Tag Archives: Black Tea

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.



Kickstarter Projects with a Tea Theme

A few weeks ago we discovered two great Kickstarter projects for ideas we love; MIITO and Imbue (Update: 4/12/2017 – The Imbue project ultimately released a product deemed unsafe and was shut down). These projects are to create products for boiling just the right amount of water for your next cup of tea and for the initial production run of a new tea infusing vessel. We’ll admit to jumping in and funding these early without looking around at other related projects or, frankly, reading up on Kickstarter generally. We had success with Bo and Yana (now Dash and Dot from Wonder Workshop) in the past and jumped right in. That said, we are curious and wanted to look a bit more at Kickstarter and tea themed projects.

What is Kickstarter?

There are many tea related projects on kickstarter.

Kickstarter provides a way to match ideas with backers to fund them.

In short, Kickstarter is a platform playing matchmaker between people with ideas (they may or may not be great) and people to would love to see the idea become a success. You may make the mistaken assumption that the platform is for funding new technologies, products, or businesses and these are certainly a large part. However, the platform is also used as a way to fund single events, art installations, books, and more. If you have an idea, want to test the waters, and see if its got legs then Kickstarter is a platform to do just that.

According to their FAQ, the company is only about 110 people and is located in New York City. In exchange for a small percentage of money pledged, the project owner gets an easy way to publicize their idea and collect funds from backers. In order to reduce risk to backers, the company claims to keep an eye out for suspect projects and they use an all or nothing funding model to ensure that if a project doesn’t meet funding goals nobody gets billed.

Kickstarter claims (as of May 31st, 2015) about a 38% success rate of projects successfully receiving funding by their goal date. But do note that not all projects get funded, and even funding is no future guarantee of future products or business (see some of the projects below).

Tea Themed or Inspired Projects

In addition to MIITO and Imbue, which initially got us looking for other tea related projects, we found quite a number of others. Everything from WINKpen, which is a refillable pen for writing with naturally staining liquids (Wine, Tea, etc), to no less than three different tea infusers, to Barons of Tea which is a tea themed board game. We wouldn’t necessarily back all these though we did find some more interesting than others.


Created by Jessica Chan, this unique pen was designed to solve the problem of disposable ink pens allowing the user to fill it with natural “inks”. This glass pen can be filled with wine (the name comes from wine as ink), cranberry juice, tea, or any other substance which naturally stains. Having settled on a design this project is to fund a large manufacturing run allowing the dream to be turned into reality for those who want a unique and environmentally friendly pen to write with.  We would recommend using puerh or a black tea,if you where to fill the pen with tea.


The premise behind HIYA is near instant cold brewed green tea. We love cold brewed tea (green tea or otherwise) and have blogged about it before. What HIYA was promising was essentially a tea bag with (we would imagine) very finely processed green tea. This project promised to bring green tea to those on the go with just a few seconds of shaking a water bottle containing the sealed and staple free tea bag. Despite having successful funding we aren’t quite sure if HIYA is still producing product as its been out of stock since at least November 2014 with limited Twitter or Facebook updates.

Tea Infusers

We found three different tea infuser projects on Kickstarter as of May 2015; VivaBoo, TeaDrop, and DunkFish. These projects all take their own unique spin on the tea infuser with DunkFish and VivaBoo being playful tea ball variations starring fish or platypus designs and offering built-in handles to remove them from water with reduced risk of burning your fingers. TeaDrop is slightly different with a combination infuser ball and built in timer to mechanically stop steeping when the timer stops. We haven’t tried any of these and hope they provide enough room for loose leaf tea to expand well, but they add both fun none the less.

Stock Certificate from The Long Dock Company

Is Kickstarter the replacement for issuing stock or soliciting venture capital?

Barons of Tea {The Board Game}

For those who are fans of board games and art, the Barons of Tea allows players to imagine they were alive during the time when England ruled the seas and competed to develop the tea trade world wide. This project was intended to fund the creation of a number of these board games envisioned by illustrator Gregory Snader. It was completed, and games were shipped back in 2012.

All in all Kickstarter does seem to be a great way for smaller ideas to get off the ground. In many respects it may even be a better way to prove a market exists than traditional market surveys or attracting venture capital investors. From a tea perspective, we love the creativity of the many ideas supported by the Kickstarter platform which may make our tea enjoyment just a little bit better. (And we can’t wait for our MIITO and Imbue products to arrive).

Keemun Black Tea: A Favorite of Anhui Province

We recently highlighted the discovery of a hundred year old box of Qimen black tea in Anhui China. The story of this century old tea, though short, featured a beautiful wooden box that was typical at the time for shipping finished teas around the world. Though few producers actually ship in this type of wooden box any longer it was a handy excuse to focus a post on this wonderful tea from Anhui Province, China. Qimen or Keemun black tea, which incidentally forms the base for our Colonial Breakfast, tea has been produced in China for hundreds of years and like so many others has a history of it own.

