Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Masala Chai

This is absolutely one of my favourite  ways to have tea. Masala Chai is absolutely gorgeous. It has this wonderful creamy texture mixed with the warming glow of spices.What is so great about this class of tea is that it can be different every time you drink it. Traditionally there is no fixed recipe  and you can adjust it to suit your tastes. It is made up of a few basic components that are easy to find in your local supermarket. All you need is a black tea (such as Assam or Ceylon), milk, a sweetener of some kind  and warm spices such as cinnamon cardamon & ginger. 

The milk is usually full fat to add creaminess however you can use lower fat milk. Sometimes condensed milk is used to act as a sweetener. The sugar can be any kind including brown, white, honey, syrup. While sugar can be left out some spices work better with it.Spices such as cloves and nutmeg can also be added. Allspice is also a nice shortcut and works well. This is definably one where there is no set rules to the combinations and flavors you add. 

The method of preparing it is also different everywhere you go but a good rule of thumb is that you need to release the tannin in the tea. You must boil or simmer the ingredients together  for a while but also you need to be careful not to burn the milk. The solid tea and spice residues are strained off  before serving. 

There are so many recipes out there for chai it is difficult to choose only one so I have decided to give you a good link to a chai recipe website which has a recipe to suit all tastes and will  help you to get started with preparing this delicious drink the way you like it. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Greek Mountain Tea

My friends at the office introduced me to Greek mountain tea the other day and I have to say I was well impressed. The tea had a very pleasing flavour with a satisfying body and with a bit of honey added it was a warming and very refreshing drink. 

Greek mountain tea is made  using the dried leaves and flowers of Sideritis plants (ironwort). and according to about.com  is aptly named as the plant is to be found on rocky slopes at elevations over 3,200 feet (1000 meters).  Serving suggestions given include serving  Mountain Tea at breakfast or before retiring at night, with  (black) olives, feta cheese, and crusty bread.

It is also believed to have medicinal proprieties and it  is said to have a positive effect on almost any ailment. It is used for colds, respiratory problems, digestion, the immune system, and even for mild anxiety. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce fever. 

According to the wiki on Greek mountain tea, scientific studies carried out mainly in countries where the plant is native suggest that there is a high degree of truth to claims of its  healing properties. Sideritis is known scientifically to be anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and as an anti-oxidant. Active elements include diterpenoids flavonoids, and its essential oils.

It may be worth checking out your local pharmacy or speciality tea shop as they may stock some. You can also find it online from Mountain Tea for 9€ per 100gr. This site also provides a nice video on how to prepare the tea. Or it can be found at amazon.co.uk 
An all round tea that boosts your health-this is definately one to try. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Selling Tea to China

I spotted an interesting news story the other day - a Scottish businesswoman, Anita Crook, has managed to sell tea to China.

This makes me very curious about Ms. Crook's business, Jenier World of Teas. They stock an excellent mix of black, herbal, fruit, oolong, white and green teas, as well as rooibos and flowering teas. But even so, how did they manage to sell tea to China?

Anita Crook says “Never in my life did I think I would be selling tea to China. It is known around the world as the place from where the first cuppa originated – the home of tea, if you will [ . . . ] But I was told by this company that they like the aromatised type and struggle to get the kind of higher quality flavoured tea I stock in their own country.”

Jenier World of Teas has only been in business for three years and they have already achieved the impossible! Prior to starting her business, anita Crook was a plain-clothes investigator for Customs & Excise in the UK. I'd say she would be an interesting person to chat to over a cup of tea!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Emigration, Care Packages & Irish Tea

Seeing as how this weekend is the weekend it is. I figured it would be important to do homage to my home  & to the tea I drink the most. The stuff I love! The stuff of lazy afternoons reading good books or chatting with friends. The black stuff that isn't Guinness. In short this post pays homage to strong black Irish Tea.

Imagine my delight this week when I arrived home to find a large brown envelope :) sitting outside my door.  It contained the essentials for survival as an Irish person abroad; a tin of Cadbury's hot chocolate with a bag of marshmallows on the side, a small gift  and most importantly a box of Barry's tea. 

