Brewing Tea With Wild Water

The Columbia River Gorge is a beautiful place.  Spanning some fifty miles between the Deschutes River to the east and the Sandy River to the west, the Oregon side of this deep-walled canyon boasts more than fifty waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, which drops 620 feet in two drops as Multnomah creek carves its way to the Columbia River.  Almost every creek and river has a trail heading south toward Mt. Hood, a glaciated cascade volcano feeding dozens of those streams. Walking beside an ice-cold fast-falling creek, the tea-drinking hiker is rewarded with stunning vistas of mountains, moss, wildlife, rock formations, old growth timber, and wildflowers in every color of the rainbow.  A hike in these forests is a magical experience.

Last summer, I decided to methodically hike every gorge trail.  Doing so required a certain level of commitment: given the popularity of hiking in general and hiking The Gorge in particular, one has to be at the trailhead by 7:00 AM to get a parking spot and to avoid the crowds of one-time hikers. My pack was loaded with the Ten Essentials for Wilderness Travel as well as a thermos of hot earl grey tea.  Lunch at the summit, or the base of the waterfall, or at an overlook, is always accompanied by a few cups of tea and an almost melancholy desire to linger.  Inspired by a post on this blog a few years back, I decided that one way to extend the hike beyond the few exquisite moments at the destination would be to fill one of my empty water bottles with water from the stream.  At home, I could re-live the beauty of the hike with a cup of tea from the creek.

From early May through the end of August 2017, I drank tea from Pelham, Herman, Gorton, Buck, Multnomah, Oneonta, Cold Springs, and Wahkeena Creeks.  Of course, I filtered and boiled the water before brewing it into tea. These creeks are perfect because they originate from springs rather than glacial run-off, resulting in water that is crystal clear rather than cloudy with rock powder.  The magic of my morning tea ritual was made even more so by the announcement “This tea comes from the pool just above Triple Falls,” or, “This is Doke Black Fusion from Lochan Tea after a short stop at Pelham Creek.”

The decision to hike those trails was prescient.  On September 2, after a long dry spell, teenagers playing with fireworks sparked a fire that burned thousands of acres in the area I methodically hiked.  Drainages in almost every creek burned furiously over the next four weeks, causing freeway closures, evacuations, and millions of dollars in damage. Just one of the trails will be open for the 2018 hiking season; some will not reopen for years.  All will be forever changed.

Next time you hike along a pretty stream, take a liter of the water home with you and hydrate your body and soul with the water in a cup of tea. 

All image rights reserved by author.

An Uncertain Future for Tea: Lesson from the 2018 Global Tea Initiative Symposium

One of the greatest honors of my tea journey has been the invitation to share my experience and learnings about the business and sustainability of tea at the 2018 Global Tea Initiative annual Symposium at UC Davis (YouTube video at bottom of article). The event was a great success and amazing collection of scholars and practitioners of tea. Usually, at tea industry events I feel like an outcast; the only person in the room not afraid to speak about the real threats to the sustainability of the industry. At this event, however, I felt validated as many of the other speakers brought forward unique perspectives that were in agreement with what I have been saying for years: The current tea industry is not sustainable. Everyone left the symposium with an immense amount of information about the tea industry, but there was a dark cloud hovering over everyone’s mind regarding an uncertain future.

It was the keynote speech of Nigel Melican that brought the most bad news. His keynote came in the middle of the first day of presentations which were mostly centered around an optimistic view of growing tea in California with the leadership of UC Davis’ research. Nigel Melican is one of the most experienced technicians and consultants in the global tea industry and is no stranger to helping with the development of the US grown tea industry. Over the recent years, he has seen a rapid shift in the economics and operations of the tea industry which motivated him to lay out a bleak look into what he believes will be the future of the industry. It will be a polarized industry focused on either specialty or commercial production. Commercial tea production will be mechanized and will not be void of chemical use and GMO development. The heart and soul of tea that most readers of this blog have come to love will be eliminated in commercial tea production.

