High Tea … often Misunderstood …

Contemporary English afternoon tea menu...rustic scone, fritatta, fruits and black tea…lovely and not too sweet – this from Samovar Tea House in San Francisco

High tea is often confused with an Afternoon Tea; however, they are actually two distinctly different eating occasions. Each serves a relevant purpose.  Afternoon tea is said to have been inspired by the Duchess of Bedford who complained that she got famished between lunch and dinner and thus the traditional three-course “snack” of savory finger foods, scones and assorted petite sweets came into being served in upscale salons and sitting rooms all over England.  Afternoon tea can also be called a “low tea,” as it is often served in a salon or sitting room on low tables with participants relaxing in chairs or lounging on chaise’s or low furnishings.

High tea is a meal.  Often partaken by the working class; however, today, many who desire a special tea menu at a meal time blend the two.  A few months ago we put on a high tea for our niece and 20 family members which included a demonstration of scone making and tea tasting of three fancy green and oolong teas.  What was originally to be an afternoon tea turned into a dinnertime tea tasting; thus it became a “high tea” where we served a meal of multiple salads, hamsteak sliders, curried egg salad, along with scones and sweets.

The host wanted me to demonstrate two things for the group…1) how to make scones and 2) how to make a great cup of tea, which we did. We finished the meal with three petite desserts…decadent dark chocolate brownies, organic strawberries with mascarpone & cream fraiche, and, for our 8 year-old birthday girl who just loves pink, vibrant, pink frosted mini vanilla cupcakes.

The scones were a huge hit, served with raspberry jam, my tart lemon curd and creme fraiche.  The birthday girl, her sister and cousins served, and they were excellent at it, including exuding tons of personality in the process. Uncle David (my husband) oversaw everything beautifully as usual.  All had a great time and appeared to enjoy the scone making and consuming them fresh and hot from the oven, along with tasting the various oolong teas.

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The High Tea meal plating … 21 plates set to receive the ham steak biscuit slider and another salad…already plated are the egg salad stuffed rolls and the endive & watercress salad.

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One of my most favorite salads…bitter, sweet, salty, & crunch endive, watercress, bleu cheese, toasted pecans in a light champagne vinaigrette

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Grilled hamsteak with mustard on a fresh, warm yam biscuit to make a savory slider – these were a hit.

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Curried egg salad stuffed into hollowed out dinner rolls…seemed like a great idea when I saw them on a cooking show…ended up with almost everyone eating the egg salad out of the roll and leaving the roll (too much bread…particularly when you have awesome yam biscuits and scones to come).

And just a reminder, as mentioned in my last post….Next up…I am almost ready to launch my “communing with books blog”…am excited to see where delving into the classics will lead, along with contemporary “classic” authors too.  And know that many of the works include a tea time!  (such a civilized thing to do 🙂

Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies...bite sized...from Tea With Betty...one of our desserts

Decadent Dark Chocolate Brownies…bite sized…from Tea With Betty…one of our desserts and always the favorite dessert for adults.

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I was told that the birthday girl just LOVED anything pink…the brighter pink the better, so I went for it…the pink was not a shy one…they loved them.

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Demonstration of jasmine tea  being released from my favorite diffuser into a glass tea pot

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My husband took care of the crowd…he is fabulous at doing that

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Our birthday girl and her sister were truly darling and enjoyed the entire evening…their service was excellent too

Just My Cup of Tea

The idiomatic expression “my cup of tea” is used to describe something you like or enjoy.  This morning, as I left my exercise class, I decided that I would enjoy exhorting a cup of tea from my sister as I knew she still had this awesome chai oolong on hand that was “calling my name”.   She happily let me in, made us breakfast, had me steep the tea and said, “get whatever cups out you like”…I spied her gorgeous Italian tea cups and pulled them out.  The tea tasted so refined out of these cups.   It reminded me just how special a beautiful, porcelain or unique serving vehicle can make one’s tea experience.  I’ve been rushing around lately, consumed with the “stuff” of life…but this little experience brought me back to appreciating the calm and joy of a simple ritual…made more special by using the “good cups”…

