Winter Herbal Iced Teas

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Dearies, I know winter is starting to tighten its icy grip on us and we’ll be covered in snow before we know it! This is usually a time to reach for warming, comforting teas, but I’m a clever little cup and I like to switch things up. Kat gets ever so tired in the chilly, dark months, and I’m always thinking up ways to perk her up. One fun way to chase the winter blues is to mix up a batch of iced tea! I’ve discussed winter iced teas before, but this year I’m putting an herbal spin on things.

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Herbal teas are easy to either cold brew, or steep up and ice. Since they aren’t made from tea leaves, they won’t get bitter if you over-steep them. If you really want to feel like you are on the beach, how about a citrusy iced tea? Mint is another refreshing option. You can get very creative, combining herbs for interesting flavor combinations. I love chamomile and lemon, or adding mint to hibiscus. You can even experiment with wintry rosemary, I love adding honey and lemon after steeping rosemary in hot water for 5 minutes. It smells like the holidays! Basil is another hearty herb that is delicious steeped up with lemon and honey.

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When we are looking for a cup of iced tea quickly, Kat likes to ice down one of her favorite bagged teas, HEB Hibiscus Ginger Orange tea. This tea is perfect to keep around for this time of year! Served warm it is a comforting treat with spicy ginger, and tangy hibiscus and orange. Kat likes to drink it warm on chilly days while she curls up by the fire with a few friends. Iced it is a refreshing drink for any time of day. Kat has used this tea to recharge after a long day of holiday shopping. When iced, the ginger wakes up the palate, and the citrus flavors refresh and revive. This is quite a versatile tea! This tea can be found at your local HEB grocery.

This winter when you’re sick of the cold and grey weather, steep up an herbal iced tea and transport yourself to a warm and sunny climate. Be sure to visit my pinterest page for more herbal iced tea ideas!

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Tippy’s Tea of the Month: Longjing

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Dearies I know we’ve talked about Green Teas quite a bit, but there is one in particular that is a Chinese staple with an interesting story, Longjing. This tea’s name translates to ‘dragon well’, and is grown only in China’s Zhejiang province. Why is this well-loved tea called Dragon Well? It all goes back to the legend! There are actually a few different versions of the legend, but in my favorite version, a Taoist monk discovered a dragon hiding in an old well. The season had been in drought, and once the villagers learned of the Monk’s discovery they prayed to this dragon to bring the rain and fill the well to capacity. After the prayers, it started to rain! This water flowed from the well and nourished the surrounding tea is grown.

 The tea itself has a flat needle-like shape with a lovely jade green color. This tea is pan-fired which gives it a nutty taste (it often reminds me of chestnuts) with a fresh vegetal aroma. It also has a cooked veggie flavor which we often associate with green beans. The tea is nutty, vegetal and sweet.

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 The quality of longjing depends on when it was harvested. The earlier in the spring, the more expensive the tea will be. For the highest quality, one leaf and one bud is picked. These young leaves and buds create a very gentle, fresh and tender flavor for the tea.

The highest grade leaves are pan fried in small batches in a wok. They  needed to be heated as soon as possible to prevent oxidation. The pan-firing technique creates the lovely nutty flavor you taste in the tea. The leaves are pressed to the sides of the wok to make sure they are properly dried. This also creates the flat needle-like shape of the finished leaves. If your tea leaves have an even color to them, you know they were dried very well, to make sure the heat was even for the whole batch. Lower grades of longjing are also pan heated but usually in large revolving drums. The teas that are machine roasted are still quite delicious and more affordable.

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As with many coveted teas, longjing can be ‘faked’. You may not be getting spring harvested tea, or tea grown in Zhejiang. The best way to tell is use your eyes and mouth. Does it look like a vibrant green tea? Does it smell and taste like early spring? Veggies and chestnut? It is smooth and gentle or is it bitter? If you taste enough good quality longjing you will know what to look for. As always dearies, it’s about tasting, tasting, tasting!

To brew your longjing you can use a gaiwan, or a small teapot. My favorite way is to just add the leaves right in the water using either a bowl style cup or tall glass. Just keep filling up your vessel with hot water as you finish it, re-steeping those beautiful leaves. This is the way it’s commonly consumed in China.  Dearies no matter how you steep it, it’s a beautiful tea. If you try it you’ll understand why it’s so revered in China. Happy Steeping!

