Archive for the ‘Tea’ Category

Time for Tea with Helen @FussFreeFlavours

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The lovely Helen from Fuss Free Flavours imparts her tea habits and desires in this month’s Time for Tea blog spot.

 

HBS Profile Phoho

1.      What is your favourite tea to set you up for the day first thing in the morning?

I am an afternoon tea type of person – I drink coffee in the morning – but occasionally I’ll have a coconut, banana and matcha smoothie for breakfast.

2. What is your favourite tea to relax you in the afternoon?

It depends – I always drink my tea without milk and usually choose something light – Japanese, Chinese greens and whites.  I always use my Emma Bridgewater teapot, silver tea strainer and use a china mug.

3. What do you like best about Steenbergs teas?

The variety and quality! And that I know that they are organic and FairTrade, or traded fairly

4. Which Steenbergs tea would you most like to try and why?

Steenbergs white tea stars – part of the Steenbergs flowering tea.

The white tea stars – they look adorable – or any of the flowering teas.

5. Who would you most like to have a cup of tea with and why?

Skye Gyngell - who is my favourite chef and writer by far.  I had the most amazing meal at Petersham Nurseries about 6 years ago and can still clearly remember her amazing salt cod.  Her flavour combinations are wonderful, I want to cook everything from her cookbooks.

For more of Helen foodie news, you can contact her via:

Website:  fussfreeflavours.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fussfreeflavours

Twitter:   @fussfreehelen

Instagram:  fussfreeflavours

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/fussfreeflavour/

Steenbergs Tea Taster Panel

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

SPICE – SEASON – SAVOUR

 

Welcome back to our tea taster panel, where this time our resident testers have been trying out some interesting teas: Gunpowder and Green Earl Grey.   We’ve had a great response and thought we’d share some of their thoughts and ideas with you. 

Steenbergs organic Gunpowder Tea

A new tea for many of our tasters, who seem to prefer it medium strength with only a couple of you needing to add a little sweetness with honey or a slice of lemon.  This versatile tea was drunk at all times of the day and interestingly, a good few of you chose to drink this after dinner in the evening.  Reminiscent of folk or classical music for many, but with some Chinese opera thrown in!

 

Steenbergs organic gunpowder tea – loose leaf Chinese Green tea

 

Key Phrases for Gunpowder: light, refreshing, easy to drink

 

Steenbergs organic gunpowder Chinese green tea.

Steenbergs organic gunpowder Chinese green tea.

2. Steenbergs organic Green Earl Grey

Steenbergs organic Green Earl Grey Tea – loose leaf

The majority of our tasters really enjoyed this alternative take on a classic earl grey and enjoyed it for its fresh, floral and aromatic flavours.  No milk, lemon or honey was needed at all but more of you ate it with food – albeit a biscuit or some cake! The strength varied considerably as people brewed it according to their liking, with variations from high to low.  Many of you enjoyed this during the morning and found it a cosy homely drink to be enjoyed with family and friends.  Maybe a more upbeat kind of tea than the gunpowder though, as a few of you instinctively chose Reggae music, along with the classical and folk genres.

Key Phrases for Green Earl Grey: fresh, floral, aromatic, delicate, lovely smell

Steenbergs has a wide range of loose leaf speciality teas, a whole range of green teas, blends, single estate teas, chais and herbal teas. Have a browse and let us know your favourites.

Time for Tea – our new regular chat with someone who cares about tea

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Food, fashion and beauty blogger Becca shares her top tips for a tea-filled day

http://rebeccacraft.com/

Becca

1. What is your favourite tea to set you up for the day first thing in the morning?
My favourite tea for the morning is definitely green tea. I like it nice and strong and more to the point, bitter! This helps me come round nicely from a sleepy slumber and makes me feel a whole lot more revitalised, ready to get on with the day ahead.
2. What is your favourite tea to relax you in the afternoon?
My afternoon tea would definitely be peppermint. The vibrant, fresh taste of this drink helps refresh my palette after lunch. Having said that it goes really well with ginger biscuits. If you haven’t tried this combination before then you really should. You are missing out!
3. What do you like best about Steenbergs teas?
If someone was looking for a wide and all-encompassing selection of teas I would point them in the direction of Steenbergs. I love that you can spend hours getting lost in the herbal tea world online. I also always like to buy organic or fairtrade when I can so this gives the shop brownie points in my eyes.
4. Which Steenbergs tea would you most like to try and why?
I am yet to try 3 Flower Burst Tea; it looks truly mesmerising in the see-through glass teapot so that is on my ‘to try’ list.

