TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

August 17, 2009

Ramblin’ about iced tea

Filed under: cooking,food,recipes,tea — by JanisB @ 2:06 pm
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Now that we’re in the “dog days” of August — so named for the ascending dog star, Sirius — everyone is asking the same important questions:

What’s the best way to make good iced tea?

And what tea/s make the best iced tea?

iced_tea_lemon

Well, it depends on who you ask.

Now if you ask me, I’ll tell you that the cold infusion method (also known as “refrigerator iced tea”) produces the tastiest and clearest iced tea you’ve ever tasted. Not to mention that it’s so-o-o-o easy to fix, you don’t have to worry about bacterial contamination (as you might when drinking “sun tea”), and as an added bonus it’s almost impossible for cold-infused tea to get bitter from over-steeping.

All you need are tea, disposable filters if you’re using loose leaf tea, a covered pitcher or large jar, and cold water. No need to boil the water — remember that I told you this was simple! It’s even safe enough for kids to fix.

pitcher_teaHere’s what you do: Put the tea into the pitcher or jar, fill with cold water, cover securely, and place into the refrigerator. (I personally favour using an empty “Simply Grapefruit” juice bottle — the wide mouth allows easy addition and removal of tea, and its convenient size fits on the ‘fridge door.) Let it steep for at least two (2) hours, or put it together in the late evening and let it steep overnight. When you’re ready to serve, remove and discard the tea (bags or filters), and pour into a glass in your favourite style: “as is,” over ice, with frozen strawberry “ice cubes,” mixed with lemonade, mixed with pineapple juice, accented with lemon and/or sweetener, or with a drop or two of pure vanilla … The possibilities are endless, limited only by your own taste buds.

As far as which tea you should use for iced tea, a lot of people will tell you to “just ice whichever teas you drink hot.” The idea being, of course, that if you like the taste of a particular tea hot, logically you’ll love it just as much when it’s icy cold.

Well, I’m here to tell you: It ain’t necessarily so. Some teas are good no matter what temperature they are when you drink them, but a lot of teas simply are not switch-hitters.

customblendimageThere are plenty of teas that I’m just crazy about when they’re served hot, but cannot abide when they’re cold. Case in point: smoky teas. The (tea) world is divided into those who hate smoky teas, and those who love a hot cup of Lapsang Souchong or Russian Caravan, especially on a damp, chilly afternoon. Happily, I’m in the latter group. So, following the “conventional wisdom” of iced tea preferences, I have on a couple of occasions tried an iced smoky tea. Never — I say never — again! “Yuck” would be the kindest description I could come up with to describe this swill. And yet, there I am at tea tastings, happily finishing off the almost-full pot of hot Lapsang Souchong while all around me are desperately trying to get rid of the “swill” in their cups.

Several other very enjoyable hot teas just do not make it in iced teadom. Gen mai cha, a lovely gentle green tea mixed with roasted rice, is awful when chilled. Most white teas, when iced, simply leave me cold. As big a fan as I am of Darjeeling and oolong teas, frankly a lot of them can’t handle the transition from hot to cold. Matcha and gyokuro teas, two very strongly flavoured Japanese green teas, are wonderful hot but almost gag-inducing when cold. And let’s not even get started on pu-erh …

And then there are the teas I enjoy iced that I would never (or hardly ever) drink hot. Unless I were absolutely desperate, I’d never put a teabag of Wissotsky or Canadian Red Rose black tea into a teapot or cup and drink it hot, and yet these are my two favourite iced teas. Both have a clear, strong, “tea-y” flavour, and are great alone or for mixing with juices. I’m not real big on flavoured teas when they’re served hot, but chill ’em and pour ’em over ice and they are tasty and refreshing. There are also a few green teas that I find too grassy when they’re served hot, but when cold infused they develop a surprising springtime sweetness.

