Honey for Your Tea

For tea lovers, when it comes to enjoying a fresh tea, honey is one of the most common methods to sweeten your steaming cup of beverage bliss. However, the sticky sweetness is a magnet for messiness, which is why there are plenty of gadgets, kitchen tools, and decorative items that have evolved over the years for tea drinkers. If you’re unfamiliar with all that is available to you, consider the following ways to sweeten your tea with honey.

Honey Pots with Stirrers

When you’re entertaining family and friends with biscuits and a spot of tea, possessing a small honey pot with stirrer comes in handy. Honey pots not only cut down on the amount of mess made, but also add a decorative touch to your teatime spread. Oftentimes, these convenient containers are in the shape of a beehive, but not always. Creative honey pot designers have included Winnie the Pooh, Dutch windmills, and Easter eggs shapes.

Shatterproof Containers

If you’d like to lessen your chances of having a sticky mishap during teatime, avoid honey containers made out of glass and opt for shatterproof vessels. For example, Granja San Francisco Honey comes in a shatterproof beehive-shaped container, which conveniently pours from the bottom – no drips or leftover stickiness. This particular brand of premium honey is made and packaged in Spain. The bottle shown is of Granja San Francisco Rosemary and Lavender Honey, which has the added flavors of rosemary and lavender nectars.

Honey Sticks

Forgo the honey pot and the stirrer for honey sticks – perfect for individual use. Simply open the straw and stir the honey into your cup of tea. Today, honey sticks also come in a variety of flavors, including peach, amaretto, cinnamon, lemon, and mint. The compact size of the honey stick also makes an excellent travel companion for when you need an on-the-go sweetener.

Easy-to-Pour Bottles

Usually made out of plastic, choose easy-to-pour bottles that use a squeeze or squirt action to deliver a blast of honey to your cups of tea.

Honey Spoons

When you’d like the honey to simply drip or ooze into your cup, a honey spoon offers a unique (crooked) design comprised of stainless steel that balances on the edge of your teacup. There is another type of honey spoon to consider, as seen in the Tupelo Honey Flavoring Spoons – comprised of pure sweet honey that dissolves in about one minute from the end of a wooden stick.

Honey Dippers

Generally made out of wood and shaped like a beehive at the end of a long stick, a honey dipper is an inexpensive way to easily transfer honey from a jar to a cup. Some selections have been known to cost only $1.99.

5 Ways to Cook with Tea

As one of the most popular beverages in the world, tea comes in a variety of flavors and origins – from soothing chamomile to the antioxidant power of green tea. What many people don’t know is that cooking with tea is not a new concept. In fact, the ancient Chinese stuffed fish with dried pungent oolong leaves before steaming, boiled eggs with tea leaf water, and added tea leaves to their fires when smoking duck. If you’re looking for creative ways to incorporate tea into the way you prepare food, consider the following suggestions:

As a Dessert

From shortbread cookies to tea biscuits, green tea has found a place in many recipes for desserts. For instance, green tea powder (called matcha) is an ingredient used in a range of Japanese-style sweets. Some bakers and chocolate makers will incorporate green tea into their recipes. One example is the Organic Chocolate Green Tea Bar – filled with a creamy green tea center and wrapped in a blanket of dark chocolate. Other ways to use tea as a dessert ingredient includes Earl Grey Muffins, Spiced Chai Cookies, and Green Tea Sorbet.

As a Marinade

Leftover tea makes a decent marinade for dishes with meat. Marinade your chicken breasts with tea possessing a distinct flavor, such as Earl Grey, to create an aromatic dish. Some vegetarians have even marinated their tofu in tea before serving. It’s also suggested to explore the aromatic distinction of East Indian teas, which offer hints of cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, clove, nutmeg, and lemongrass.

As a Meat Tenderizer

Avoid tough cuts of meat by using tea as a tenderizer. Experiment with different flavors, such as rooibos tea – also known as ‘red’ tea.

As a Spicy Rub or Coating

If you grind tea leaves (such as oolong) in a pepper mill and combine with white pepper, you can create a savory rub for pork chops and steak – perfect for enhancing Asian-style dishes. Coat your meat, fish, or poultry with dried tea leaves to create a crunchy texture and appealing flavor. Poultry and seafood usually respond well to smoked teas.