What I just love about tea....every day, if I am lucky, I get to take comfort in the ritual of steeping a pot

Every day, if I am lucky, I get to take comfort in the ritual of steeping a pot

I came home thinking about how much I enjoy tea tastings and that tasting cups are intriguing to me…the anticipation of trying new varietals is exhilarating and is one of my favorite things to do.  In flipping through photos, I came across these favorite tasting experiences of recent months…

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My niece and friends tea tasting at Seventh Tea Bar in Costa Mesa Ca...

Tea tasting at Seventh Tea Bar in Costa Mesa Ca…beautiful stainless tea pots with temperature gauge, timers, gongfu lidded cups for steeping….quite the fun ritual of which I was saddened to find out when meeting friends for lunch this month that Seventh is gone, now a French bistro 🙁

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samovar in San Francisco, as one might expect, offered the most contemporary, and yet traditional individual tea services.  D. ordered the Matcha, served in a personal beaker, I had the Russian menu, with a smoky Russian black tea and milk to temper and fine the tannins…just a delightful experience – I also love their press tea pot.  Each tea comes out with it’s unique steeping accessories.

Our tea service at Samovar...individual Matcha for D and Russian Caravan with milk for me

Our tea service at Samovar… Russian Caravan with milk for me

Another sleek individual tea service, using a press from Samovar

Another sleek individual tea service, using a press from Samovar

Matcha tea service for one at Samovar (SFO)... what a cool beaker

Matcha tea service for one at Samovar (SFO)… what a cool beaker

While I haven’t actually experienced the Italian tea shop, La Vie Del Te.  I am enjoying their Special Oolong (a gift from my good friend A…) and imagine drinking it from the beautiful white and fleur designed individual service here, photos from their website… with a French Macaron? (what?, notice the pastry stand) (I’d actually rather go for a little biscotti) 🙂  What a gorgeous, stylish personal tea pot and cup.

La Vie del Te...in Italy I want this set!

La Vie del Te…in Italy
I want this set

Lastly, two of my favorites – Tea with my darling husband in Carmel this winter…enjoyed while playing dominoes

Tea Time in Carmel with a game of dominoes with D.

Tea Time in Carmel with a game of dominoes with D.

And tea with my sister…using her Italian tea cups…and some scrambled eggs with salami…a spontaneous awesome sister experience!

This morning's tea and eggs...V's Italian tea cup brought out the best in the tea

This morning’s tea and eggs…V’s Italian tea cup brought out the best in the tea

Remember…get out the good cups!!!!

Tea Shirt ... at Samovar, San Francisco... I love the tasting cups depicted on our server's shirt...and DRINK TEA...It's Good for you!

Tea Shirt … at Samovar, San Francisco…
I love the tasting cups depicted on our server’s shirt…and DRINK TEA…It’s Good for you!

 

Freshly Made Herbal Infusions…at The Kitchen in Sacramento, California

Well, that terrible cough / cold and flu virus finally made it around to our house.  I was not immune…was down and out for over 10 days…but my bright spot is that it hit me on the drive home from our relaxing, beautiful 10 day vacation.  One in which there were several delightful tea moments.

