Springtime tea & baked goods pairing

I know what I want to be when I grow up.

Alexis Siemons, a tea consultant and author of Teaspoons & Petals, (who I had the honor of meeting) taught a class on the art of pairing spring tea and baked goods at Metropolitan Bakery’s Cafe, featuring teas from Premium Steap, on Monday, April 28.

A simple Septa ride from Overbrook, a stroll through Rittenhouse Square, and I walked into an intimate gathering of food and tea lovers. Before this class I had no experience with pairing tea except pairing scones and clotted cream. I like to think I left with some more knowledge.

Guests, or should I say students, sat outlining most of the perimeter of the café while a bunch of us gathered around a community table in the center. Our evening began with an introduction by the owner who wanted this evening to inspire food and community. She handed it over to Alexis who introduced our teas and springtime baked goods.

 

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The menu consisted of four teas and baked goods:

Sencha Green Tea from Japan, paired with a chocolate cherry bread

This first flush tea is reminiscent of spring vegetables, smells of fresh cut grass, and pairs well with buttery/rich food like the chocolate cherry bread I devoured, alternating sip after bite.

Genmaicha Green Tea from Japan, paired with Rosemary Focaccia

This second flush tea pairs well with savory flavors, like the sourdough of the focaccia, because of tea’s  nutty, toasty flavor.

Ti Kuan Yin Oolong Tea from China paired with a plain croissant

The butter of the croissant brought out the floral taste of this velvet oolong tea. We were encouraged to try a leaf, and it wasn’t as bitter as I was expecting. In fact, I had seconds.

Iced Green Earl Grey Rhubarb Tea with a raspberry crumb bar

This is the potpourri of tea. This tea was served iced and had a sharp floral taste, almost like a creamsicle. It was cold on the palate which makes pairing more difficult, but the hints of rhubarb were brought out with the raspberry in the bar.

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Other than the art of pairing, the evening was full of useful tea tips which were easily jotted down on paper provided:

  • Alexis stressed the importance of steep time. As someone who enjoys a strong cup of tea, I took this to heart. For example, if you steep a green tea too long, you might burn the leaves and end up with a bitter taste instead of a morning cup of an earthy green tea.
  • Stay away from microwaves. It’s better to just warm your water in a pot on the stove if you don’t have a kettle or electric teapot.
  • Mesh tea balls suffocate tea leaves– they leave no room for the leaves to expand, thus compromising the flavor.
  • White wine + green tea= tea sangria!
  • Boiling water is not required for all teas. The Sencha Green Tea was brewed for 60 seconds at 180°F, the Genmachia at 185°F, and the Oolong at 190°F.

I left with a belly full of tea and baked goods and a mind full of tea pairings.

Bubble Tea and Chinatown

Somehow over the last several months, I’ve left Chinatown unexplored. Bubble tea was something that came up multiple times when I searched “tea in Philadelphia,” and it led me right to Chinatown. I had no idea what bubble tea was, except that it has Taiwanese origins and involves tapioca pearls and large straws.

Most times when I go on an excursion, I bring a buddy so this time I brought my friend Abby who has been waiting in line to go on a tea adventure. It was nothing less.

Originally I planned to begin with Tea Talk, a tea house on 10thstreet, but when we arrived it was closed– literally locked up behind lime green bars. Luckily there is more than one bubble tea house in Chinatown. Tea Dó, a contemporary tea house, was only a few more blocks up 10th street. It was bustling with customers squeezing in and out with different colors and types of bubble tea.

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We ordered two types of bubble tea: with milk and without milk. After a long wait (it was a very busy place) we began our teas hesitantly just outside the tea house. The idea of purposely slurping “bubbles”  out of a drink was a curious concept. Each time a bubble made it up the straw it was exciting, yet terrifying. I’d look at Abby and she’d look at me and we’d giggle or gasp in surprise (clearly not caring about the people passing us by on the sidewalk).

The Thai Milk Tea was sweet and creamy, but it was a little too rich. I was hoping for something fresh, or closer to an iced tea with milk. This had the tapioca bubbles. They were squishy and a little slimy but I didn’t hate them, I was more curious than anything. Imagine gummy bears but with an outer layer of gel.

The Mango with passion fruit popping bubbles did not have milk. The bubbles were clear and burst in your mouth releasing a refreshing pop of passion fruit, complimenting the mango. This drink was a twist on traditional bubble tea, using actual bubbles instead of tapioca pearls.

 

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芒果 Mango with passion fruit popping bubbles and 泰式奶茶 Thai Milk Tea. Each drink was $3.5 for a regular.