As a Rice Enhancer

Don’t have aromatic rice to serve as a side dish? Create your own by adding a bit of tea (like Jasmine) to create varying levels of flavor and fragrances. Since tea is an edible leaf, you may also add to rice to produce interesting dishes. For example, some teas possess an earthy taste comparable to spinach.

Tea & Coffee Hot Spots for Travelers

Calling all avid travelers! If you like browsing artistic collections of teapots or exploring the history of infamous caffeinated brews around the world, then you may enjoy the following museums, which focus on coffee and tea.

Trenton Teapot Collection – Tennessee

From a teapot shaped like an elephant with gold accents to one depicting a mermaid, the Trenton Teapot Collection is credited with carrying the largest collection of Porcelain Veilleuse-Theieres (also known as “night-light teapots”) in the world. Specimens date between 1750 and 1860 with some hailing from India, France, Spain, and Italy – highlighting significant cultural details. It is free to take in the colorful sights of the highly creative teapots. Located in Trenton, Tennessee, the city also hosts a teapot festival.

Kona Coffee Museum and Farm – Hawaii

For a taste of Big Island coffee production, the Uchida Coffee Farm (located south of Kealakekua town on the Kona Coast) offers a tour with guides dressed in period costumes. The original farmhouse, bathhouse, coffee mill and drying platforms await your curiosity.

Coffee Museum – Santos, Sao Paulo

Located at the Official Coffee Exchange in the port city of Santos, you will find the Coffee Museum – dedicated to coffee in Brazil. A historic architectural sight in itself, the Museum is part of a short tour that costs about $1 and runs every 30 minutes. A vintage streetcar starts in front of José Bonifácio Palace and takes you throughout the downtown area, where you can walk over to the Museum and visit at the end of your sightseeing.

Highlights of the museum include the imported marble floor of the Trading Room, the striking stained glass panel on the ceiling of the Trading Room, the coffee scales, and the chance to purchase special coffees at the gift shop. If you’re lucky, you can arrange to attend the three-day barista course held at the Museum that takes place every month for a fee of $180.

Museum of Coffee Technology – Germany

If you enjoy the technical side of making coffee just as much as drinking it, you may want to check out the Museum of Coffee Technology in Emmerich, Germany. It is here that you’ll encounter a collection of about 600 household coffee mills – many of which are fascinatingly decorative. A great deal of roasters is on the premises, highlighting items from 1884 to the 20th century. Large and small commercial and industrial grinders are also on display.

National Tea Museum – China

Possessing the longest history in the world of tea, China is often considered its birthplace. Interestingly, the National Tea Museum claims the only attraction of its kind that offers a tea theme. Opened in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in 1991, the Museum is quite unique, as there are no external walls, but instead – vegetation serves as its boundaries. The history and development of tea in China is separated into four different groups of buildings.

For example, step into the exhibition building to find six halls devoted to the history of growing and processing tea throughout the country: Hall of Tea History, the Kaleidoscope Hall, the Hall of Tea Properties, the Tea-friendship Hall, the Tea Sets Hall, and the Tea Customs Hall. Visit the Kaleidoscope Hall to browse more than 300 kinds of tea. It’s a learning experience that also includes conferences centered on tea culture, tea art performances, as well as a chance to sample a variety of teas.

Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum – London, England

Located in London, England, The Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum is known as the first museum in the world to completely devote its exhibits to the history of tea and coffee. Covering more than 400 years of commercial and social history, it’s been educating and enlightening tourists since 1992. A visit to the museum brings you close to the London Bridge station and Borough Market, where it is open daily. Onsite, there is a tearoom that serves coffee and tea to guests for a price. Enjoy Cream Tea (including scones with clotted cream and jam, cake and tea of your choice for £7) or Afternoon Tea (with cucumber sandwiches, hot crumpet, tea cake, cake and choice of tea for £9). At last check, the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum was undergoing refurbishment, so it would be a good idea to call before planning a visit (020 7403 5650).