The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento is a spectacular dining event – dinner is held in an open, appealing environment with a demonstration kitchen in the center of the room.  We experienced this destination point dinner last year and were wildly impressed and throughly enjoyed the entire scene. I will post about their seriously gorgeous foods later. The fresh, fragrant, flavorful, ingeniously combined, unique ingredients and preparations we were exposed to were stunning.  However, I missed ordering their fresh herbal infusion (as I am not usually an herbal tisane fan, I opted for their loose leaf teas).  Well, my darling husband decided I should try their freshly cut and prepared herbal tisanes…so he took me back there this year for our anniversary as a nice surprise.  Interestingly, the dining experience was as exciting as last year, the food even more inventive and delicious with their fine new chef, David Chavez and I left thinking we will surely get back to The Kitchen every year!  It is awesome! And they accommodate any dietary restriction, happily, and with creative, flavorful adjustments.   Below are photos of our  fresh herbal tisanes, infused table side…they were delicious and made me rethink what an herbal infusion can be.  I ordered the “soothing” with rosemary, mint, ginger, and orange zest…it was just as named…soothing. And it was an excellent way to end this incredible meal.  I plan to make my own fresh infusions as my herbs perk up a bit in my garden this spring.

Baskets of fresh herbs, cut to order, infused in iron tetsubin pots...just delicious

Baskets of fresh herbs, cut to order, infused in iron tetsubin pots…just delicious

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Drink Tea…and Tisanes (herbals)  It’s good for you!

Samovar Tea Lounge…San Francisco Here I Come

The February issue of Food And Wine Magazine had a beautiful article about the modern teahouse.  Titled, Time For Tea, by Megan Krigbaum, she writes; “Spectacular new imports have helped create a tea obsession on par with the cult of coffee.  Here’s the latest news on the antioxidant rich drink.”  We are introduced to several beautiful tea shops, tea ware, and recipes.  In a few days, I am heading up to San Francisco…and am definitely going to spend time at Samovar Tea Lounges she writes about.  They look to be my idea of THE modern tea lounge…ones that I wish existed near our home.  Below are photos from their website…I will be taking my own and sharing with you soon, along with a bit of feedback as to which teas hit the mark for me and which pairings with foods were memorable.  In looking at their International tea time menus…they are reminiscent of how I laid out Tea With Betty (my tea manual)…seems what inspired me to write the book has, at last, come into existence in Northern California…

 

Samovar Tea Lounge...there are three locations...I plan to hit all of them when in San Francisco...

Samovar Tea Lounge…there are three locations…I plan to hit all of them when in San Francisco…

 

Various photos from Samovar Tea Lounge locations in the Bay area...can't wait to visit them all

Various photos from Samovar Tea Lounge locations in the Bay area…can’t wait to visit them all

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Reviewing these tea houses ought to be great fun…and they look to be so healthy too…

 

Gratitude…Reflected Upon Over A Cup of Tea (Best of 2014)

As we launch into 2015, I am grateful for a multitude of things, many of which I will continue to embrace and indulge further as we enter the new year.   I am so appreciative of … the support of my awesome family;  inspirational meetings with my hype girl (Hilary);  improving my downward dog thanks to my sister and Megan increasing my mindfulness through yoga;  the nerve to dance like a fool to Adam Levine’s, Map, and Taylor Swift’s, Shake It Off,  as a painless way to exercise;  the arrival this year of four gorgeous, bouncing baby boys into our family; and the “never taken for granted” gift of health which allows me to do any of these things.  And of course…I appreciate the comfort and joy of my daily tea ritual…which is always healthy, tasty, interesting, and motivating.   While restrictions in diets abound, particularly as we age, quality teas afford me the opportunity to explore and imbibe in an unrestricted manner.  There is a tea for any feeling, season, occasion, and need.  It’s versatility and breadth of variety continues to astound and fascinate me.

2014 brought several unique tea experiences my way.  I chose some of my favorites to reflect upon …below…

Beginning with the end in mind–at the end of 2013, we enjoyed trying the Darjeeling Tea Martini at the St. Regis “Tea and Tinis” event.   It impressed me enough that I tried making my own recently with my good friend A. — the champagne of teas with vodka…very tasty.

