30 June 2008

It's Not Always So Sweet

It's true of life, and of food pairings.

For those whose pancreases are calling out for mercy, here's a savory, cooling idea to accompany your next glass of iced tea: Italian guacamole.

It sounds blasphemous, but trust me, it's not. Remember, the Italians know about good taste- they started the Renaissance, after all. And there's nothing at all wrong with classic guacamole, but after staring at scoop after scoop at endless barbeques, you'll welcome this fresh twist. It's somehow more summery than the played-out lime-cilantro version.

I had it for dinner last night while finishing off my iced Dragonwell, and the crisp sweetness cut right through the rich, lemony flavors, enabling me to eat almost the whole bowl.

Speaking of which, if you do plan on making guacamole frequently, do yourself a favor and get a molcajete. This traditional lava-stone bowl and pestle allows you to get the best flavor out of all the ingredients, and produces that soothing, creamy-chunky texture effortlessly, every time. I got mine for Christmas a few years back, and it's one of the best gifts I've ever received- as well as the heaviest. I use it constantly, and it doubles as a weapon.

Italian Guacamole
Makes: 4 servings.

Juice of one lemon
Scant teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
3 small or 2 medium ripe avocados
1 cup (loosely packed) basil leaves, chopped
For serving:
Sourdough bread, sliced and toasted
1 head Belgian endive, leaves separated
2 cups sugar snap peas, trimmed

1. In molcajete or medium-sized bowl, mix and pound together lemon juice, salt, garlic and scallions. Halve avocados lengthwise and discard pits and peels. Add flesh to molcajete and mash coarsely.

2. Reserve a pinch of basil for garnish, and mix remainder into guacamole. Sprinkle garnish on top.

3. Serve immediately with bread and vegetables, or press plastic wrap directly onto surface and refrigerate for up to an hour.

29 June 2008

Cooling the Savage Dragonwell

The sweet, subtly fruity currents in Dragonwell tea worked so well with the sour-cherry pie from last week (if you haven't made it yet, you should be arrested), but I found mysef wondering how it would translate into iced.

Absolutely incredible, it turns out. It's vaulted to the top of my favorite iced teas of the summer list.

I didn't cold brew this time, but rather just used a decent-sized teapot with a large infuser, less-than-boiling water (as you should for all green teas), and steeped it for about three minutes. I let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, and a shimmering golden green liquid greeted me this morning.

Dragonwell, or Longjing, is a pan-fired Chinese green tea from the Zheijang province, prized by connoisseurs the world over for its soft, full and toasty flavor. The process it undergoes gives the leaves a characteristic flat, swordlike shape, which tickle your palm as they're surrendered to the pot.

And the taste is a Chinese green at its pinnacle: sweet, fresh and earthy. When cold, it conjures up water melted from a pristine glacier, winding through verdant summer meadows and blazing, sun-baked fields, picking up faint essences of grass and wheat along the way.

Go ahead: pour yourself a jar, and spend the rest of this sweltering Sunday afternoon relaxing in the shade of your backyard (or the most quiet, private park you can find in Brooklyn) with it and 27 magazines. That's what I'll be doing for the rest of the day.

27 June 2008

Sparkling Matcha Diamants

A slightly frothy, emerald-green bowl of matcha is always delicious, and incredibly mood-enhancing, but not more so than these matcha diamant cookies.

An incredible jewelry designer I know spotted on one of most gorgeous food blogs I've seen in ages, Cannelle et Vanille, and we decided to combine blog forces and make a batch yesterday (she has not only a dishwasher, but also, thankfully, a more liberal hand with the air conditioning).

The cookies were a deep, rich green, and as buttery and delicate as shortbread. We paired them with a big pot of fragrant Chinese jasmine tea, which has a lingering floral taste but is still light enough to not overpower the subtle sweetness of the diamants.

Matcha is an ideal tea to cook with, as it mixes readily in its finely powdered state. I've used it in chocolate desserts, especially brownies, with much success, but I'd never tried it as the main flavoring. It's a Japanese tea, produced from steamed green tea leaves, and its pleasantly intense, vegetal taste is well suited to standing up to the holy trinity of deliciousness (butter, sugar and eggs).

