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 Take Two: Homemade

I wasn’t crazy about the bubble tea I had when I was out, but I didn’t want that to turn me off to bubble tea. I love experimenting with tea, have plenty of it, and I bought the tapioca pearls anyway so one afternoon earlier this week I took on the challenge.

The recipe I used is adapted from Rick Rogers’ Tea and Cookies. It was a  Christmas gift from my aunt and I browse through it from time to time looking for some inspiration and this time I found his bubble tea recipe, though I tweaked a few things here and there.

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Ingredients:

3 tablespoons pearl tapioca

Simple syrup to taste

3 rounded teaspoons of your choice of tea

½ cup milk

Ice cubes

I’m still obsessed with the same spring teas I wrote about for my school newspaper earlier this semester so I decided to use two teas from House of Tea. The first is an herbal tea, Fruits of the Forest, and the second is a green tea with green rooibos and ginger.

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The tapioca pearls were hard and starchy. They reminded me of little balls of chalk- quite a contrast to how squishy and sweet they were when I was slurping them through a giant straw in Chinatown.

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Directions:

First, boil 1 ½ cups of water and then add the tapioca pearls. Let them simmer for about 30 minutes or until the pearls are tender and squishy.

While the pearls were simmering, put a second pot of water on for the tea. When that boils take it off the heat for a minute and then add  it to a measuring cup with the tea to steep and cool. I used two different teas, so I used two different measuring cups.

In a third pot prepare a simple syrup (1 cup of sugar stirred into 1 cup of boiling water). Once the sugar dissolves place it aside to cool.

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When the pearls were tender,  them cool for about 15 minutes, strain them, and rinse them with cold water.  Then, put them into a small bowl and pour enough simple syrup over them to be covered.

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I didn’t have a shaker to combine the milk and simple syrup with the tea but I had two different sized cups and I filled the larger one with milk, some ice cubes, and the tea. Because I used two teas I added ¼ cup of milk both times.

I pushed the smaller cup inside, held both together and shook it over the sink until the ice melted and the mixture was foamy. I scooped the tapioca pearls into each of the glasses and poured the tea mixture over them. Don’t forget the big straws to slurp up the bubbles! I saved and washed the straws from my Chinatown outing, but they are available at an Asian grocery store, like the one I went to.

This process takes a little over an hour to set up, prepare the pearls and wait for the tea to cool, but I found some things that can be cut to shorten the preparation time. The recipe called for a beverage syrup (like a simple syrup but fruity) but I did not use it, instead I used some of the simple syrup, which could also be cut in half (I had extra, but I also never add sugar to my tea).

The green tea was sweet at first but had a strong ginger aftertaste. I’ve had this tea iced before and enjoyed it plain but the milk added a subtle creaminess even though I used skim milk instead of whole milk. The herbal tea was very sweet and fruity with a prominent strawberry aftertaste.

Using ingredients I already had (water, tea, milk, sugar), saving the straws, and buying 16oz of tapioca pearls for $1.38 it was much more cost efficient to make bubble tea at home, though I’m not giving up on Chinatown just yet.

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.

 

 

 

Calmer Sutra Tea Tasting

Finally, a moment from my studies–my apologies for the hiatus. I went home this weekend, thankful for a break from school so I could focus on tea. Coming home from school for a weekend always has its benefits; one of them is improved photography with the variety of tea ware, better lighting, and more space.

Recently I received a few samples from Calmer Sutra Tea, based in Brooklyn, New York (originating from Melbourne, Australia). Thankful for the opportunity to try a new tea, I’ve decided to share my tasting.

After tearing open my package, I found three teas: Floral Fields Tisane (Chamomile), Peppermyntle Tisane (Peppermint), and their signature chai, Spiced Masala Tea.

