Cup of Na’vi tea

7 03 2010

If you have tired hibiscus tea before, you know that when brewed, initially the water turns into a dark navy blue color and later becomes an intense crimson red. This isn’t too strange, is it? Recently I came across a mysterious tea from the Jatujak Market in Bangkok, Thailand. It is a herbal tea made up solely of dried water morning glory flowers.

I couldn’t believe my own eyes when I saw that after brewing the flowers the tea came out blue! And not just any blue, but a rather unnatural looking azure-like shade, much like the color of Na’vi people in James Cameron’s Avatar. Of course the longer you brew it the darker the shade becomes. Apart from the unique color its aroma or taste are not particularly attractive, unless you like a brew that smells like grill chips. The dry flowers have a very food-like aroma, it’s nothing like a floral, sweet scent that makes your nostrils dance.

The liquor doesn’t have much taste when you brew it for a short time, it feels thick and is like slightly salted water. You could compare it to a mild version of chrysanthemum tea. I found out that when you steep the flowers in water for a one-two weeks it will result in a mildly alcoholic wine with a very mild psychedelic effect! Adding herbs and honey will enhance the flavor. Seeds of the morning glory aka. heavenly blue can be made into a brew with more intense psychedelic effects. So BEWARE.

The picture below depicts the actual color of the liquor (no Photoshop action there) and some dried flowers. As a regular tea drinker and connoisseur I would say that apart from the beautiful color there is no extraordinary drinking experience here.





Carcade Tea

9 01 2010

If you want to bring back a great gift from Egypt, that would be a bag of Carcade Tea. This is where Carcade Tea is a part of culture and some of the best quality grades can be found. So what is this mysterious Carcade Tea?

Hidden under the more popular name of hibiscus tea, Carcade Tea is an infusion of tropical flowers growing on shrubs called Hibiscus Sabdariffa. The most characteristic thing about this beverage is the blood-red color, which comes from the flowers that have a strong, deep-red appearance. For this reason crushed hibiscus flowers are often added to fruit infusions, especially berry infusions, to give the tea a more saturated color. They also has a very specific aroma, similar to to the smell of Vitamic C. The tea itself is rather sour with earthy undertones and is most often enjoyed with sugar. Its recommended to brew Carcade Tea for a minimum of 5 min. in warm (not hot) water and leaving it in for 10 min. will produce even better results. Preparing a cold carcade drink is a healthier option, because it doesn’t kill off all the good substances in it.

Egypt in not the only place where Carcade Tea is recognized for its thirst-quenching and refreshing qualities. In various areas of Africa hibiscus flowers are commonly sold at markets and in the Caribbean Christmas is celebrated with a drink called Sorrel, where the flowers are a crucial ingredient.

Carcade Tea comes in different quality grades, from crushed into very small pieces to full flowers. The larger the flowers, the better liquor they produce – the flavor is richer and has more dimension to it, but most importantly they retain their useful properties. This red tea is rich in vitamins and micro elements, especially Vitamin C and when drunk on a regular basis it helps with vitamin deficiencies. Other benefits are a stronger immune system and reduced cholesterol level. Carcade Tea can help you feel more energized and lower your stress.





The thick and thin – Matcha types

11 10 2009

Matcha is a very popular tea from Japan, used during the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but also for casual drinking. This tea is a vivid green powder made from ground tea leaves of tencha tea. Tencha is a shaded tea – meaning it was covered from the sun during a period of time in its growth, resulting in a deeper shade of green and a greater production of amino acids that gives the tea a sweeter flavor. The leaves are laid out flat to dry and then ground, creating a green powder known as matcha. However if the shaded leaves are rolled after harvest they are known as gyokuro tea.

Matcha is made of young leaves – primarly delicate buds, but it comes in different grades and some matchas can be very expensive, while others quite affordable. Generally matcha is classified into two main categories – usucha and koicha.

Usucha

Usucha is also known as ‘thin’ tea, because it is more bitter and during the tea ceremony more water is used to prepare it. This does not mean that it’s milder, in fact, Usucha usually has a stronger flavor then Koicha. This matcha is made of tea leaves from plants that are 30 years old of less and it’s a more common variety.

Koicha

Koicha is also known as ‘thick’ tea, because it’s flavor is much sweeter then usucha’s and less water is used for brewing. You also use more powder to make a bowl of this matcha. The leaves used for koicha come from tea trees that are 30 years or older. Koicha is the finer variety, therefore also more expensive.





