3 Additions to Tea Worth Knowing About

Tibetan Yak

Yak dressed up in Tibet.

Here are 3 additions to tea to keep your eyes open for when traveling aboard or here at home at your favorite foreign cuisine restaurant. These are not the sugar, cream or ice that Americans know and love.

1. Yak Butter. This Tibetan addition to tea cannot be duplicated here in the US as yak milk and butter are not to be found in your local grocery store. The closest we can get is using water buffalo milk to make buffalo butter to match this beverage. There are a few water buffalo dairies in the U.S., so if you are ever in Ithaca, New York or Canon City, Colorado, you might want to have a look. Yak milk and buffalo milk have about twice the amount of fat as cows milk, so the butter is more like what American’s think of as soft cheese in consistency. To make yak butter tea, a black tea is steeped several hours and then strained off. Butter and salt are added and the mixture is whipped or churned until the butter melts. It is then left over low heat to keep it warm. When finished drinking, a dash of roasted barley flour is added to the bottom of the cup and rolled into a ball to absorb the last bits of tea and butter and then eaten.

2. Salt. Pakistan has a version of salt tea called Kashmiri Chai. Mongolia has a version called Suutei tsai. Both use a green tea base, milk and salt. The trick to the salt is getting just the right amount. Too much salt and that is all you will taste. The tea is brewed in water and then the milk and salt are added and warmed enough not to have the temperature drop. Both versions typically have the tea steeping for about 10 minutes.

3. Toasted Rice. Any fan of Japanese green tea will recognize this addition. Genmaicha is toasted rice and green tea (Sencha). Unlike our first two additions which are added after brewing, the toasted rice is brewed with the tea and it gives the tea a smooth popcorn smell and flavor. This one is easy to get here in the states, and worth trying at least once to see how it changes the flavor of Sencha.

While these additions are definitely outside the typical American experience with tea, as true tea connoisseur, you are honoring your favorite beverage by experiencing it through the cultures that have consumed tea longer than the U.S. has been in existence.

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Burmese Tea Leaf Salad – Part 2

Plated Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad – Plated for presentation but not yet mixed together.

So, if you are just joining us, you may want to read Part 1 of this blog post describing how to pickle your green tea leaves. For those of you who already read and now want to eat, we have a few more steps to finalize this salad. This salad is traditionally served with the tea leaves acting as the equivalent of lettuce, which I will prepare below. However, the pickled leaves remind me more of a dressing and do nicely as a garnish on romaine lettuce. So feel free to Americanize.

Ingredients (To serve 4)

Fried Rice Noodles (look in the Asian isle of the grocery store)
8 gloves of Garlic
1/2 cup Peanuts
1/4 cup Sesame seeds
1 can of Lentils (color is your choice)
Oil for frying
2 whole Tomatoes

Equipment

Paper towels and four plates. Cast iron frying pan or a pan with high sides to fry in. You will also need a ladle to pull out the lentils and a slotted spoon for the garlic.

Steps to Prepare the Other Ingredients

Start by gathering up all your ingredients as the frying times are going to be short and you cannot walk away from the pan. Setup the paper towels on two of the plates, double the paper towels on one of the plates for the lentils. This will give you a place to put the ingredients to cool before plating them with the tea leaves. Remove the skin and slice the garlic cloves. Cut the tomatoes into wedges to get you at least 4 wedges per serving. Empty the lentils out of the can into a strainer and rise under cool water. Pat dry with paper towels. Put the pan on the stove top and allow to heat. Add the sesame seeds and allow to toast for no longer than about 1 minute. If they start to turn brown on you remove from the heat so they do not burn. Pour the sesame seeds out on one of the plates with no paper towels. Next, put the peanuts into the pan and toast them for about 2 minutes. You need to stir the peanuts to prevent burning. You will smell the peanuts, which is an indicator to remove from the heat as they will burn quickly after this point. Pour the peanuts out on a plate without the paper towels to cool. Now add oil to the pan, depending on your oil type it will ripple immediately and will not require any more time before putting in the garlic. The garlic will cause bubbling, so do be careful. You can lower the heat and stir the garlic with a slotted spoon. It will take the garlic about 5 minutes to start to turn brown. Once brown, remove from the oil and put on one of the plates with paper towels to remove the oil off the garlic. Next, put in the lentils, leave them in the oil until they are crunchy, which will take around 5-7 minutes. Keep stirring and you will feel as they dry out and harden. Remove them from the oil. Unfortunately, the lentils are so small they fall through the slots in the spoon. So you will need to remove them with a ladle.