Steenbergs 3 flower burst tea.

Steenbergs 3 Flower burst tea makes a dramatic statement as well as a refreshing pot of tea

I would also like to try the Japanese green tea, Bancha.

Loose Leaf green tea

Steenbergs Bancha Japanese green tea

5. Who would you most like to have a cup of tea with and why?
Who would I most like to have tea with? I pondered on this question for a while but I came to the conclusion that it would have to be someone I could have fun with over a cuppa! Bearing this in mind it would be comedian Russell Brand who I am sure would have plenty of stories as well as views to share. Hopefully the tea wouldn’t get too cold…

http://rebeccacraft.com/

http://rebeccacraft.com/

Rebecca’s Rambles
Becca’s Beauty Blogging
Twitter: @bexybex74
Instagram: bexybex74
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Looking back over the past 10 years … part 1

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Steenbergs began life in the late autumn of 2003. Our youngest child had just had her first birthday and wasn’t walking on her own. Steenbergs has now been going for around 10 years (our 2 children are nearly taller than Sophie) so we thought it was time to take a trip down memory lane.

We’ve grown from just Axel and Sophie rattling around in an empty starter unit, designed for food start ups, with occasional (very occasional orders) coming in, to 11 Steenbergs staff, most working in production and dispatch. We’ve moved just once in 10 years, around the corner, into a bigger space but on the same business park.

When we first started a pallet of jars lasted us about 6 months, now it can last us 2 days.

We’ve survived a flood, freezing weather (down to -18 degrees), worn out a fork lift, gone through 1000s of pallets, have more trolleys than we ever thought possible, have made a few tweaks of label styles, gone through 3 very different style of tea tins, and are onto our third version of hot chocolate tins. (We’ve also had to incorporate one major Fairtrade logo change and the new organic logo change.) Meanwhile the glass jars we chose right at the beginning for our main range are still very much the core of Steenbergs.

Oh and you still find Axel or Sophie filling jars, labelling jars, packing teas, making up gift boxes and boxing up orders quite a lot of the time.

Steenbergs old style packaging

Steenbergs old style circa 2005

 

Two of our Steenbergs 11 staff have been with us for over 9 years, one of these – Claire – was our second ever employee and we are delighted that both she and Aga have stayed with us and seen Steenbergs through many changes.

Many of our suppliers have remained the same from those early years. Our first ever organic import was from Lanka Organics/Greenfields and we still work with them importing many of our Fairtrade spices from them. We still buy our jars and lids from Croxsons and use the same designers for our leaflets – Colour It In. We like to work in partnership with our suppliers – growing with them and developing a close relationship with over the years.

The original design of Steenbergs products was created by dear friend Alison Balmer and the core range has only undergone tweaks since then.

Some suppliers have taken longer to find but it’s how they help us and have come to our aid when we needed them that is at the heart of our relationship with all of them. Norpak in Bradford deserve a big mention for helping not only with labels but making our label printers work…..

Although our spice packaging has only had a few tweaks over the years, tea has been an area that has seen more design changes than anywhere else, the photo above has the first tin, then we moved to a square silver tin.

Mark II for tea at Steenbergs

Organic chamomile loose leaf tea shows the second version of our tea tin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steenbergs tea begins to take on it's own identity

Steenbergs tea begins to take on it’s own identity

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steenbergs vanilla extract when it was still part of the main range

Version 1 of Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract

 

 

 

 

Tea wasn’t the only thing that underwent a radical overhaul. Vanilla extract – organic & Fairtrade – started life as something we had created for chocolate manufacturers, it was only later that it became part of the core range of home baking extracts and flower waters that you all know and love. We found a photo of the original packaging, when it was still part of the Steenbergs blue and white range, before it went pink…

We’ve now introduced some machines to help us build the business. Originally everything was hand packed and hand labelled. Our first exciting machine was the labelling machine. We still have a lot of hand finishing – the heat seal labels, the top labels, the translation labels. Our gift boxes arrive flat pack and are built up and created here so we still lovingly finish off all our products, but we do have some machines to help us along the way.