Mate

12 07 2009
A bitter, envigorating beverage that clears your mind, a herbal remedy and a symbol of friendship and understanding – mate has been a part of South American culture and tradition for nearly 400 years. It was first introduced to the Spanish colonists by Guarani Indians and has been cultivated and popularized since. Today, it is the traditional drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and also common practice to drink mate in Brazil and Chile.
Mate is prepared from leaves and stems of the yerba maté tree, that have been dried and crushed into very small pieces. The yerba maté trees typically grow in the tropical rainforests of south america and their leaves are evergreen. After the trees are harvested, the leaves are roasted and aged for a few months.
To prepare mate the traditional and perhaps the most convenient way, you will need a gourd
There are many reasons to drink mate. Although it is referred to as a herbal drink, it does contain caffeine and can be a great substitute for coffee or regular tea. It also effect the body in a similar way to green tea – it can prevent vitamin deficiencies, detoxify blood, lower cholesterol and improve digestion.
Better known brands Nativa
Gauchos share mate around the campfire
sharde from person to person
plain and flavored mate and it tea bags – mint orange, lemon
Mate is an acquired taste and a lot of people do not like it when they try it for the first or even several first times.
prepared in hot, non-boiling water usually between 60-80 C

A bitter, envigorating beverage that clears your mind, a herbal remedy and a symbol of friendship and understanding – mate has been a part of South American culture and tradition for nearly 400 years. It was first introduced to the Spanish colonists by Guarani Indians and has been cultivated and popularized since. Today, it is the traditional drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, but it is also common practice to drink mate in Brazil and Chile.

Mate is prepared from leaves and stems of the yerba maté tree, that have been dried and crushed into very small pieces. The yerba maté trees typically grow in the tropical rainforests of South America and their leaves are evergreen. After the trees are harvested, the leaves are roasted and aged for a few months. This process produces the yerba – the basis of mate.

To prepare mate the traditional and perhaps the most convenient way, you will need a gourd with a metal straw called the bombilla. The gourd is also called a mate and can be made of wood or stainless steel, sometimes with decoration and ornaments made of other materials. The bombilla works both as a straw and sieve – is has one closed end with small holes that let the liquid though, but stop the yerba in the gourd. You fill the about 2/3 of the gourd with yerba and cover the opening of the gourd with your palm. You turn it upside-down and shake it to make sure that the small particles of the yerba end up close to the opening. This will prevent the smaller particles from entering the straw while you drink, while the large particles additionally block them from coming near the holes. You tilt the gourd sideways to form a yerba ‘mountain’ and now you are ready to pour water into the space opposite of the mountain. The water should be hot, but never boiling – 60 – 80ºC is good for mate, because you do not want the first infusion to be very bitter and the later ones watered out. A lower temperature helps to distribute the flavor over many infusions. This is a general way to prepare mate, there is however a more detailed and careful way of doing it.

There are many reasons to drink mate. Although it is referred to as a herbal drink, it does contain caffeine and can be a great substitute for coffee or regular tea. It also effects the body in a similar way to green tea – it can prevent vitamin deficiencies, detoxify blood, lower cholesterol and improve digestion. It is known to contain antioxidants as well as minerals and vitamins.

On the streets of many South Amarican countries it is very common to see people socializing and drinking mate together, bringing their mate kits to the parks. In such social settings, mate is drunk in a ceremonial way, where one gourd is passed from one person to another. The cebador, who is the server of mate, prepares the beverage and drinks the first steeping which is considered bad, because it is rather strong and bitter. He does it out of politeness, in order to not offend other participants. He then refills the gourd with water and passes it to the next person. When the straw makes a sucking noise it means the person has finished drinking, gives the gourd back to the cebador, who refills it again and so on. Mate is so popular in South America that they even serve it at McDonalds often instead of coffee.

It is very easy to get confused with all the names referring to this wonderful drink, so I will clarify that mate is the name of the beverage drunk in South America, but it is also the name of the gourd it is drank it. Yerba mate on the other hand is the plant and after its leaves are processed, the dry herb mixture is simply referred to as yerba. Today you can buy plain yerba, but also flavored, most often with mint, orange or lemon. Some of the better known brands are Nativa, La Cachuera and Amanda. It is even sold in tea-bags under names “Cruz de Malta” in Argentina or “Mate Leão” in Brazil. Mate is an acquired taste and a lot of people do not like it when trying it for the first time. It is easy to get used to and start enjoying the flavor when drinking it with friends and family. Nevertheless, it is a great was to pass time and share this beverage with others once you have learned to enjoy it.

yerbamate





How to choose and buy a Tetsubin

22 03 2009

A Tetsubin (Cast Iron Tea Pot) can be quite a pricey investment and it is good to think about how you’ll be using it and what you want it for before buying one. There are many benefits of using a tetsubin, as it can distribute heat evenly and enrich water in iron, thus enhance the way your tea will taste. These are a few things to consider.

