Smokey Mushroom Soup

As winter approaches, we start looking for warmer foods and smokey mushroom soup fits that bill. It is always fun when you can find ways to incorporate your favorite drink into warming food. The Chinese have used Lapsang Souchong tea for years to add smokey flavor to all sorts of dishes. So I figured mushroom soup would be a good candidate for this treatment.

Below is the recipe that swaps out the traditional stock with Lapsang Souchong tea, adding a nice smokey flavor to an already earthy soup.

Cooking up smokey mushroom soup

Smokey Mushroom Soup

Smokey Mushroom Soup

Serves six to seven

  • 6 grams Lapsang Souchong Tea
  • 4 1/3 cups water
  • 1 lbs mixed mushrooms – Shitake, Baby Portobello, White, King Oyster
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsps of red wine vinegar
  • Pepper
  • Crusty bread for croutons
  • 2 ½ tbsps. Olive oil
  • 6 slices Mozzerella cheese
  • Fresh tarragon

Start by bringing 2 cups of water to a boil and steeping the tea in the boiling water for 5 minutes. While you are waiting for the tea, chop up the mushrooms into even bite sized pieces and remove any hard stems. Remove the tea strainer with the leaves and transfer the tea to a 1 -2 quarter pot. Put the mushrooms into the tea and set the heat to medium, put a lid on the pot and allow to cook for 15 minutes. While the mushrooms cook, chop up the onions into small pieces and the garlic. In a small saute pan, heat up ½ tbsp. of the oil and saute the onions until almost translucent, introduce the garlic and then remove from heat about 2mintues later (You do not want to burn the garlic.). At the end of the 15 minutes, put the onions, garlic, remaining 2 1/3 cups of water and the red wine vinegar into the pot with the mushrooms and leave on medium heat while you make the toppings.

Smokey mushroom soup with bread, cheese, and taragon.

Smokey Mushroom Soup with Bread, Mozzarella, and Fresh Tarragon Just Out of the Oven

To make the topping for the soup, slice the crusty bread into thin pieces. Cut enough pieces to roughly fill 2/3 of the fop of your bowl that you will be putting the soup in for each person. Brush the front and back of each piece with olive oil and put on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top and put the cookie sheet in the oven under the broiler set to high for 3-5 minutes. I set the rack in the middle of the oven to lessen the likelihood of burning the bread. When you pull the bread out, do not turn off the oven as you will be using it in a moment to melt the cheese.

When you pull the bread out, taste the soup and add pepper to your liking. Slice enough mozzarella cheese to make the number of bowls of soup you are going to serve. Ladle the soup into the bowls, put the croutons on top and put the piece of mozzarella balancing on the croutons. Put the bowls onto the cookie sheet you just pulled out and put the soups back into the oven under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese (about 2-3 minutes). Chop the fresh tarragon. Pull out the bowls of soup, sprinkle the tarragon on top and serve.

Note:  You can adjust up or down the level of smokiness by brewing more tea and using less plain water.


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Sheng Puerh Production

Puerh Tea Cake

Raw Sheng Puerh Cake from CNNP

We’ve looked at puerh twice now and the last time we spoke of the difference between raw and cooked pu’erh. In the spirit of ‘there no such thing as too much of a good thing’ this time we want to spend a bit more time on the manufacturing of raw ‘Sheng Cha’ puerh.

From Tea Tree to ‘Mao Cha’

While many Chinese teas are produced from a variety of c. sinensis var sinensis, the most desired puerh teas are typically from c. sinensis var assamica (see Camellia Sinensis). This is a much larger leaf version of the tea plant than var sinensis. Even more desired are the spring picked leaves of old growth wild tea trees rather than younger wild trees or cultivated tea bushes.

After picking the leaves undergo a process of heating to quickly ‘kill the green’. This process of heating the leaves effectively stops most oxidation, makes the leaves more flexible and pliable, and leads to the next step of rolling. Rolling, in turn step serves to break down the cellular structure inside the leaves allowing the juices inside the leaves to move about more freely and creates small tears in the leaf structure. This critical step enables extraction of flavor when the tea is infused in water many years in the future.

Once the leaves have been rolled they are left in the sun to dry out. The amount of time, like other steps in this process vary from factory to factory but can be up to a couple days. It’s at this point that we have ‘Mao Cha’ and the process diverges for raw ‘Sheng’ puerh vs cooked ‘Shu’ puerh.

‘Mao Cha’ to Raw ‘Sheng Cha’ Puerh

Sheng and Shu Puerh is pressed in various shapes for storage and shipping.

Various Shapes of Pressed Puerh – By 静葉 (Pu-erh tea allstars) [CC BY-SA 3.0

The real magic happens with Sheng Cha after the initial steps leading to Mao Cha. At this point the normal process is to process the Mao Cha into finished pressed tea cakes. The rough product is often stored for some amount of time before its ready to be pressed. When the manufacturer determines it is time the rough Mao Cha is sorted into grades and steamed to prepare it for pressing. This steaming ensures the leaves are pliable again and slightly sticky so the resulting form holds together.

