More Teas Need Protected Geographic Identification

Tea plucker in a tea garden.

Idyllic Picture of Darjeeling Tea Plantation

Protected Geographic Identification is a distinctive name or sign that indicates the originating territory of a particular product’s country, region or locality where its quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographic location. In the world of tea, as with other products like wine, geography matters. It is in the soil, weather, and altitude that tea derives its flavor. We call that terroir. Without knowing where the tea is grown, you have a harder time judging its quality.

For instance, Sencha grown in China has a dry grass flavor while Sencha grown in Japan has more of a seaweed flavor. Which one is better quality?  To tea snobs, it is cleary the Sencha grown in Japan! Sencha is historically a Japanese tea which is steamed to stop oxidation and not baked. Since green tea is often associated with a more healthy option in Europe and the US, its quite common to see teas being marketed as Sencha that are not grown in Japan at all.

Darjeeling is one of the first teas to get geographic identification protection, which has helped to reduce significant the use of the term Darjeeling on tea that was not grown in the region. Sri Lanka has dipped into geographic identification protection for Ceylon teas and China is just getting started. Unlike other countries, China has a much harder job in determining how to carve the geographic boundaries around certain teas. Tea has been grown in that country for thousands of years, so the style of manufacture has spread and evolved throughout the country. What’s more, China has its own folklore around the origins of specific teas like Dragonwell and Puerh, which will be a starting point for them in negotiating in this space. There are a great many named teas that could use the protection of this international agreement.

If you aren’t familiar with Protected Georgraphic Identification, just look at the cheese counter at your local grocery store. You will see that many of them, like parmigiano reggiano, have these protections. Even the Idaho potato has protected geographic identification. So we hope more teas are able to get these protections so consumers can better understand how important location is to the taste of their favorite beverage.

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Rose Tea Cupcakes with Jasmine Tea Icing

Tea & Cupcakes

Rose Tea Cupcakes with Jasmine Frosting

Rose Tea Cupcakes are a unique treat for your tea loving Valentine. These cupcakes can be made in advance and keep well in the refrigerator for about 5 days, if they last that long. While this cupcake recipe uses The Rose Garden tea, it can be made with your favor tea. The trick is to infuse both the butter and milk before making the cupcakes, which we will outline below.

Rose Tea Cupcakes-Ingredients

2 tablespoons of The Rose Garden tea
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of whole milk
3/4 cup of white granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt (Omit at your own risk, your cupcakes may not be as fluffy as you would like without this)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 cup of All purpose flour (keep around a couple of tablespoons of flour in case you need to add more to the batter)

Jasmine Green Tea Frosting-Ingredients

2 tablespoons of Jasmine Green Tea
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup of whole milk
4 oz (1/2 block) of cream cheese
3 cups of confectioners sugar

Making Tea Infused Butter

Butter & Tea

Prepping Tea Infused Butter

We have made tea infused butter before. For the cupcakes and icing, you will make 2 separate batches of infused butter. With each one you will need 1 stick of butter and 3 grams of tea (or a rounded tablespoon).

For the cupcake batter, melt one stick of butter with 1 rounded tablespoon of The Rose Garden Tea. This should be done on the cook top and not in the microwave. Put both the tea and butter into the pot. Once the butter melts completely, remove from the burner and allow the tea to steep for another 10 minutes. Strain off the tea and allow the butter to cool. Feel free to use a spoon to press on the tea to squeeze out the butter that it absorbed. Make sure the butter is solid before adding it to the recipe for the cupcake. It will return to a solid state much faster if you put it in the refrigerator. I found it is easier to make the butter a day or two before the cupcakes so I am not tempted to use the liquid butter.

Repeat the same steps as above for the butter for the Jasmine icing. Just use a rounded tablespoon of Jasmine Green tea instead of the The Rose Garden tea. This butter also needs to be solid, but at room temperature for the icing to work correctly.

Making Tea Infused Milk

Milk infused with rose tea.

Rose Infused Milk

Just like the butter, we are going to heat the amount of milk shown above with a rounded tablespoon of the associated tea on the stove top. Do not walk away from the milk as it is heating as you do not want it to come to a boil. You are looking for steam to rise and a few small bubbles along the edges of the milk and you should start to smell the tea. Feel free to stir and make sure the tea leaves don’t just float on the top. As soon as the steam remains as you stir, pull the milk off the burner and allow the tea to steep in the milk for 10 minutes before straining. Again, feel free to use a spoon to press the tea against the strainer to squeeze out the milk it absorbed. The 1/2 cup of milk for the cupcakes will become roughly a 1/3 cup and the 1/3 cup for the icing will become a 1/4 cup. This is fine. Make sure the milk cools to at least room temperature before using in the recipe. It is fine to make this a day or two before making the ice cream, just store in a container with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator.