Ideas for Sweetening Your Tea

With teaspoon in hand or a pile of cubes, plain white sugar is the most common method of sweetening tea. However, a wide selection of sweeteners is awaiting the chance to help you discover the many facets of drinking your preferred beverage. For example, often overlooked as a way to sweeten tea, brown sugar offers a deeper, richer flavor than its refined sugar cousin. You never know when you’re going to find a new favorite combination. A few ideas for sweetening your next cup of tea include:

1) Rock Sugar

Rock sugar is a rather decorative (and oftentimes colorful) form of sweetening your tea, making it the perfect addition to a tea party amongst friends. Rock sugar crystals are molded into rectangular prisms or attached to a stirring stick that dissolves in your hot cup of tea.

2) Indian Jaggery

For an exotic take on sweetening your tea, jaggery is unrefined sugarcane sugar often used to enhance the flavor of savory and sweet dishes all over India. With no preservatives and chemicals added to the sugar, prepare for a distinctive, earthy taste.

3) Maple Sugar

Treat your taste buds to a different take on tea by adding maple syrup as a sweetener. While processed sap is just as sweet as sugar, it actually contains more minerals and fewer calories than honey. Use Grade-B maple syrup for a highly flavorful treat.

4) Agave Syrup or Nectar

An increasing number of people are discovering the deliciousness of agave nectar – a natural sweetener that comes from the agave cactus. For centuries, people in South America and Mexico have used agave, which offers 50% more sweetness than regular sugar. Choose agave nectar for stronger teas to enjoy a taste that resembles a blend of honey and molasses.

5) Stevia

Sometimes, you must choose your tea sweetener to fit your health limitations. For example, most diabetics are stuck with the chemical aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. However, the leaves of the stevia plant produce a natural sweetener that doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. Scan your local market for options, such as Truvia.

6) Honey

With a variety of types and qualities, honey offers a versatile option in sweetening tea. Usually, clover honey is seen as the most popular choice because it possesses a somewhat neutral flavor. Other selections, such as tupelo honey with its buttery taste, offer flavor variations. The added benefit of using honey to sweeten your tea is that it contains healthy components, such as antibacterial properties. Many tea retailers also sell honey sticks for a less messy experience.

7) Simple Syrups

Also known as “sugar syrups,” solutions of sugar are boiled in water and often flavored with herbs or fruit (such as cranberries or ginger) during the cooking process.

January is Hot Tea Month

Did you know that January is Hot Tea Month? If you’re a tea enthusiast, this is the perfect time to tip a cup of steaming pekoe or experience the smoothness of chocolate chai for a celebration centered on a brew wildly popular across the globe. To go beyond your normal tea-drinking activities, consider the following suggestions for how to enjoy the rest of Hot Tea Month:

Try an Exotic Tea

Step outside your boundaries. If you’re a loyal black tea drinker, try sampling green, white or red varieties. You might just find a new favorite. Pay a visit to a local tearoom. For example, Shaharazade’s Exotic Tea Room located at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, offers a host of specialty teas, such as Kyoto Cherry Rose and Mango with pieces of fruit and sunflower petals.

photo courtesy of Andrzej Pobiedziński
Make Your Own Herbal Infusion

Herbal teas use herbs, spices, flowers and other plant parts to create a brew perfect for people looking for a caffeine-free beverage. In many circles, herbal infusions are used for medicinal purposes. To make your own, choose one or more herbs. Add 20 grams dried herb or 30 grams fresh herb to a warmed teapot. Fill with 500 milliliters of boiling water. Replace the lid and infuse for 10 minutes. Strain some of the infusion into a cup and sweeten with a teaspoon of honey, if desired.

Buy a New Tea Set

From Chinese themed jade teapots to artisan crafts, tea sets come in an array of decorative sizes, colors and shapes. There are no limits to the creative construction and embellishments of teapots and teacups from around the world. Search eBay, Amazon and other online sellers for new and used treasures for teatime.

Sweet Treats

Make teatime in January a special event with your favorite cookies, biscuits or biscotti. Settle down with an assortment of sweet treats and take time to ponder the coming year. Archer Farms has a delicious powdery chai tea biscuit perfect for a cup of strong black tea.