Matcha is on the expensive side, but a little goes a long way- these cookies had only 2 teaspoons- and you can buy ingredient-grade to save yourself a bit of money. It's not of poorer quality than the traditional drinking-grade matcha; rather, it's made out of less delicate tea leaves. The subtlety of the high-quality matcha would be lost when there are so many other flavors going on, as in a dessert, so just save that type for your next Japanese tea ceremony.

And to stave off the inevitable clever comments, yes, I do know how to save money on occasion.

26 June 2008

The Upper Crust

Because I can never leave well enough alone, here's one last reason to make that cherry pie right now: the resulting pie-crust cookie.

I always make sure to have enough dough left over after putting the pie together to make one delicious, sugary, buttery bite of goodness.

All you have to do is pat the leftover dough into a rough circle shape, lay it on a piece of parchment paper or foil, and sprinkle it with sugar (I used vanilla-infused). When you're ready to put the baking sheet under the pie, just slide the packet onto it first. The 30 minutes at 350 degrees are just enough to cook the dough to a golden crisp.

Plus, you can eat this right out of the oven, so there's no need to suffer through the hours-long wait for the pie itself. It also goes particularly well with any cherry filling that may have dripped on the kitchen counter (although you may, like me, feel a bit antlike as you hunt every last drop down and devour it off your finger).

Or, if you're feeling a bit more civilized, try it with some tea. I had it with some iced white tea, Silver Tips, whose snowy, light taste complemented with the delicate cookie. Any tea would do, though- I think these could be a surprise best-seller in my imaginary tea shop.

Dragonwell and Cherry Pie: The World's Most Perfect Breakfast

I've been getting some flack lately about my choice of breakfast foods, but today's lineup will win over that eggs or pancakes-only faction.

There's a special time here every June that makes me happy, for just a minute, about the heat, the humidity, the stench of a city under the sun: the appearance of sour cherries.

As I was breezing through the farmer's market two days ago- I already had enough fresh produce to feed a small nation, so I wasn't planning on buying anything- something small, round and fire-engine red caught my eye. Could it be? Those luscious, dark sweet cherries have been out for a few weeks now, and will be throughout the summer, but their more petite, tart and delicious cousin is far more elusive.

Sour cherries don't travel or keep as well as the sweet variety, and due to their high acidity, can't be eaten straight out of the fridge. Most people don't bother with them, but they're making a grave mistake. The season only lasts for a few tragically short weeks, and then all you're left with are fading red stains on your fingertips, a lingering taste of heaven in your mouth, and a tear of longing in your eye.

So go out, now, and get some sour cherries. Make this pie. Then pour yourself a nice cup of tea- nothing goes better with a slice of cherry pie than green tea. I paired it with Dragonwell, a smooth Chinese green with subtle fruity notes and a mild, round finish. I think a delicate Japanese green, especially an Uji, would be an excellent match as well. Unfortunately I just ran out of that, so I'll have to get some more soon and try it- if only the pie lasts that long.

Cherry Pie
Makes: 8 servings.

1 double-crust pie dough (pate brisee), chilled, separated into equal-sized disks
5 cups sour cherries, pitted
1 1/4 cups sugar
3-4 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1. Roll out half of pie crust to fit in 9-inch pie dish; gently drape in dish, not stretching the edges, and form a rim.

2. Roll remaining half into 9-inch circle and cut into 8-9 strips. On a piece of parchment paper or cookie sheet, form lattice by laying down 4 strips vertically and weaving remaining strips in horizontally. Refrigerate both halves for at least 30 minutes.

3. Place cherries in large bowl, and mix with sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, water and almond extract. Let mixture sit for 15 minutes.

4. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour cherry mixture into pie crust and dot with butter pieces. Cover with lattice, tucking edges under rim.

5. Bake pie for 30 minutes, then slip a baking sheet underneath the dish. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 25 to 35 minutes more, until thick juices are bubbling up.

6. Let pie cool for several hours before slicing, or refrigerate overnight and eat for breakfast.

24 June 2008

Blueberry Chill

If green-tea ice cream before noon isn't on your schedule, this rich but healthy cold treat should be.

I've written about fruit smoothies with matcha (powdered green tea) before, but recently, a massive recipe reorganization led me to discover some other drinks that I've been holding onto for over a decade. How something that seemed so essential to my daily intake managed to be filed away for that long is a bit of a mystery. Well, I can ponder it while sipping this creamy, antioxidant powerhouse brew.