Making Rose Tea Cupcakes

  1.  Make sure you have made the tea infused butter and milk and they have cooled before doing anything else.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F and line your cupcake/muffin tray with paper liners for the cupcakes.
  3. Using an electric stand mixer, beat together the The Rose Garden tea infused butter with the sugar. It should be mixed until lite and fluffy, about 5 minutes. You should stop the mixer a few times during the process and scrap down the sides and bottom to make sure everything is mixed evenly.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. On low, adding 1 egg at a time, mix in the eggs with the sugar and butter.
  6. Once all 3 eggs are mixed in, add the flour mixture and milk to the bowl, alternating about 1/3 of each at the time. Make sure each time that the ingredients are fully incorporated. Once down, take a look at the batter and pinch out a small amount. If is really shiny and feels oily, you will need to incorporate more flour. Using 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mix in the flour until the batter is shiny but doesn’t feel oily.
  7. Put the batter into the paper liners, filling them about 2/3 of the way full. Put them in the oven for 25 minutes. A tooth pick should pull out clean. Do not over cook. These cup cakes will be pale yellow to white in color, you do not want brown edges.
  8. Pull out the cupcakes and allow them to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing them from the tin and placing them on the cooling rack to come to room temperature.
  9. Once the cupcakes are at room temperature, you may ice them.

Making Jasmine Green Tea Frosting

  1. Put the cream cheese and Jasmine Green Tea Infused butter into an electric mixer and blend until fully incorporated, about 5 minutes.
  2. Then mix in 1 1/2 cups of the confectioners sugar until fully incorporated.
  3. Next add the Jasmine Green Tea Infused milk  Mix until combined, it will look runny.
  4. Last mix in the remaining 1 1/2 cup of the confectioners sugar. The icing should look thick and fluffy. It is a heavy frosting because of the cream cheese.
  5. Using an icing knife or a butter knife, apply the icing to the cooled cupcakes in a circular motion. Scoop out about 1 1/2 tablespoons of icing at a time to apply. If you icing starts to run on the top of the cupcake you did not let them cool enough. You can package up the icing and put it in the refrigerator and apply it within 2 days of making the cupcakes. It will start to get to hard after that ice cleanly for you.
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Chinese New Year History and Customs

Chinese New Year Festival

Chinese New Year Festival (photo by Flickr user Paul)

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, dates back to Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE-1122 BCE). Just about every subsequent dynasty put their own spin on the celebration. The Han Dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE) added an early version of fireworks by burning dried bamboo. When the bamboo is set on fire its core expands causing the stick to explode open with a loud pop. The Tang Dynasty (618 CE-907 CE) added the red lanterns, which are still part of the celebration.

Chinese New Year Traditions

New Year’s Eve dinner with family is one of the biggest traditions of this holiday. It is so big that it causes over 3 billion people to travel just prior to the New Year in China. The New Year’s travel rush begins almost 14 days before New Year’s eve to allow all the transit systems to move all these people. When that is compared to the 48.7 million Americans that traveled to be with family this past Thanksgiving (measured over a 5 day period), it makes our crowded roads and lines at airport security seem empty.

Once every one makes it to dinner, a feast is served that includes a whole chicken or fish (including head, tail, feet or fins) as they symbolize prosperity and completeness, noodles, dumplings, and Niangao. Each family will have different spins on these dishes based off of which region of China they are from. Tea is served and brought as gifts for other family members and for the alter that is setup for deceased family members to honor them.

The family stays up after dinner and watches fireworks that are set off at midnight. Everyone is to stay up all night and all lights are to remain on in the house until the sun rises. After sunrise, gifts are exchanged, which are usually red envelopes with money as they symbolize prosperity and wealth for the new year. Firecrackers may be set off as they are to scare off the “Nian”, a monster that arrives at the New Year who brings bad luck. Red is worn through out the New Year celebration since it is the color of luck. Black is avoided as it is the color of death.

Chinese New Year Around the World

Due to the world increasingly getting smaller, there are many celebrations for the Lunar New Year around the world. In fact, the largest celebration of the Lunar New Year outside of China occurs in San Francisco. If you cannot make it there, Washington DC has a Chinese New Year parade as well as many other large American cities.  So join in the celebrations!

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Celebrate Chinese New Year with Niangao

Next week marks the start of the Chinese New Year, and what better why to mark the occasion than with a Chinese sweet traditionally served during the New Year celebration, Niangao. This is a very sweet and dense rice cake with a simple almond flavor that pairs nicely with a cup of tea. This cake is traditionally steamed, not baked. So make sure to check the section on equipment and setup for steaming a cake, it is actually easier than it sounds.