So how exactly do you choose which tea/s to drink iced? The same way you choose your hot tea favourites: drink a lot of different kinds, then winnow out the ones you don’t care for and stick with the ones you do like. Remember that it’s tea, not rocket science. You identify teas that appeal to your taste by sampling a variety. Whichever one/s you prefer become your own personal “best iced teas.”

orangeglassesYes, you’ve got to go with your own taste on this, but I will recommend one tea blend that I like both hot and cold as a jumping-off point. Start with either a neutral or “nectar/honey” type of Assam; it’s not as successful with “malty” Assams. (Orangajuli comes to mind, but there are plenty of others.) Then add a sprig or two of fresh dried linden leaves and flowers to the infusion. Linden is also called lime blossom; in French it’s tilleul, and in Romanian it’s tei.) I’ve been drinking this combination for some weeks now, ever since I bought and dried a kilo of fresh tei in Bucuresti. Everyone I’ve served this blend to so far — both in Romania and USA, where I managed to bring home about a half-pound of dried herb — has enjoyed the combination, both hot and iced. Linden has a lovely fragrance and a natural sweetness that complement a “basic black” tea like Assam.

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November 5, 2008

Product review: Tea Room Cookbooks

Filed under: books,cooking,food,recipes,tea,tea books — by JanisB @ 4:11 pm
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ATR Publishing
Retail and wholesale
Book cover photo courtesy of An Afternoon to Remember; additional stock photo

Links open in a new window.

Do you like to serve tea at home to friends and family? Are you always looking for delicious new dishes to serve at tea time? If so, this series of tea room cookbooks may be just your cup of tea.

Afternoon teaThe recipes in these books, developed and collected by Amy Lawrence, owner of An Afternoon to Remember Tea Parlor in Newcastle, California, encompass the wide range of dishes she serves to her own tea room customers. In these pages you’ll find elegant savouries, diet-busting desserts, plenty (and I mean plenty) of creative scones, and a variety of other recipes.

Full disclosure: I am not only a vegetarian but a vegan, following a diet that includes absolutely no products of animal derivation. Because most tea rooms cannot accommodate these dietary requirements, I’ve had to develop my own tea time recipe collection.

But I do love to read cookbooks, especially when they have to do with tea, because invariably I find recipes that either suit my dietary requirements or can be made suitable with minimal substitutions. And so it is with these charming tea room cookbooks. After browsing through I discovered several appealing recipes, and have given a few of them a try — with excellent results.

Laura’s Best of Show Cookies, with buttery spread in place of butter, are just delicious. The combination of walnuts and jam just melts in your mouth, and they paired beautifully with a pot of Balasun Second Flush Darjeeling. I fixed the Balsamic Barbecue Sauce with an anchovy-free Worcestershire sauce, and it brought rave reviews. Formosa Gunpowder green tea nicely complemented the Nutty/Fruity Mandarin Wild Rice Salad, perfect as written.

I’m still working my way through the recipes in these books, and look forward to trying the Spicy Pecans, Blackberry Pie (if I can get to our bushes before the birds next year!), Garden Vegetable Tea Sandwiches, and the Rum Balls, among others.

Along with the recipes are serving tips and general instructions for making a good pot of tea. (As I have cautioned in previous reviews, ignore the “instant decaffeination process,” especially if caffeine is really a problem for you, because it doesn’t work.) Beginners to more experienced cooks and bakers will find inspiration in each and every volume of the series.

Drop by for TeaAlthough I much prefer cookbooks bound in a format that allows them to lie flat rather than fighting with a perfect-bound book, this is a small quibble when the content is this easy to read and the instructions so easy to follow.

Best of all, opposite each recipe page is a blank page for notes. Why isn’t every cookbook formatted this way? All of my cookbooks and recipe cards are marked up in the margins with almost illegible suggestions for variations, notations about reducing the quantity of sugar, or calculations for increasing or decreasing the number of servings and ingredients.

I tend to approach recipes as “jumping off points:” that is, you try it the first time as written, then the next time you tweak it to suit your own taste (or to use up what’s in your pantry). A recipe that calls for summertime peaches, for example, might be just as tasty when prepared with pears in the fall. Clearly Ms. Lawrence has “been there, done that,” and has devised a format that invites readers to be creative with her recipes. Brava!

Books are paperback and printed in the USA (as all books written and published in the USA should be) and are available from An Afternoon to Remember/ATR Publishing. So far there are five volumes. Each volume is sold separately; unfortunately not available as a collection. The shop also carries their own brand of teas, plus an array of accessories for your tea table. Resellers can click on the wholesale link and set up an account.

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