There were a few speakers that gave a perspective on the current sustainability of specialty tea. There wasn’t a whole lot of good news or reports of future growth outlooks for small-scale tea growers. In fact, Paul Berry, a Chayonu expert, explained that the cultural appreciation of specialty Japanese tea has declined significantly. My good friend, Kunikazu Mochitani, explained from a first-person perspective that the business of growing and making tea in Japan has become dire as he has had to introduce innovative ways to encourage farmers to put in the effort to produce high quality, ceremonial matcha. One of these innovations is the use of solar panels for matcha shading and the development of a high-quality matcha demand in the US to save the heritage of Chayonu in Japan.

How do we support a future of specialty tea? We need to learn, as a mass market, to appreciate and value specialty tea. We are in an interesting time for this future in the USA where the term “specialty tea” has not been properly defined. This has allowed for commercial tea to be masked as specialty tea, further cementing the future success of commercial tea in the future. You can read my further definitions of specialty tea and commercial tea. Consumers can learn to appreciate and value specialty tea to support sustainability. Tea businesses can start talking about these issues and discontinue the co-opting of specialty tea with the use of low-priced, low-quality tea masked with fancy brandings, flavoring, and blending.

Attendees of the symposium left inspired and wanting to make a change. This is going to take time for all to realize their role in the future sustainability of tea. This includes the scholars, consumers, and companies that are supporting the Global Tea Initiative (soon to be Global Tea Institute). True specialty tea is made with great care and is appreciated on its own without the aid of blended-in flavors and ingredients. Drink good tea and support a sustainable future.

All videos of presentations at the symposium can be viewed online here.

All images provided by author.

Blast From the Past: Hello, Chajin!

Chajin is the Japanese word for “tea people,” in other words, most of you reading this blog. Chajin are supposed to have especially acute sensibilities to their surroundings, which is akin to saying they have special powers. According to Chado, the Way of Tea by Sasaki Sanmi, “April is the month for this flower and that. The peak time, however, is short-lived, which is exactly one of the beauties of nature chajin appreciate. The theme for tea in the beginning of this month is predominantly cherry blossoms. Tea gatherings are held in the open air with quilted silk outer garments hanging over branches of cherry trees as screens. The chajin must be sensitive to nature, to the feeling of the season.”

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is an embodiment of this philosophy of being in harmony with nature. Every detail of the ceremony, including the setting, the utensils, and the manner of the preparation of the tea, is considered, so as to best reflect “one time, one meeting, one season.” The theme of the season, the taste of the tea, and the mindset we bring to appreciating the tea are never the same twice.

In the Washington, DC area, the cherry blossom trees bloom in late March and early April, putting a smile on the chajin. Blue skies appear more frequently and light winds are refreshing and fragrant with spring flowers and grasses. The heavier teas of winter – malty, roasted, and smoky – seem weary from carrying the burden of winter and are ready to give way to lighter more enchanting teas. Simultaneously, although thousands of miles away, chajin in the West sense the awakening of the tea plants in the East as the first small bud growths appear. For tea people, it is not enough that spring has arrived, equally important is the promise of a new tea harvest soon to follow.

Maybe it is as simple as the ancient Japanese proverb that someone without tea in them is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. To chajin, this is the way (and the why) of tea.

Originally posted in April 2012, written by Guy Munsch.

Natural and Artificial Flavors – Part Two

What about artificial flavors in tea?

Then there are artificial flavors, and it is a tendency to look at them negatively. However, not all artificial flavors are the same.  I’m sure most people think of some giant vat of toxic chemicals that dissolve metal as the basis for anything labeled ‘artificial’. However, in loose tea, most blenders will use an artificial flavor categorized as ‘nature identical’. Here is where things get real interesting. In Europe, products with nature identical flavors are not labeled as artificial, but cannot use the term natural flavor.  A nature identical flavor means it’s the same molecule as what is found in nature, except it is isolated or synthesized to produce the equivalent compound. In the US, nature identical is considered artificial. The term ‘nature identical’ is also no longer used in Europe, probably because some companies took the liberty of putting NATURAL all over the box, confusing customers. 

Artificial flavors and those that need to be labeled as such in EU standards are compounds that do not exist in nature. There are regulations regarding which chemicals can be used, but FDA labeling requirements don’t differentiate between these types or nature equivalents.

