TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

October 22, 2014

Ramblings: Tea time treats

The word tea doesn’t refer only to the leaf or the beverage — sometimes tea refers to a meal. A British working man might come home and ask his wife “What’s for tea?” just as we here in the USA ask “What’s for lunch … or dinner?”

I originally developed this recipe after a trip to Québec and Montréal, where we had — as usual — purchased a fair quantity of their wonderful maple syrup. Two things I’ve always loved are maple syrup and sweet potatoes. When I fix candied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving I always include maple syrup, and thought there must be other ways to pair up these two complementary flavours.

Another long-time favourite is almond butter. It’s healthful and it tastes so good. I use it as cake filling, in smoothies, and of course slathered on anything in the baked-goods family. Finally the light bulb went on: why not put them all together?

Well, it worked even better than I’d hoped and it has become one of my favourite teatime recipes. Especially when I can use the sweet potatoes from our own garden, which start to mature in mid-October, just in time for Thanksgiving. I’ve served this simple spread with scones, biscuits, crumpets, toast, and even shortbread many times. Perfect paired with a fragrant Darjeeling, or a malty Assam, or perhaps a smooth Ceylon tea.

Sweet potato butter

The first sweet potato we pulled from our garden this year. It weighed a whopping 800g (1.75 lb) — and it was yummy!

Be sure to use the best quality pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B, which is less refined and much more mapley. Almond butter is available at many supermarkets next to the peanut butter; if you can’t find it, try a natural foods store or look online.

You can cook the potatoes by boiling or baking, tho’ I prefer to cut them into cubes, place them into a shallow bowl, cover with a damp paper towel, and nuke for about twelve minutes or until tender.

Serve this yummy treat at your next autumn tea and I almost guarantee you and your guests will smile. Be sure to let me know how you like it!

Sweet potato butter
About 1-1/2 cups

1-1/2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
2 Tablespoons almond butter, unsweetened and unsalted
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Place the potatoes into a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mashed sweet potatoes. Mix well by hand, or purée briefly in a blender or food processor for a smoother texture. Serve with biscuits, scones, crumpets, or tea bread. The butter can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for about two days, but is best served as soon as possible after preparing. (Tip: Be sure the almond butter is at room temperature before mixing it in.)

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October 13, 2014

Review: Tea for two at Dobra

Recently DH and I drove up to Black Mountain, North Carolina, from our home in South Carolina, to have tea at Dobra Tea. The day was grey and drizzly so it was not quite as pleasant a drive as it could have been, tho’ still scenic as only the Blue Ridge can be.

Back when I was the editor and publisher of TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory (from 1997 to 2012), I learned that tea was almost as popular in Czech as are their wonderful beers, and was delighted to list Prague’s Dobra Cajovna in the Directory. I was even happier when Dobra opened their first tea house in the USA, hoping that a location would open somewhere near us in the NYC area. Sad to say that as new Dobras opened their doors each was further away than the last. (Dobra tea houses also opened elsewhere in Eastern Europe, so I was hoping that if there wasn’t one near us in USA they might decide to locate near Bucuresti, Romania, where it would also be possible to visit. Alas, this was not to be either.)

In 2005 we moved to South Carolina, and a couple of years ago I heard that a Dobra Tea House opened in Asheville, North Carolina. Hmmm, getting closer! Then I heard of another Dobra opening in Black Mountain, a small town about twenty minutes from Asheville.

When DH came home from work one evening and told me that he had a day off next week and was there anything special I’d like to do, I immediately said “Let’s go for tea at Dobra Tea in Black Mountain!” On days when DH doesn’t go to work — weekends, holidays, and any other days off — we spend the mornings together over several pots of tea. And we enjoyed going to tea houses in New York, Montreal, and other places we used to travel to. So off we went.

Black Mountain is a charming little town with small shops and restaurants lining the main street. The tea house is set somewhat back from the other businesses. It’s a lovely wood building with a sizable terrace and a serene ambiance.

Although the day was rather dismal, inside the tea house was bright and welcoming. We walked through the front door past a variety of seating areas, of low tables with cushion seating as well as tables of standard height with chairs or benches. Little nooks off to the sides held book shelves. We picked a table in the front of the tea house where it was filled with light.

We were each handed a thick binder that listed all of Dobra’s tea, tisane, and food offerings. Each beverage and dish was fully and clearly described, and most were illustrated. It took us a while to browse through the book. Our lovely  hostess offered to answer any questions or make recommendations.