Tea for Two

Reconnect with loved ones over tea for two – the perfect bonding experience between mothers, older daughters and sisters. Bring out your finest teacups and create a decorative spread. Dole out an assortment of light sandwiches served on thinly sliced bread and cut into triangles – no crusts. Cucumber sandwiches are a favorite, but you can experiment with smoked salmon, watercress or chicken salad. Add shortbread, lemon wafers or homemade gingersnaps into the mix. Offer honey, sugar, lemon, cream and milk to dress up your tea.

Matcha Green Tea

Info courtesy of AOI Tea Company.

What is Matcha Green Tea?

Matcha is a powdered green tea used in Japan’s formal tea ceremony, as well as for every day drinking pleasure and as a delicious ingredient in countless recipes. Matcha is prized for its high concentration of nutrients as well as its distinctive flavor. In its unpowdered form, it is known as “tencha.” Premium grade matcha is a vibrant shade of green.

Matcha is different from other green teas both in the way it is cultivated and the way it is processed. The great care taken to gradually shade the tea plants from sunlight in the month before harvest results in thinner, more tender leaves, and Matcha’s signature, vibrant emerald color.

Matcha Tiramisu. photo courtesy of hfabulous

During harvest, which takes place in May of each year, only new leaves are picked. The leaves are steamed and then dried. Next, they are sorted for grade, and stems, veins, and any inferior quality leaves are removed. At this point, the leaves are called “tencha.” After the tencha is ground on a stone mill into a superfine powder, it is known as Matcha.

Green tea is well known for its health benefits. Does Matcha offer the same benefits?

Yes. Recent studies have shown that green tea aids with digestion and weight loss, increases energy, decreases stress levels, prevents cancerous cell growth and helps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, among many other health benefits. Matcha has a very high catechin content and also contains potent nutrients such as polyphenols, minerals, vitamins, fibers, potassium, and chlorophyll. Matcha is also especially rich in l-theanine.

In addition, Matcha is made using only the whole leaf of the tea plant, not the veins and stems, which are removed before grinding. Matcha powder is mixed directly into hot water. So Matcha drinkers are consuming the whole leaf and all of its goodness, not just brewed water.

Where is Matcha grown and processed?

Ceremonial grade Matcha (high grade Matcha designed for drinking and cooking) is grown and processed exclusively in Japan. The premiere Matcha growing regions are located around Nishio and Kyoto, in micro-climates that are the most favorable to Matcha cultivation. AOI Tea has the largest organic Matcha growing capacity in the Nishio area.

matcha parfait
Matcha parfait. photo courtesy of yuichi.sakuraba

Matcha’s has been used in Japan for centuries. Its history dates back to the 1200’s when it was used by monks as an aid for meditation.

Are all Matcha green teas created equal?

Not at all. Color, aroma, and taste are key determinants of quality, and this can vary widely from one Matcha to another. These factors can be assessed both when the Matcha is in its powder form, and when it has been mixed into hot water to create Matcha tea.

The best quality Matcha powder will be a vibrant emerald green with a lustrous quality. If the powder has a slight yellow tone, it is of a slightly lower grade. A whitish tone is still lower, while brownish toned matcha powder can be considered very low grade or old. The powder should have a grassy, seaweed-like aroma, and a sweet after taste (“umami”) from its amino acids. An astringent or bitter aroma, and a biting taste indicate Matcha of lesser quality.

In its liquid form, Matcha should also have a vibrant green color (vs. yellowish or dull), and a smooth sweet after taste.

What should I know about the different grades of Matcha?

There is a wide range of Matcha grades for different uses, ranging from ceremonial grade Matcha to industrial grade Matcha for use as an ingredient in food and beverage processing. In the United States, AOI offers everything from award winning ceremonial Matcha to cost effective industrial grade Matcha.

Does Matcha come in loose leaf and tea bag form?

No. Matcha is by definition a powder. It mixes directly into hot water to make tea (or with other ingredients in recipes).

How should Matcha be stored?