But it’s important to note the following – many modern medicines are highly refined extracts from botanical sources, and if they were considered food nearly all would be artificial. Pond water is ‘natural’ and there is even someone selling ‘raw’ water (i.e. unfiltered) which is natural, but combining hydrogen and oxygen in a lab would be considered artificial.

Why would tea blenders use artificial flavors?

In reality, some types of natural flavors can get very expensive. And there have been instances where supply crunches cause the natural flavor to become unavailable.  The other issue is that some natural flavors can dissipate quicker than some purer, manufactured versions. There is a quite large segment of the population that are casual or new tea drinkers. When a tea is labeled with a particular flavor, let’s say strawberry – then they are going to expect that tea to taste like strawberries. In other cases, a particular natural flavor may simply not be available that has the taste a blender is looking for, such as graham crackers. Sometimes, an artificial ‘nature equivalent’ flavor is used to complement a natural flavor – so a blender will use a combination of both, just like a beer brewer will use different types of hops for flavor and aroma.

What to do?

Chemicals exist all around us, both man-made and natural, and both can be toxic. So while the knee-jerk reaction is to shun ANYTHING with artificial flavors when it comes to tea, look at it this way – you can get a pure, nature identical flavor added to a tea or eat a conventionally grown strawberry which can theoretically have more contaminants. Some blenders (mainly mass market) may use artificial flavors to cover up poor quality tea, some of which can have more chemical residue from pollution or herbicide. Therefore, it’s worth scrutinizing the source if you plan on drinking a lot of a particular tea.

There are those that will lump in both natural flavors and artificial flavors as bad for you. For a new tea drinker, flavored tea is often an alluring reason to drink tea, especially if you are coming off coffee or a sugary soft drink. Virgin tea drinkers will often think plain tea tastes like water. But most tea, regardless if it’s flavored is a better option than more harmful drinks such as energy and soft drinks.

Dosing is always the main issue. The term natural doesn’t imply healthy. It is a balance between the health benefits and any potential side effects. There are some that shun flavoring in any way because ‘the doses are much higher than what is found in nature’. However, there is not a lot in the way of clinical evidence that avoiding these flavors helps you live longer. After all, the overall diet needs to be considered in totality. And one could argue there are a lot of toxins in nature that aren’t good for you – think poison mushrooms as one example.

In general, the loose tea market is very selective, and most blenders care a lot about what goes into the tea. The use of artificial flavors in general is very minimal and used only when there are no natural alternatives. Most blenders (in fact all that we spoke to) all use natural equivalents in any instance where a natural flavor is not used.

Additional resources:

Natural and Artificial Flavors – Part One

Flavoring tea has been around a long time, and originally flowers and other fragrant botanicals were layered in the tea which readily absorbed their aromas. Jasmine is a classic example. While botanicals, fruits, and spices are still used, some blenders use additional flavors to achieve the desired taste.

What is a natural flavor?

A point of controversy is the term ‘natural flavors’ which have been derided as intentionally misleading by some. Natural flavors is indeed a regulated name by the FDA and is as follows:

‘The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.’

Anything not following the above guidelines would require an artificial flavor label. But the EU has a different set of standards. This excerpt provides an example to make it more clear:

“To make the regulatory complexities more tangible, let us apply the US and EU regulatory variations to vanillin, the molecule that gives vanilla its flavor. This flavor ingredient can be produced in a number of different ways, and the method used to produce it determines whether a natural claim will or will not be allowed.

When vanillin is extracted directly from vanilla beans, both the US and EU regulatory authorities allow a natural claim. When vanilla extract is subjected to fractional distillation to isolate the vanillin component, the labeling on the consumer product may be indicated as ‘natural vanilla flavor’ in the US and Europe.

Vanillin can also be made through different fermentation processes. Fermentation from a starting material such as ferulic acid, allows for the extraction of the vanillin from a variety of natural sources including coffee beans, apple and orange pips, and wheat bran. If vanillin is made using the ferulic acid fermentation process, a ‘natural flavor’ claim can still be made in both the US and Europe. If the vanillin is produced through fermentation from another source, for example guaiacol, the labeling of the products begin to differ. In the US, if the process is not approved the material is labeled as both ‘artificial’ or ‘synthetic,’ whereas in the EU the material may still be labeled as ‘natural’.