Now I have lived abroad before and have learned the all important American  term "Care Package". Interestingly enough according to Wikipedia  CARE package  was the original unit of aid distributed by the humanitarian organization CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere).  This has since become know to me as a way to send someone something from home that they are missing in order to ease any of the following; a serious bout of homesickness, cravings for sweets you haven't eaten since you were a child and an uncontrollable desire to read  anything written in your native language that wasn't bought from or isn't available on the Internet. 

Also I have received Care Packages from friends I have met abroad when I had returned home. Most of my really nice green tea has come to me via a good friend of mine still living in Japan. This is doubly awesome as it reinforces a nostalgia for all the new & wonderful experiences you had in a country different to your own.  

However there is a difference of course between leaving to live abroad in a country because you want to experience a new culture & emigrating. Ireland is a country that has suffered way too much from emigration. It is a terribly sad fact of Irish history that a large proportion of its people now live abroad. The history of the  Irish abroad is fascinating & way too long a story to go into fully here but in a nutshell it has defined what it means to be Irish in many ways. 

I remember as a child writing essays on emigration. When the Celtic Tiger got into full swing I was still in secondary school & college, watching the essay topics change to immigration. Sadly those essays on emigration came in handy in the end. 

Nowadays Emigration is not the death sentence it was as regards your connection to your home. Phones, email, cheap plane flights and the internet have made it easier then ever to stay in touch. Plus I think in my case anyway I definately think I will return home. Still nothing beats a care package & mine would not be complete without a box of Barry's.
So here is the run down of two of the Irish teas described by the Irish Times this week.

There are two main rivals in the market as regards tea in Ireland and they are of course Barry's Tea & Lyon's Tea. Most people stick by one or the other but I personally like them both. Both are blended black teas. Both have a wonderful golden colour when brewed correctly & both have a strong flavour. They are what I reach for when I want to function in the morning. According to the Irish Times &  Barry's website the teas used in their blend come from the Assam Valley of India, Kenya and Rwanda. According to their website, Lyon's teas are "grown in plantations all over the world, in countries like Kenya & Indonesia". 

Both companies were founded at the turn of the last century, one in Cork & one in Dublin. By their own reckoning Barry's has cornered about  40% of all tea sales in Ireland with the Irish market being worth about  €78 million (not bad for a country of approx 4million). In short Irish people drink a hell of a lot of tea so if you really want to do something Irish on Paddy's day enjoy a nice cuppa inbetween your whiskeys :P 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Green Tea & Weight Loss

So as regards those words of wisdom promised; in this short post I will start small. One of the key pieces of advice I've read time & time again is to be sure that you are properly hydrated.

Water is of course the first response in staying hydrated, particularly on the run.  However if drinking the prerequisite liter of water just isn’t floating your boat  :P then one very nice alternative is green tea. The joy of it is that you can mix it up by using other ingredients with  a good green tea as a base. This allows you to meet one of the other hard and fast rules of dieting and that is to keep variety in your food and to keep adding different  flavours. In my case anyway, boredom is always death to a diet.

How tea aids weight loss is a question I am going to explore throughout this blog. This involves a fair bit of research so I will work through it, as well as providing my own tips and  inviting you to share yours.  If there is anything in particular you want me to look up, just give me a shout.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami Anniversary Events

This time last year I was at the airport preparing to board a plane to Seattle to attend the wedding of two good friends of mine who I had met during my year teaching English in Japan.  While I was in Seattle the terrible news of the Japanese Tsunami broke and my heart did several flip flops. I was so glad that the majority of my friends based in Japan were in Seattle for the wedding and safe. I was also relieved that the Tsunami did not directly hit the area I had lived in. However I was also horrified by the destruction I saw. One of the reasons this blog exists is because of my stay in Japan and I want to dedicate this post to events that are taking place this weekend in Ireland to  mark the one year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan on 11th March, 2011. 
 This information can be found on the Irish JET Alumni Association IJETAA website

Plum Blossom Tsunami Anniversary Concert
The proceeds from the event will go through Aid Japan for Children to the Midori no Tohoku Genki Programme to support emotionally scarred young survivors of the disaster.