Darjeeling tea martini at "tea and tinis" end of 2013

Darjeeling tea martini at “tea and tinis” end of 2013

Then we were wowed last February while in Sacramento with the seriously spectacular eating and drinking experience at The Kitchen Restaurant ...while I enjoyed a lovely oolong served in a tetsubin iron pot…I later wished I had known of their fresh herbal tea preparation.  I would have opted for it.  They cut the fresh herbs and infuse them right in front of you . And while I am not usually an herbal infusion fan, this one looked to be special…guess we will have to go back 🙂 )

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The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento offered this unique herbal infusion menu…made with fresh herbs to order.

The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento offered this unique herbal infusion menu…made with fresh herbs to order.

The FRESHEST herbal tea…made to order, table side -- to your liking ---

The FRESHEST herbal tea…made to order, table side — to your liking —

For our book group, I made my own stunning marbled tea eggs (with yolks perfectly centered by moving the egg slowing through the boiling water the first few minutes of cooking).  These made for a tasty small bite sandwich made with my angel biscuit (from a Martha Stewart Living recipe), served with a jasmine pearl tea…

Marbled Tea Eggs, stunning looking, fragrant with spices, yolks perfectly centered..eat alone or slice and put on bread/biscuit with a little mayo..mmmmm

Marbled Tea Eggs, stunning looking, fragrant with spices, yolks perfectly centered..eat alone or slice and put on bread/biscuit with a little mayo..mmmmm

Marbled tea eggs...served within an angel biscuit with mayonnaise...a tasty two bite sandwich...love the fragrant aromas from the eggs soaking in Chinese black tea, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon stick

Marbled tea eggs…served within an angel biscuit with mayonnaise…a tasty two bite sandwich…love the fragrant aromas from the eggs soaking in Chinese black tea, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon stick

In May, we were thrilled with the tea shops we explored on our trip to Portland, Oregon…what a great tea city.  Steven Smith Teas was an exceptional, contemporary, quality tea experience. My husband and nephew loved his teas, his tasting, and his packaging.  Of course, he should know what he is doing…as he began with Stash teas, created Tazo and sold it to Starbucks and now is focused on his own brand.

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Steven Smith Tea Room...the best tasting ever.

Steven Smith Tea Room…the best tasting ever.

We then came on an excellent tea shop much closer to us, in Del Mar, Ca…called Leaf and Kettle. Their tasting was performed in darling little tasting cups, and the way they used a martini shaker to prepare their iced tea inspired me to get our own shaker out and now is the preferred way for us to make the coldest, freshest iced tea.

Leaf & Kettle Tea Shop...Beautiful, contemporary, over 100 teas waiting for you to taste...well, maybe just three at a time...excellent and knowledgeable staff too.

Leaf & Kettle Tea Shop…Beautiful, contemporary, over 100 teas waiting for you to taste…well, maybe just three at a time…excellent and knowledgeable staff too.

 

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We tasted and purchased several teas.  My favorite was No. 49 Iron Goddess Reserve Oolong...we also took home a fruity tisane I would be infusing for an  iced tea tasting class...it was called Island Tradewinds - a blend of coconut, kiwi and ripe cherries.  Light and refreshing...

We tasted and purchased several teas. My favorite was No. 49 Iron Goddess Reserve Oolong…we also took home a fruity tisane I would be infusing for an iced tea tasting class…it was called Island Tradewinds – a blend of coconut, kiwi and ripe cherries. Light and refreshing…

Leaf & Kettle tasting using a gaiwan lidded cup and tiny tasting bowls made for a special experience

Leaf & Kettle tasting using a gaiwan lidded cup and tiny tasting bowls made for a special experience

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I then re-discovered a favorite shop in Irvine…the first contemporary tea shop I came upon about 10 years ago – Cha for Tea...still making excellent infused tea to order.

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My new tea ware from Laguna Beach’s Spice Merchants is functional and beautiful…and I enjoyed doing a tea 101 class there in September…

Tea 101 ... ready to go at Spice Merchants, Laguna Beach...an intimate sized class for a few students desiring to know more about tea.

Tea 101 … ready to go at Spice Merchants, Laguna Beach…an intimate sized class for a few students desiring to know more about tea.