Other starting materials can also be converted to vanillin by chemical processes – for example, lignin can be heated with an alkali and an oxidation agent to create a synthetic (or artificial) version of vanillin. In this case, the product would be labeled in both the US and Europe as ‘artificial’ or ‘synthetic’ vanillin.

Finally, there is the molecule ethyl vanillin that is not found in nature and is typically produced using synthetic chemistry. The US label claim would be ‘artificial vanilla flavor’ but in Europe, the label claim is ‘vanilla flavoring’. The absence of the word natural in Europe implies that it is an artificial flavor.”

To top it off, another vanilla flavor substitute is Castoreum, which is a secretion of the anal glands and castor sacs of beavers. Even though usage of the flavoring is rare, it is technically considered a natural flavor. 

There you have it. A simple flavor like Vanilla has a lot of variations, so simply relying on a label and the word natural gives you only half the story.

Natural Flavors in Tea

Of course, tea is an ideal complement for natural flavors. The amount of flavoring needed is minimal-about a teaspoon per pound. A large portion of that is ethyl alcohol, which is used as a carrying agent (as it evaporates, the flavor is carried through the tea via the evaporating alcohol). The flavor and the alcohol are water-soluble, so water is used to combine the two. In all, once the alcohol and water evaporate, you are looking at minuscule amounts of flavor.

While natural flavors in tea are typically botanical, it doesn’t always mean that 100% of a particular botanical is used in a tea. So as an example, a pineapple tea may include pineapple flavors, but it might also include carrot, strawberry, or whatever other ‘natural’ flavors a blender decides to use.

Images provided by author.

How to Throw the Perfect Outdoor Tea Party

Guest article by: Derek Lotts

Tea parties, especially outdoor ones, are something we all simply love. There is nothing nicer than gathering with a bunch of dear friends and reminiscing about all your memories together while sipping this magical beverage.

However, just like any party, even a tea party needs preparations. Here is how to throw the perfect outdoor tea party you and your friends will remember forever.

Ideally, you should schedule your tea party at least one week in advance so that people you invite have enough time to incorporate the event into their calendars. When it comes to time in particular, probably the best choice is the weekend afternoon, since most people are usually off from work and want to have a good time. Also, an afternoon tea party is a great midday refreshment.

Another great idea is to schedule the party around big events or holidays, so more guests will be totally free to attend.

Firstly, of course, you should make a list of people you want to invite and address invitations to each one of them individually. And rather than sending a plain white card with the time and date in Times New Roman, set your creativity free and get a couple of those colorful cardstocks and cut them in teapot shape, for example, or you can even mail your invitations in envelopes containing bags of your favorite tea.

Make sure you don’t forget to specify on the invitation if there will be refreshments included – you want your guests to bring their appetite as well.

A tea party is definitely a special occasion, so setting the mood is also an important part. Since this is an outdoor party, there are some things that need to be taken care of. Firstly, even though we all love to relish in the summer sun, none of us likes sunburns. Plus, there is also that summer rain factor that shouldn’t be neglected. This is why your first job is to provide your guests with proper sun- as well as rain protection. And there is nothing that can solve this issue like a marquee can – check out those cool instant marquees at Sydney Shade that will protect you and your guests from all the weather surprises. They are also offering things like multi-mast cantilever umbrellas, wall mounted umbrellas, commercial shade umbrellas etc. – so you can pick whatever fits your needs best.

The second part is the seating area – you have to make sure everyone has a place to sit and put their teacup.

Finally, there are the decorations. And we all know that the outdoor tea party is not complete without flowers. Make a couple of colorful spring nests to decorate the tables, or make cute little floral place cards. Everything should be floral, colorful, and happy.

Since, as said, a tea party is a special occasion, you should dress appropriately for it. In other words, try looking kind of fancy, but not too much. You should put some effort in it, but shouldn’t make a huge deal out of it.

