Tea Reviews (Teaviews?)

I am an avid tea drinker…to the extent that I have an entire closet stuffed with teas and herbal blends. However, despite this precocious tea consumption I actually find relatively few teas that I like.

Over the years I have gravitated to loose leaf teas, and in recent years I have been leaning a lot more towards organic teas. Who knew that tea could contain pesticides, chemicals, and heavy metals? Not what I want to be putting in my body. I also am not a fan of artificial flavour, in particular because it leaves a gross aftertaste in my mouth and gives me a bit of a headache.

In general I prefer teas that are simple and natural. I like blacks, greens, whites, and particularly oolongs. I also like natural herbal blends, but I’m not as big into fruity blends (which incidentally most often have artificial flavour).

**- A favourite
*- I drink it
– Wouldn’t buy it again

Distinctly Tea– My favourite tea shop. Lots of great all-natural herbal options.

**Lemon Cream Lapacho– one of my all time favourites. Quite sweet and creamy tasting (although there is nothing cream-related in it–just lapacho bark, calendula petals, lemon peel and natural flavour). Perfect if you’re craving lemon squares or lemon meringue pie.

**Milk Oolong- I love the nuttiness, warmth, and smoothness of oolong.

*Happy Tummy Tea- (Catnip, spearmint, lemongrass, calendula flower, skullcap, rosemary, safe leaf, fennel seed)- Very minty tasting and soothing on the stomach.

David’s Tea 

**Mulberry Magic — With mulberry leaves, macadamia nuts, and natural flavouring, this tea is a sweet favourite in our house.

**Quangzhou Milk Oolong- I think I just love oolong tea. I particularly love the delightful smoothness and the subtle but round natural milk flavour.

**Vanilla Orchid Oolong- Another delicious oolong, this time flavoured with natural vanilla.

*Love Tea #7- I like this blend of black tea, chocolate, and strawberry, despite the artificial flavouring.

*Read My Lips- I enjoy this black/mint chocolaty tea with a hint of pepper– even though it’s got artificial flavouring again. Sigh.

Organic Saigon Chai- As David’s chais go, I appreciate this one is organic and has a balanced blend that includes my beloved cardamom. However, I find it wimpy, with the actual tea fading into the background and no spice punch- I have to brew it super strong and add milk to even attempt to maintain interest.

Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait– Love the concept of this one, but again it has artificial flavour.

Forever Nuts– This one is definitely nutty. It is bright pink in colour because of beetroot, which is weird to me (must have a nutty flavour in tea?). Not my favourite, but I can see why it’s popular.

The Glow (organic)– I find it too floral because of the rosehips. I feel like I’m drinking potpourri.

Bravissimo (organic)- Again, organic, but has rosehips. Apparently I don’t like rosehips.

Apple Custard- I am not a raisin fan. Also don’t like the artificial vanilla flavouring.

Coco Chai Rooibos– Has a peppery kick, which I like– but I don’t find the spice blend robust enough and there is artificial flavouring.

Creme Caramel Rooibos- A strong caramel taste which has an artificial undertone. Don’t love it.

Earl Grey Rooibos- My complaint with this, as it is with many earl grey teas, is that there is not enough bergamot.

Sugar Plum Forest Rooibos- Yuck. Brew it weak and it tastes like weird fruity water, brew it strong and it tastes like lingering, aspartame-like artificial flavour mixed with licorice-y star anise.

Cherry Blossom White Tea– interesting flavour, but I don’t like the artificial cherry aftertaste.

Tea Leaves (Stratford, Ontario)

**Hot Cinnamon Herbal– This is just basically ground cinnamon bark. Spicy, flavourful, and sweet, I love drinking it after dinner or when I’m craving some sugar and spice.

Earl Grey Honeybush- Not a favourite. I’m not sure I like honeybush and it didn’t have the bergamot punch I was hoping for.

Belgian Chocolate Rooibos- It’s okay. It has cocoa beans and calendula petals. I find the cocoa has a minty flavour for some reason– so it’s good, but it doesn’t taste predominantly “chocolate-y” to me.

Brands in Bags

**Uncle Lee’s Cinnamon Chai– an organic rooibos chai that is deliciously spicy. I always feel healthy and warmed when I drink it.  Probably my favourite bagged tea.

*Typhoo– this is my favourite bagged classic British black tea. Nothing particularly flavourful or unique, but perfect for a bit of rain or an emotional state.