Our bubble tea excursion did not end there. I had an itch to attempt making bubble tea myself so we went to an Asian grocery store, Asia Supermarket, just around the corner to buy some tapioca pearls. Though the sign outside said “Asia Supermarket,” the room inside looked like an electronic repair shop. Some people walked out with grocery bags, so we walked in and down a set of stairs and were greeted with a strong odor of seafood. Various types of sea life were in tanks, and I think they made eye contact with Abby.

I was grateful that we walked in with our bubble tea to show the cashier the tapioca pearls I was looking for because she did not speak much English. We did not linger much longer after I found the pearls but I might return to browse their tea aisle, which was packed. It was a major change in atmosphere but it was refreshing to be in an environment that made me think twice about how to communicate.

 

 

 

Tea and Sympathy: Afternoon tea in Greenwich Village

New York City was bitter cold on March 13. My friends Joe, Erin, and I were searching for a Greenwich Village tea house I recommended we try during our visit. The sky was, for the most part, clear and the wind was strong. This was a day for sunglasses and scarves and I lacked the former. A cup of tea was necessary to thaw my hands.

Turning onto Greenwich Avenue from 8th Avenue, we pushed through the wooden framed door of Tea & Sympathy into what looked like someone’s living room turned dining room. The tables were small and close together, but we were welcome to sit anywhere that would fit the three of us.

A little bit of Britain in Greenwich Village
A little bit of Britain in Greenwich Village

After peeling off our hats, gloves, scarves, and jackets, we sat down to a table in the corner. I could see straight into the kitchen window and watch as the plates were put up and ready to go. I could also see the front end of the kitchen area where the teapots are prepared.

Authentic is the word to describe this place. Not only was it established by British owners, but its staff is also British, some of whom have been working there for over 10 years.

As we looked at the menu, Erin was a bit taken aback at the number of teas. While she is new to tea (this was literally her second time trying tea), she was up for the challenge. Our waitress recommended she try a pot of chocoloco, a decaf chocolate-inspired tea. I think this tea has the potential to satisfy any chocolate craving. Erin then ordered chicken noodle soup, a wise decision for such a harsh day (you can see the steam from the soup in the picture below). Little did we know we would later complete about four miles in the city before contemplating a subway ride back to our hotel—so Tea & Sympathy was a necessary refueling stop.

My other friend, Joe, enjoyed cream tea with me in Leicester Square, London last spring while we were abroad, so he couldn’t wait to get his hands on some clotted cream spread over flaky scones and black tea with milk. He only needed a few moments with the menu before he decided on cream tea (two scones with jam and clotted cream).

Cream tea
Cream tea

I ordered the afternoon tea, which, I warn you, is not cheap. But I went for it anyway, in case my friends wanted to help themselves if they wanted to try a sandwich. Erin was more than happy to try a scone with clotted cream and a tuna sandwich. She’s totally been converted.

Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea

My meal consisted of two scones with jam and clotted cream, finger sandwiches (at least three each of cucumber, egg and tuna), and a large piece of sponge cake on top. I swear there was clotted cream on everything. Joe and I shared a large steaming pot of Earl Grey.

A couple hours and a couple pots of tea later we decided to head out. By the time we left all the tables were filled. Tea & Sympathy really does have an authentic British restaurant feel because they did not rush us out like most restaurants do in the states. They would actually love if you stayed all day, so long as there isn’t a wait for a table (according the their menu).

Before we turned the corner, we stopped in to see their store. It was filled with British products like Digestives, Ribena, Coleman’s Mustard, ginger beer, and of course, lots and lots of tea. How could I resist? I walked out with a full belly and a new blend of black tea.

Afternoon and Cream Tea

I hope your holidays were restful, joyful, and filled with an abundance of family and tea.

The other day I was feeling homesick for my Notting Hill address and inspired by the premiere of Downton Abbey’s fourth season at the same time, so I decided to have cream tea in my living room.

Cream tea is simply a pot of your choice of tea, scones, clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam. I usually brew an afternoon black tea blend for cream or afternoon tea. Just to clarify: afternoon tea is cream tea plus finger sandwiches (cucumber, chicken salad, ham, egg salad, etc) and smaller sweets like macaroons or tiny cookies. Afternoon tea generally takes place between about 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. (the afternoon) but I’ve had reservations as early as 1 p.m. As for cream tea, I’ve had it throughout the day in London cafes, so it’s a bit more flexible and informal.