In other words, put on that favorite floral dress of yours, or throw on those suspenders and whip out the aftershave. Maybe you will want to wear your hot pink stilettos, or maybe you are already ironing your button down and searching for your fedora. It is up to you and your vision of fancy.

While everything about this part is up to you, there is one rule you should follow: Offer the widest possible variety of teas you can. Tea bags, loose tea, plain or flavored; green, white, or black; expensive or cheap… you just cannot go wrong because serving tea at tea parties is the main purpose of tea parties, right? You can also tell your guests to bring their favorite tea with them so that everyone has at least one tea they certainly love AND you will also be able to try something new.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like finger sandwiches? Probably not. You can use cookie cutters and make cute shapes or you can simply spread some margarine and put a couple of pickles on a slice of bread and call it a day. As long as you are eating a sandwich-y thing with your fingers – it is a finger sandwich.

Also, those tiny snacks that you can pop into your mouth in just one bite are also a must, whether they are savory or sweet. Biscuits, cookies, petit fours, cheese plates, tiny cupcakes – whatever you can think of is definitely a perfect option. You can even make a cake!

So there you have it, the tea party basics. The rest is really up to you and your preferences. Cheers!

Images provided by author. All are creative commons.

Moving Tips for Tea Drinkers

Article by Paula Geerligs

Moving is tough, especially if you’re a tea drinker.

Tea drinkers are likely to have a wide assortment of teas at home and a collection of delicate teaware.

But if you keep your tea spaces at least somewhat organized, moving can be easier.

I’ve moved three times within the past 4 years, and each time my tea haul has been lighter and easier to pack.

How do I move my tea so easily, now?

First, downsize! I had to say goodbye to some teaware and reduce how much tea I was carrying on the journey. It might take some courage to admit that tea has the potential to lose flavor and aroma over time, so hoarding is not an ideal situation. Drink your tea! Share it with friends! And say goodbye to any teaware pieces that you don’t exactly love.

Stop buying things you don’t need… unless it’s something you really, really, really want. I’m not joking when I say that in the second move, I had so much tea that I had to practice cutting myself off from tea shopping. It was for my own good. I want my cup, not my cupboards, to overflow. But my rule is: If it’s something I absolutely can’t let get away, like a doll head mug, or an unusual tea that I must try, then go for it!

Stay organized. I like a balance of stylish yet practical* when it comes to organizing my tea haven. *”Practical” with consideration that I’m a crazy tea person, not a regular tea person.

I keep a small assortment of every loose tea that I have on one shelf inside a cupboard. That way, my teas are visible and easily accessible, but still safe from light exposure. I store this assortment in small jars and food-grade bags, labeled with both name and date. And, I have a tea menu attached to the inner door of the cupboard!

My tea “backstock” is kept in decorative boxes, in a separate storage cupboard, organized by tea style. I’m also an herbalism student, so my herbs are organized in a similar fashion, but loosely alphabetically (A-L, and M-Z) and with a record of what’s “in stock”.

Above my tea shelf, I keep my most-likely-to-be-used mugs and teaware. The rest are safely stored in wooden cheese crates.

Since mostly everything is organized inside some type of box, moving is just a matter of stacking and transporting.

The key with moving your teaware is to consider the total weight of what’s packed together (cast-iron can get heavy), and the size of the container. I find that smaller boxes are best, and even better with built-in hand holes! Teaware is also easily transported cushioned inside of wooden wine boxes.

Now, if only moving my hoard of houseplants were as easy!

All images provided by author.

An Assam Tea Grower On Orthodox Processing and Sustainability

At my favorite tea shop, Jip Eu, with Maddhurjya second from right

I recently met an Assam tea grower who was visiting Bangkok, and we talked a bit about his personal history with tea, about sustainability, organic production, and development of orthodox tea processing in Assam.  His name is Maddhurjya Gogoi. 

I mentioned more about that meeting in this post about sharing tea with a Thai princess, and covered a lot of his personal and tea-oriented biography in this post.  As for contacts he’s on Facebook, with another business page there, and a website contact here.