Teavana– In general I didn’t like my experience here. I found them pushy and the teas were expensive and I didn’t like them. 

Caramel Almond Amaretti– This tea smells like heaven, but be warned– for some reason it contains beetroot- which colours the tea pink. It’s also got a distinct fruitiness. Not really what I want from a “caramel” tea. Plus there’s that pesky artificial flavour.

Peach Tranquility- Peachy and sweet, but again with the artificial flavouring. 😦

Other

**American Classic Tea (Charleston Tea Plantation, South Carolina)- This tea is all-natural (no pesticides) and made in the good ‘ole USA. A nice cup of what you might call “regular” or “orange pekoe” tea– and great for iced tea, a Southern classic!

**Bachelor’s Button Tea (Buchart Gardens, Victoria, Canada)- I had this delightful green/black blend for afternoon tea in a beautiful garden in BC, and drinking it brings me back! I love the delicate taste of the strawberry and bergamot.

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Easy Lemon Curd

This bright yellow lemon curd is tangy, delicious, quick to make, and only uses one pot!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup salted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup white (granulated) sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (I heated up a lemon for 15 seconds in the microwave and got enough juice)
  • Rind of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 large eggs

Procedure

  • Cream the butter and sugar together in a saucepan
  • Whisk in the eggs, 1 at a time
  • Add the lemon juice (and rind if desired) and combine
  • Turn the saucepan on low and slowly heat the mixture (do not let it come to a simmer) — whisking constantly — don’t heat too fast or the eggs will scramble
  • It will begin to thicken after about 5-10 minutes — allow it to thicken for a bit and then remove from the heat
  • If the egg has scrambled at all or you have bits of rind or pulp, strain it into a glass jar and store

Yields about 1.5 cups (a small jar)

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Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce is HARD to make, especially for a highly impatient person like me. Here is a sauce I just recently tried and some notes. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white (granulated) sugar
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

  • Add the sugar and water to a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir gently to combine
  • Bring to a boil on medium-high heat without stirring for about 8-10 minutes
  • Around the 7 minute mark, start WATCHING CAREFULLY for it to turn light brown
  • As soon as the brown starts to deepen to an amber colour, take it off the heat
  • SLOWLY add the cream and vanilla– it will bubble- don’t panic and dump in the rest of the cream when it does!
  • Put it in a container to cool for 25 minutes 
  • TADA

Notes:

  • The two hardest bits are knowing when to take it off the heat and adding the cream slowly. I think I’m just going to have to keep watching to know the right time– if you wait too long, it keeps cooking and it will burn even though it’s not on the heat. 
  • You have to be careful with the amount of vanilla depending on the flavour you want the sauce to have. Too much, especially in a lighter caramel, tastes like vanilla and a bit of alcohol (not a bad thing, if that’s the flavour you want). 

 

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Panzanella with Peaches

ImageThe moment I heard that “bread salad” was a thing, I knew I had a winner. Apparently there are very traditional ways to make panzanella with specific ingredients and methods, but since I’m not Italian and I’ve never made it before, I’m sure I veered wildly off the beaten track….I hope in a good way. 

This salad is a summer FLAVOUR EXPLOSION– seriously, it was so good that the first time I made it I ate the whole big bowl. I think I’ll have to make it a few more times to get it exactly right. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 peaches, pitted and cut into cubes
  • 1/2 loaf of stale baguette, cut into cubes (about 1 inch)– this is about 4 cups of bread
  • 1 large tomato, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil leaves, torn (+ a couple whole leaves for garnish)
  • 1 clove of freshly pressed garlic 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar (I used white balsamic)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Quickest Method

  • Heat the oven to 400oF
  • Toss the bread cubes in 1 tbsp olive oil and lay them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper
  • Lay the peaches on a section of the baking sheet as well
  • Toast the bread and peaches for about 5-10 minutes, turning over as necessary (ideally, the peaches will and bread will both be lightly browned
  • LET COOL (I skipped this step and it was a disaster)
  • While the peaches/bread are in the oven, mix the tomatoes, half the basil, garlic, and 1 tbsp olive oil in a big bowl and let sit 
  • Make the dressing by whisking the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil and 3 tbsps of vinegar (you might need more vinegar) and salt and pepper to taste
  • Once the peaches and bread are cool, add them to the tomatoes
  • Pour the dressing, toss with the remaining basil, and wait about 10 minutes to let the flavours combine
  • Garnish with basil leaves

Tell me it’s not the best thing you’ve ever tasted. 