Steamed and ready to go the tea is pressed into a desired shape. This is often a large round disc or cake but can take many other forms like bricks, coins, balls, or even a sort of mushroom shape. Traditionally this would be pressed into the shape by a heavy stone placed over the form though mechanical presses often do this in many factories. Pressed tea is much more dense and easier to handle. During the time of the tea-horse road this was essential to facilitate trade and today it still makes the tea much easier to handle and transport.

Pressed into the desired shape, Raw ‘Sheng’ Puerh is now stored for long term ripening, or fermentation. Unlike other forms of tea which are best used within about a year, raw puerh is best when aged. It mellows over years of aging and becomes more sought after the older it gets.

If you haven’t tried puerh its best to take some time and learn about it. Sheng and Shu puerh both provide very unique experiences. However, to fully enjoy them its best to also get a Yixing tea pot and learn how to quickly infuse this tea many times, exploring how the taste changes between infusions.





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Five Tips to Help You Savor Tea

Experiencing tea involves all of the five senses.

Neural Pathways in the Brain Delivering the Full Tea Experience – by NICHD/P. Basser (CC BY 2.0)

When David and I started to really build Dominion Tea, we sampled a lot of different teas with experienced and inexperienced tea drinkers alike and found out how little we knew about what it means to adequately describe the experience of drinking one tea versus another. Taste is so much more than just the five senses that our tongue gets (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami). It also includes touch, smell, and sight. To say that you taste something ignores that fact that it really does require all five senses to register what is in your mouth. To savor tea acknowledges that it requires more than taste to truly enjoy a cup.

It is a testament to the complexity of the human body that all five senses can so quickly execute when we consume beverages or food that it often leaves us lost for words about what we just experienced. To help me figure out how to better describe tea, I went hunting through books on food, brain neurology and what scientists have learned about our mouths. Below are five tips on how to better understand what you are experiencing with your next cup of tea. These take time, patience and practice, but are well worth it.

  1. Play when you drink the tea. Smell the tea before you put it in your mouth and try to describe the smell. Then slurp the tea when you drink it. Yes, slurp. It allows the aroma to travel up the back of your mouth into your nose again. Smell is actually what gives you the complexities of what you taste, not your tongue. Then try to describe what you just drank. How is your second description different from the first? Then sip the same tea while you pinch your nose closed and you will realize what you are missing when your sense of smell is taken out of the process.
  2. Drink with others. No two people have the same tasting experience. Our genetics effect how strongly we taste bitter, salty and sour. There is no wrong way to describe what you taste but having someone else around to compare your experience with helps you get better in finding the right words for what you are experiencing.
  3. Swish the tea around in your mouth. After you have had fun slurping, try swishing. As you swish the tea around in your mouth, what do you feel? Does your tongue feel dry around the sides or does the tea feel creamy down the middle of your tongue?
  4. Know your biases around taste. Our experiences with food are written back into our brains, so if you associate a smell or taste with something bad, even unconsciously, it will affect your future experience. The same holds true for good experiences. Knowing your biases helps to guide you on what to try and may also help you explain why something doesn’t work for you.
  5. Practice describing the what, how, where and when around the cup of tea. What refers to the five tastes. How refers to the intensity of the taste – low, medium or high. Where refers to where in your mouth you taste the tea and when refers usually to the start, middle or end (finish). Practice being precise as possible with these as that will ultimately help you understand what types of teas are pleasing. Often a tea can be pleasing not for its smell or taste but for how it feels in your mouth (think smooth).

Practice these five tips and you will become better on describing your tea experience and learn to appreciate the flavor of more than just your favorite cup of tea.

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Matcha Green Tea History

The history of matcha green tea, much like many teas, is affected by cultural and political shifts. Its popularity in Japan and virtual absence in China comes from an interesting intersection of political needs, cultures converging and influencing each other, and a side effect of isolationist policies.

Foundations of Matcha Green Tea and the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Matcha Green Tea from Japan

Cooking Grade Matcha Poweder

All things tea, regardless of current association, start in China. Starting in the Tang Dynasty, somewhere between 690-705C.E., tea became democratized in China at the same time as the golden age of Chinese culture hit its full height. During this period Buddhism thrived along side Daoism in China. Buddhist monasteries were everywhere and multiple religions were allowed to flourish side by side and acknowledged by the Emperors during this dynasty. During this period, tea was still packed into bricks for easier transport in trading. It was consumed by being broken off and pulverized into powder and then whisked into hot water. It was not called matcha by the Chinese, that name would come later in Japan.

Buddhist monks were heavy tea drinkers, as it assisted them in staying alert during long periods of meditation. So it was a natural evolution for the preparation of the tea for meditation become a ritual in-and-of itself. This ritual would be taught to the visiting Japanese monks several centuries later, in 1191 C.E., when the monk Eisai would introduce the Japanese Buddhists to the powdered preparation of tea. The term matcha is a combination of word ma, meaning powder, and cha, which means tea. At this point in Japanese history, Buddhism was making its way from the privileged classes to the common people of Japan. Recent military upheavals in Japan lead to a resurgence in spiritual practice and the establishment of Buddhist schools throughout the country. Eisai headed the Zen Buddhist school, which used meditation to bring forth the inner Buddha in each individual. It is at these schools that the Japanese Tea Ceremony was created and eventually formalized some four hundred years later.

