Friday, 30 January 2009

Iced tea for maintaining summer sanity

Over the long weekend I decided to try out an iced herbal tea recipe that I found on and which looked intriguing: Chilled Sage and Herb Tea. Here’s the link to the original recipe.

Sage is plentiful in our garden at present, and I had lemons; but I had no mint and no fennel seeds. What to do? A rapid survey of our spice shelf in the pantry revealed some star anise; and then I remembered that the garden also contained a couple of small patches of lemon balm. This turned out to be a little the worse for the heat and for being past flowering, but I still managed to cull enough to make a couple of batches of the tea - which was, as it turned out, absolutely delicious – delicately lemony and sweet with a very refreshing herbal aftertaste.

The next day I acquired some fennel seeds and decided to make a batch using these instead of the star anise. This was also good; a slightly darker colour, not quite as sweet. I think I preferred my first version, and so for good measure here is the recipe:

1/3 cup fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh lemon balm
1 tablespoon whole star anise
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

Lightly crush the fresh herbs (you can do this by just squeezing them in you hand) and bruise the star anise in a small mortar and pestle (you could also put them between a couple of layers of paper towel and whack them with a rolling pin or something, just a little bit).

Place the herbs, star anise and lemon zest in a large teapot or heat-proof jug and pour on 1.25 litres freshly-boiled water. Cover and set aside to steep for about 15 minutes.

Strain liquid, let cool and refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve as is, or you could add honey to taste (I didn’t bother), and/or ice.

If you don’t have access to fresh lemon balm, don’t bother using dried; they taste nothing like each other. You could substitute a small amount of lemongrass (fresh or dried) instead.

Happy quaffing!

Sunday, 25 January 2009


Sometimes I just can’t resist a bargain. I made a brief trip to an Asian grocery store in the Melbourne CBD while I was there at Christmas time – didn’t have time to go to the more comprehensive range of Asian grocery shops in Box Hill, although I’d recommend them highly for variety and price – to see what kind of tea or teawares I might be able to pick up. When I saw some Japanese matcha (actually Japanese, I presume, given that the packaging said ‘product of Japan’), at 20gm for only $8, I just had to get some.

I didn’t buy it without some trepidation. I am not very experienced with using matcha, but from what I have read in The Story of Tea, the really good stuff is mind-blowingly expensive. A 40g tin from The Tea Centre retails for $20 (these are Australian dollars I’m talking here, obviously) and I understand that the cost generally only goes up from there.

Matcha is powdered green tea, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it. It is the stuff used in the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). The use of powdered tea, whipped with water, was in common use in China at the time that tea and its preparation were passed on to the Japanese. Powdered tea gradually fell out of use in China, but it remained central to Japanese tea culture (although steeping unground, whole leaves, such as sencha, is obviously also very popular now in Japan as well).

When you drink matcha, you are consuming the whole leaf (minus the stems, that is); consequently, brewed matcha packs a relatively high caffeine punch. However, it’s also the richest in the polyphenols and other goodies that make green tea so healthy for you in the first place. Also, according to The Story of Tea, tea grown under shade – as the tea which will be processed into matcha is – produces higher amounts of the reputedly-calming amino acid theanine, and this balances out the effects of the caffeine. 

Apparently, because of the increased popularity of green tea food products (ice cream, cakes, smoothies and so on), these days a substantial quantity of matcha is grown and produced in China, but the top quality ceremonial tea is still grown - and the bulk of it consumed - in Japan.

So, given that it only cost me $8 I wasn’t expecting this to be the highest quality matcha, but I figured that it would be useful for practicing whisking (my sister brought me back a cha sen, or tea whisk, from her trip to Japan last year) and could be used culinarily if no good for drinking.

I brewed myself a bowl of the matcha last weekend, and I wasn’t rapt; the powder settled to the bottom of the bowl, and the taste was quite bitter on the tongue while I was drinking, although a beautiful herbal sweetness came through in the aftertaste. I may have used too much powder to too little water, and I am sure that my whisking technique is far from optimal. So I will need to try again.

However, the last couple of mornings, which have been hot, have seen me craving something cool to drink with my breakfast. Enter the matcha milkshake: I combined about a teaspoon of matcha with a teaspoon of sugar, mixed them to a relatively smooth paste with a little water, then topped the glass up with soy milk and added a dash of vanilla. Delicious!

For more info on matcha, see this page at WikiCha... or just hit Google.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Pi Lo Chun

I tried a new tea (a Christmas present, courtesy of my charming husband!) last night: Pi Lo Chun from T2. I have been curious to try this tea ever since I read about it (probably in The Story of Tea). It is a Chinese tea, and the tea bushes grow between rows of fruit trees, which are in blossom at the same time that the tea bushes are flushing and being picked. The leaves absorb the perfume of the flowering fruit trees – peach, plum and apricot. The aroma of the dried leaf is sensational. It is gorgeously fruity and makes me think of dried apricots.

This is a very delicate-looking tea; the leaves are finely twisted (the name apparently means something like ‘Green Snail Spring’ a reference to the twirly spring-shape of the leaves) and they are quite dark green, with occasional very pale grey-white leaves that stand out beautifully against the deeper coloured ones. In fact, their colours toned in perfectly with the weather last night; a raging summer storm that left the sky covered in grey clouds and the trees shining with that luminous deep green that they only have when they’re wet and shaded, and it’s not yet nightfall.