From left to right: Chamomile, peppermint, chai
From left to right: chamomile, peppermint, chai

 

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Floral Fields Tisane

Floral Fields Tisane is a chamomile tea with hints of rose petals and lavender. Other than looking delicate with pink rose petals and bits of lavender added to the chamomile flowers, this herbal tea actually smells floral too.  I added a couple of teaspoons to my infuser and let it steep for about five minutes. Go ahead and let it steep longer for enhanced flavor. Like any chamomile tea, this tea is caffeine-free, good for right before bed (when I tried it actually), or if you just need a moment to yourself.

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Peppermyntle Tisane

Peppermyntle Tisane is an herbal peppermint tea with lemon myrtle and subtle citrus notes. Before even drinking this tea, smell it. This is the perfect tea if you’re feeling under the weather– one sniff and it clears your sinuses (and not in a wasabi way). The first sip is immediately invigorating. It floods the mouth and nasal passage, leaving a lingering clean feeling on your tongue.

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Spiced Masala Tea with milk

Finally, Spiced Masala Tea, Calmer Sutra’s signature chai. The chai was much different than what I am used to, though I’m no chai expert. The leaves were wet, because it is infused with honey (please keep refrigerated after opening). The smell reminded me of warm, soft gingerbread cookies. It is an infusion of black tea, with Indian spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and ginger root, and is perfect for cold weather. I tried it both with and without milk. As a chai latte it’s creamy with accents of honey (without adding any extra), cinnamon, nutmeg, and black tea.

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Spiced Masala Tea without milk

Usually when I try tea I add nothing to it, so I had a second cup without milk to get a better idea of how the tea tastes, hoping to catch the ginger highlights from the ginger root that the milk might have masked (or I just didn’t brew it correctly). The spices were much more pungent. I think this tea would compliment a big bowl of oatmeal, either as a drink on the side or brewed with the oats for a chai oatmeal.

Stay warm and hopefully spring weather is sooner than we think! Until then, brew yourself a hot pot of tea.

Cheers!

 

Disclaimer: Calmer Sutra Tea provided me with complimentary tea samples but did not ask for a review. 

The Random Tea Room

My roommate and I ventured into Northern Liberties this weekend for a specific purpose: to drink amazing tea. I’ve been waiting for a weekend where I could get to the Random Tea Room and Curiosity Shop. I’ve been blogging since the beginning of the semester and since then I’ve had some time to build a wish list of places to visit. So far I’ve hit every one, now including the Random Tea Room.

Having tea here was like having tea in a friend’s living room. We were welcomed in upon entry and as soon as I absorbed my surroundings I realized this was different from any cafe or tea room I’ve been in before. From the mismatched furniture to the unique teacups, we could tell that Random Tea Room is very personal and full of character.

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The Random Tea Room’s international loose tea collection includes black teas of Sri Lanka & Assam, caffeine-free tisanes, Chinese red and white teas, Darjeeling, herbal infusions, house blends, Japanese teas, Oolong and more. Customers are welcomed to smell each tea before they try it, and ask for blends of their favorites.

Chai Oats, atop the food menu, is an oatmeal-like cereal surrounded by chai and topped with chocolate shavings. This is perfectly paired with King’s Tea, a nutty Oolong tea infused with ginseng. This was my first experience with oolong tea and I really enjoyed it. There will be King’s Tea in my future.

The description in the menu of King’s Tea is right on point:

“Our darkest, nuttiest Oolong, the King’s Tea is infused with ginseng, lending its already rich character a sweet finish. It is uncanny: the more you drink, the sweeter the air you inhale becomes. Plainly, King’s Tea offers an unrivalled flavor sensation, and due to this quality, it is steadfastly pursued by its devotees once they’ve discovered it.”

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In the warmer months, the Random Tea Room has outdoor seating in the back for various events.

But tea is not the only source of wellness Random Tea Room offers. If customers are in need of serious stress relief, the Random Tea Room offers massage therapy, truly promoting wellness of the whole being. Their massage therapists offer deep tissue, sports injury and Swedish massages. When I think of pairings of tea I usually think of food, but a massage takes tea pairings to a whole new level of stress relief.

This is the tea culture I love to see; people with the purpose to help other people by promoting wellness through a good cup of tea and relaxing environment.