TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

February 26, 2015

Ramblings: Vegan variation on a scone

Had to take off a few weeks to tend to a very sick kitty. Now that I’m not constantly running to the vet’s office and we’ve got our daily routine of food preparation and tube-feeding organized, days are more relaxed and I can go back to one of my favourite things; namely, writing about tea and tea “stuff.”

afternoon teaDuring the fifteen years (1997 to 2012) when I was editing and publishing TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory, it was a rare tea room review we received that did not include a detailed evaluation of the scones that were served: whether they were too small or too large, too hard or too doughy, or happily just right. Scones are arguably the most popular component of a traditional afternoon tea, and tea drinkers do expect them to be just the way we like them!

The first scones were cooked up in Scotland in the early sixteenth century. These were essentially griddle-baked raised oatcakes, formed into large rounds and cut into wedges for serving. Nowadays scone bakers more often use wheat flour and cut the scones into rounds with a biscuit cutter or drop-shape them into rounded mounds.

Recipes for scones generally call for butter and either milk or cream, and are served with clotted cream, butter, and jam. Someone once told me that the whole point of scones is to provide a foundation for holding as much cream and jam as possible!

While this pleases most tea lovers, those of us who follow a purely vegetarian, or vegan, diet – abstaining from all animal-based products – often find ourselves having to pass on eating scones. This, however, is changing, as more people turn to a vegan diet, whether for philosophic or health reasons. Even former President Bill Clinton – once the poster boy for double bacon cheeseburgers – not only joins daughter Chelsea as a vegan, he is very vocal in his support for this cholesterol-free dietary plan. (Please note that this is not a political endorsement, just simply an observation about a well-known American.)

scone1aA growing number of restaurants, including tea rooms, either offer vegan menu choices or will alter dishes to suit. Before you visit a tea venue be sure to either read their menu online to see if it includes vegan dishes, or give them a call to discuss your dietary preferences and see if they will accommodate you. In my own experience, more often than not the answer will be “yes.”

Vegans — or anyone who is watching their cholesterol intake, is lactose intolerant, or is allergic to eggs — can make our own scones by substituting vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk for the dairy products. I prefer using coconut or palm oil shortening (Spectrum Organics makes several varieties that are available in natural food stores and many supermarkets) and plain soy milk, although you can use vegan margarine, light vegetable oil, rice milk, and almond milk.

If you prefer a scone mix, be sure to read the ingredients carefully; many incorporate dairy products. I like the mixes from Victorian House Sconesespecially their oatmeal variety. The VHS website even features mixing instructions for a vegan variation, provided by yours truly. I also like that these scones are baked in the original wedge shape.

The following recipe for scones came to me from my friend ~Sophia. Whether you’re a vegan or not, give it a try – they’re absolutely delicious! And remember: One properly eats a scone just as one eats a dinner roll: break off a bite-sized piece, add “embellishments,” and pop it in your mouth. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

~Sophia’s Maple Scones
Makes about a dozen

2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons vegan shortening, vegan margarine, or light oil such as sunflower
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
3/4 cup plain, unflavoured soy milk
1/3 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B, which has a richer flavour)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment baking paper.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder.
  • Cut in the shortening, margarine, or oil with a pastry cutter until the texture is crumbly.
  • Stir in the walnuts.
  • Add the milk and maple syrup, stirring until blended to a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough for a minute or so on a lightly floured board until smooth.
  • Pat or roll to a thickness of one-half inch.
  • Dip a large biscuit cutter (or the rim of a ten-ounce drinking glass) into flour, cut out rounds, and place each round onto the parchment. Shape any leftover dough into a round with your hands.
  • Bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with your favourite topping.

I like to accompany these flavourful scones with an assertive tea such as a rich nectar-y Assam. Fortunately, 2014 was an excellent year for Assams, like this tippy Meleng estate tea. If kitty’s health keeps improving I’m hoping to present a round-up of my favourite Assams in the next week or two. Meanwhile, if you decide to fix a batch of these scones, do let me know how you like them.