Referring to my trusty New Tea Companion, I brewed 5g of leaves at about 75 degrees Celsius for 2 minutes. The resulting liquor was a pale, pale yellow, with the same fruity fragrance that the dried leaves had. And, interestingly, the scent truly carried through to the cup. The taste was full and apricotty, with only the mildest amount of astringency. It was an absolute delight.

The wet leaves were a stunning deep forest green. I brewed another pot. The second infusion was also for two minutes, and produced a slightly cloudier, rather darker-yellow liquor. The fruity taste still made an appearance, but there was an increased note of astringency with each sip; not strong or unpleasant, mind you, just there.

Would the leaves take a third infusion? I decided to find out. Another two minutes yielded a paler brew, the fruit flavours and astringency much diminished, just a lingering leafy sweetness that seems common to all good green tea.

This tea met all my hopes and expectations. It is absolutely sublime and I can’t wait to brew my next lot. Definitely one to be sipped and savoured; a magnificently special tea!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Things my parents taught me

I remember – when we lived in a house with a backyard that had a lawn worthy of mowing – my dad standing outside on a hot day claiming to be suffering from ‘Gardening Dementia.’ This was the delusion that he had heard his wife calling to him from the kitchen, asking if he would like a cup of tea. My mum would – naturally – hasten to produce the required beverage and consequently alleviate said dementia.

(Yes, the traditional gendered division of labour was alive and well in our house!)

I remember being mind-boggled at the prospect that my parents could bear to drink hot tea on a hot day. They persisted in claiming that it was the most refreshing thing! I didn’t believe them; for me, only cold drinks in hot weather would do.

However, lately in the blistering heat of Canberra summer, I have begun to see the wisdom of my parents’ ways (funny how that happens as you get older). I have noticed that when I get home from work, I crave hot tea. Not just any hot tea – nothing delicate to be drunk out of a thin-lipped cup, nothing light and fanciful – only good strong black tea with a fair dash of milk, in a substantial mug, just like my dad would drink on those days, will satisfy the need.

And it can’t be drunk delicately either. No, this kind of tea has to be swallowed, if not gulped – fortunately, the milk means that it’s not a scalding proposition to do so – but never sipped.

I know what I’ll be drinking when I get home today.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

So... does this make me weird?

I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer from my sister, when she reads this, will be 'yes!' 

A confession: I keep a stash of tea catalogues in one of my files at work. I have a T2 one, a Tea Centre one, a T-Leaf-Tea one from NZ, and a couple of others as well. I have them there for their comfort value; I pull them out on days that are not going so well. Just leafing through them (so to speak) calms me down and makes me feel that everything is going to be all right. There is tea; there is LOTS of tea; yes, everything will be ok... 

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Quirky tea objets d'art

I am in love. I have just come across a little snippet in this month’s Notebook: magazine about some designers who are giving old objects a new lease of life – in this case, teacups.

Lindsay Pemberton is a NZ designer who makes bangles out of old teacups – they’re sold through the online NZ designer store Clever Bastards. Check them out here. I’m very partial to the willow-pattern tea bangle, and also the ‘flourish’ one. At NZ$65 each that’s a hefty mark-up on a tea cup that probably cost a couple of bucks at the Salvos, but what the hey. I want one… I wonder how much the postage would be. Further investigation warranted, ASAP.

The other item that caught my eye – it was pictured in the magazine, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find an online copy of the image to refer you to – is the teacup pendant lamp by Suzie Stanford… an upside-down teacup and saucer made into a light fitting. Also intensely desirable, but alas out of my budget at present (they’re over A$300 each)… ah, but one day!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Puhoi Cottage Tea Rooms

A two-week trip to Melbourne with a lack of internet access means that I haven't been blogging over the festive season (though I have certainly been drinking oodles of tea, and in fact received a bountiful amount of it for Christmas, hurrah!)... Back at home, life continues apace and it's back to work tomorrow... and it's a bit belated, but I do wish all of you the very happiest of New Years and hope that 2009 brings you all much joy (and tea, of course).

Looking through our photos from NZ with a friend the other day, I came across some that I took at the Puhoi Cottage Tea Rooms, where my husband and I stopped off one afternoon on our way from Paihia to Auckland. 

We had the best Devonshire cream tea ever – all the better for us  being extremely hungry at the time, too – fantastic scones and lovely tea in a beautiful setting, a closed in veranda of the house set in a lovely cottage garden complete with wishing well. 

There were a couple of cats wandering around and in and out of the tearooms as well, one of
 which looked very much like it had been getting too much cream for its own good, judging by its size! Both the cats were a bit shy but I still managed to get some photos of them too.

I saw a remarkable thing while we were there: the ‘Jolly/Sad teapot’ which I
 used to have until it broke, and which I’ve mentioned here. Not exactly the same one, of course – I think the one I had was a little smaller than this one – but the same pattern. Of all the places to see it! I almost asked if it were for sale, but decided that might be rude and settled for taking a photo instead…


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