It's a good anecdote to yesterday's decadence, and with hope, today's (making matcha cookies are the plan for the afternoon). Drink this every morning, and you may just live forever.

Matcha-Blueberry Shake
Makes: 2 8-ounce servings.

1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup vanilla or plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons honey
Dash of vanilla extract (optional)
2-3 ice cubes
Pinch of matcha

Place all ingredients except matcha in a blender, and process until smooth. Pour into glasses, and sift matcha on top. Serve immediately.

23 June 2008

What Is This Iced Cream?

It's green-tea flavored, topped with some Italian hot fudge sauce, and it's lunch today.

I dropped the first scoop right on the floor in my eagerness to fill my little trough, but after I got that straightened out, pure deliciousness. The pleasant bitterness of the green tea blends so well with cream and sugar, and the grainy, dark chocolate sauce on top just amplifies the happy mix. If only people could be so well-balanced.

My younger sister, the most serious ice-cream connoisseur (or consumer) I know, actually introduced this new Haagen Dazs flavor ($4.99 for a pint) to me about a month ago, on one of the very first sticky city nights we had. I was surprised that she had found it in the limited selection at a bodega right down the street.

Could it be a sign that tea is making more headway in this country? I'd say so. The main conduit to American palates, for green tea at least, are the health benefits.

Placing it in ice cream may appear to counteract any salubrious qualities but hey, at least the company is trying. And the ingredient list is short and sweet- cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks and green tea- which as a very rough guideline, translates into not as bad for you (case in point: check out the list on a bag of Doritos, not that I have anything against those little triangles from heaven).

Regardless, it's heartening to see tea used in such a widespread format. I just hope it stays on the market. Better whip up some hot fudge sauce and try it before it disappears. And please, make the sauce yourself- even if you've never cooked anything before, I promise you, you can make this. Everyone you live with will thank you.

Salsa di Cioccolato
Makes: 1 cup.

2 1/2 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 heavy cream

1. Melt chocolate and cocoa powder in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over extremely low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and difficult to stir.

2. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Return to low heat and stir until sugar has dissolved and sauce is thick and smooth. Add cream; stir until smooth.

3. Remove from heat and let cool. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

22 June 2008

Ice Ice Maybe

I just discovered ice-infused tea on the Texas-based Another Tea Blog, an informative and intriguing read, and decided to try my hand at it. It's not so much the heat here today as it is the humidity, and the incongruous prospect of a teapot jammed full of ice cubes is what got me out of bed this morning (yes, I know I need to get out more).

Now, I'm not anywhere near the Mason-Dixon line, but 15 to 20 minutes for the ice to melt and the tea to be ready? No ma'am. I used a dozen ice cubes and about 3 tablespoons of my favorite sencha of the moment, Umegashima.

After a very long hour, it was still quite an ice storm in there, but the grassy aroma of the tea was definitely present:

Two hours later, most of the ice still hadn't melted, but I was getting so antsy that I tried a sip regardless. The flavor was quite delicate, barely green. I then centered the teapot in the square of sunlight that streams in through my skylight in the summer- OK, it was on the floor. But I had the cover on it.

After three hours, I couldn't take it anymore. A peek revealed only one ice cube, stubborning clinging to its frozen state, so I poured a cup.

And oh my.

It tasted of fresh, green, summer light, transformed into a liquid state and tricking down my throat. It was better than jumping into a secluded little lake in Vermont in the middle of August (less leaches, too). One sip, and it felt as though your mouth was just now created in of the garden of Eden.

Verdict: if you're in a hurry or have one of those pesky office jobs, three hours certainly is better than nine- you could fill a pot with ice when you arrive at work in the morning, set it on your desk and forget about it until lunch.

And although the leaves are left loose in the pot, overbrewing isn't a danger, no matter where you make this true ice tea. In fact, I just finished the pot and can now refill with water, stick in my fridge, and let it wait patiently for me to return from my first summer cookout tonight (armed with Italian guacamole, thank you for asking).

I guess everything really is bigger in Texas, including the sun.

20 June 2008

Brooklyn Iced Tea Crawl: Busted

I didn't want it to come to this.

But in the interest of closing out Iced Tea Week, I needed to do multiple tastings in a short amount of time. So I set off on an Iced Tea Crawl around Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill this afternoon.