Sharing the ideas will require some summary on my part, and it introduces error for one person to re-summarize what another has already condensed, especially based on communication from a perspective of personal business interest.  Take it all for what it’s worth.  Passing on a little topic by topic will help with covering ground faster.

Small growers and co-ops in Assam are developing orthodox tea production

This isn’t really news, or controversial.  The extent to which individuals are successful and the overall volume of tea being produced seem to require more development to fill in this story.  Other parts relate to how demand changes relate to supply changes, to the end-effect difference it makes for tea growers and very small producers, and how this all fits in with what major producers are doing.  

I’ve reviewed a number of teas from Halmari, a large plantation producer, and those were fantastic (with more description on their site).  According to Maddhurjya that sort of an organization represents a different kind of success story, and progress on a related but different front.

His family farm

Organic farming related

Maddhurjya told a funny story about how they started producing tea organically because they couldn’t afford fertilizer.  That surely is one part of that broad theme.  He is more concerned about how chemical fertilizer really does increase plant productivity, weighed against there being other approaches that are more sustainable, and perhaps healthier for consumers.  

It doesn’t summarize well but he sees the whole range of issues as connected.  If growers are barely able to survive on what they produce their choices about growing methods, or any other aspects, have to reflect their best interest commercially.  Such conditions make it harder to consider the long term.  If demand is higher for organic products that can even out the plant material production issue, related to use of chemicals being more cost-effective.  In short, it’s complicated.

Maddhurjya’s tea; pretty good, but he said the spring production is much better

Higher quality tea orthodox production method related

Growers and small producers want to produce better tea, in order to make more from their final products.  Per my own understanding (which is limited; I’m not following the Assam tea industry) tea production has only relatively recently been de-regulated, with limitations on processing cooperative development still in effect in the recent past now being lifted.  

According to Maddhurjya the knowledge of methods and access to the machinery just weren’t there in the past.  I wouldn’t expect him to personally represent a lot of the range of paths to change and modernization for all of Assam, but he has played a personal role in importing equipment from Taiwan used in newer forms of orthodox tea production (with more about that in his life story).

The future

It’s not written yet, but people are working on that.  He’s trying to help with making changes himself, related to a limited scope business interest.  I reviewed a number of teas by Assamica Agro, which is based on more of a small cooperative model than a small producer model, what Maddhurjya and related small farmers are pursuing.  

To a tea consumer and enthusiast it all might boil down to one main concern:  how good is the tea?  The answer to that will change year to year, and company to company, as better production and processing methods are developed.  Even amounts of rain falling will change that, with changes to climate on major input and concern.  Right now the teas are pretty good, but plantations like Halmari are setting the bar pretty high, and Darjeeling is much better known for orthodox tea.  As for what I tried I’d give the edge to the teas from Maddhurjya over Assamica Agro’s teas (which were still pretty good), with Halmari’s slightly better, but as much just different in style.

Halmari oolong; it’s not TKY or DHP but it’s really good

“How good is the tea” misses a lot of scope of concern, doesn’t it?  If you could drink tea that’s really good, but not the absolute best you could find, at a great value for that quality level, and it helped a small production farmer raise the quality of life for his children and community, then those would make for other valid factors, wouldn’t they?  All of that is the case right now.  These limited scale producers selling more tea helps them take the next steps.  

Of course as with tea production and sourcing anywhere believing stories is a concern, about who benefits most, an original producer or reseller, and organic claims, and so on.  Not all the stories everyone is telling are true.  But I believe there are common threads and general truths emerging from people like Maddhurjya, along with other exaggeration and marketing spin, and as a groundwork for all of it some real progress is being made.  

Wholesale vendors and supply chains aren’t necessarily the “bad guys” in the story but new options can and will help local producers.  These are people whose standard of living really could stand to improve.  Of course, Assam isn’t the only tea producing region facing such issues, or even the one that tends to get talked about most.  But it is interesting hearing more direct versions of such accounts from different places and different types of sources.

