Friday, October 24, 2014

A Few Fave Flavored Teas For Fall

Because I'm an alliteration addict, but I digress...

Now that the weather's finally cooling down, I can regularly embrace steeping teas on a regular basis. And although I do enjoy a clean cup of sencha or a robust Darjeeling, lately I have been exploring flavored teas. No, I'm not talking about something that smells like a Bath & Body Works (I'm looking at you, Teavana!) but ones that are more nuanced and delicate, working with the tea leaves natural aromas & flavors rather than trying to mask it.

And here are a few of my favorites for varying moods & occasions:

Something fruity: Thé des Alizés from Palais des Thes'

This Parisian tea company was the one that began my intrigue (& eventual embrace) of flavored teas, back when they were used for Jin Patisserie's afternoon tea service. While it's hard to pick a favorite flavored tea from this company, I'm particularly enamored with this one because the lush, juicy notes of peaches, kiwi & watermelon plays so nicely with the delicately sweet-grassy notes of the green tea. And it's great one to have year-round, since it works amazingly well as an iced tea too!

Something floral: La Vie en Rose from American Tea Room
While this tea shop has a floral-centric signature American Beauty blend (which combines white tea with roses, jasmine, lavender and mint), I prefer the singular, more focused aroma and flavor of this one, which smells wonderfully fragrant without being perfumey. Combine that with its mildly fruity taste and a clean finish and you got a tea that's incredibly easy to drink (another great choice for iced tea).

Something sweet: White Coconut Crème from Art of Tea
This one threw me for a doozy, since it smells so rich & creamy (think coconut flan or panna cotta) but actually tastes rather light. And unlike most other coconut-scented things, I love the restraint in this tea, resulting in a just noticeable enough aroma and not bonking you over the head with the actual fruit. Another great perk: it's great for those watching their sugar/calorie intake, since it smells sweet & when steeped properly, this tea is not astringent at all, so you can easily drink this as is without the need for sugar & milk. (Lastly, the loose leaves are so pretty thanks to the cornflowers & safflowers blended in.)

Something spicy: Reena's Chai from Chado Tea Room
Of course, I can't really talk about flavored teas without mentioning the oldest & most traditional of them all: masala chais whose history dates back a few millenia ago. Like all spice blended things, everyone has their own favorite ingredients & proportions; for masala chai, Reena's is my consistent favorite since the bold sweet spices (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla) hold its own against the robust black tea leaves and stand out even after mixing in sugar and milk. With its spicy aromas, this is great with desserts or even just after a meal (especially for those who don't do coffee.) For the caffeine-sensitive, Chado also offers a herbal version of this blend too!

Something seasonal: Winter Dream Tea from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
One blend that I look forward to every year as the days get shorter and (slightly) chillier. This spice-infused black & rooibos blend is all sorts of comforting (especially in the form of a slightly sweetened latté), with gentle notes of sweet spices and rich mouthfeel, as if your tongue & tastebuds are being covered by a liquid security blanket. Thinking about this makes me wish the the pumpkin spice mania is over all the sooner so that this can debut!

Of course, tea purists will probably scoff at all this adulteration (hopefully they realize some of the classics - like Earl Grey - are flavored teas too!) but if you're open to a little flavor beyond sweeteners & milk in your tea, hope you'll give these a try … and share some of your favorites too!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Recipe: Peachy-Basil Sangria

Summer may be rolling to a (too fast) end, but there's still Labor Day weekend & plenty of warm days ahead.
Peachy-Basil Sangria
And per my summer potluck/party tradition, that also means it's sangria time! And this year's version might be my favorite yet, since it goes down so easy but has a few touches to keep the flavors interesting. On top of lusciously sweet & fragrant peaches, I've also added a hearty helping of refreshing aromatic basil and a pinch of sweet spices. Then the batched syrup is spiked with a nice slug of gold rum and ready to be combined with some crisp white wine & served when needed.

Peachy-Basil Sangria (for 2 pitchers' worth, approx. 10 to 16 servings)

Ingredients:

3 ripe medium peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced (alternatively, a 12 oz. bag of frozen peaches)
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 handful of fresh sweet basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
3/4 cup gold rum (I used Mount Gay Eclipse)
2 bottles of light and crisp white wine (I used Flip Flop's pinot grigio)
Ice cubes
1 medium ripe nectarine, for garnish (optional - and I only opted for the nectarine because I don't care for peaches' fuzzy skin)
Virgin option: Omit the rum, swap white wine for dry ginger ale.

Directions:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, peaches, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Allow it cool on stovetop for 10 minutes afterwards.
2. Place the mixture in a blender along with the fresh basil leaves, then pulse blend until the leaves are pulverized and incorporated. Then add rum to the mixture. The color/appearance will be a bit unseemly but this will improve when combined with the wine. (This mixture can also be stored up to three days in a fridge.)
3. In a pitcher, combine the wine & syrup in a 2:1 ratio and give it a quick stir, garnish with additional basil leaves and nectarine slices. Serve over ice.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fun Facts Learned During California Avocado Grove Tour

Since Cinco de Mayo is one of the highest avocado-consuming days of the year, I figured its timely to post about my California Avocado tour in the Temecula Valley. And even though my love & familiarity with this buttery fruit spanned decades, I was surprised by the number of things I learned during this one-day outing.
avocado on trees
Our first stop was Persea Tree Nursery in Fallbrook, a nursery & greenhouse facility that grows, grafts and sells avocado rootstocks to groves and orchards. 
Avocado Nursery
As we toured through the facility, including an "avocado dark room" & swelteringly hot greenhouse (the humidity helps these young plants — which are native to the tropics — thrive,) I picked up on these fascinating tidbits:
  • a single avocado pit can supply enough energy to start up to 6-7 plants.
  • when properly cared for, a tree can start producing edible fruit in 2 years.
  • when stressed, the trees have a tendency to bear fruit on alternate years - resulting in a cycle of high & low yields (and consequently, prices in the market.)
  • 95 percent of avocados produced in California are of the Hass variety (I knew they are the most popular, but wasn't aware of how big a majority they made up; meanwhile, I'm crossing my fingers for the giant, round Reeds - my favorite varietal - to take up more of the market share & be more readily available.)