And the results? Pathetique. Horrible. I cannot believe how sorry the state of iced tea is in the myriad cafes and bakeshops in this part of Brooklyn. I'm thinking I may have to open an iced-tea-only shop to ameliorate this beverage blight.

Seriously, the taste in my mouth is so bad right now that I'm wishing I didn't finish the bag of Doritos I had for breakfast this morning. I need a palate cleanser, stat. And despite not wanting to take the trip to Negative Town, as a friend of mine says, I need to ensure no one else has to suffer through what I just did. So here's the bitter breakdown.

The first stop was Sweet Melissa (267 Court St.), where I started with a black iced tea ($2.50), left, straight up. I decided to keep things simple, and not sweeten any brew I came across.

The only other options were green or herbal, and I spotted boxes of Twinings tea behind the counter- not a good sign. Arming myself with a pistachio madeleine ($1.50) for company, I headed to my favorite hidden little neighborhood park and got to work.

Unremarkable. I know I can't legitimately say that, seeing how I'm carrying on, but this iced tea was so bland, so boring, so obviously bagged, I could only manage a few sips. And the madeleine? Well, Proust would find nothing to write home about with this petite confection. It can be summed up in a mere two letters and a barely perceptible shrug of the shoulders (anything else would be a waste of effort): eh. It was madeleine-shaped, and sweet. But beyond that, blah.

I want to like this place. OK, maybe that's a little inaccurate, but I have had some very memorable things at Sweet Melissa, namely the vanilla chai and the baked cherry brioche bread. But with most of its offerings this mediocre, I just don't understand why this place remains so popular, or how it can dare to offer an afternoon tea.

Still, I pressed on. It had to get better, right?

Not really. My next stop was Tazza (311 Henry St.), a gleaming coffeeshop, bakery and wine bar. I knew from a prior visit that the tea selection was paltry- although the coffee options do seem much more intriguing, if you swing that way- but I was optimistic. Maybe they'd have improved with the iced tea offerings. Nien, fraulein. The only choice was the iced English Breakfast tea ($2.50), above, (and at least the employees actually knew what kind of tea it was), which while better than Sweet Melissa's, was still just boring.

Admittedly, I wasn't adding any sweeteners or other flavors, but in almost every place I went, the only option would have been stirring in packets of Domino. And as we all know, sugar does not dissolve well in cold liquids. Plus, if the tea is good enough, it is good enough to stand on its own.

I headed back down Atlantic Avenue toward Boerum Hill, bravely still sucking on the straw. But after a half glass, it started tasting vaguely dirtlike (overbrewed alert) and I had to surrender it to a fly-infested trashcan.

My next perpetrator (trust me, you'll feel like a victim too once you're at the end of this) came in the form of a bright, perky new bakery called Betty (448 Atlantic Ave.). The sign on the sidewalk beckoned with homemade iced fruit tea, and so I went in and ordered one ($2.50) and a few sesame cookies ($.20 each), above, for good luck.

I should have known it was going to turn sour when I asked the employee what kind of tea was used to make it. "Fruit!" she brightly answered. When I asked what type, and whether any real tea was in the mix, she countered with, "The tea is called fruit tea on the box. We make it here!" I took it and the cookies over to the counter, steeled myself and ventured a sip.

Remember when you were a kid, and when you got really bored on a hot summer day, you'd mix together all the fruit juices and soda in the fridge and dare your siblings to drink it?

Well, that childish concoction tasted better than this. It was like Kool-Aid, Sunny D and Lipton all went out to karaoke, and immediately started snorting NutraSweet and trying to outdo each other on the mic. Full disclosure: I did request some simple syrup in this one- it was unswallowable plain. Ugh. Even the cookies didn't help: While they had a lovely, full sesame flavor due to a copious sprinkling of black and white seeds throughout, they were sweet enough to give any dentist a hard-on. The combination was enough to wish yourself diabetic, just to make it all stop.

I shuddered as I tossed the tea in the closest trash outside and turned to head back home, but I needed redemption. What about that allegedly Creole restaurant, Stan's Place (411 Atlantic Ave.) across the street? From my experience, those Cajuns know their sweet iced tea, or at the very least, how to have a good time.

