Chinese Almond Cookies

Almond cookies are a traditional Chinese treat with tea.

Plate of Chinese New Year inspired almond cookies.

The Chinese New Year gives us an excuse to try out more Chinese recipes that pair well with tea, including Chinese Almond Cookies. These cookies resemble American sugar cookies, only with less sugar, and make a great snack to go along with any pot of tea. Traditionally, these are a very popular Chinese sweet and are usually given as gifts to friends and family as part of holiday celebrations. The almond is considered to give good health and lucky to the recipient.

Chinese Almond Cookies (Makes 2 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp of almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of Almond meal
  • 1 cup of flour (I used an unbleached pastry flour for the cookies in the picture)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 24 whole almonds
  • Egg wash (1 egg beat with a tablespoon of water)

Steps:

  1. Almond cookie dough rolled into small balls before baking.

    Almond cookies ready to go in the oven.

    Beat in a mixer the butter and sugar.  This may require scraping down the sides of the bowl to ensure the sugar is fully incorporated into the butter.

  2. Mix in the salt, almond extract and egg.
  3. Mix in the almond meal, baking soda and flour.
  4. Scrap out the batter onto plastic wrap or wax paper and form into a ball.  Put into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare the egg wash by beating together 1 egg with a tablespoon of water (this is going to create a lot more than you need, but you can turn the leftover into a quick omelette or freeze the remaining for future use as an egg wash)
  6. When ready, pull the dough from the refrigerator and form into a long log.  Cut the log into 24 equal sized pieces and form those pieces into balls.
  7. These cookies will expand a little, so limit the number of cookies on a tray to 12.  Place the balls onto either parchment paper or a silmat on a cookie sheet and then flatten with the bottom of a cup.  Place a whole almond in the center and then brush with the egg wash.
  8. Put the cookies into the oven for 15 minutes or until a nice light brown color appears around the edge.  Pull out of the oven and put on a wire rack to cool before serving.

These sweet cookies make a great addition to an afternoon pot of tea or an after dinner cup of tea.

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Vietnam Tea Culture

Vietnamese tea culture is heavily influenced by China, but it still has its own practices that are not Chinese. Tea is present at weddings, business meetings, meals, and important celebrations. It is said that any good conversation in Vietnam is only had over a pot of tea.

Vietnam Tea History

Tea traveled into Vietnam from China over a 1,000 years ago and became a part of everyday life within the country. As a country, Vietnam has spent most of its history gaining its independence from various countries that tried to claim it for their own. From China to France, Vietnam has had a tumultuous history of being invaded and ousting its invaders that is reflected in how they view tea and its place in life. One Vietnamese tea poem states “The yellow and green of the tea and the natural scent of flowers symbolize the country, rich in culture and natural resources. Bitterness at the beginning reflects the hard-working life of the people. The sweet and cool taste that lingers evokes the Vietnamese soul, sentimental and faithful.”

The Vietnamese tea culture is centered on bringing people together. Tea is viewed as binding together families and friends through sharing of the drink and stories. Tea is also a negotiator, able to dilute anger or solve disagreements through its soothing qualities and good conversation. For Vietnam, tea is a part of everyday life and consumed through out the day, not just in the morning. Street vendors serve both hot and cold tea through out the day at bus stops and other places where people are generally waiting. It is not uncommon for strangers to sit together at these vendor’s carts and strike up a conversation over tea.

Rise of the Tea Industry

Tea picker in plantation in Vietnam.

Tea Harvesting in Vietnam by Flickr User ePi.Longo (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Vietnamese tea has boomed in both production and quality over the past forty years. Vietnam is the 5th largest producer and exporter of tea in the world. The bulk of its tea is exported to the United States. The Vietnam Tea Association is working with local farmers to help them create their own brands both locally and aboard. Much like India has had success with branding Assam and Darjeeling teas, Vietnam is working toward the same geographic branding and production consistency to allow Vietnamese tea to be seen as a unique and valuable product in its own right.