Black Teas to get you through Black Friday!

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Oh goodness Dearies, I barely see Kat these days! She’s already busy running about getting her holiday prep started. Between Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas coming up, she has endless to-do lists. I see her briefly in the morning and then we sometimes meet for a late-night relaxation sip. Watching her breeze around the house for a few days, I decided to come up with a list of black teas to give her a bit of pep to get through the holiday crazy. Especially that Black Friday shopping! She’s planning on getting up very early (even before this tea cup likes to be awake!) and going all day long. Here are a few of our favorite black teas I’m lining up to keep her awake and ready to go!

 Irish Breakfast- I can’t think of a better way to start the day! This is a super strong blend of black teas, perfect to wake you right up. This tea has a hearty dose of Assam which is malty and bold. It’s a bit stronger in flavor than English Breakfast but they’ll both do the trick. Sometimes they are blended with Kenyan, Ceylon, and Chinese black teas as well. Each blend tastes a bit different so you should try as many brands as you can to see what you like best!

 Keemun- this is a Chinese tea that’s great for the morning or early afternoon. It can be a little earthy, little bit sweet, with a hint of smoke. Very uplifting and energizing!

 Darjeeling- perhaps it’s getting a bit later in the day and you want something to get you through but not give you a big boost. A delicate 1st flush Darjeeling is floral yet earthy, a nice balance of more subtle flavors. It will restore your energy and the flavor will also give you focus and calm.

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Kat has found a new favorite to keep her shopping energy up. I mentioned Tea India teas in our Diwali celebration post, and Kat now keeps the Orange Pekoe tea on hand for moments when she needs a pick-me-up. It’s a bold Assam tea, perfect for mornings or early afternoon. She’s even made it iced a few times, an carries it around in a tumbler. Quite a versatile tea! Earthy, bold and bright, it holds up well both hot and iced.

 These Black Friday teas are of course great for any occasion. I’d stick with them in the morning or early afternoon if you are sensitive to their pep effects. Do you have a favorite black tea to wake you up and keep you going?

Adding Ginger To Your Tea

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This time of year Kat likes warming flavors to soothe and comfort. I’ve written about warming teas before, but I thought I should focus on one of her most favorite flavors: ginger. Dearies, do you enjoy ginger in your tea? If you’ve never had ginger tea before, it’s a must! It’s a zingy, versatile flavor that goes well with both green and black tea. It’s also lovely with rooibos and tulsi!

You can really take just about any tea and add some ginger flavor either with fresh or dried ginger. Kat loves fresh ginger and always has some in the kitchen. If you have some time, her favorite thing to do is peel and slice a 1-inch piece, and boil it in a saucepan with a cup of water for 5-10 minutes. You can leave the ginger steeping in the water as long as you like, especially if you like it super spicy. She then will add in a teaspoon or two of loose tea, steep, and then strain. Or she’ll strain the ginger water into a mug with a patiently waiting teabag. Add in a dash of honey and/or lemon, and you’re good to go! A deliciously warming cup of tea.

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There are times when we run out of fresh ginger, or just need our ginger tea fix as quickly as possible. On these occasions Kat reaches for HyVee ginger tea. Kat just loves this tea and always has a box in the cupboard. It’s quite convenient and steeps up the most delicious, spicy cup of tea. It is herbal so it has no added tea, just pure ginger goodness! Kat drinks this tea in the evening, uses it as a base for masala chai, and even adds it to baked goods. It gives a ginger zip to anything you add it to.

As I mentioned, ginger is an important component of masala chai. It’s one of our favorite beverages to make this time of year! Check out my previous post for recipes and ideas. Stay tuned, I’ve also got a masala chai hot chocolate recipe coming soon!

So Dearies, while the leaves start to swirl and the temps drop, reach for some ginger tea! It’s just lovely this time of year.

Teas To Pair With Fall Desserts

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One of our favorite things to do during autumn is fire up the oven! Kat is always baking delicious treats. It’s comforting to have a little sweet treat to pair with a warm cup of tea. I thought it would be fun to suggest a few tea and dessert pairings that you can enjoy on your own, or serve at your next gathering.

Who doesn’t love Pumpkin pie? It’s a staple this time of year, and it often graces our table. Pumpkin pie is sweet, creamy, and a little bit earthy. I like to pair it with a heavily roasted oolong tea. The nutty roasted notes help bring out the earthy sweetness of the pie. It also just feel so much like fall!