Not in New York they don't. The cup of black iced tea ($2.00), above, was, as a close friend in college described after once coming out of his bathroom, one of those things that makes you go "Hmm." It was sweet- fine. I'd expect that for Southern-style iced tea. But what was that bizzare, medicinal overtone? I asked the waitress what type of tea they used. "Is homemade," she muttered in a thick, Eastern European accent. Right- but out of what tea? "Our tea," she continued. Well, that's good to know, because at least I won't be running into this strange brew anywhere else.

When I took a second sip, it hit me: it had chicory in it. Now, chicory in coffee is a delightful New Orleans-type of experience, but in tea? Geaux on. Like a trust-fund baby all grown up, it just doesn't work.

Fourth cup almost full of iced tea, in the trash.

I hate to be so wasteful, and for that matter, such a player-hater on my local businesses. And I did keep in mind that none of these places promoted themselves as iced-tea havens. But still: Did they all have to be so subpar?

Marty Markowitz, where are you? Brooklyn clearly needs help.

Or maybe I should just set up an iced-tea stand on the sidewalk this weekend.

18 June 2008

Arnold Palmer? I Barely Even Know Her

For those of you not up on your sports (I pity you), Arnold Palmer is some famous old golfing guy.

It's actually not all that important. But what does matter is his drink of choice- a half-and-half blend of iced tea and lemonade, now widely known as the Arnold Palmer.

This drink, above all others, is positively what summer tastes like to me. The Clinton St. Cafe (4 Clinton St.), in the Lower East Side, has a particularly delicious homemade version that's the closest I've had to the one I grew up with.

My mother used to make it every morning as soon as it got warm enough- usually not until the end of June- with a big jar of sun-brewed black tea out on the porch, mixed with a can of frozen concentrated lemonade and a bunch of fresh mint sprigs she'd grab out of the backyard.

My sisters and I would then lug a coolerful down to the beach and sit by the ocean all day, drinking cup after progressively gritty cup (it's always a bit windy on a New England shore, even in summer) until soggy mint leaves were all that remained in the container. I'd bury my feet in the warm sand, and we would all eat potato chips and tunafish sandwiches, feeding the crusts to the seagulls, and wait a seemingly infinite amount of time for the ice-cream truck to appear, glimmering like a mirage in the parking lot, in the heat of the early afternoon.

Here, the ice-cream trucks may be on every corner, but any decent beach is miles away. So for my first Arnold Palmer of the season, I had to make do with a long walk in Central Park afterward. It was a lot less blue, a lot more crowded and I would have probably gotten arrested (or at least accosted by a nanny) for feeding any wildlife, but it still felt right to be outside.

It's always a welcome reminder of the power of food, how evocative a simple taste can be.

17 June 2008

Lavender Morning

I just found out June is National Iced Tea Month, so what better time to declare it Iced Tea Week here at Tea Spot?

Don't confuse this with TGITE 2008- that's all about the cold-brewed process. Hold on to your bags: This week won't be limited to cold-brewed, or even homemade. It will, however, be dedicated to the contested inventor of now-ubiquitous summer brew, Richard Blechynden. Blechynden was manning the East India pavilion at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and allegedly was inspired by the lack of enthusiasm from overheated attendees to serve the free tea he was offering over ice.

Other food historians, however, point out that recipes for iced tea appeared in American cookbooks as far back as the 1880s. But let's cut Blechynden some slack. With a name like that, he needs it.

And so, inspired by the surprisingly refreshing lavender iced tea that washed down my excess of street-fair food last weekend, I decided to try my hand at replicating it this morning. The tea gods were kind- the first batch turned out exactly as I wanted, summery, fragrant and slightly sweet. You can of course adjust the amount of sugar if desired (Southerners would probably think this tastes as bitter as poison), but it really is a refreshing balance of strong but sweet, just like we all want our men.

Lavender Iced Tea
Makes: 6-8 servings.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
7 cups water, divided
1 tablespoon dried lavender buds
4 tablespoons loose black tea (Darjeeling, English Breakfast or Keemun)

1. Syrup: Combine sugar and 1 cup water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then let simmer for a few minutes until sugar is dissolved. Add lavender buds, crushing them between your palms, and let simmer for an additional minute. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes.

2. Strain syrup into a large pitcher, and set saucepan aside.

3. Tea: Bring remaining 6 cups of water to a boil in same saucepan. Add loose tea, cover, and let steep for 4-5 minutes.

4. Strain into pitcher, and mix with lavender syrup. Chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight, call yourself Blechy, and serve over plenty of ice.