Steps to Plate the Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Measure out roughly 1/2 cup of the tea leaves into the middle of each of the 4 plates. Arrange the dry ingredients (rice noodles, fried lentils, sesame seeds & peanuts) in piles around the outside of the leaves and divide the piles with the tomato wedges. Sprinkle the garlic on the top of the tea leaves. It is up to the individual to decide how they would like to mix the ingredients together. Don’t skip the fried garlic and lentils as they add a wonderful textural contrast to the tea leaves.

Enjoy!

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Burmese Tea Leaf Salad – Part 1

Pickling green tea leaves.

Pickling green tea leaves for Burmese Green Tea Salad.

Obviously we love our tea. Not only do we love drinking it but also cooking with it. Well in Myanmar (aka Burma) there is a long tradition of eating your tea leaves in the form of Burmese Tea Leaf Salad. With just a little preparation first you can enjoy this dish yourself.

In preparing Burmese Tea Leaf Salad, the tea leaves are traditionally fermented underground in clay vessels for several weeks before being used in the salad. Given that underground fermentation requires something of an underground chamber that is bug and pest proof as well as holds a consistent temperature, this is not a reasonable option for most Americans. (Sorry your basement doesn’t get cool enough for the fermentation process to hold.) Not to mention, fermentation is playing with bacteria, and if you get it wrong you can get extremely sick. So we are going to pickle our tea leaves instead.

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad – Which Tea to Use?

The best tea to use is a straight, non-flavored green tea. Figuring out which straight green to use has more to do with personal preference and your willingness to pick through the leaves to remove any stray stems. For this recipe we went with Sencha since it does not have any stems and the leave sizes vary widely due to the steaming process that makes Sencha. It is perfectly fine to select any other green and quite frankly you will be closer to the flavor profile using Vietnamese Green, but you will definitely need to inspect for stems and harder leaves that do not soften during the brewing process below.

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad - Pickling Tea Leaves

You will need a jar or container with a lid to store the tea leaves in while they pickle as well as a large strainer to pour the tea leaves into after they have steeped.

Ingredients

1/2 cup of green tea leaves
4 cups of water
1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup of sesame oil, plus additional to cover the tea leaves if necessary
1/4 cup of roasted sesame oil
4 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon of minced ginger
1/8-1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flake

Green tea in a pyrex container for infusing bulk green tea.

Steeping green tea for Burmese Green Tea Salad.

Steps

Start by bringing 4 cups of water up to 185° F. You can bring the water to a boil, pour it out into another container away from the heat and wait about 5 minutes to for the temperature to drop to the desired range. Then put in the tea leaves and steep for 10 minutes. While this is going on, you can chop up the garlic and ginger. For ease of mixing, put the vinegar and both sesame oils into a mason jar and then put in the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Drain off the tea leaves. Unfortunately, the tea liquor brewed for 10 minutes will be bitter and not something you will want to drink. However, your plants can use it, so allow it to cool and water your plants with it. While the leaves are in the strainer rinse them with cool water so you can work with the leaves. Using your hands, pick through the tea leaves to ensure no stems and squeeze the tea leaves to remove excess water. Next, put the leaves into the jar and put the lid on the jar and shake  until all the leaves look coated in oil. At this point allow everything to settle to the bottom of the jar, you should be able to tell if there is enough liquid in the jar to cover the leaves. If not, top off with additional sesame oil. Then put the jar into the refrigerator and wait at least 2 days, but 5 is better.