When Kat has guests staying over, she likes to surprise them in the morning with freshly made cinnamon rolls. They are so sweet, chewy and fluffy! I do think she has a flair for baking them. Since we often serve these at breakfast, I like to pair them with a hearty English Breakfast blend. The strong black tea holds up to the sweet cinnamon deliciousness, and cinnamon pairs very nicely with the tea. Oh, I wish I could have this pairing right now!

Kat’s Grandmother Char was an expert at making gingerbread. I remember resting on the counter right next to the flour dusted pastry board, watching as she mixed and formed her dough. It has such a strong nostalgic pull for Kat and me. It’s sweet and spicy and rich. I was tempted to pair it with a spicy tea, but that would just be too much flavor competition. Better to have something that compliments the spices, I think. A second flush Darjeeling tea would be a perfect match. It’s strong enough to hold its own, but also has lovely floral and muscatel notes that are enhanced by the gingerbread’s sweetness.

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In a recent post, I shared my new recipe for apple tea cake. I’ve been brainstorming what teas to pair with it, as there are so many that work beautifully! I decided to do something a bit unique and fun. Do you ever have iced teas in autumn? It may sound a bit strange, but it really shakes things up a bit. We enjoy iced tea in the fall, as it helps us hold on to that summer feeling just a little bit longer. It’s also quite refreshing, especially after a long hike in the woods. I’m pairing my apple cake with Southern Breeze Raspberry Iced Tea with my warm apple tea cake. The tangy berry flavor is a nice compliment to the sweet warm apples. I also like the play of warm and cold temperatures together. Just like the pleasure of hot tea and ice cream! Kat has been drinking this sweet and tart tea all summer long, and she refuse to stop just because the temperatures are cooling off. And why should she stop? I also love that this tea doesn’t have any calories or sugar. So you can indulge in the cake and not worry about added sugar in your drink! For my warm apple tea cake, click here (note: I will publish the tea cake recipe first, and then link to it here).

Dearies, I’d love to hear about your tea and treat pairings. Do you like to layer flavors, or have them complement each other? However you pair them, I hope you enjoy making special fall moments that last all season long.

Autumn Teas

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Dearies, do you have a favorite time of year? There is something I love in every season, but cool breezes, bright sunshine, and vibrant leaves gently floating to the ground just makes me feel happy, warm, and fuzzy. This time of year Kat takes endless walks in the woods, and sometimes she’ll tote me along with her. I love listening to the leaves swish as she walks while the birds merrily chirp all around us. I’ve been gathering our favorite fall teas to keep on hand in the kitchen. A sip of these in the morning or after a hike is the perfect way to enhance a beautiful fall experience. Here are a few of our favorite fall teas.

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Masala Chai- Newman’s Own Organic Chai. Wake you up and warm you up! Kat has tried many masala chai blends over the years, and she just loves the balance in this one. The organic ingredients of ginger, cinnamon, black pepper cloves, and cardamom are exactly what she looks for in a good chai. These are actually the same ingredients she uses in her homemade version. Often times there is too much cardamom or cinnamon in chai, but the flavors here aren’t too spicy or strong, they all play happily together. Kat likes to steep this tea nice and strong for about 5 minutes, and then adds a few dashes of milk and a tablespoon of honey. Kat loves that she can easily find this tea at her local Stop & Shop, and never worries about running out. She finds this tea comforting and invigorating, and craves it quite often!

Cranberry- of course cranberry flavor is associated with fall! There are many teas that have added cranberry to their blends. It adds a pleasing tartness that is easily balanced with a dash of sweetener. Sips of cranberry tea will bring you to an inviting holiday table with leaves gently falling outside the window. Cranberry teas are bright with a fun combination of sweet and tangy notes.

Cinnamon- cinnamon is always a staple in our house during the cooler months. It’s warming and perfect for all sorts of dishes and drinks. Kat bakes with it, adds it to her morning oatmeal, even swirls a bit in her black tea. You can find it in endless blend combinations, or just add it yourself like Kat does.

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Rooibos- rooibos has an earthy flavor that’s perfect for this time of year. It also has a red hue reminiscent of the falling leaves. Rooibos is perfect any time of day since it doesn’t have caffeine. You can add other flavors to it or drink it straight up! You could get creative and make a cranberry or cinnamon rooibos blend all on your own. There are many rooibos blends out there, so definitely give a few a try this season.