If you've only ever associated lavender with your grandmother's bathroom, it's time to expand your palate. It really doesn't taste like soap, but rather a sunny day in Provence transported to your tongue. Lavender syrup is actually great for sweetening other drinks, and will last in the fridge for a few weeks if you want to prepare it in advance. Plus, when you make it, you get to see where the color comes from.

I have to admit, I tried my lavender iced tea with strawberries again, albeit in a healthier form (with granola, for breakfast). Something about the fruit and lavender makes for an incredibly harmonious mix.

15 June 2008

Introducing Mr. Tea

He may not have taught me about tea, but he certainly did teach me countless other things about food- like how to appreciate the finest in chocolate, wine and deliciously stinky cheese, as well as the Platonic ideal of an omlette- always in an opinionated way, but always devoid of ego.

And now he lets me teach him things. So today's gifts have been a cup of Dragonwell green tea and a chocolate croissant for breakfast, swiftly followed by too many culinary offerings at the annual arts festival that takes over my tiny hometown in Massachusetts one weekend every June.

There was the strawberry shortcake yesterday, for lunch:

And then something savory today, a crisp Greek salad topped with falafel (a word that I can attest was never uttered in this town before 2002), along with a surprising brew: lavender iced tea. I've never had it before, but I'll be recreating it as soon as I get back to New York. It was lightly fragrant and pleasantly sweetened black tea, and it cut through the saltiness of the salad perfectly.

And finally, one more strawberry shortcake to top it all off, just to make sure it really was as good as I remembered. Oh, and to see how it paired with the iced tea (beautifully).

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

13 June 2008

My Way or the Thai Way

In the interest of maintaining my tenuous hold on serenity, TGITE 2008 has been put on temporary hiatus while the caffeine works its way out of my bloodstream. I can't handle that much tea in a day, but I still can't seem to restrict myself to a dainty tasting sip when those tall, frosty glasses of perfectly brewed iced tea are right there, begging to be chugged. It's probably a feeling that most people save for whiskey.

When I worked in food publishing a few years back, the days were full of tastings, at least 10 small plates a day: a bite of brownie, half a cookie, a spoonful of cheesecake. But there's really little sense in not eating a whole cookie (actually, you have to eat at least three to make it a proper serving), so I'd always grab a few more, and brew another cup of tea in the test kitchen to go with it.

After I started thinking that someone with a knife was hiding behind every corner of the office hallways, ready to stab, though, I realized it was time to step back from eight cups a day. I'm more interested in the calming, rather than stimulating, effects of tea- I'd definitely be a part of the heroin-over-cocaine camp.

So it may have been slightly foolish to greet the end of yesterday with a Thai iced tea at one of the best restaurants in New York, Sripraphai (64-13 39th Ave., Woodside, Queens). But the company was delightful, and my memories of special meals there so strong, that I simply couldn't resist.

I didn't even put up a fight. How can you when the evening is as balmy as Bangkok, roses are in bloom all around the table, and you're facing an icy glass of rich black tea doused with sweetened condensed milk? It's strong, sugary and without question, the best treat I'd had all day.

11 June 2008

TGITE 2008, Continued

The heat has broken- it's 73 degrees out, and it feels as fresh as Nova Scotia. I know it won't last, but my addiction to cold-brew ice tea will.

To keep the feeling light, today's selections are another green, and a greenish oolong. Both are also "flavored" teas, in a way, which I usually avoid. These ones, however, are subtle yet still delicious enough to make you succumb.

First up: genmaicha (pictured, on right). This is one of my favorite everyday drinking teas, no matter what season. It's a Japanese sencha that's mixed with roasted rice kernels (and sometimes even studded with adorable miniature bits of popped rice), giving it a nutty aroma and taste along with the natural astringency of the green tea. Iced, it offers a sweet, toasty and very full flavor, somewhat reminiscent of the refreshing punch of mugicha or bori cha (Japan and Korea's takes on barley tea, respectively).

Stepping up in the processing, a very light oolong is next, coconut pouchoung (pictured, on left). This tea was unknown to me until it arrived yesterday in a lovely package from a friend (see, blogging does pay off). Pouchoung tea hails from Taiwan, but in its delicacy and sweet fragrance, it's vastly different from the oolongs produced in nearby China.