We will conquer assembly of our Burmese Tea Leaf Salad in Part 2.

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Science of Tea: 3 Fun Chemistry Facts

Theaflavin

Theaflavin – Just one of many compounds in tea the contribute to taste and mouth feel.

Understanding the science of tea leaves leads you into the vast world of chemistry. It is here in the chemistry labs that we being to truly appreciate the complexity of the plant that produces our favorite beverage. Below are 3 fun facts on what drives the flavor in our tea cup.

  1. There are over 2,000 bioactive compounds in a single tea leaf. (Higdon, Drake, & Delage, 2005) Bioactive compounds are compounds that will interact with living tissue, i.e. the human mouth and sinus cavity, eliciting a response from us that could be either good or bad. The bulk of these compounds are polyphenols which directly affect the flavor and mouth feel of a cup of tea.
  2. The twisting and balling of leaves breaks open the cell membranes allowing polyphenol oxidase (enzyme) to combine with flavan-3ols (a type of flavonoid) to produce theaflavins and thearubigins (Higdon, Drake, & Delage, 2005). It is the theaflavins and thearubigins which give black and oolong teas their astringent feel in your mouth (that dry feeling in your mouth after you swallow).
  3. It is polyphenol oxidase that is the driver of oxidation. This enzyme protects the plant from microbial and viral infections (Wageningen University, 2014). In a tea plant, this enzyme lives in its own cellular compartment. Once the tea leaf is plucked, a set of cellular components have been broken allowing the polyphenol oxidase to interact with the other compounds and water in the plant. To stop the oxidation in tea, heat is used to remove water and inactivate the polyphenol oxidase.

If botany is more your thing, read about terroir to learn about the proper climate for growing tea.

Works Cited

Higdon, J., Drake, V., & Delage, B. (2005, January 31). Retrieved from Oregon State University, Linus Paulling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center: Tea: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/tea

Wageningen University. (2014, August 14). Enzymatic browning. Retrieved from Food Info Initiative of Wageningen University, The Netherlands: http://www.food-info.net/uk/colour/enzymaticbrowning.htm

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5 Fun Facts about US Tea Consumption

Most tea in the US is consumed as iced tea.

Ice cubes, an American Invention, play a starring role in the consumption of tea in this country.

Much is said about US being a coffee drinking country, but US tea consumption is pretty impressive by itself. Here are some facts about how Americans consume their tea.

  1. 85% of all tea is consumed iced in the United States. For those of us that know that ice in beverages is a US invention, this is not a shocker. You can read a little about the history of ice cubes in our blog post about Making Tea Ice Cubes, and if that does not convince you that Americans love iced tea there is our blog on the History of Iced Tea. We have been consuming this beverage for almost as long as our country has been around.
  2. On any given day there are around 158 million cups of tea being drunk in the US. I smile at this one as I know a lot of tea drinkers, myself included, that will consume around 4-6 cups a day. So it is probably more fair to say there are around 50 million die hard tea drinkers in this country. To put the 158 million cups in perspective, China consumes 1.5 billion cups of tea a day. Granted, China has a population of around 1.3 billion and the US has population around 316 million, so it isn’t a completely fair comparison. However, it does show there is plenty of room from growth in tea consumption in the US.
  3. In 2015, 285 million pounds of tea was imported into the United States, making the US the third largest importer of tea on the planet. In case you are curious, Russia and Pakistan where number 1 and 2 respectively.
  4. Black tea is still the most consumed type of tea in the US at about 85%, followed by Green tea at 14% and other teas accounting for the remaining 1%. This statistics excludes tisanes.
  5. 69% of tea consumed in the US is from a tea bag. This one makes me cringe. The good news is that this is decreasing as Americans learn about loose leaf tea and how much better it tastes than a tea bag. So I raise my cup to all of you who help to educate your friends on why they should abandon those tea bags for the good stuff.

Many thanks to the Tea Association of the United States for these interesting tidbits on the state of tea consumption in the US.

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