Sophie and Axel are still very much involved, with Axel overseeing production and blending and Sophie more involved in marketing and orders. Although both of them will physically get stuck in and help where needed. As a small company we can’t really cope with narrowly defined job roles, everyone lends a hand wherever and whenever needed – teamwork is crucial.

Along the way we have worked with some lovely enthusiastic people and those who have been the most enthusiastic are still close to our business.

Steenbergs labelling machine the first machine to help us.

The labelling machine has been wonderful. It doesn’t do everything we still heat seal and put the top labels on by hand (and translation labels where necessary)

 

 

 

Sophie and Axel 10 years ago starting out with the business.

Sophie and Axel 10 years ago starting out with the business.

Steenbergs hand packing.

Originally, everything at Steenbergs was packed by hand. We still do pack some things by hand, but we also can use a machine for quite a few of them, although some things like bay leaves and cinnamon quills will always remain by hand. (One of this merry crew is still with us although in a different role, in dispatch).

Steenbergs New Taster Panels Report – Tea Tasting 1

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Welcome to Steenbergs Tea Taster Panel’s first review of some of our teas!  Back in October 2013, we asked all of our lovely customers if any of you would like to be tea and spice tasters for us and luckily lots of you agreed! Thank you so much to all of you who have kindly spiced, seasoned and savoured for us, so that we can help improve our products and ultimately give you all more of what you would like to see from Steenbergs.

 

Tea Tastings

We started our Tea Tasting Panel with two very different flavour teas: Steenbergs organic Green Tea with Lemon Verbena and Gingerand Steenbergs organic Gingerbread Chai, to see whether indeed there was a difference in where, when and how you liked to drink them (and who with!), and if you had any comments for us.  We also asked you to say which music genre the product made you think of – just to spice things up!

 

1. Green Tea with Lemon Verbena & Ginger

Many of you found this tea to be a subtle blend with a fresh taste and a bit of a zing.  However a few of you did comment on the need for more ginger or lemon and that maybe it was a little bitter or a bit too subtle. With this fresh blend, all of you decided to drink it with no added milk or sugar and only one of you added lemon. 62% of you chose to enjoy the tea without food, although biscuits were a favourite option.  There was a pretty even split between morning, afternoon and evening drinking so you obviously found it to be a versatile tea.  Many of you imagined enjoying this, relaxing with family and friends at home (although George Clooney and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall did get a mention) and by the sounds of it, chilling out to some classical or folk tunes (with a bit of hippy psychedelic music thrown in!).

Steenbergs refreshing blend of organic green tea with lemon verbena and ginger

Steenbergs organic green tea with lemon verbena and ginger loose leaf tea in a tea caddy.

 

What people think about Steenbergs organic green tea with lemon verbena and ginger

What people think about Steenbergs organic green tea with lemon verbena and ginger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key Phrases for Green Tea with Lemon Verbena and Ginger:

‘Lovely subtle verbena and ginger flavour’; ‘Dry with a zing’; ‘clean, refreshing’; ‘subtle, satisfying delicate taste of green tea ending in a lemon zing;’ light & fresh’

 

2. Gingerbread Chai

Whereas many of our tasters found the Green Tea blend refreshing, their second tea conjured up something totally different.  According to the panel, Steenbergs organic Gingerbread Chai is a spicy, warming blend, redolent of wintery evenings and Christmas and full of the flavours of ginger, cinnamon & cloves.  It was much stronger for many of you and this time 30% decided to add milk, although there were still very few who sweetened or added lemon.  60% opted to enjoy without food, but when you did, mince pies or biscuits were the chosen indulgence.  There was a really even split between morning and evening drinking, with many of you looking to enjoy it during the festive season to ward of the winter chills.  Being an authentic chai blend, some of you thought nostalgically about homemade masala chai, whilst others pondered wistfully about dinner in Mumbai or a boat on the Ganges.  The Indian influences were definitely carried through to the musical choices, although folk, rock, reggae and Christmas songs also featured – definitely an eclectic mix!