Producing Matcha Green Tea

Matcha typically is made from the Saemidori cultivar of camellia sinensis. These tea plants are grown under shade, which adds additional complexity to flavor as well as to the plucking of the tea. The shade slows down growth, so fewer leaves are produced by the plant and those leaves that are produced got more of their nutrients from the ground than through photosynthesis. This gives the leaves a very complex taste. Tea leaves plucked for Matcha are sorted by size to help in the removal of stems from the leaves. Matcha green tea production is much more labor intensive than the other teas in Japan, which have been heavily automated in past forty years. The tea is plucked, sorted and then sent into steaming for anywhere between 40-80 seconds given the size of the leaves. The leaves are then laid flat to dry, which will cause the leaves to crumble and the stems to be more easily removed. The tea is fully dried and sorted again with the hopes of removing more veins and missed stems. It is then ground down between two large granite stones, much like an old fashion grain mill. The grinding process is heavily monitored and the consistency of the powder is measured. A finer powder, makes for a stronger and more complex tea generally. In the United States, generally there are two types of matcha green tea available, ceremonial and cooking grade. Ceremonial matcha is generally from the first picking and highest quality leaves. Cooking matcha comes from follow up picking and sometimes larger leaves. There is a difference in taste, but that is rarely distinguishable to those of us not growing up drinking it daily. Cooking matcha is generally more vegetal in taste while ceremonial matcha will have a more complex fruit/vegetable flavor. Neither is overly sweet, which is why it is generally served with sweet treats.

Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream

Matcha Ice Cream (With and Without Mint and Chocolate Chips)

Modern Day Matcha

Matcha green tea is still in high demand in Japan. It has grown in demand in the United States, since it does a great job coloring other foods, like cookies, ice cream, and even salad dressing, green. Matcha has not been embraced by the US as a tea because of its flavor profile and bright green color. What most Americans have not figured out is that they have been drinking matcha in their bottled green teas for some time now (it dissolves beautifully for bottled tea). There are Japanese gardens, museums and Buddhist monasteries where the general public can witness a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony and try some of the matcha in its traditional form. I encourage you to give it a try.

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Chinese Tea: Guangdong Province

Guangzhou, Guangdong, China - One of the largest ports in China

Guangzhou (Capitol City of Guangdong) in relation to Hong Kong and Macao – By Wikimedia User Croquant

In the far southeastern corner of China lies Guangdong Province, one of the more populous provinces in the country, and home to the highly fertile Pearl River Delta. Guangdong is dense, busy, has an economy larger than many countries, and is steeped in over 2000 years of history which led to a strong trading economy, a wide ethnic mix, and the development of neighboring Macao and Hong Kong.

About Guangdong Province

With a land area of 179,800 sq km, Guangdong is about the same size as the state of Missouri. Unlike Missouri,however, which has a population of about 6 Million, Guangdong boasts a population over 17 times larger at over 106 Million. Its capitol city Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton and namesake to the Cantonese dialect, alone has 13 Million residents (New York City has about 8.5 Million). It’s located in the far south of China, further South than Florida in fact, and tends to be very hot and humid. It features both tropical and sub-tropical environments complete with a distinct monsoon season.

As an administered region, Guangdong dates back to at least a couple hundred years before the common era (BCE) in the Qin Dynasty. During the Tan Dynasty (600-900 CE) the region came into its own as a significant trading region and has continued to increase its trade ever since. As a trading region, Guangdong has a wide variety of ethnic peoples playing host to Mongol, Persian, Europeans, as well as Chinese from many other parts of the country.

The geographic makeup of Guangdong is relatively mountainous with the exception of the far southwestern portion and Guangzhou where the Pearl River Delta forms. While it is mountainous the region is also a significant agriculture producer with everything from fruits to coffee and yes, tea.

Guangdong Province Teas

Yingde China - Home of Ying De Black Tea in Guangdong

Yingde China, Photo by Zhuwq

While Guangdong borders many top tier tea producing provinces it doesn’t produce anywhere near the amounts of nearby Yunnan, Hunan, and Fujian. However, it’s role as a major port and long trading history means that many teas pass through the province on their way to a global market.

Within the province Guangdong, like other Chinese provinces, has its own famous teas which include Ying De Black and Phoenix Oolong.

Ying De Black Tea, or Yingde Hongcha is described as a black tea with notes of cocoa. Produced in Yingde, due north of Guangzhou, this black is believed only to have been produced since the late 1950′s. While it is known for its coca notes this tea also has somewhat of a pepper finish and an amber liquor.

Phoenix Oolong, by contrast is an oolong tea produced in Fenghuang on the border with Fujian Province. The tea itself is often said to have honey and orchid aromas though in reality there are many different varieties of Phoenix oolong produced from old tea bushes around Phoenix Mountain. Thus you are likely to find several different Phoenix oolong teas with different aromas and tastes.

Guangdong is yet another in a long list of amazing provinces throughout China with its own teas, culture, and history.

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