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History of Mulling Spices

Across a multitude of years and cultures, the consumption of mulled wine is long synonymous with winter, evocative of cold nights, holiday gatherings, and good cheer. Brewed by steeping a variety of herbs and spices into (most often) a red wine base, this festive beverage has a long and storied history that is well worth looking into.

crockpot to make it in

The making of mulled wine dates back to antiquity, first entering written records in the 2nd century BCE. The ancient Romans were frequent consumers of various mulled concoctions, with mentions by such writers as Pliny the Elder and Apicius. In addition to being delicious, spiced wine was considered medicinally beneficial, as its purported “hot, dry” properties were seen as an effective remedy against imbalances of the humours. Over the centuries, the spread of the Roman empire and increase of global trade resulted in spiced wine’s popularity throughout much of mainland Europe and into Asia. One commonly-seen variant was known as hippocras, which in addition to either red or white wine, featured spices such as cloves, cinnamon, ginger, long pepper, and grains of paradise. It was known to have been served both hot and at room temperature – while overnight, room-temperature steeping of the spices was one of the more frequent methods to make it, heating the mixture ensured that added sweeteners dissolved into the liquid properly.

As time went on, hippocras and beverages of its kind continued to spread and shift according to regional taste and preference. Sugar or honey was often added, especially in hot preparations, to balance astringency. In the British Isles, hot mulled wine mixtures were a common way to stave off the winter’s bitter chill, eventually giving rise to such drinks as wassail and Smoking Bishop (one of several members of the “ecclesiastical” family of mulled wines, including the claret-based Smoking Archbishop and the burgundy-based Smoking Pope).

Meanwhile, in Germany and the Alsace, glühwein emerged as another popular winter beverage, and today remains a staple of many regional Christmas Markets. Nordic countries favor a similar preparation called glögg, gløgg, or glöggi, which, in addition to wine and spices, may also feature add-ins such as juice, syrup, or harder spirits. Across the ocean, Brazilians enjoy vinho quente during their winter months, especially mid-June. The list goes on! All over the world, mulled wine is enjoyed as a delicious and fortifying way to warm up from the cold. The variations in spices and additives are virtually endless. We here at Dominion Tea love a cinnamon and clove-forward blend, with ginger, allspice, and lemon peel for extra flavor. What’s your favorite mixture?

By: Jen Coate

History of the Hot Toddy

Autumn will be here soon, and we at Dominion Tea can’t help but feel excited! Crisp weather, colorful leaves – and, of course, the return of some of our favorite cozy flavors. And while so many of the seasonal beverages are tasty, we wanted to shine a special spotlight on one delicious remedy, the unsung hero of cold and flu season: the hot toddy

Hot Toddy in Cup with Jar of Honey, Cinnamon Stick, Shot Glass

If you haven’t tried a hot toddy when you’re under the weather, you’re missing out. This historic drink has a long reputation for soothing sore throats and stuffy heads. However, what exactly goes into a hot toddy is a matter of debate. Some start with black or herbal tea, while others just use hot water. Some call for sugar, some honey. Some may use whiskey, some brandy, some no alcohol at all… the list goes on. But all variations aside, the essence of the drink remains the same: a tea or water base flavored with sweetener, citrus, and warming spices, often (but not always) bolstered with a shot of alcohol. 

So when and where can we find the true origins of the fabled hot toddy? One popular theory holds that it may have begun its life in British-occupied India during the 18th century, when trade brought the traditional palm wine known as tadi (or toddy) to European attention. This drink was often mixed with sugar and warming spices, evolving over time into the hot toddy we know today. 

Other theories speculate that the hot toddy was first invented in Scotland. Named for Edinburgh’s Tod’s Well, the city’s primary water source, this toddy began as a bracing mixture of Scotch whisky with hot water and spices to fend off the cold of northern winters. Still others claim that the drink may be credited to 19th century Irish physician Robert Bentley Todd, who was said to have often prescribed his patients a hot drink mixture consisting of water, sugar, cinnamon, and brandy. 

Regardless of where it came from, the hot toddy still retains a respected place among our favorite seasonal drinks. Its endless variations are the perfect way to mix and match flavors just the way you like. We favor a cozy and soothing blend of caffeine-free honeybush, warming spices, and lemon peel in our toddy base blend – perfect with a dash of honey and whiskey for those blustery nights. What’s your favorite way to enjoy a hot toddy? 

By: Jen Coate

Easy and Festive Matcha Butter Cream Frosting

Looking for a quick and easy way to brighten up your holiday bakes this year? As always, we’ve got a tea to help! Not only does this matcha buttercream boost a gorgeous natural green color, its sweet complexity compliments a wide variety of flavors. We especially love pairing it with gingerbread or dark chocolate cookies, but it would also do excellently as a frosting for your favorite cakes or cupcakes. 

Cookies Frosted with Matcha Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients: 

¾ cup softened unsalted butter 

2 ½ cups powdered sugar 

2 tbsp everyday matcha powder 

1 tsp vanilla extract 

2-3 tbsp whole milk or cream (as needed) 

Pinch of salt 

Steps: 

Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add in your powdered sugar about a half cup at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. Beat in your vanilla extract and salt for 1-2 minutes, adjusting flavors to your liking. Once mixture is pale and airy, use a sifter to add in your matcha, one tablespoon at a time (do not skip sifting, as matcha powder is prone to clumping). Beat until no streaks remain and frosting is a uniform vibrant green. If consistency is too dense, beat in 2-3 tablespoons of milk or cream until light, fluffy, and easily spreadable. Use liberally for cookie decoration, cake frosting, or your treats of choice. Enjoy! 