Chai tea mix

Steenbergs organic gingerbread chait tea loose leaf

organic gingerbread chai tea loose leaf

organic gingerbread chai tea loose leaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key Phrases for Gingerbread Chai:

‘Very pleasant & refreshing’; ‘warm & unique’; ‘spicy but not overpowering’; ‘An authentic masala chai’; ‘warming with a touch of spice’; ‘spicy, soothing, tasty’; ‘A warm aromatic blend with mild spicy hints’; ‘warm, comforting & easy’

 

 If you have an opinion on either of these teas that you’d like to share. Please feel free to comment at the bottom of this post.

 

A Truly British Cup Of Tea

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Taking all the information in my previous blog, here is my stab at how to make a cracking cup of tea:

1.  Fill the kettle with freshly-drawn cold water which is well mixed with oxygen (boiled water has lost much of oxygen). Oxygen is vital to bring out the taste and aroma.  When drawing from the tap, let the water run a bit first, so you do not get the slightly flat and stale water that is hanging around in the tap near the end of the faucet.

2.  Ceramic, china or earthenware teapots are the best for making teas – they keep warmer for longer and do not taint the organic tea.  Never ever bleach the teapot, even though some older books suggest adding bicarbonate of soda.

3.  Fill the tea-pot with boiling water to warm the tea-pot and so prevent the brew from cooling too quickly then pour out as more water comes to the boil and add the tea leaves.  Alternatively, quarter fill the tea pot with water, then place into a microwave and heat at full power for 1 minute, then pour out as the water in the kettle comes to the boil and add the tea leaves.  If you are making a mug of tea, you should warm the mug in the same way as you would warm the teapot; in fact, it is even more important, since mugs usually have no lids so loose heat even more rapidly than a tea-pot with lid.  The art is timing the heating of the teapot with the spooning in of the tea leaves and the pouring over of the freshly boiled water; I tend to premeasure the tea leaves into a ramekin so you can just tip them all in at the right moment rather than hurredly measuring them out at the crucial moment and missing the pot with some of the leaves in the panic.

4.  For a 1136ml or traditional quart-sized tea pot, add 6 heaped teaspoons or 15g (½oz) of loose leaf tea to the pot; this equates to 1 heaped teaspoon per mug plus 1 for the pot, where a quart-sized tea pot does 5 mugs.  For a 225ml mug (i.e. a mug with volume of 1 cup), add a heaped teaspoon or 2.6g to the permanent tea filter.  A teaspoon roughly equates to a teabag, which is usually 2.5 – 3.0g, with the higher average weight compensating for the slowing down of infusion caused by the tea bag filter paper itself.

5.  As for the tea, books and whole businesses are based on getting the right teas for the tea drinker.  In a nutshell, tea leaves are the best, rather than tea bags.  Orthodox teas are better than CTC style teas.  Blended teas, like an English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast, are also great as they provide consistency of general flavour and colour profile, enabling you to leave the problems of blending the appropriate flavours to others with more time on their hands.  However, if you get the chance to blend your own teas, have a crack at it as it is not as hard as most tea businesses will tell you; see my blogs on blending breakfast teas.  I, also, change the leaf size depending on the time of day, so would go for a small leafed blend of 2 – 3mm in the morning, but let the tea leaves increase in size as the day goes on to around 6 – 7mm; this gives me strength and colour in the morning, then more floweriness and flavour as the day progresses and my taste buds are able to understand the subtleties in tea; later in the afternoon, I switch to lighter teas like a Darjeeling, China or Ceylon tea and by late afternoon, I veer towards Darjeeling or green teas.

6.  Fill the kettle with more freshly-drawn cold water, pour away the warm water in tea-pot just as the water is coming to the boil.  Add the tea leaves.  Pour the new water into the pot as it boils, because off-the-boil water makes very dull tea.  At this stage, the water will be in the range of 96 – 98C (205 – 210F).

7.  Give the tea leaves a quick stir with a warmed teaspoon.

8.  Infuse for 3 – 5 minutes.  A quick brew never gets the full flavour from the organic tea leaves, whereas a long brew is astringent.  This part depends a lot on the type of tea leaves you are using as well as your own tea flavour preferences, i.e. I like a stronger brew, but use a tea blend with little astringency in the brew, so can steep for 5 minutes, but others recommend 3 – 4 minutes.  At the end of the brew, the temperature of the infusion should be in the range of 70 – 80C (160 – 175F), and ideally at the top end of the range.