This one is infused with the essence of young coconut, and just one sniff of the tea leaves themselves is enough to transport you to the swaying shade of a palm on a tropical island somewhere far, far away from Manhattan. As iced tea, the coconut aroma is stronger than any coconut taste, but it's refreshingly sweet and light for an oolong, and brews up a beautiful greenish-gold color. It just might be my favorite iced tea of TGITE 2008.

For all the teas so far, nine hours in the fridge seems to be the magic formula. Tomorrow, I'll test out more oolong and black varieties, and we'll see if that holds true for stronger teas.

10 June 2008

The Great Iced Tea Experiment 2008

It's what the sweaty, thirsty world has been waiting for: The Great Iced Tea Experiment (or How Insomnia Can Benefit You and Those Around You).

After midnight last night, I filled a few pint glasses with about two cups of filtered water, and dropped in some homemade tea bags - each with about 2-3 teaspoons of loose tea- of a few different varieties. I've done cold brewing with a teapot before, but a girl can only consume so much caffeine before it starts to take a negative effect on her daily life (see subtitle above). I used Finum brand tea filters ($4.95 for 100), which are unbleached, tall bags that let you put normal bagged tea to shame. I ended up getting the individual cup size, or as it's labeled "extra slim" (just like your favorite socialite or one of those menthol cigarettes you stole from your mom at age 12), so I could brew several different types at once.

At 6 a.m., the teas tasted good, but were still not quite there. When the dulcet tones of my door buzzer woke me up a few hours later, however, they were just right. Cold brewing seems foolproof: It removes almost all chance of bitter, oversteeped tea, especially for greens, which I've found more challenging for people to make properly.

Of course, it always depends on the fool. But if you haven't ever enjoyed a cup of green tea, or much less, iced tea without sugar, try it cold-brewed. If you still don't like it, just tell me and I will persist in convincing you otherwise.

The Umegashima sencha I'm sipping right now (steeped in the fridge for 9 hours) is sweet, vegetal and unbelievably cooling. And I'm sure it's blasphemous to say, but I feel that I can discern more subtle flavors in tea when it's cold- there's no distraction of heat on your tongue. I'll have tasting notes on the others tomorrow.

09 June 2008

A Tall, Cold One

It's still unbearably hot out, and my lobsterized skin is only adding to the melt effect, so much so that I can't possibly get The Great Iced Tea Experiment 2008 up and running today.

I won't abandon you entirely, though. One of the best things about tea is its versatility. It can stimulate or soothe; after spending the day outside yesterday, inhaling a double-scoop chocolate-vanilla ice-cream cone, limeade, and several chili-cheese paposas complete with crema and cabbage slaw, I am in severe need of the latter. (And I don't even like chocolate ice cream, that's how heat-handicapped I was.)

Although the big drink companies would lead you to believe otherwise, with their corn-syrup-laced bottled "tea" drinks, tea is actually good for you. Without sounding too much like someone I would make fun of, it gets your mind and body back in balance.

This, then, is all I want today: a tea-fruit smoothie. Just grab whatever fruit you have on hand, toss it in the blender, pour it into a tall glass and sift some matcha, or green-tea powder, on top. Today's consists of cubes of honeydew, a champagne mango, some frozen raspberries, plain yogurt, fresh mint and a grainy spoonful of drag-queen honey.

Gently stir the matcha into the mix, sip, and let it cool you off- all without boiling a drop a water.

08 June 2008

What's Missing

It's so hot out, I think part of my brain has melted.

I forgot to add the tea. Too hot to move.

06 June 2008

Better, and Colder, Than a Turkish Prison

Ah, summer in New York.

When I'm not busy cursing the Mr. Softee ice-cream truck for idling directly outside my bedroom window for hours at a time, watching people slip and fall on the sidewalk's glistening garbage-juice trails, or lancing my blisters, I'm complaining to anyone who'll listen how living here must be hotter than the surface of the sun.

And you know what that means: more iced tea.

I don't know if I'm getting all weak and soft in my advancing age, but I really have been craving it this year. Usually I'm content with a few lukewarm cups of green every morning, but lately I've been motivated to brew a giant pitcher and patient enough to let it get really icy cold, even if it entails lugging around a headache for half the day while I wait.