Date: Sunday 11 March 2012
Time: 3.30pm
Venue: Pepper Canister (St. Stephen’s) Church, Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2 (www.peppercanister.ie/)
Tickets: €24 (€20 per ticket for groups of 20 or more) from www.ticketmaster.ie  or contact /087 191 2571    

The concert will feature soprano Mari Moriya, counter-tenor Daichi Fujiki, and Takeshi Moriuchi on piano.  For further information see http://www.plumblossomconcert.com/

Handel’s Messiah
A performance of Handel’s Messiah by the all-female Toyo Eiwa Jogakuin Choir from Japan, in aid of the relief effort in the areas of northern Japan devastated by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

This event is presented by Music & Cultural Exchange Center International, Inc., a Japanese organisation dedicated to bringing Japanese music to the world stage.

Date: Sunday, 11 March 2012
Time: 8.00pm (doors 7.30pm)
Venue: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Patrick’s Close, Dublin 8 (www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/index.aspx)
Admission: free of charge, donation boxes will be available at the venue
Information: emily@DHR.ie / 01 420 0580

The choir will be conducted by acclaimed Japanese conductor Hideyuki Tsuji, with solo performances by soprano Eri Nakamura and bass Yasunori Okumura.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tea Drinking and Tradition

When picturing the tradition of tea drinking outside of the realms of the kitchen table my imagination leaps to a very prominent cuppa that serves a very important function. I imagine the golden colored liquid inside the Queen of England’s teacup on a sunny afternoon in London. Here in my mind it is also best to picture a crumpet or two, maybe even a scone.  It may seem odd that there is a cup of tea involved when the Queen of England wants to have a chat with someone interesting, why not just meet without this ritual. I’m sure there was tea at the hotel. What does a tea cup sitting in the hands of every Head of State who visit the Queen say about the Queen, her intentions, the visiting Head of State and the meaning of offering someone a cup of tea? 

One surprising place you would expect to find a tea cup is in the hands of a Japanese samurai solider about to do his duty on the battle field. The Japanese tea ceremony is steeped in tradition (no pun intended I swear!) and it is not a delicate one. It is the calm before the storm. The Japanese warrior drank tea with his fellows before heading into battle and the precise movements and etiquette of this highly ritualized process would perhaps help them focus their thoughts and calm their minds. 

A pause and a reflection, something to do with your hands, a way to emphasis or hide a smile, a step back; a tea cup in the hand provide these opportunities. It is the recognition of a peace, something to calm the mind to allow for clear thinking but not so awakening that we get second thoughts, a comfortable ritual that allows us to feel like we belong. You can image that a warrior about to die for his state/lord/country would be in great need of something to calm his nerves, give him pause for contemplating his place in the universe and bind him to the fellow sitting next to him.In short tea drinking is a subtle ritual that has a calming influence that reinforces your place in the group, and locks you in. We use this bonding mechanism every time we offer a cup of tea. The Queen offers a gesture of friendship on behalf of the State through agreeing to have a cup of tea with another head of State.What role does Tea have in your preparations for battle?


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Talking Tea Introduction

Where to begin with tea?  Tea is such a broad topic. There are so many things I can write about. And the topics range from the informative and factual to the emotional, and mythical. I suppose a good place to start is with an introduction.

Tea in my family is strong and black with milk and sugar added to taste. It is a cure-all found in an old teapot, burned to black on the outside and stained brown on the inside.  It is the gossip, the craic, the scandal and the comfort.  A not so ancient tradition, less an art, more a necessity.
 In past letters to the new world one would describe ones wealth and wellbeing in terms of having enough tobacco for your pipe and enough tea for a brew.  

The tea making in my family conjures up images of mother, grandmother, aunts and guest. This was the war cabinet of the elders, brew in hand, dealing judgment.
The War cries: “she did not” ; “If I was in your shoes” and “shocking”. The rallying call: “sure what about it”; “don’t worry about what anyone else thinks” and  “it will all work out for the best in the end”.
Which brings me to the title & first topic of this blog "talking tea" the idea is to share knowledge & words of wisdom  about tea or indeed words of wisdom you have recieved over a good cup of tea.  How do you best like your tea and when? Who is the person you always like to met for a cup of tea and a chat and what are the favourite topics of conversation? It's time for a cup of tea, a biscuit and a chat.