9.  Add 25 – 30ml (1 fl oz) of milk per 225ml  mug (a mug with volume of 1 cup).  Make sure the milk is at room temperature then add it first (not second), because milk does not superheat as much if added at this stage, so keeping the taste and mouth feel of the milk right.  It must be real milk and should at least be semi-skimmed in standard, never homogenised, and if using classic milk, the cream should be poured off the top into a jug to leave the milk below.  Others, for example Tony Benn and George Orwell, say add milk afterwards because you can regulate the amount of milk you add much better that way.  There is no answer to this core disagreement amongst tea drinkers and never the twain shall meet, i.e. it is really just a matter of taste and habit.

10.  Leave to cool until the tea is around 60 – 65C (140 – 150F), then start to drink, but do not slurp as it is uncouth.  Do not leave until the tea becomes too cold, with an upper limit of 17½ minutes, and lower temperature limit of 50C (122F).

11.  Sit back, relax and enjoy!  The best place is where no-one will hassle you and annoy you, so you can have a little bit of peace.

Please note this is my template for making a good old cup of strong black tea and does not work for green or white teas, nor more delicate Darjeelings or oolongs.  Therefore, you should use it as a template and through practise learn how to make your cup of tea, as yours will always be the best, since it will take into account your favourite type of tea, your local water and your own taste preferences.  In other words, there is no perfect way of making tea, but there are some no-nos, and, as in most walks of life, practise makes perfect.

The Perfect Cuppa

Friday, November 18th, 2011

The other day I listened to James May chatting on Radio 5 Live about the new series of Man Lab and in it he discussed the perfect cup of tea. As in everything in life, I agreed with some of what James May said, but disagreed with other parts, for example he suggested using the same water for heating the teapot for reboiling and using to brew the actual tea, but I insist that you should use freshly drawn water for the tea. This is important as you need the best water possible to make an infusion of water. My suggestion is you boil the kettle as there is always old water in the kettle, pour that water into the teapot, then draw some clean, fresh water and boil that; pour out the water from the kettle, add the tea leaves and then pour over the just boiled water. James May’s chat then brought to mind a fun piece of research done by Northumbria University that claimed to have worked out a formula for the perfect cuppa – what a load of bunkum!

And also as anyone who likes The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy knows that: “Tea is considered a delicacy in many parts of the Galaxy. However, the proliferation of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Nutrimatic Machines has made it very hard to get a good cup of tea.” And tea is used to drive the imporbability drive of the Starship the Heart of Gold. So making a good cup of tea is of vital importance to the universe.

But the beauty of tea is that it is personal and how you make tea is best for you, i.e. there is no perfect way to make tea. That having been said there are some no-nos and some better ways of making tea. Then some of us have our foibles, for example I use a tea cosy – now that is seriously unmanly, but I insist it keeps the temperature up high enough to get the best out of your tea leaves. So for what it is worth, I thought I would review some old books and how they told you to make tea, then give you my own version of the perfect cup of tea.

Mrs Beeton On Making Tea (1861)

To quote from Mrs Beeton: “There is very little art in making good tea; if the water is boiling, and there is no sparing of the fragrant leaf, the beverage will almost invariably be good. The old-fashioned plan of allowing a teaspoonful to each person, and one over, is still practised. Warm the teapot with boiling water; let it remain for two or three minutes for the vessel to become thoroughly hot, then pour it away. Put in the tea, pour in from ½ to ¾ pint of boiling water, close the lid, and let it stand for the tea to draw from 5 to 10 minutes then fill up the pot with water. The tea will be quite spoiled unless made with water that is actually boiling, as the leaves will not open, and the flavour will consequently be colourless and tasteless,- in fact, nothing but tepid water.”

Comments: I have tried the Mrs Beeton method and the tea you come out with is strange in that it is much more bitter yet weaker than a good brew I would expect – I guess that the long brew pulls out the astringency in the tea leaves while the final dilution cause the tea to lose some of its body. I reckon this shows the change in our lifestyles as perhaps her recipe was based on making a breakfast tea with China tea leaves, like Kintuck, rather than the stronger Assam based tea blends.

Edward Smith on tea in “Foods” (1873)

Edward Smith writes some 29 pages on tea as a food compared to almost nothing written by food writers nowadays. He suggests for a fine thin tea to “infuse it from ten to fifteen minutes; but if common tea be selected the infusion should not stand more than five to ten minutes. In all cases the pot should be kept quite warm, and covered with a cosy.” This method brews a frighteningly strong tea that is really bitter, so while Mr Smith was regarded as a guru on food, this is a disaster of a way to make tea.