Vietnamese tea is unique in its flavor profile. It is not always bitter, as mentioned above, but it definitely has that lingering sweet and cool taste. Whether it is a Vietnamese green, black or Lotus flower tea, this country is capable of producing good quality tea and much more should be expected from them in the future.

 

 

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Enjoying the Moment – The Tea Ceremony

Tea readily lends itself to rituals and practices that us slow down. It allows us to take in not just our surroundings, but our state of mind and the characteristic of the beverage we are patiently awaiting. Not surprisingly, Chinese and Japanese developed formal rituals around tea that are worth exploring as they explain both the culture of tea of those countries and some of the historical manufacturing processes.

The simplicity of the Japanese Tea Ceremony has inspired other accessories.

Japanese Kyusu – Inspired by Japanese Tea Ceremony

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony originated with the Buddhist monks, who incorporated the preparation of powdered tea into their meditation rituals. The accessories and steps taken in the tea ceremony are focused on the comfort of the guests and the preparer. The ceremony appeared in Japan during the 15th century, being created and documented by Sen No Rikyu, a Japanese Buddhist tea master. In his book, the Way of Tea, Rikyu not only lays out the steps of Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, but discusses the philosophy of tea and how tea helps to reinforce the contemplative experience of life and man’s interaction with other men and material objects. Rikyu used the Way of Tea to invite all who believed in harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to become masters of tea, opening up the beverage and the tea ceremony to the masses, effectively taking it out of the temple and into the upper classes of Japanese society.

The ritualization and formalization of the tea ceremony is still seen today in the accessories associated not just with Matcha but with Japanese green teas. Kyusu’s, Japanese tea pots used to serve whole leaf green tea, are either a solid color or decorated with pictures of nature, which are always on the side of the pot that should face the guest when serving the tea. Rikyu is also given credit for having created the bamboo whisk and scoop used in the preparation of Matcha.

Chinese Tea Ceremony

Small Chinese Tea Ceremony Cups

Chinese Tea Cups for a Tea Ceremony

The Chinese also have a tea ceremony. It is lesser known than the Japanese one but it still has its own beauty. Done with whole leaves instead of powder, it is a simple presentation of a kettle, teapot and handle-less cups. The preparation is done simply with few gestures of significance and little concern to the type of pottery or other accessories. Unlike the Japanese ceremony, there is discussion with guests, usually around nature, the tea being drunk and other topics usually related to nature and man’s place in it. The leaves will be infused multiple times by the host as conversation continues.

This informal ceremony reflects the very informal view of tea in China. However, informality should not imply a lack of importance. Tea is considered one of the seven critical items for a healthy life and is consumed throughout the day, every day, by most Chinese.

Creating Your Own Tea Ceremony or Ritual

It is not hard to create your own ritual around your cup of tea. It could be something as simple as taking a few minutes to hold still and breathe while you allow your tea to steep. Alternatively, you may prefer to sit with a pot of tea and a book in your favorite chair. The Chinese and the Japanese both got it right in focusing on tea’s tie to nature and its ability to allow people to slow down and contemplate their place in it. My favorite ritual is enjoying a cup of tea at my kitchen table looking out the windows and watching the stars fade and the sky fill with early morning sunlight. What is your favorite tea ceremony?

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Tea Reading List – A Few of Our Favorite Books

We’ve been posting regularly for a couple years now and from time to time we pull quotes from some of our favorite tea books. However, it struck us recently that we haven’t pulled together a list of our favorites to share in one spot. So this post is just that, a short-list of some of our current favorite tea books. We know it will change over time but hopefully this list can be a starting point for anyone looking to increase their knowledge of tea.

A page of The Classic of Tea in Chinese. Its right up there with All the Tea in China.