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Upper left: strawberry jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream. Bottom center: buttery, flaky scones smothered in clotted cream and jam. Bottom right: Hot Cinnamon and Spice tea with milk. Perfection.

One of my current favorite black teas is Harney & Son’s Hot Cinnamon Spice. This time I tried it with some milk. Usually I refrain from adding anything to this tea because it has a much sweeter taste than a traditional afternoon blend, but I’m one for experimentation and I do recommend it as long as it is given a chance on its own first. Please, do not go anywhere near this blend with sugar. Thanks.

I referred to the scone recipe from Rick Rodgers’ Tea and Cookies. It was simple to follow and helpful with tips! I think my scones could be a bit thicker/fluffier– probably to do with how much I patted the dough down before I cut out the scones. Also, the little black dots are not raisins– they are currants (think mini raisin) and can be found in the same aisle.

This was not the only tea adventure I had over my holiday–of course I had to get out and explore another tea room!

After Christmas I went to Chadds Ford, PA with my dad for some afternoon tea at Special Teas Tea Room. Before we grabbed our finger sandwiches, we ordered two bowls of steaming, savory, creamy butternut squash soup to taunt our taste buds (and to be honest this was both our breakfast and lunch, let alone afternoon tea). Needless to say, we were starving.

We shared two pots of tea: a traditional afternoon black tea blend and a Christmas blend with cinnamon undertones. This was a very relaxing place to have tea, the service was timely and the staff was very friendly. I recommend staying a few minutes before you leave to browse their gift shop… they have lots of UK products.

After experiencing a few afternoon teas since I’ve returned from London, I do tend to compare them. Anyone can describe the mechanics of an afternoon tea: tea, scones, two or three spreads for the scones, finger sandwiches, tiny sweets, etc. But presentation, taste, service, tea and table ware, and atmosphere are what really defines and differentiates place A’s afternoon tea from place B’s afternoon tea.

Presentation: Are the cups clean? How about the silverware? Is everything neat and in its proper place? Is it aesthetically pleasing?

Taste: How does everything taste? Sweet? Salty? Hearty? Do you like the tea?

Service: Have you been served in a timely fashion? Too slow? Rushed? Is the staff friendly?

Tea and table ware: Does the tea ware clash or compliment each other? Is it an eyesore or does the contrast work?

Atmosphere: Would you come here again? How were the other customers?

Some places are more formal and chic with glass teapots, while some like to mix and match china for a homey feel. To each his own. It really all comes down to a good quality tea and good company.

Cheers!

The Lincoln Room: Afternoon tea in West Chester

Located on West Chester, PA’s Market Street is a historical building with strong ties to Abraham Lincoln and a good traditional Afternoon Tea and luncheon.

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The Lincoln Room is a quaint tea room hidden in the basement of an old printing press, which by the way printed the first biography of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 11, 1860. This building still has the original ceiling, walls and fireplace from the 19th century.

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While Afternoon Tea is most popular, lunch is also offered. Luncheon and tea are served from 10am to 2pm Tuesday through Saturday. Their food menu includes soups, quiches, salads, sandwiches and tea sandwiches (mini triangular sized sandwiches), and a variety of desserts. “Tea-For-Two” is a major feature on the menu, served on a three-plate tower, which includes a plate of eight tea sandwiches for each, a plate of bite-sized desserts (scones, croissant bread pudding, cookies and cakes, lemon curd and Devonshire cream) and of course a large pot of tea (of your choice) to share.

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As you enjoy your “Tea-For-Two,” please be sure to follow tea etiquette. A small reminder is inserted into the menu lest you forget your manners. Please no clinking your spoon against your teacup, keep the conversation low, and please, please, do silence your cell phones and take calls outside.

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The day after Thanksgiving, for example, is a great day to go enjoy a good cup of tea and a few finger sandwiches. I went with my mom and had “Tea-For-Two.” The Lincoln Room has a warm, relaxing environment and is appropriately decorated for the holiday season. The fireplace, which is original, was filled with thick candles imitating a warm hearth on a cold day and a few framed historical facts rested on the mantel.

The staff is incredibly friendly and full of information about the building’s history. The service was at just the right speed; enough time to have a few sips of tea and get settled before the tea sandwiches and bite-sized desserts arrived. Much to our surprise, the tea room was pretty full, so please make sure you call a few days in advance for reservations.

I’ve lived in the area all my life and have even passed the Lincoln Room many times, never thinking twice about it, let alone knowing that it was a tea room! It wasn’t until my mother suggested this place the other week that we decided to explore, and thank goodness we did!