The other day, a certain incredible jewelry designer even requested some- Turkish apple tea, in fact. I don't know if it was because we were hanging out daydreaming about exotic vacations or just reminiscing about the time she spent in a Turkish prison (long story), but just before I left, she grabbed my arm and said, sotto voce, with a not-so-small note of urgency, "Turkish apple tea. Find out everything you can, and put it on your blog."

On my way home, I remembered a recipe buried in an unassuming little apple cookbook by a Welsh woman, Olwen Woodie (I think that's her real name, at least post-Turkish prison). I dug it out and then tried to do some further research online. There's not much out there, however. Apparently, there is a bagged, pre-sweetened apple-flavored tisane you can buy, but I think we all need something a little more bracing than herbal, no? I also discovered that Turkey is the fifth largest producer of tea worldwide- the majority of it black, and grown around the Black Sea. Ataturk! Who would have guessed?

And now that this post is longer than the escape from a Turkish prison, I present a most likely inauthentic elma cay, or Turkish apple tea. Regardless, it's more sweet and refreshing than being in a Turkish prison, especially if you can score some fresh apple cider and mint at your local farmer's market like I did this morning.

Turkish Apple Iced Tea
Makes: 6 servings.

4-6 tablespoons black tea (I used Darjeeling)
4 large stalks fresh mint, plus additional for garnish
2 cups apple cider or juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 lemon, cut in thin slices

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil; add tea and mint sprigs. Cover, turn the heat off, and steep for 5 minutes. Strain into a teapot and stir in apple cider, honey and lemon slices. Add additional mint, if desired, and refrigerate until well chilled.

I'd even try it hot- with a few whole cloves and cinnamon sticks instead of the fresh mint- in colder weather. Apple is one of those unusual drink flavors that really can shine in both temperature extremes.

04 June 2008

Tiny Teapot, Part Two

I can't believe I didn't think of this yesterday. There is actually the perfect recipient for the world's smallest teapot: the world's smallest brown puppy.

He's had to put up with grossly oversized tea implements for simply far too long.

03 June 2008

A Spot of Tea

I don't care if it's true or not: The world's smallest teapot (courtesy of the YeinJee blog), weighing in at less than .05 ounces, has just been brought to my attention, and I'm not going to attempt to disprove it.

Sometimes, you just shouldn't question things. (Or click on YeinJee's unfortunate previous post, which does involve toilet-themed resturants.)

02 June 2008

Mint Condition

It may be absolutely gorgeous out this morning, but this past weekend in New York was HOT. Midsummer, sticky, hazy, humid, hot- the kind of weather that makes you consider an Icelandic residency, the kind that makes going anywhere near a heat-producing source (be it laptop or steaming cup of tea) unthinkable.

The only option, then, is iced tea. It's actually saved my life over the past several summers here. I'm not kidding. There was one particularly torturous July weekend a few years back, when a pitcher of iced honey-lemon Darjeeling and crumbly slices of devil's food cake straight from the fridge were all that kept me from combusting. Well, that and a classic James Bond movie marathon.

It hasn't gotten quite that bad here yet, but as it edged up to 80 degrees, I found myself staring into the cool depths of the refrigerator, eyeballing the bunch of mint sharing a shelf with my teas. Yes, it was time for one of my favorite teas: Moroccan mint.

This refreshing, fragrant, sweet brew is the national drink of Morocco, and it's made with Chinese green gunpowder tea, fresh mint, and a liberal sprinkling of sugar. Although I've yet to meander around Marrakesh, I've heard that it's traditionally offered everyplace you go as a sign of hospitality. Thankfully, I didn't have any nomads at my door after I made it, because it was gone within minutes.

Perhaps if I had a set of the colorful, diminutive Moroccan serving glasses, it would have lasted longer. (Santa, are you listening?)

Moroccan Mint Tea
Makes: 4 servings.

8 large stalks fresh mint
8 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
4 teaspoons green gunpowder tea

Combine mint stalks with leaves, sugar and 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then add tea. Cover, turn the heat off, and let sit for 5 minutes. Strain into a teapot or delicate glasses and serve, or refrigerate overnight, until ice cold.

It was too hot to go out just to buy gunpowder tea, so I used the Chinese green I had on hand- Dragonwell- and it worked beautifully. And for those who disdain sweetened tea (I hear you), still try the recipe. The quantities are like a magic formula, the balance is so perfect.