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January 9, 2014

Ramblings: The making of a tea drinker

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice before how my dear husband used to roll his eyes every time I mentioned tea, bought tea, or bought new tea ware. Although he didn’t drink tea at home, to his credit he did join me on several visits to tea rooms.

Cafe-at-Frontenac-Quebec

The Cafe at Chateau Frontenac in Quebec (temporarily closed for renovation). Photo courtesy of Chateau Frontenac.

One of the first tea rooms we visited together was at the magnificent and historic Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. In a beautiful dining parlour overlooking the St. Laurence River we enjoyed a luxurious tea time, complete with white-glove service. I think it was the rich miniature pastries and the glass of sherry that first gave him pause to consider that this “tea thing” might not be so bad.

After that were numerous tea times in New York at the late lamented Teabox at Takashimaya and at the wonderful Franchia. We explored various tea spots — now long gone — in Montreal, where we used to visit twice a year when we lived up North. We even visited the Montreal Botanical Gardens to observe a Japanese tea ceremony. And there were several visits to tea rooms in Bucuresti, Romania, with his father often and happily accompanying us.

Yet still … he didn’t drink tea at home.

tea-leaves_and-cupThen in the autumn of 2002 we were invited for a semi-private tasting of India teas — Darjeelings and a couple of Assams — by Kevin Gascoyne, who was then proprietor of Kyela Tea. He fixed about a dozen of his excellent teas for us to taste. This was around the time when different processes of Darjeeling teas were just being introduced here in North America, and we sampled greens, whites, and oolongs in addition to the familiar black teas of the region. Through Kevin’s gentle guidance, we discovered the nuances resulting from the different methods of processing “the champagne of teas,” as Darjeelings are often called.

This event, for me, was a revelation: these “alternative” teas were extraordinary, and led to my long and continuing journey through these varieties. For my dear husband, tho’, it was the dawn of his appreciation of fine teas, and of understanding why I loved them so.

Since then we’ve spent nearly every weekend and holiday morning quietly together enjoying our teas, and it’s a rare day when DH doesn’t sip his way through two potsful of one of his favoured rich black teas. Recently when we did some exhausting remodeling in the house, finishing at nearly midnight on New Year’s Eve, my dear husband turned down my suggestion of a glass of wine and instead asked me to fix him a pot of tea. (He still doesn’t fix his own tea — after all, his wife does it better. 😉 )

teaHe even has his own favourite cups — and, like me, he prefers his tea served in glass.

Although he doesn’t pretend to know a great deal about tea, he does know which ones he prefers. Generally he likes the more assertively-flavoured black teas. However …

During a business trip to Stockholm many years ago he stopped in at Tea Centre of Stockholm and brought home one of those cute little tins of their signature Soderblandning. I liked it (I was still drinking flavoured teas at this time) and he ended up adoring it. For several years it was his favourite cup — until the regular trips to Sweden were discontinued and obtaining this tea became rather difficult and costly. I took this as an opportunity to expand his repertoire of the flavourful black teas he favoured. And so …

Along with Darjeelings (preferably Second or Autumnal flushes), he likes nectar-y Assams. Amongst his favourites are Assam Golden Tips, Nahorhabi Assam, and Mangalam Assam, all from Harney & Sons; Vithanakande, Pothotuwa, and Pettiagalla estate Ceylons via Capital Tea Limited; and of course just about any black tea from Camellia Sinensis, where Kevin is now a partner and continues his tradition of fine teas.

Recently I’ve introduced him to a few teas from Simpson & Vail that he very much enjoys: a long-time favourite of mine, Orangajuli Assam; their proprietary Dunmore East Blend, one of the very few blended teas I care to drink; and what has recently become his preferred cup: Nepal Aarubotay, which he likes despite its being organically grown ;-). This really is a delightful tea, reminiscent of an autumnal Darjeeling but, as DH puts it, “more so.” Which reminds me that I have to reorder this one …

Kevin has since gone on to write a very well-received book about tea, and has become something of a tea rock star, regularly speaking and presenting tastings at World Tea Expo. Tho’ I’ll always think of him as the tea man who made a tea drinker of my husband.

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