Notes:

  • You could do the bread and peaches separately– grilling the peaches in a grill pan or on a BBQ would be a nice touch!
  • You might also toss the bread/peaches with the dressing and then add it to the tomatoes in two steps. 
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Condiment Queen

I think it would be fair to describe myself as a condiment queen, a title that I have certainly inherited from my mom. However, despite my genetic propensity for condiment collecting, I’ve realized that this can fill my fridge with a lot of junk that is not versatile or is just bad tasting.

To help me keep my condiments under control, here is a constantly-updated list of my favourite condiments and the ones that I’ve had to throw away.

Hits

  • Lee Kum Kee Chili Garlic Paste (Salted Chili Pepper, Garlic, White Sugar, Rice Vinegar, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Acetic Acid)  –> I use this stuff in everything.
  • Hanamaruki Miso Paste (Water, GMO-free Soybeans, Rice, Salt, Ethyl Alcohol)- Use to make Miso Soup very easily– but also it can be used in sauces and to marinate fish, among other things.
  • Por Kwan Tamarind Paste (100% Pure Tamarind) –> Used to make Pad Thai– easier than dealing with tamarind.
  • Gourmet Garden Lemongrass Paste (Fresh Organic Lemon Grass, Organic Canola Oil, Organic Dextrose, Glycerin, Sodium Lactate, Whey (Milk), Sea Salt, Ascorbic Acid to Protect Color and Flavor, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum) –> Don’t like the laundry list of ingredients, but I do like having lemongrass easily on hand for my Asian cooking adventures.
  • Herdez Salsa– Fresh & tasty.

Misses

  • PC Mango Chutney- Gloopy, flavourless, and just all around terrible.
  • Grace Jamaican BBQ Sauce- Totally fine if you’re into it, but for me it was a distinctive flavour that wasn’t versatile enough.
  • Sura Gochujang– I LOVE gochujang but I’m trying to find a brand that’s not full of preservatives, MSG and weirdness and that tastes good. This was NOT it.
  • PC Maple Balsamic Salad Dressing- I like lots of PC products but not this. I don’t really like store bought salad dressings to begin with, and this has a silky, modified texture.

 

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Masala Chai Concentrate

I’ve been craving some serious masala chai lately (read “mixed-spice tea”– black tea with traditional Indian spices including cardamom, one of my favourites). 

I think masala chai tastes best when you add the tea and spices directly to milk and let it simmer on the stove for a while. But I really liked foamed milk and I’ve been craving the Westernized “chai latte”. The problem is, I’m pretty sure you can’t heat the milk with the spices and tea and then foam it, so a concentrate is needed. 

I like my chai low-caffeine, spicy, and barely sweet. Here’s my first attempt at a concentrate. 

  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 4 bags of commercial “chai tea” (I used PC Chai– this made it a bit spicier with less work– but I would like to try it with tea leaves and more spices)
  • 1/4 chunk of nutmeg (or maybe 1 tsp ground nutmeg)
  • 1 star anise
  • 8 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (maybe 1 cinnamon stick would work??)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (or probably about 4-8 whole cloves would be better)
  • 1 tbsp of chopped fresh ginger (or 1 tsp of ground ginger?)

Procedure

  1. Bring the water and honey to a boil
  2. Reduce to a simmer and add everything else
  3. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so
  4. Strain through a fine strainer (I used my tea strainer from David’s Tea) into a glass jar — a large mason jar is about the right side

To make a masala chai latte, foam 1/3 cup of milk and add it to 1/3 cup of concentrate. YUM. Tastes better than Starbucks. 🙂

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Parmesan, Tomato, and Basil Salad

This fresh summer salad is an easy one and a keeper. 

Ingredients

  • Bed of lettuce (Baby spinach for a mellow flavour, mixed greens for variety or arugula for a peppery kick)
  • Baby tomatoes, quartered (cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes would work)
  • Shaved parmesan or grand padano cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves, torn 
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dressing
  • Pepper to taste

Procedure:

  1. Mix the basil in with the lettuce and lay it on a plate or platter
  2. Artfully scatter the tomatoes and cheese on top
  3. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar
  4. Grind some fresh pepper for flavour
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