Keemun Black Tea from Anhui Province was represented by 30 growers at the 1915 Expo

Keemun Black Tea won gold at the Panama Pacific International Exposition (Public Domain)

Keemun Black Tea

Black tea has been produced in the region of Qimun County in Anhui, China and the area around it for about 200 years. The name Keemun, as we know it today, is an Anglicized version of the name. Black tea from this region is known for having a very unique aroma and taste. The aroma is often described as having hints of honey while the taste is often said to be sweet and mellow. It can take milk and sugar though is often consumed straight. The tea was common in the United States dating back to the colonies and has been part of some blends of English Breakfast Tea over the years.

Keemun black tea has been awarded international recognition many times as a gourmet tea product. In 1915, at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which had 30 tea companies from Anhui Province, Keemun Black Tea was awarded a Gold Medal. Much more recently, in 1987 it received a gold medal for food quality in Brussels. Over the years there have been many other awards as well and it has been the gift of choice for visiting dignitaries.

Qimun Region Tea Production

Keemun Black Tea is the base for our Colonial Breakfast Tea

Keemun Black Tea is the base of our Colonial Breakfast Tea

The Qimun region dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 766 C.E. and is about at the same latitude as Northern India, falling due West of Shanghai and North Northwest of Taiwan. Although inland a bit, the region isn’t far from the East China sea. It lies in the general vicinity of the famous Yellow Mountains and the Yangtze River. It is a mountainous region at about 2000 ft above sea level with large temperature swings between day and night and often has very high humidity. Tea is a major industry in this part of China with hundreds of thousands of farmers producing tea on tens of thousands of hectares of land.

Not all of the tea produced in the area is black, of course, with green tea featuring prominently. Most tea produced in the region is for domestic consumption and the majority of Chinese drink green tea regularly. Indeed, black tea production has been on the decline in this part of China according to the Qimun County Government for a number of years. Reasons for the decline include international competition by Indian black tea, Ceylon black tea, and others. The competition from international black teas and continued low consumption of black tea in China has contributed greatly to the black vs green tea production decisions.

Steeped in history, Keemun Black Tea continues to be a wonderful example of Chinese black tea. Despite production falling off from the height of its demand, this tea continues to delight consumers around the world, even if not consumed so much in China itself.



Qimun [Keemun] County Government, The Rise and Fall Keemun Bicentennial (translated), January 4, 2010, http://www.ahqimen.gov.cn/DocHtml/1/2010/1/4/2197202312203.html 

CPC Huangshan Committee, the People’s Government of Huangshan, Tea Industry, http://www.huangshan.gov.cn/en/NewsList.aspx?cid=10680&tid=10690

Official Catalogue of Exhibitors, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915, pg 80, Digitized at: https://books.google.com/books?id=c-VFAQAAMAAJ

Cultural China, Food Culture, Keemun Black Tea, http://www.cultural-china.com/Kaleidoscope/en/131Kaleidoscope294.html

Tea with Milk and Sugar

Tea has been consumed with milk and sugar for centuries, so why did we get in the habit of doing this? In trying to find and answer to this question, I turned to the British as they are well known for adding milk and sugar to tea.

Economics of Tea with Milk

Rail car for hauling milk with "Express Dairy - Milk for London" written on it.

Milk Wagon, By David Merrett from Daventry, England (6 Wheeled Milk Wagon) [CC BY 2.0]

Tea was extremely expensive in Britain when it was first introduced to the public in the mid-1600’s and remained that way for more than a century. In 1785 the duty on tea was slashed by the government because local tea merchants saw profits drop as people purchased tea on the black market. From its first days of import, the British government had a very high tax on tea that made it too expensive for most of the country. At first the tax was levied on the beverage itself, the coffee house would make it in the morning, pay the tax collector and then sell it throughout the day. So the customer buying the tea in the afternoon was getting a beverage that was brewed that morning and then reheated. Tea oxidizes once brewed, so that afternoon cup was dark and bitter. Thus began the use of sugar in the tea.

Loose leaf tea was also available to purchase at the time, but again, was taxed heavily so the buyers were only the wealthy. Wealthy women enjoyed tea at home, as it was not considered appropriate for a woman to spend time in the local coffee house. This paved the way for the afternoon tea party and high demand for fine porcelain cups. Porcelain originally came from China, hence why Europeans and Americans refer to porcelain plates and cups as fine china. The first porcelain cups produced in England where made in 1742 after the British got hold of the instructions on how to make porcelain that were written by a French Jesuit Father Francois Zavier d’Entrecolles about the techniques he saw porcelain producers using in China use to craft their wares. Those letters made their way all over Europe and allowed for the creation of porcelain locally, dropping the price of tea cups and fine dishes down to a range that was affordable by more than just the aristocracy. Interestingly, there was a time when it was believed that milk was added to the tea cup to protect it from the boiling tea water because the cups had a nasty habit of cracking if boiling water was poured directly on the cup. (A true porcelain cup would never crack when boiling water was put it in). It is quite possible that a cracking tea cup was a problem at the time. Porcelain made locally was a soft paste porcelain, meaning it was fired at a lower temperature than the Chinese porcelain. If it was made to look as thin as the Chinese porcelain, which would have been what was demanded at the time, boiling water would have cracked the tea cup. It took the British some time before they perfected true porcelain in the late 1700’s, and even then those who perfected it kept it a secret as they had the advantage of matching the Chinese in quality allowing them higher prices in the market. So milk protected the low quality porcelain tea cup.