One page from the original The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu

The Classic of Tea

The oldest book on our list, by far, The Classic of Tea was written by Lu Yu around 760 CE. Origininally from Hubei Province in China, Lu Yu’s book is considered the earliest book written on the subject of tea and was originally written in Chinese. Translations are around with our copy being produced in 1974 and having spent time in a public library in Illinois before being sold off and ultimately ending up in our hands. The easiest of all books on our list, The Classic of Tea has three major parts covering an introduction to tea and how its made, the equipment used to prepare tea, and a final section on brewing, drinking, and other odds and ends related to tea.

Tea Blending as a Fine Art

More of a how-to guide for the aspiring tea merchant of the 19th century, Tea Blending as a Fine Art was written in 1896 by Robert M. Walsh. As its written from the perspective of selling tea, this book covers some basics of tea before spending time on tea adulteration and what to watch out for, the importance of finding a blend that works well in the local market, and ideas for advertising in America during the 1890′s.  It also includes recipes for tea blends (no tisanes or non-tea ingredients here).

All the Tea in China

Written in 1990 by Kit Chow and Ione, All the Tea in China provides a little bit of everything though, as the name implies, much of the content of the book focuses on China. You will find a bit of history of tea in this book including its early origins, how colonial trade brought it to the west. The book even touches on tea’s role in the opium trade and tea in the US colonies. At less than 200 pages this is an easy read with a great overview of everything tea from the plant through an overview of production, and overviews of some famous Chinese teas.

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Notable People in the History of Tea

Statue of Lu Yu

Lu Yu – In Xi’an on the grounds of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda
Nat Krause
July 26, 2005, CC – 2.0

The history of tea is intertwined with religion, commerce, early notions of wellness and more. Understanding where tea has come from requires looking at the notable people who influenced the production and consumption this fine drink across the globe. Given that tea has been around for a few thousand years, there are many people to consider, from religious scholars, to corporate spies, and even accidental inventors. There are really too many, in fact, for one blog post so we’ve selected a few of our favorites to touch on briefly.

Lu Yu

As the man credited with documenting the production and consumption of tea in China, his work, The Classic of Tea, still has meaningful insights into ancient production of tea. Born in Hubei, in central China, Lu Yu lived between 733 and 804 C.E. This book gives a view into the Chinese practices around tea and its status as one of the seven necessities in life. The poems and quotes in the book are still relevant today, about 1200 years later!

Eisai

This buddist monk, also known as Eisai Zenji (or Zen Master Eisai) is credited with bringing tea seeds to Japan and planting them near Kyoto, creating the first tea farm in Japan. He is also credited with writing the first book about tea consumption in Japan during his lifetime from 1141 to 1215 C.E. His writings on tea are credited with spreading tea culture throughout Japan and setting the stage for the Japanese tea ceremony.

Robert Fortune played a critical role in the history of tea and its move to India.

Robert Fortune – An early example of corporate espionage.

Robert Fortune

As the botanist for the British East India Company, he is credited with stealing seeds and tea plants from China that where then taken to India to plant. While these initially failed, Fortune (1812 – 1880 C.E.) helped to identify the native camilia seninsis var. assamica, which is considered the backbone of Indian tea. He helped the British East India Company break the monopoly that China had on tea.

Arthur Campbell

Living from 1805 to 1874, Arthur Campbell planted camilia seninsis var. seninsis seeds in the Darjeeling region of India. Without him, the British East India Company would not have expanded tea production into Darjeeling and we would be missing a seriously good tea (see Darjeeling – The Champagne of Tea).

Thomas Sullivan

The story goes that in the early 1900′s Thomas Sullivan started sending tea samples to customers in small bags. Not knowing that this was simply meant as a convenient way to ship the tea, his customers dropped the entire bag in water, soon after complaining that the silk was too fine all the while demanding more tea bags from Mr. Sullivan. He was not the first to create it, but just make it a commercially viable design that was widely adopted. The first to patent the tea bag in the U.S where Roberta C. Watson and Mary Molaren. They were unable to turn their patent into a commercial business, but their design looks pretty similar to the modern day version minus the string to pull it out of the water.

There are so many people that have contributed to the history of tea through thousands of years and this is just a small sampling. Do you have a favorite?

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