Niangao – Ingredients

2 cups of water
16oz or 1 pd of Dark Brown Sugar
16oz or 1 pd of Sweet (Glutenous) Rice Flour (Asian Market, this is NOT Brown Rice Flour)
2 tsp of Almond Extract
Toasted Sesame Seeds for Garnish
Pitted Chinese Dates for Garnish – Sliced in half or small pieces (These are not always easy to find at the Asian Market, so feel free to substitute Medjool Dates)

Niangao – Equipment

9 inch round cake pan or 1 large loaf pan
Large deep pan with lid that is big enough to hold the cake pan
Aluminium foil
Cooling rack
Toothpicks
Electric stand mixer
Small pan to boil water and sugar in
Large spoon for stirring
Spatula
Kettle full of hot water

Niangao – Instructions

  1. Before you even pick up the ingredients it is critical to build your steamer. Now if you are used to using a bamboo rice steamer and your cake pan fits in it, go ahead and use that. For those of us that don’t have a bamboo steamer, we need to do some simple construction to build one. First make sure your cake pan fits nicely inside your large pan that has a tight lid, you need to have at least an inch of room above the cake pan when you set it in the bottom. If the lid is not tight, you will need to adjust your cooking time up to compensate for losing steam from the pan. Second, tear off 2 pieces of aluminium foil about the length of your forearm and shape them into snakes. If you are opting for the bread loaf pans, you may need 3 pieces. Do not crush them flat, you are building a platform to put your cake pan on so it does not sit in the boiling water. Shape the snakes into S or C and place into the bottom of the pan and put your cake pan on top. Adjust the height of the snakes so that the lid still fits over without touching the cake pan. Try your best to make them level otherwise you will find that your cake may come out thicker on side versus the other. Once you know everything fits, spray your pan and place it on your snakes. Start up your kettle full of water, you will use this water to fill up the pan at the appropriate time.
  2. Take out the second pan and put in the 2 cups of water and dark brown sugar. Place it on a burner set to high and start stirring. The goal is to melt the sugar without allowing the water to come to a boil, so you cannot walk away. It will only take about 5 minutes for the water to steam and for you to no longer have sugar crystals along the side of the pan. Remember, do not let it boil. Once you know you are sugar crystal free, take the pan off the burner and put aside.
  3. Put all the rice flour into the bowl of your stand mixer and slowly pour in the hot water. Set the mixer to low until all the water is in and then put it on medium. Once the water looks incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom and start it again. Put in the almond extract and mix for a couple of minutes and then stop.
  4. While your electric mixer is going, pour water out of the kettle into your steamer set-up. Take out the cake pan so you do not get it wet. You want enough water to come up about 3/4 of your snakes. Go ahead and turn on the burn the pan is sitting on. Since you already have warm water, set the burner to low. We want a simmering boil while the cake steams, not a rolling boil. Put the cake pan on your snakes and pour in the batter from your mixer bowl.
  5. Sprinkle the toasted almonds and arrange the dates on top of the cake. Put the lid on the pan and allow to cook for 60 minutes. You should check the pan and possibly refill the water at the 25 minute mark. You will probably not need to refill the water if you have a tight fitting lid. If your lid is not tight fitting, plan on checking every 15 minutes. Remember we do not need the water at a rolling bubbling, just a gentle simmer.
  6. When an inserted tooth pick comes out clean, the cake is done. Turn off the burner, and transfer the cake to your cooling rack. It needs to cool completely, which can take upwards of 3 hours. If you try to slice it sooner, it is a sticky mess. The cake can be cooled in the refrigerator.

To serve, slice the cake into thin pieces and rewarm in the microwave for 30 seconds so they are not rock hard. You can also fry them in a little sesame oil.

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Celebrating Hot Tea Month

Hot TeaYes, January is Hot Tea Month! So as in all silly holidays and observances of food related items, this one comes from industry. Hot Tea Month first appeared in 1994 in the United States. Its not a surprise to learn it is also observed in Canada and Europe. As someone who drinks tea daily, this just makes me roll my eyes. However, it does present the opportunity to share our favorite beverage with our friends. So here are a few ideas on how to celebrate Hot Tea Month.

Have Tea with Friends

It sounds so simple, but it works well. Inviting friends over for tea gives you an excuse to show off your tea making skills and have your friends consume your favorite beverage. So clean off the teapot your grandmother gave you and put it to good use this month. If you don’t have time to make tea, go out for tea with your friends. Tea naturally lends itself to good conversation.

Cook with Tea

Stumped on how to incorporate your favorite beverage into food, we have you covered with a lot of different Tea Recipes. Given that this is generally a cold month, we love the tea-infused butter for warm bread or smokey mushroom soup.

Try New Teas

After you have encouraged your friends to have tea and fed tea to your family, it is time to treat yourself. Nothing like a holiday to get you to do something new, so go out and find a few new teas to try. There are thousands of teas out there to try, and even those of us who have made a career out of drinking tea still find new ones. If you are not sure where to start, try our post on new teas to try in the new year. If you have had those, pick a category of tea that you do not normally drink, like white or green, and go looking for teas from specific countries that you are pretty certain you have not had and have a cup.

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