Tea Time

Explore a world of exotic flavours by holding a tea tasting for two (or twelve).

If the custom of taking tea conjures up images of shortbread, dainty cups and a soggy bag at the bottom of a pot, think again. These days, the drink is abandoning its fussy image and attracting growing numbers of hipster aficionados intrigued by its wide range of varieties and rich, complex flavours. Just like wine, coffee and beer before it, tea is becoming a beverage to explore seriously and to savour with others. In teashops and salons across the country, tea tastings involving group samplings of exoticloose-leaf blends are a brewing pnenomenon.

To get in this modern-day tea party, why not invite a small band of budding connoisseurs around to sample a few fine brews over a leisurely afternoon? Since the purpose is experimentation, eschew more common blends (Earl Grey, Orange Pekoe) in favour of lesser-known varieties from around the globe, such as a green tea from Japan, Assam black from India or a red herbal tea from Africa. Likewise, put a new spin on traditional accompaniments by serving French pistachio cookies instead of scones or open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches rather than crustless finger versions. So guests know what they’re drinking and eating, supply them with individual homemade menus they can make notes on and take home (along with little flavours such as tea strainers or ribboned bags of their favourite blends). Ask them to bring along extra teapots to accomodate a variety of different flavours.

And, in between sips, make sure to replenish milk, sugar cubes and lemon slices as required. Bottoms up!

Tea Etiquette

At last, an answer to the age-old question about whether milk goes into a teacup first or last. The answer: it doesn’t matter. When British teacups were initially made of fine, almost translucent china, milk was poured in before the tea to temper the hot liquid and prevent the cupsfrom cracking. (Those who didn’t take milk would put their spoon in the cup.) Since china is sturdier today, the question of first or last is a moot one, so go with your preference. One thing, though: never pour milk into herbal or green teas – that’s definite don’t.

Match Points

Tea expert Catherine Lashko of The Tea Leaf in Toronto offers these suggestions for pairing brews with food.

Darjeeling (India): Bright, crisp and slightly nutty, this popular black tea from northeast India goes well with egg sandwiches, anchovies, olives or quiches.

Genmaicha (Japan): Sweet, clean and refreshing, all Japanese green teas (Sencha) are marvelous with sandwiches containing smoked salmon, shrimp or tuna. The Genmaicha we chose is a Sencha flavoured with popped and toasted rice.

Assam (India): Containing rich malt undertones and a smooth lingering finish, this full-bodied black tea is a great match for foods with a salty or tangy kick, including proscuitto, roasted red peppers or roast beef with horseradish.

Rooibos (South Africa): Afrikaans for ”red bush,” Rooibos is an herbal tea high in antioxidants and caffeine-free, With notes of vanilla and hints of lemon, it’s excellent with sweeter fare such as nut or caramel squares, fruit tarts or custard cups.

Brew notes:

For black teas, infuse leaves with fresh boiling water and steep for three to five minutes.

For green teas, bring water to a boil and let it cool for five to 10 minutes before pouring it over the leaves. Infuse from one to three minutes.

For herbal teas such as Rooibos, use boiling water and infuse from five to 10 minutes.

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Tunes to sip by

Set your global tea party to the strains of a little world music

Music from the Tea Lands – Putumayo World Music

Could there be a more appropriate selection? Featuring singers and musicians from tea-producing countries as far-flung as China, India, Turkey and Iran, this soothing, inspirational brew of exotic music is as rich and diverse as the cultures it stems from.

Kiran Ahluwalia – Kiran Ahluwalia

Born in India and raised in Toronto, Kiran Ahluwalia spacializes in ghazal, a South Asian song form somewhere between classical and pop traditions.

Departure Lounge – World Lounge

Get ready to take off with this sultry, stimulating collection of international artists playing lounge-music tracks.

Long Walk to Freedom – Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The latest release from one of South Africa’s most famous collectives, ”Long Walk” is a career retrospective showcasing 30 years of beautiful a cappella harmonies.

Source : Canadian House & Home magazine, May 2006

Originally published on Coeur en Fête Facebook : November 04 2012.

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