I do hope you’ll let me know what your favorite fall teas are! Do you enjoy any specific flavors or particular types of tea?

Behind The Leaf: Matcha

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We all love matcha, don’t we? It tastes delicious and is quite energizing. It has a natural sweetness and is balanced out by slightly bitter and vegetal notes. You can make it the authentic way or just shake and go. You can even cook and bake with it. It’s quite the versatile tea! No wonder it’s so popular. But do you know really what matcha is, and why it’s powdered? I’m happy to tell you a little bit more about this elusive tea.

As you probably know, matcha is ground green tea. You may also know it’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony called chanoyu. But Japan wasn’t the first to use powdered tea. It was actually brought to Japan in the 12th century by Buddhist monks. Grinding tea to a powder actually began in China and it was consumed this way before it became popular in Japan. Whisking powdered tea in a bowl eventually went out of fashion in China, but Japan has kept this traditional alive.

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Before you purchase that magical ground green tea powder, much needs to happen. Leaves are picked by machine, then withered and steamed. Steaming the leaves is unique to Japanese tea which gives it that vibrant green hue. The teas are then dried and rolled. After this process the leaves are carefully sorted, and the tough veins are removed. The processed (but not yet ground) leaves are called Tencha. The tencha is ground to create the fine matcha powder.

The highest quality matcha can be found in the Uji region, using leaves that have been shaded before plucking. The shading causes an increase in chlorophyll and creates a more intense, sweet vegetal flavor. Higher quality matcha will have a smooth, sweet taste with just a touch of bitterness. Lower quality tea will be more bitter and won’t have that lovely smooth texture. When you’re buying matcha you should look for a bright dark green vibrant powder, not a light green or pale green powder. The shade grown leaves are darker and vivid green, and will have more sweetness and flavor. But if you are on a tight budget please select the matcha that’s best for you! It’s still a lovely tea experience, no matter what grade you choose.

Tippy’s Autumn Mulled Tea Recipe

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There may still be a warm breeze in the air, but very soon things are going to start getting crisp and chilly. The leaves will start to turn, everything will start to smell wonderfully earthy, and Kat will start cooking warm, comforting dishes. It’s my job to get the beverages ready for the cooler weather, and I have the perfect recipe to share with you today. Something comforting, and spicy, like a warm fuzzy sweater in a mug. Have you ever tried mulled cider? It’s warm apple cider with delicious warming spices heated through it. I was thinking about how Char used to make the most wonderful mulled cider, and realized it’s easy to add these flavors to tea. Very similar to masala chai. Who doesn’t love a good chai?

I started with chai and traditional mulled wine in mind, and made a few tweaks. Here’s the delicious recipe I came up with:

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Tippy’s Mulled Tea

3 cups hot water

4 slices of orange peel

4 whole cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon

1 tsp sliced fresh ginger

3 bags orange spice tea

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Use a peeler to carefully create your orange peel slices. Try to just get the orange part, and not the white bit, as that is a bit bitter Bring the water to a boil, and add the orange peel and spices.

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Lower to a simmer, and let it cheerfully bubble together for 10 minutes. Dearies it’s going to smell amazing in your kitchen! Enjoy that aroma, turn off the heat and add the teabags. Let everything sit for another 5 minutes. Taste, and you can let it sit even longer if you’d like. Strain the mixture. We like to serve the tea in mugs and let our guests add honey to their liking. Or you could add a few tablespoons of honey after you strain the spices.

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I decided to try using Private Selection Orange Spice tea in this mulled brew. One of Kat’s favorite teas, it is a lovely black tea blend that is infused with orange, cinnamon, and cloves. She brings it out as soon as the first few leaves start to lazily float to the ground. A perfect autumn and winter tea, It’s comforting and will enhance all of the wonderful mulling spices.

This is the perfect drink to whip up when you’re feeling chilled and in need of some comfort. It’s also well suited for a gathering- your friends will smell the warm spicy aroma as soon as they enter the front door. Happy mulling!

Behind The Leaf: Indian Black Teas

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India is known for some of the most delicious black teas. I’m sure you’ve had many of them in blends and didn’t even know it! They can be bold and brisk, or delicate and nuanced. India is also starting to produce white, green, and oolong teas, but for today we’re going to stick with the black teas that grow all throughout the country.