Fine China (Porcelain) of the Qing Dynasty

Qing export porcelain with European Christian scene 1725 1735 by World Imaging CC BY-SA 3.0

There is a second story to the introduction of milk to tea. A Dutch merchant by the name of  Jean Nieuhoff wrote of his dinner with the Chinese Emperor, as part of a Dutch delegation in 1655, where he was served tea with milk. Given that this would have been the time of the Qing Dynasty, which came from northern China, this is not a surprise. Northern Chinese, at the time, herded goats and where frequent consumers of yogurt, cheese and milk from these animals. Unlike most of the Chinese,who did not consume dairy products, the Emperor would have been raised on goat’s milk. So this presentation, while not commonly seen in China at the time, would have been common place for the Emperor. The writings of Mr. Nieuhoff made their way through the Netherlands, France and England exposing more people to the idea of drinking tea with milk. This would have presented a fabulous idea on how to stretch your tea longer and hide counterfeit tea (a very big problem at the time) – just add milk.

Tea with Milk

So if you are in the habit of drinking milk with your tea, you should probably know that the British have actually studied this and recommend that you will minimize the possibility of curdling the milk and altering the taste of the tea if you add it after pouring the tea into the cup. Now with that said, some of the best tea with milk that I have had is a traditional Masala Chai tea from India, which is made by boiling the tea leaves in a combination of milk and water. So at the end of the day, it is all in personal preference.

English Breakfast Tea

There are a number of teas that might be considered staples today including Masala Chai, Lapsang Souchong or Earl Grey tea. One of the best known of these “staple” teas is English Breakfast Tea, a bold, eye opening tea that many turn to for that first cup of the morning. However, English Breakfast Tea isn’t a consistent blend and has somewhat cloudy history like many other tea.

English Breakfast Tea History

Wall Street Between 1870 and 1887

English Breakfast Tea was rumored to have been “invented” near Wall St in the 1800’s. [by George Bradford Brainard – Public Domain]

One of the reasons we love tea is the wealth of stories around tea and English Breakfast is included in this. Many websites will have you believe that English Breakfast Tea never even existed in England until it was brought over from the US after being “invented” by Richard Davies in New York City in 1843. Most of these websites cite a fascinating story in the “Journal of Commerce” as the source for this. Unfortunately, finding the source material for this has proven elusive and the nearest we could find was a reference to the same story in the Daily Alta California from February 1876. It too cites the “Journal of Commerce” though no date of publish, issue number, or other means to track it down. Partial collections of the New York Journal of Commerce are squirreled away in the rare book stacks around the country and if that weren’t bad enough there were “Journal of Commerce” periodicals in many cities across the US and Canada making it possible that the source came from another journal entirely.

From another corner of commerce in the 1800’s comes Robert M. Walsh, author of Tea, It’s History & Mystery, Tea Blending as a Fine Art, and A Cup of Tea. The last of these publications, circa 1884, suggests that English Breakfast was really Chinese Bohea tea; an oolong or black tea produced in the Bohea hills of northern Fujian Province in China. He speaks of Bohea tea as  “a distinct variety, differing in color, liquor, and flavor from the Oolong species, and known to trade in this country [United States] as “English Breakfast” tea, from its forming the staple shipment to England.”

Then there is the Anhui Tourism Administration which states that Keemun was produced by a failed civil servant who sought to bring black tea manufacturing from Fujian to Anhui which had previously only produced green tea. According to the website the result was so good that it quickly gained popularity in England and became the prominent base to English Breakfast Tea.

We are great believers that the truth to most stories is likely somewhere in between. In this case it is likely that what we know as English Breakfast was already enjoyed elsewhere before it was “invented” and marketed to an eager consumer.

English Breakfast Tea Blends

English Breakfast Tea Loose Leaf and Liquor

English Breakfast Tea by Dominion Tea

Today English Breakfast Tea is typically a blend of black teas from Assam, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Although this is not a hard and fast rule with many including a Chinese Keemun or other black tea instead. The selection of teas used to make English Breakfast are chosen for the qualities they offer to color, flavor, aroma, and mouth feel.  Even if the same teas are used, the ratio of each are bound to be different. The ratio may even be changed from batch to batch to account for subtle differences in one or more of the ingredients. Since tea is an agricultural product the “same” product from the same vendor will have different qualities from year to year.  Each blender chooses the combination that gives just the right taste that they have in mind and which they believe will best meet the needs of their customers. Thus, blends vary widely and will almost certainly be different from company to company.  So no matter what the blend, if a smooth black tea sounds appealing in the morning, reach for some English Breakfast.


Sources Cited
Daily Alta California, Volume 28, Number 9436, 5 February 1876, Page 4, http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18760205.2.38#

Types of teas in Anhui Province, Qimen Black (Keemun) Tea, China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/m/anhui/travel/2010-04/29/content_9791685_2.htm

A Cup of Tea, by Joseph M. Walsh, 1884, pg 108-109, https://archive.org/stream/cu31924023998184#page/n113/mode/2up