The bread with blueberry jam and cream cheese went so well together. Sweet and tangy at the same time. The rice pudding was store bought. All I did was sprinkle a little Matcha on it to give it a nice little colour. 

A touch of Matcha.

Earl Grey Tea.

With a few cups of Earl Grey to enjoy my meal, I was a happy girl! Sure, my presentation was not as elegant or fancy as it would be in a restaurant, but it was just as fulfilling and tasty! I could probably come up with a lovely setting using fresh-cut flowers, candles, and perhaps situated in a gazebo in the backyard, but I’ll save that for a special occasion to be had with close friends and family. This was just to show you what you can do with a few key items right at home.

Oh lovely!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Yes Chef: Dressing my salad with tea!

With yet another hot and humid week in Toronto, I’ve been keeping myself hydrated with glasses of iced green tea. As much as I love cooking, this weather has kept me away from the stove. I eat much lighter meals with fresher ingredients that can be made in a snap. Lovely, healthy, salads are what I crave during these times. This might sound strange, but tea can easily be incorporated into a salad, specifically the dressing.

I’m not big into the salad dressings available at the market. They just don’t taste real. I’ve always made my own dressings using whatever ingredients I can find in my kitchen cabinets that I felt would appeal to my taste buds. Recently, I enjoyed a fabulous salad with a Matcha dressing I created.

Matcha salad dressing.

It’s very simple to make and takes no time at all. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 Garlic clove chopped
  • ¼ Teaspoon Matcha
  • ¼ Teaspoon honey
  • ¼ Teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ Teaspoon soya sauce
  • Pinch of black pepper

Garlic galore.

Just place all the ingredients into a bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. I added the oil in slowly after mixing all the other ingredients first, and then just whisked a bit longer. That’s it! Once ready, drizzle it over your salad with your choice of veggies. My salad consisted of all local produce:
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Vine-ripened tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Red radishes
  • Celery
It was delicious! The dressing was tangy, sweet, and a bit peppery. A really good balance.

Colourful salad.

I would not consider making large batches of this dressing and keeping it for later use. Make enough for what you need, and use it all right away. I hadn’t considered this, but I think this would make a great marinade for a white fish perhaps. Something I may do for next time.

  • Use the juice of lemons instead of limes or perhaps other citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruit.
  • If you don’t have grapeseed oil, try another neutral tasting oil like safflower, but feel free to experiment with oils you like. Normally I’d use olive oil for salad dressings but I felt it had a strong, sweet taste.
  • Go crazy with your choice of produce for the salad. Maybe even add some fruit, berries or nuts.