 

  1. Are you going to make the tea only for yourself of for more people? If the tetsubin will be your personal tea pot, it can be small in size and doesn’t necessarily need to have a stainer, because you can put the leaves directly in the pot. If you are going to brew large amounts of tea in it, it’s better to choose a tetsubin with a stainer, because then you will avoid over-brewing the tea if leaves are left in the water for a longer time.
  2. Tetsubins can come either with or without enamel coating on the inside. The uncoated pot will give off extra iron into the water and improves the taste of tea. If the water you are using is already rich in iron or minerals you should buy an enamel coated pot, as the extra iron might negatively affect the taste of tea. The coated pot is however the safest and most popular choice, the enamel will also prevent the pot from rusting.
  3. Check the weight of the pot. Some pots may look like a tetsubin, but they are really made of clay or some other material. A real tetsubin made of cast iron is quite heavy. Also make sure that the pot is not to heavy for you and white trying it out it will weigh even more when there is water inside.
  4. Look at the price. Real, quality tetsubins are usually not cheap. The prices often vary from 40 EUR (50 USD) and can even be as high as 150 EUR (200 USD).
  5. Finally, choose a design that suits you. Tetsubins come in many different styles and colors, with different relief patterns. The decision is yours to make!




Soderblandning – a tea from Sweden

9 02 2009

If you have ever been to cafes in Stockholm it’s very likely that you have come across Soderblandning or Soder Te which can be also called Blend of South Stockholm in english. This blend, as the name indicates comes from the southern part of Stockholm and is generally very popular in Sweden. 

Soderblandning was first created by mistake in 1979 when a tea shop owner, Vernon Mauris was trying to make a new blend. While mixing, an extra ingredient fell into the tea accidentally and Mauris not willing to just throw the spoiled blend tried it and concluded that it tasted interesting. After improving the taste a bit, he marketed this new blend in his shop under the name “Mistake Blend”. Later used at a street celebration it was renamed Soderblandning in honor of the part of Stockholm where the store was located.

The ingredients of this blend are not officially stated and can also vary slightly between brands. The base is a blend of Chinese and Ceylon black teas with addition of flowers and fruits. Blue petals of cornflower and yellow petals of marigold as well as orange rind are very characteristic for this tea. I have tasted an alternative version of this blend with some small red berries, but it didn’t taste as good as the classic, most common Soderblandning. I have also seen variations with green tea instead of black. Generally the liquor has a dark color and a dominant floral note, but mixed with the fruit aroma it produces a unique and sweet combination. 

Soderblandning tastes best as loose leaf tea, but it’s even available in tea bags produced by Twinings. It is also popular in Japan, probably due to the fact that Mauris would export about 4000 kg of this blend each year to Japan. It’s hard to believe that such an exotic and vivid tea could come from a cold place like Sweden, but if you ever have the chance, don’t hesitate to try it.





New Zealand’s own Kawakawa Tea

4 02 2009

Kawakawa is one of the New Zealand’s native plants used by the Maori as a medicine. This plant is still popular today because of its positive healing effects on the human body. It can be recommended for digestive and respiratory issues, bladder problems, toothache, but can also be used as a cleansing tonic for skin issues. The leaves could be either chewed raw or consumed as an infusion – like a kawakawa tea. The latter form is often used to fight colds, influenza and other milder illnesses.

Kawakawa tea is not very common outside of New Zealand and therefore its most often prepared locally from freshly picked leaves. In order to prepare Kawakawa tea you need to:

1. Pick Kawakawa leaves. The best leaves to pick are the ones facing the sun, which had most exposure to sunlight. Also it it desirable if the leaves are eaten by bugs, because that indicates higher medicinal value.

2. Rinse the leaves in water

3. Fill a pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil

4. Add Kawakawa leaves and let them cook for 15 minutes with the lid on 

5. Remove and strain all the leaves

The tea should taste peppery and refreshing. Letting the leaves steep even longer will give a more flavorful infusion, so it’s really a matter of preference. You can also dry the fresh leaves for later use.