For DH the choice was clear: he prefers black teas and has become quite fond of teas from Nepal; there was a Nepal Ilam on the menu. He ordered homemade halvah to accompany it. My starting selection was matcha, sort of like soup before the meal. The matcha was perfectly frothy and brothy, and was accompanied by daifuku — mochi filled with sweet red bean paste. The mochi was wonderful, both in texture and flavour.

When we finished our first teas, DH asked for a refill of his Nepal, while I needed my usual morning oolong. After consulting with our hostess as to the most floral of their Taiwan oolongs, I decided on their Jin Xuan, which I have been favouring of late. I also ordered a serving of baba ghanouj, a dish that I adore — it’s fairly common in the NYC area tho’ rarely seen on menus here in the Southlands.

The oolong tea arrived in a tiny clay teapot along with a cup and a carafe of water for additional steepings, kept hot over a tealight candle. The Jin Xuan did not disappoint; it was exactly what I wanted. The “baba ghanouj” was another story. This dish is a combination of eggplant and sesame tahini, and was so described on the menu. What arrived was more of an eggplant salad — no tahini in sight. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t baba ghanouj.

Service was somewhat awkward: the “salad” rested in a small bowl with a small wooden paddle. As it was rather lumpy it was difficult to dish it out much less spread it on the accompanying very dry, thin crackers (not the pita bread the menu had noted) and some equally awkwardly large chunks of raw vegetables. As the whole plate was generously dusted with za’atar I decided to just do the best I could with it. Again, it wasn’t awful — but I would certainly never order it again.

My oolong provided six outstanding infusions, so that kind of made up for the disappointing nosh. Most of all, I had the opportunity to enjoy morning tea time with my DH without having to fix the teas myself — not that I really mind, tho’ it is quite nice when someone else handles this important job! A sip of DH’s Nepal tea demonstrated that it was expertly prepared.

So bottom line: three excellent teas, two excellent sweets, comfortable seating and surroundings. I’d say it was a near-perfect tea. With the autumn colours now nearing their peak in the Blue Ridge area of southern North Carolina, this has no doubt become a very pretty drive, and and I’m looking forward to our next trip to Black Mountain and Dobra Tea.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

There’s a lovely terrace — unfortunately it was raining the day we visited.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

A bright and welcoming interior — the table next to ours.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

There are also several low tables with floor cushions.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

A beautiful display of mostly handmade tea ware.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

More tea ware and pretty art work on the walls.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

I loved these little cups with the Dobra logo displaying many of their teas and tisanes on the counter so you can see and sniff before you decide.

Dobra Tea, Black Mountain, NC

Our table in the front window. My setting is a cup and small clay pot of Jin Xuan Taiwan oolong; the carafe with tealight candle provided water for six infusions. DH’s setting is his second pot of Nepal Ilam black tea. The green book on the chair on the right is the tea house menu.

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All content Copyright 2014 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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October 8, 2014

Review: A new tea book

I recently received a copy of Modern Tea: A fresh look at an ancient beverage, the new book by Lisa Boalt Richardson, who is best known in the cyberworld as Lisa Knows Tea. As I had gotten out of the habit of blogging for some time it seemed like the perfect opportunity — or perhaps inspiration? — to resume my ruminations on tea and all things related to tea by reviewing this charming little book.

Modern Tea: A fresh look at an ancient beverageYou might think that with all the books about tea already on the market there is nothing new to say on the subject. Well, you would be mistaken. While Modern Tea is chock-full of the usual introductory tea topics — tea origins, types of teas,  how to purchase, steeping and storing recommendations — it also goes well beyond the basics.

For those who are beginning their journey into fine tea — or who you might want to lure into the world of tea! — Modern Tea provides everything they’ll need to know within its 164 pages. Lisa’s breezy writing style draws the reader in, as do the lush photos (by Jenifer Altman). Don’t be fooled by its slimness and casual demeanor, however; there’s good, in-depth content here.

And for those readers who are too cool for school, who know all the basic stuff, there are lots of details about the art of tea tasting, pairing tea with foods, and cooking with tea; on the other end of the process there’s a section on dark teas and tea processing in general, along with historical tidbits.

For me, the highlights of this book are the many personal reminiscences the author shares with us about her travels to tea-origin countries and her experiences in the tea fields and tea factories and tea houses. I’ve pretty much come to accept that it is unlikely that I will ever travel to the tea lands of Taiwan, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka, so these vicarious experiences are about as close as I’m ever going to get — and Lisa’s descriptions are so clearly painted that it really is almost like being there with her.

Whether you’re a tea newby, an old pro, or somewhere in between, you’re sure to find something new and interesting in Modern Tea. Drink up!

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Contact us by email about reviewing your tea or tea-related product, or to be interviewed.

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