“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Brewing Up

I'm just sitting here with a steaming mug of Twinings Echinacea and Raspberry Tea, and pondering. Pondering all the weird, wild, wonderful, and sometimes not so wonderful varieties of teas there are in the world. At work today I had a couple of mugs of Organic Peppermint Tea made by Taylors of Harrogate, and later, a Raspberry Vanilla. The mint was fantastic, just really refreshing and soothing. The raspberry vanilla was OK, just OK, not special. I had this Echinacea Raspberry a couple of weeks ago and it's really good. The other night I enjoyed a cup of Dragonfly's Moroccan Mint, which was good, and recently, a nice aromatic Chai by Twinings (again).

I find I'm getting more back into teas since I've been back in the UK. There's something essentially British about tea, and the practice of drinking it. Certainly the customers that come into the restaurant at Sissinghurst Castle where I work seem to appreciate it. We sell gallons of the stuff.

The one I've never really been able to get my head around is Earl Grey. To me the stuff just tastes nasty. It's got bergamot in it, you see, which makes it taste like cheap perfume.

Who is this Earl Grey bloke and why did he like perfumed tea? Well, here's all the guff about who he was: Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC (13 March 1764 – 17 July 1845), known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the primary architects of the Reform Act 1832. (Source: Wikipedia, the fount of all human knowledge).
But the tea? Evidently he was given this blend of tea as a gift, a perk of being an 18th Century PM. He liked it and gave the recipe to Jacksons of Piccadilly who began to produce it with his official signature on it. From there, it just took off.

What is bergamot? It is a citrus fruit. Sometimes called the bergamot orange, it is a native of Southeast Asia but it is grown commercially in Italy. Earl Grey tea is tea leaves that have been flavoured with oil of bergamot (taken from the rind of the fruit). There are many permutations of the original. For example:

Twinings has a proprietary branded tea variety called "Lady Grey" made with lemon and Seville orange in addition to bergamot. Twinings' Earl Grey and Lady Grey packaging bears the official endorsement and signature of Richard Grey, 6th Earl Grey.

Snapple, always one to spot potential bandwagons upon which to jump,  produces a tea beverage based on Earl Grey called Earl Gray Black Tea.

Many boutique tea stores sell a similar blend with added rose petals known as French Earl Grey.

A beverage called "London Fog" is a combination of Earl Grey, steamed milk and vanilla syrup. (Yuk!)

Australian tea company T2 produces several blends: Earl Grey (traditional Earl Grey tea), Girlie Grey (traditional Earl Grey with botanicals, orange and lemon), Earl Grey Jasmine (traditional Earl Grey blended with Jasmine Green tea), Earl Grey Royale (traditional Earl Grey with cornflowers), and French Earl Grey (A variation on Earl Grey that replaces bergamot with hisbiscus, sunflower, rose and mallow flower). (A resounding bleee! to all of those).

But the question I ask is - why? It still staggers me how popular this stuff is. I am a man who has very little in the way of dislikes food and beverage wise. But there is no way on earth I can abide this tea.

How does one make a proper cup of tea? This is a question I have been asked on occasion. What follows now is the correct method.

For a cup of tea, well, we all know how to make that. Put tea bag in cup. Pour on boiling water. Steep to preference. Take out bag. Milk and/or sugar. Drink. Easy. But for the true experience one must use a teapot.

There are many articles out there on this very topic but all are in agreement on one thing: for a truly magnificent pot of tea, teabags are a no-no. You must use loose leaf tea. Familiarizing yourself with mesh tea balls and strainers and such would probably be a good idea about now.
As to what type of tea leaves to use, there are several really good ones out there. But you can't go wrong with Twinings English Breakfast Tea, and if you look on Amazon you can order it and several other loose-leaf tea varieties for fairly reasonable prices. Most big grocery stores should have at least one brand of loose-leaf tea, but play it safe and go with a brand you know, like Jacksons, Taylors, Twinings etc. because a no-name or oddball blend might be bloody horrible, not to put too fine a point on it. Oh, and guess what? You can buy a tea ball from Amazon too.

You must pre-warm your teapot. Try to make tea in a cold pot and what happens? It gets cold faster. Pre-warm it by filling about one-third of the way with hot water. Shortly before you make the tea, you empty the warming water out.
You'll need approximately 1 teaspoon of loose leaves per cup of tea. This is where your tea ball comes in handy if you have it. Place the tea in the teapot, either loose or in the ball, and pour on just-boiled water which of course you will have boiled in your kettle using fresh, cold water from a reliable source. What I mean to say is, if you wouldn't drink water from your tap, don't make tea with it either. If you have to use filtered or bottled water, that's fine. Expensive, perhaps, but better than drinking skunky tea.

After 5 minutes your tea should be about ready. If you aren't using a tea ball, use a mesh strainer to pour your tea through. This is so much easier than dealing with all the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup.

Add milk if desired, either before pouring or after, but I prefer doing it after as it is easier to judge. If you absolutely must sweeten it, do so, but don't get crazy. You want to taste the tea, don't you?

Now, for the true English tea experience, first, be sitting down. After all, this is supposed to be enjoyable, and you are already committed to making the effort to make the tea, so you might as well give yourself a well-earned rest. So get your cup in hand, a Digestive biscuit in the other, dunk, bite, sip, kick back and relax.....

Oh yes, dunk. I said dunk. I am sorry, all you Americans and others who find that dunking is a bit yucky? Yes, you're perfectly content to dunk doughnuts, aren't you? But a cookie - ewwww. This is weird behaviour, Yanks. Biscuits are more perfectly suited for dunking. They hold up better under pressure. And they still have a bit of crunch to them when dunked.

But of course, I'm referring to the nation that calls biscuits cookies and thinks biscuits are a kind of bread.  No, not that kind of biscuit.

This kind.

So, now you know. Happy dunking!

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