Jospeh M Walsh in “Tea-Blending As A Fine Art” (1896)

“In the proper preparation of Tea for use, therefore, the object should be to extract as little of the tannin as possible and as much theine and volatile oil as can be extracted without permitting the infusion to boil or overdraw.  To best obtain these most desirable results, put the requisite quantity of Tea leaves in a covered china or earthenware pot – all tin and metal vessels should be avoided – and pour in freshly boiling water that has been boiling for at least three minutes, and then allow the vessel to stand where it will keep hot, WITHOUT boiling, for from eight to ten minutes before serving, according to the variety of Tea used.”

“In moderate strength it requires about one teaspoonful of good tea to a half pint of boiling water and an ordinary half teacupful of leaves to every quart of boiling water, the latter making a fairly strong infusion for five persons.  China and Japan Teas require from eight to ten minutes to draw thoroughly, the former requiring but little milk and sugar…India, Ceylon and Java Teas generally should not be allowed to draw more than five to seven minutes at the outside after the boiling water has been poured on…, while the addition of an extra quantity of both milk and sugar greatly improves their drinking qualities.”

Comments: Mr Walsh’s teas are brewed very strong and for much longer than I would dare go for, resulting in a bitter brew.  However, his comments are interesting as it is the only book that I have found that tackles tea making in the 19th Century America.

Elizabeth Hughes Hallett “The Hostess Book” on “A Fireside Tea” (1937)

“But first of all make sure you can make a good cup of tea. When made properly it is most refreshing and stimulating, but when badly done it acts as poison to the system.

“The real secret is to have the water freshly boiled. Water which has been standing at the side of the fire for some time time is stale. The teapot must be kept clean and sweet, and an occassional scald with boiling soda water will ensure its freshness.

“The amount of tea to use depends greatly on its quality. One teaspoonful to each person and one to the pot is the old-fashioned rule, but with a good blend of tea a teaspoonful will be found to be sufficient for two cups.

“To make the tea pour a little boiling water into the teapot and let it stand for few minutes. When thoroughly heated, empty and dry it. Pour the required amount of tea into the pot and pour in boiling water. Cover with a cosy and let it stand in a warm place for 3 or 4 minutes. Do not allow it to stand too long, otherwise it would be bitter and harmful. Serve according to taste with sugar, cream or milk, and when one is especially tired the addition of a slice of lemon will prove most exhilarating, without milk.”

Comments: this is pretty much how I make my British cuppa, except that I would steep for 5 minutes and not 3 – 4 minutes, and would say go for freshly drawn water that has been freshly boiled, rather than “water freshly boiled”. It is interesting to note that more scientific analysis later agrees with Mrs Hallett’s brewing time.

George Orwell & The Perfect Cup Of Tea (1946)

George Orwell (this is the literary part of this blog) wrote about tea in 1946 for The Evening Standard.

In summary, George Orwell key points are: (i) Indian and Sri Lanka tea only, which I would agree with, although African tea is good as well; China tea is too weak for a general British/Irish cuppa; (ii) make tea in china or earthenware teapots; (iii) the pot should be warmed beforehand but as most of us do not have Agas or a range, it should be with boiling water and not on your stove; (iv) tea leaves should be straight into the pot, i.e. not tea bags or in infusers etc, although the big plastic infusers are great and really practical, but if you can free the leaves, let them float about free, happy and easy; (v) give the tea leaves a good stir; (vi) use boiling water; (vii) pour off the cream from the milk first; (viii) about 6 heaped teaspoons for a quart sized teapot, which equates to about 1 heaped teaspoon per cup, which is how we brew it at home; (ix) tea should be taken in a mug.

On the downside, George Orwell does not talk about the water, which is crucial to tea making, and he is of the “milk-in-second” school, which is the cause of much contention.