 

Now…wonder what’s in store for 2015?  I have a few ideas and look forward to sharing my finds and experiences with you.  And remember…Drink Tea…it’s good for you!!

Happy New Year!

Tea 101… Practice Makes for YOUR Perfect Cup!

Last week we held an intimate class called Tea 101 at the fascinating, old-world styled spice / tea shop in Laguna Beach called Spice Merchants.  I posted about them last week here.  I hadn’t put on an “intro to tea” class in awhile; therefore, while pulling the materials together for the class, I was reminded of just how simple preparing a great cup of tea can be, and yet, how easily it can go all wrong.  Below are a few photos of our class set-up at Spice Merchants.  Our students were engaging and really interested in learning more about tea.  We had fun while tasting four different pure teas from the shelves of Spice Merchants, paired with a few tasty food bites.  Below are my tea making tips…it’s almost as easy as boiling water…a little practice will get you the results you desire.

Tea 101 ... ready to go at Spice Merchants, Laguna Beach...an intimate sized class for a few students desiring to know more about tea.

Tea 101 … ready to go at Spice Merchants, Laguna Beach…an intimate sized class for a few students desiring to know more about tea.

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In Tea With Betty, my tea manual, I include details of what key ingredients are needed to make a good cup of tea (there are 4)…along with steps about how to accomplish this fete :-).   While preparing a great cup of tea to your taste should be as easy as boiling water and tossing in some tea leaves….it’s often not…there are questions such as … what type of water to use? And at what temperature for which tea?  What type of tea to  use? Just how much tea for how much water?  And how long should the tea leaves sit on the water? Then, how do you effectively get the leaves off the water?  And finally, when do you add things such as milk (for black tea only plleeease!) …all these considerations go into the simple process of preparing a great cup of tea.  It sometimes feels like all the stars need to be aligned for the resulting brew to come out just the way you want it. Whew.

However, it is REALLY simple.  Here’s what you need.

1).  Good, clean, fresh spring or filtered water.  Tap water may have chlorine or other minerals which can distort or cover the lovely flavor of your delicate tea leaf as it exudes it’s liquor.

2). Use quality, leaf teas… tea leaves (not tea dust). I am careful to know where my tea leaves originated from…I primarily use teas from Harney & Sons, Mighty Leaf Teas, Adagio Teas, Tea Forte, Numi Organic Teas, Peet’s Teas, Steven Smith, Tazo, and a few others.  Spice Merchants teas are sourced primarily from these established tea purveyors.  It matters where your tea leaves come from…you are dousing them in water and ingesting the liquor these leaves leave behind…I want to know if these leaves are from a farm using sustainable practices and fair trade methods.

Variety of leaf teas on display

Variety of leaf teas on display – whole leaves, no tea “dust”…

Quantity of leaves to water ratio is where you will want to “test things out a bit to meet your preferred taste”; however, a rounded teaspoon per 8 ounce of fresh water is the place to start.

3). Water temperature makes a difference and varies depending of the type of tea you are brewing…just to boiling 212 degrees for black teas.  Greens and white teas scorch at this temperature, so go lower with these tea types (160 – 190 degrees).  Don’t boil your water to death, the oxygen in the water as it is coming to temp assists in releasing all the excellent flavor from your tea leaves as you pour the water over the leaves.

4) Brewing time matters.  Do not steep your tea longer than recommended or it will taste bitter.  The reason many Americans say they don’t enjoy tea is that they have experience leaf teas that have sat on the water too long and gotten astringent…not a pleasant thing to consume at that point.  Remove the tea (liquor exuded from the steeping leaves) as soon as they are done steeping.  Pour the tea into another warmed pot to serve or into your awaiting cup.

That’s it…not too difficult.  And practice a bit with a few steepings to determine what your favorite taste is…in the end, it is all about what you prefer.  Practice does make the perfect cup of tea for YOU!