Image 1 source
Image 2 source
Image 3 provided by author
Image 4 source

You Must Believe In Spring

Spring conjures images of idyllic deep green expanses, perhaps even the finely
manicured terraced tea gardens in Japan. Closer to home, the hills that were once
brown or even blackened by devastating fires that perennially beset our region
show hopeful signs of regenerating and green appears once more. On the food
front, spring connotes a few special ingredients that make this time of year a chef’s
paradise. Rhubarb, morel mushrooms, fresh green peas and tender pea shoots all
vie for my attention on local farmers’ market tables but it is those pinkish green
stalks that I reach for first. Their bracing grassy and earthy flavor, when cooked
with only the smallest amount of sugar, are mellowed even further by a creamy
mousse made from the greenest matcha tea I can find. Here’s my vernal
celebration in a glass. Use clear undecorated glasses for the nicest presentation,
allowing the colors of the ingredients to shine through.

Matcha Mousse with Fresh Rhubarb
4 servings

For the Mousse:

  • .15 oz or 4.5 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) unsweetened gelatin powder
  • 7 t. cold water, used to soften the gelatin powder
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • 1-3/4 ounces ( approximately 1/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 5.3 ozs (2/3 cup) milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the rhubarb:

  • 1 medium-sized stalk of fresh rhubarb, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • Granulated sugar to taste

Over low heat, cook the rhubarb with the sugar until it is just beginning to soften.
(Watch carefully as it will disintegrate into mush in the blink of an eye). Cool.

Sprinkle gelatin powder over the 7 teaspoons of cold water, stir and let soften.
Combine matcha powder and sugar in a bowl. Now heat milk to boiling. Whisk
boiled milk slowly into the matcha and sugar mixture.
Heat softened gelatin in a microwave proof glass or other vessel for 5 seconds
(and again for 5 seconds more, if necessary, stirring to check that it is fully
melted), then stir into matcha, sugar, and milk mixture. Strain and let cool.
Using a whisk, beat heavy cream to soft peaks, then fold into matcha mixture.
Place some of the rhubarb in the bottom of each glass. Spoon mousse over this
layer and top with the remaining rhubarb. Serve immediately, perhaps with a
ginger cookie.

Blast From the Past: Yerba mate – the gaúcho way

Written by Laura Logsdon.

While having dinner with some friends from Brazil, our conversation turned to traditional Brazilian cuisine – the seafood in aromatic sauces, the barbecued meats seasoned with garlicky marinades, the cheese rolls that melt in your mouth, and the tea culture of Southern Brazil.  It turns out the South American cowboys, or gaúchos, have a long and unique tradition of drinking chimarrão.

cuiaChimarrão is a tea made from yerba mate (erva-mate in Portuguese), a plant indigenous to South America.  Dried leaves and stems from the plant are placed in a container made from a gourd that has been hollowed out and dried, called a cuia.  The cuia is often decorated with gold or silver.  Hot water – never boiling water because it makes the tea bitter – is then poured into the cuia.  After a few minutes of steeping, a bomba, which is a metal straw with a filter on one end, is placed in the gourd and the light, earthy, highly caffeinated tea is ready to be consumed.

bombaChimarrão can be sipped alone, but it is often consumed in a group as part of a ritual to foster social bonds.  There is an etiquette when drinking chimarrão with others that must be obeyed.  The host is the first person to pour water on the tea and then drink it.  This is thought to be polite because the first infusion tends to more bitter than the subsequent ones.  Once all the tea is consumed, the host fills the cuia with water and passes it to the next person.  Usually, the cuia is passed from person to person based on economic or social status, but it can also be simply passed to the next person on the right.  Each time it is passed, the cuia is refilled with water.  It is considered bad manners not to drink all the chimarrão in the cuia.  So, making a gurgling noise with the bomba, which indicates to the group that all the liquid has been consumed, is considered a polite gesture.  This ritual is done with family, friends, and colleagues to create unity and show allegiance to the gaúcho way of life.

Tea continues to amaze me.  Not only does tea stimulate the palate with its never-ending flavor varieties, but it has historical, social, and medicinal significance on every continent and across every culture.  When man evolved from the apes to become a distinct species, he discovered fire, invented hunting and farming, created language, and made a nice pot of tea.

This article was originally posted in April 2010.