There are three main growing regions in India: Assam, Nilgiri Hills, and Darjeeling. These three areas make delicious black teas that taste very different from one another. That’s due to terroir. The climate, altitude and soil all have an effect on the flavors. Also the plant cultivars used also change the flavor.

First up, let’s discuss Assam- This region is in Northeast India near Burma. It is a tropical region that has about 900 gardens! The elevation is about sea level, and the weather is mild and can get very hot during monsoon season. Much of the tea grown in this region is processed as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea. Small cut leaves that create an even stronger brew that steeps up quite quickly. The cultivar that grows here is camellia sinensis var. assamica and was of course named after the region. The tea is brisk and malty. It can commonly be found in English Breakfast and English Afternoon blends. It’s made to steep up strong, as the Brits like to add milk and sweetener to their cups. This is also a tea commonly used for Masala chai.

Nilgiri is a mountainous region of southeast India and the 3rd largest tea growing area. Growing here started in the mid-19th century. The teas are well balanced and quite dark with a bit of fruit and spice. The climate is tropical and ideal for year-round growing. Many of the plants here are of the Assamica variety, and most of the teas are processed using the CTC method. Can you believe there are more than 30,000 gardens in this area?? That’s an immense amount of tea!

Finally the area most tea lovers know, Darjeeling. Teas here are grown in the Indian Himalayas. The first plantation in Darjeeling was started in 1856, and today there are about 86 tea gardens. The gardens are planted on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills, which help the plants drain well from the heavy rains that pass through the region.  There is just the right amount of cloud cover high at this altitude to give the plants the perfect amount of sunlight. The frequently foggy atmosphere creates a beautiful mist that hydrates and protects the plants while keeping them at an ideal temperature. The plant variety here is different from Nilgiri and Assam. It’s mostly comprised of camellia sinensis var sinensis, which is a smaller leaf than Assamica and actually is native to China. The British brought seeds of the plant to the region in 1841 and realized it was a perfect climate for growing. To learn a little more about the picking seasons and flavors of Darjeeling teas, you can check out my previous post here. To really appreciate the beauty of Darjeeling tea, it’s best to find teas grown and processed from just one estate.

Dearies, next time you drink a black tea blend, you can think about all of the beautiful areas of India where your tea is grown. I hope you try as many varieties as you can to learn how they differ.

Ask Tippy!

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Dearies, I’m so excited to share my latest addition to the blog. It’s called ‘Ask Tippy’. This is where you get to take control of the blog, and ask me questions about tea! Do you have a question about tea types? Tea preparation? Teaware? Ask away! I received this question recently from a reader named Andrea, and I thought I should make the answer into a post. Here we go!

Q. Tippy, do I need to use an electric kettle to get the perfect water temperature? Help!

Andrea, thank you so much for your question! Well, it is certainly very convenient to have a hot water kettle, especially one that heats the water to the exact temperature you need for your tea. But if you don’t have one, there is no reason to fret. There are various thermometers on the market that you can use to measure your water temperature if you’d like. You’d boil up your water, pour into a vessel and then measure and wait until you’ve hit the desired temp. Or, often times Kat will just boil her water and take the kettle off the heat and wait about 2 minutes if she’s making green or white tea. If you aren’t doing a professional tasting, you don’t need the temperature to be absolutely exact. Sometimes I find that I prefer a temperature slightly different to what is suggested for the tea. But here are some temperature guidelines for you (these temperatures are all listed in Fahrenheit and vary a little bit basted on the type of tea in the category):

White: 180°

Green: 170°-185°

Oolong: 180°-210°

Black: 200°-210°

Puerh: 200°-210°

Herbals: 200°-210°

Another thing to keep in mind is your water quality. If you live in a place with tasty water, you can go ahead and use that unfiltered. But if you have water that is hard and filled with minerals, it’s best to filter it if you can. Kat keeps a filter pitcher on her counter at all times so she can always have water ready for tea. Of course, if you can use spring water it is ideal. But filtered water is just fine. It’s also fun to play around with different types of water to see how it changes the taste of your tea.

So Andrea, definitely purchase a kettle for convenience and exact temperatures, but don’t feel like you absolutely must have one.

Dearies, if you have a question for me, please feel free to ask just like Andrea! The easiest way to do so is to tag me on twitter @TheLovelyTeaCup