Matcha should be stored in its tightly closed container in the refrigerator. Heat, light and excess exposure to air are the enemies of delicate matcha powder.

Is there a special technique for preparing a cup of Matcha?

Although Matcha has traditionally been associated with the formal Japanese tea ceremony and all of its special rules and etiquette, making a cup of Matcha at home is actually very easy. The formal tea ceremony uses a special tea scoop (chasaku) for measuring the tea, a bamboo whisk (chasen) for mixing the powder smoothly into the liquid, and a tea bowl (chawan.) However, it is perfectly acceptable to use a plain teaspoon, a small egg whisk, hand-held frother, or blender, and a small bowl or mug.

First, place the whisk in the bowl and warm them both by pouring in some hot water. Let the water sit in the bowl for a minute or so, then discard the water. Place about 2/3 teaspoon (or 1 ½ heaping scoops if using a chasaku) into the bowl. Bring some water to a boil and let it cool down to 160 – 180 degrees. Add the water to the Matcha. Whisk briskly with one hand while holding the bowl/mug with the other. Whisk until a fine foam appears on top of the liquid, which means the tea is smooth and ready to drink. Foam is as integral to the enjoyment of Matcha as it is to that of espresso!

Matcha roll cake. Photo courtesy of shok.

Creative cooks and chefs use Matcha green tea in a wide range of foods and beverages… entrees, pastas, chocolates, scones, cakes, ice cream, lattes, smoothies, cocktails, and much more. AOI Tea Company can provide recipes.

Where can I find Matcha in the U.S.?

Matcha is becoming more widely available in the U.S. through specialty retailers and health and natural foods stores or online at www.aoitea.com .

Is there any recommended reading on Matcha?

Yes. Mutsuko Tokunaga’s comprehensive book, New Tastes in Green Tea (Kodansha America, 2004) is a must-read for anyone interested in Matcha and other green teas.

Take a Walk on the Pricey Side of Tea

Have you ever tried the “champagne of teas?” Considered the most expensive tea because the leaves are smaller than other teas, Darjeeling tea traditionally possesses an allure over other black teas, especially in places like the United Kingdom and countries once belonging to the former British Empire. Can you imagine tea that costs $1,700 per kg? Below you will find a handful of pricey selections, including the most expensive teabag in the world.

Darjeeling Tea

Purchase prices for Darjeeling tea have broken world records, including the 18,000 rupees ($390.70) per kg paid at an auction at the main tea market in Calcutta in 2003. Weather conditions also play a significant role in the price of the tea because too much or too little rain can negatively affect crops.

cup of lemon teaWhen purchasing Darjeeling tea, get in the habit of identifying the ‘flush,’ which indicates when shoots have been plucked. In early April, the first flush usually takes place – producing fragrant tea with multiple layers of flavor. The second flush comes early summer and is often less expensive. The tea is softer, fruitier (and at times smokier) in taste.

Tieguanyin Oolong Tea

Hailing from the Fujian province, China, Tieguanyin tea generally sells for $1,700 per kg. Demanding multiple infusions in order to bring out the intensity of its flavor, the oolong tea is brewed three to four times – in a style known as ‘gung fu.’ With a characteristic floral appeal, the Chinese favor the tea for special occasions.

Tea drinkers may choose from two types of Tieguanyin:

* Jade Tieguanyin – Harvested the second week in May, the flowery aroma and taste complements its soft green color.
* Autumn Tieguanyin – The deeper flavor of this Chinese favorite comes courtesy of a fall harvest.

Da Hong Pao Tea

jadeteasetIf you’re looking for the most expensive tea in the world, the original Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) from Wuyi China is a clear winner. In 2002, 20 grams of Da Hong Pao (which measures out to about two-thirds of an ounce) sold for the equivalent of nearly $23,000. In 2004, the same quantity fetched about $21,000. This is because the original Da Hong Pao tea trees date back more than 350 years.

With a history of being an exquisite treat for government officials, emperors, and religious leaders, the public has only been granted limited access to the teas at auctions. While it’s next to impossible to get a hold of the original Da Hong Pao tea, the wonder of modern science has allowed clones of original plants for commercial growth. Known as “secondary” Da Hong Pao tea, consumers enjoy easy access to the essence of a historical treasure at affordable prices.