By: Jen Coate

Dragon’s Moon Soup

Chilly autumn days call for some of our favorite cozy things! Warming hot teas, delicious soups… which gave us an idea. Why choose one tasty thing when you can have both? This hearty vegan soup makes perfect use of our favorite fall herbs and veggies, swapping out a traditional broth base for a concentrated black tea infusion to give it extra body and character. Savory, rich, and surprisingly substantial, this soup will store in the fridge for up to a week, or can be frozen for later use within a few months. 

Dragon’s Moon Soup 

(Serves 6) 

Ingredients: 

4-5 pieces Dragon’s Moon tea (or approx. 20 grams of any strong Chinese black tea) 

4 cups of water 

1 large butternut squash (approx. 3 lbs) 

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1 medium yellow onion, chopped 

½ teaspoon sea salt 

3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, and chopped 

½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced 

½ tablespoon fresh thyme, minced 

1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped 

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated 

Fresh-ground black pepper 

Salt and nutmeg to taste 

Chopped parsley, toasted nuts or pepitas, or crusty bread (for serving, optional) 

For the tea infusion: 

In a small pot or heat-resistant bowl, pour boiling water over your Dragon’s Moon tea. Steep for five minutes, then remove and discard the leaves and set liquid aside for later. 

For the soup: 

  1. Begin by roasting your squash and carrot. Preheat oven to 375° F. While it is warming, peel your squash, trim off the stem and bottom, and slice it lengthwise down the center. Scoop out the seeds and dice into approx. 1” cubes. Spread on a baking tray along with your peeled and chopped carrot. Brush all vegetables with oil, then roast for 30-40 minutes until easily pierced with a fork. (Note: while this step is optional, it will add extra flavor and reduce your soup’s cooking time considerably). 
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven on stovetop over medium heat. Once shimmering, add onion, sea salt, and a few grinds of pepper, sautéing 5-10 minutes until soft. 
  1. Add in your squash and carrot and cook 3-5 minutes, just enough to lightly brown. (Note: if you forgo initial roasting, this may take closer to 10-12 minutes). 
  1. Add herbs, ginger, and garlic, stirring and cooking until nicely fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  1. Add 3 cups of your tea infusion, reserving one final cup. Bring everything to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer 20-30 minutes until squash is very tender. 
  1. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth and homogenous. (Note: this can also be achieved using a regular blender or by hand with a potato masher). Adjust thickness of soup by adding small amounts of your remaining tea infusion until consistency is to your liking. 
  1. Season generously with salt and freshly ground nutmeg, tasting for flavor. Serve immediately, topping with fresh parsley and chopped nuts or pepitas. This soup pairs beautifully with a dark herb salad and warm crusty bread. 

By: Jen Coate

Barmbrack – Traditional Irish Tea Bread

Barmbrack, Traditional Irish Tea Bread

When it comes to sweet treats and fun traditions, you really can’t beat Halloween. Although there are some staple goodies when it comes to the season – caramel apples, s’mores, and candy, to name a few – sometimes the most interesting rituals are ones that point back to much older origins. One such custom is the making of barmbrack, a traditional Irish tea bread long associated with Halloween. 

Although the connection between barmbrack and Halloween in Ireland has been lost to recorded history, the confection may trace parts of its origin to soul cakes, small scone-like cakes that were baked on the Christian festival of All Soul’s Eve (also known as All Hallows Eve, the immediate predecessor to our modern Halloween), and given to beggars in exchange for prayers for the departed. But many years before that, soul cakes were thought to have been used in the rites of Samhain, a Celtic pagan festival marking the end of the summer harvest and the coming days of winter. These cakes may have been used for divination purposes, or as offerings for wandering spirits on a night when the veil between worlds was thin. 

Quite some backstory for a simple tea-bread! These days, barmbrack is most often baked in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora as a tasty treat for the Halloween season. But lest anyone forget its ancient origins, there is still a touch of divination to the barmbrack tradition – often, a few small tokens are baked into the loaf, which are said to foretell the future of those who find them. Most commonly included are a ring (for love or marriage), a coin (for wealth), and a pea or bean (for prosperity). 

Want to try making barmbrack yourself? Here’s one of our favorite recipes, courtesy of Donal Skehan (including a few notes of our own). Don’t forget to serve up with a cup of your favorite warming tea. Happy Halloween! 

You will need: 

13 oz assorted dried fruit (We like a mix of chopped dried apricot, raisins, and figs) 

2 oz whiskey (optional) 

9 oz cold black tea (such as Irish Breakfast) 

Butter, for greasing 

8 oz all-purpose flour 

2 tsp baking powder 

4½ oz light brown sugar 

1/2 tsp mixed spices (Hint: a pumpkin or apple pie spice blend would work well here!) 

1 large egg 

A ring, to place inside (optional, but fun!) 

Steps: 

  1. Place the mixed fruit in a bowl and pour over with tea and whiskey. Allow to soak up the liquid overnight. 
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Grease and line a 2 lb loaf pan. 
  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and spices in a mixing bowl. Make a well and break in the egg, then use a wooden spoon to mix it with the dry ingredients. Add a little bit of the liquid from the mixed fruit and mix it through to form a wet dough (Note: you may not need all the liquid to get there, so add in small amounts). 
  1. Stir in the fruit until everything is thoroughly combined. Add the ring (and any other charms you like) and stir through. Spoon the dough into the lined loaf tin, place on the middle rack in the oven, and bake for 1 hour. 
  1. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin and placing on wire rack. Your brack will be excellent fresh from the oven, but even better over time as its flavors deepen. 

Written and Baked by: Jen Coate