A Diamond Teabag

While you can’t drink it, it’s certainly an impressive sight to see – a teabag filled with diamonds. Boodles Jewelers handcrafted a diamond teabag worth £7,500 (US $15,250) to pay homage to PG Tips’ 75th birthday. Inside, 280 diamonds glisten. It’s fate? To raise money for a children’s charity in Manchester, England.

Black Tea: From Strong Brews to Sweet Beverages

Served strong without sweeteners, drenched in cream, flavored with fruits, or blended with citrus oils, black tea is one of the most popular brews in the United States and abroad. When compared to other varieties, black tea undergoes a lengthier oxidization process, which produces stronger flavors and more caffeine than less oxidized selections. Black tea also retains its flavor for several years, unlike green tea, which typically loses its taste within a year. From worldwide classics to exotic blends, below you will find 10 variations of black tea to add to your tea-drinking repertoire.

bergomot1. Earl Grey
Sip on a cup of Earl Grey and taste the distinct flavor of bergamot oil, which comes from the peel of a citrus fruit with juice that tastes less sour than lemons, but more bitter than a grapefruit. Ways to enjoy Earl Grey varieties include Twinings ‘Lady Grey’ (with lemon and Seville orange), French Earl Grey (with added rose petals), and ‘London Fog’ – a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk, and vanilla syrup.

2. Assam
With a full-bodied taste and vibrant color, the strong flavor of Assam generates a characteristic ‘malty’ black tea often categorized as a ‘breakfast tea.’ Originating in the lowlands of Assam, India, tea drinkers often take advantage of the intense brew by adding cream, milk or lemon – all of which unable to overpower the true taste of the tea.

3. Masala Chai
While the preparation of Masala chai differs in the United States, the traditional beverage of India blends a strong black tea (like Assam), milk, spices, and sweetener (such as sugar or honey) to produce a dessert tea out of this world. Whole milk enhances the richness of this beverage, while some people use condensed milk to increase overall sweetness. The spiciness of the tea relies on cardamom mixed with one or more of the following spices: cinnamon, peppercorn, cloves, ginger and star anise.

cup of black tea4. and 5.English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast
For a full-bodied black tea with a strong, rich taste, sample English Breakfast with milk and sugar for a peek into British tradition. A cup of Irish Breakfast tea delivers a full-bodied, malty brew comprised of several different black teas (usually including Assam teas). Typically served with milk, Irish Breakfast tea also goes well lemon and sugar.

6. Darjeeling
Delivering a floral and fruity experience, Darjeeling tea originates from West Bengal, India and is known as a favorite in the United Kingdom. Known as the ‘Champagne of Teas,’ the small-leaved Chinese variety of tea is selected to produce distinct astringent and spicy characteristics. Today, Darjeeling may include blends of green and oolong added to black tea.

imprablacktea7. Ceylon
A Sri Lankan delight, Ceylon black tea is typically strong with hints of citrus. The tea bags shown are from the Impra Flavour Collection, which offers easily detectable fruitiness, including black current, lemon, strawberry, blueberry, cherry, and even pineapple.

8. Turkish (or Çay)
Hailing from the Rize Province on the eastern Black Sea coast of Turkey, strong (dark) or weak (light) versions of this mahogany black tea competes with Turkish coffee as the most popular drink in the country. Too strong and full-flavored for large cups, the tea is served in small glasses with cubes of sugar.

9. Lapsang Souchong
The original source of Lapsang Souchong tea is highly expensive, as Mount Wuji located in the Fujian Province of China is a small region. This unique black tea is dried over pinewood fire, which creates a strong, smoky flavor known to produce extreme reactions. Interestingly, some chefs in China actually smoke foods over the smoldering black tea.

10. Tibetan Butter Tea
You probably never imagined tea made with butter and salt, but in Tibet, the warming properties of this brew is a fascinating custom. This special black tea comes in varying shaped bricks from Pemagul, Tibet. To make, crumbles of tea are boiled for many hours before being churned with butter, salt, and milk (or milk powder).