McGee On Making Tea (1984 & 2004)

In Harold McGee’s seminal work on “Food & Cooking“, Mr McGee devotes some space to tea and coffee. To quote, the key points: “In the West, a relatively small quantity of tea leaves – a teaspoon per 6 oz cup/ 2.5gm per 180ml – is brewed once, for several minutes, then discarded”; “The infusion time ranges from 15 seconds to 5 minutes, and depends on two factors. One is leaf size; small particles and their great surface area require less time for the contents to be extracted. The other is water temperature…black teas are infused in water close to the boil, and relatively briefly.”; “In a typical 3-5 minute infusion of black tea, about 40% of the tea solids are extracted into the water. Caffeine is rapidly extracted, more than three quarters of the total in the first 30 seconds, while the larger phenolic complexes come out much more slowly.”

As for serving tea, Mr McGee writes: “Once tea is properly brewed, the liquid should be separated from the leaves immediately; otherwise extraction continues and the tea gets harsh. All kinds of tea are best drunk fresh; as they stand, their aroma dissipates, and their phenolic compounds and components react with dissolved oxygen and each other, changing the color and taste.

“Tea is sometimes mixed with milk. When it is, the phenolic compounds immediately bind to the milk proteins, become unavailable to bind in our mouth surfaces and salivary proteins, and the taste becomes less astringent. It’s best to add hot tea to warm milk, rather than vice versa; that way the milk is heated gradually and to a moderate temperature, so it’s less likely to curdle.”

Comments: the idea of warm milk is curious, although I agree milk that is at room temperature is better than straight from the fridge. Also, some mention but not much detail about types of tea and origins. McGee does talk about water and suggests it should have a moderately acidic pH of 5, rather than the neutral to alkaline of most municipal water, and he also indicates that Volvic is a good source of mineral water for tea making. I will come back to water in a later blog.

Northumbria University & The Perfect Way To Brew Tea (2011)

Northumbria University was commissioned by Cravendale, the milk producer, to do some research into the perfect cup of tea, which unsurprisingly elicited quite a lot of PR (see http://atomicspin.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/hard-hitting-research-from-cravendale/ and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8577637/How-to-make-the-perfect-cup-of-tea-be-patient.html).

In overview, Northumbria University claims the best brew is as follows:

1. Add 200ml of freshly boiled water to your tea bag (in a mug).
2. Allow the tea bag to brew for 2 minutes.
3. Remove the tea bag.
4. Add 10ml of milk.
5. Wait 6 minutes before consumption for the cuppa to reach its optimum temperature of 60 degrees centigrade.

They even helpfully created a formula for all of this (which must make it right):

TB + (H2O @ 100°C) for 2mins BT + C (10ml) 6 mins BT = PC (@ OT of 60°C)

where TB = teabag, BT = brewing time, C = Cravendale milk, OT = optimum temperature and PC = perfect cuppa.

As senior lecturer, Ian Brown, explained: “When enjoying a cup of tea, our palette requires a balance between bitterness and sweetness. Milk quantities and brewing time were key factors studied throughout our investigation into the perfect brew.

“Prominent sensory attributes of black tea are its bitterness and its dry, ‘puckery’ mouth feel, also known as astringency. Our findings show that 10ml is the preferred amount of milk for our cuppas, due to its ability to balance natural bitterness and allow a smoother taste sensation.”

My comments are as follows: firstly, the best tea is not from a teabag, but from loose leaf tea leaves and this shows a similar social change as that between Mrs Beeton and Mrs Hallett, i.e. a shift from loose leaf tea to bagged tea and in their case from China to India-style teas; secondly, the tea leaves must be brewed for longer to get all the flavours to come out – 2 minutes is way too short and 5 minutes is about right; thirdly, Cravendale tastes metallic to my taste buds and I go for full fat milk and remove the cream first rather than semi-skimmed – Cravendale is homogenised which is the worst type of milk; fourthly, always brew your tea in a teapot then (in my opinion and the UK is divided on this) milk in first; fifthly, other than the quality of the tea leaves, water quality is probably the most crucial factor and where is the mention of that.

What I did find interesting was the idea of a limit on when you must drink your tea by 17.5 minutes, and the fact that 66% say they make the best tea, followed by your spouse at 16%, dads at 4.5% and lastly mums at 2.1%, which just proves the best tea is how you are used to having it brewed for you.

[PS: Supposedly, this unbiased piece of pretend research, which you can download via this link, says that Cravendale, which sponsored the research, makes the best milk for your cup of tea - well I never].

James May’s Perfect Cuppa (2011)

Within James May’s new book for his series Man Lab, he has a few pages on brewing tea alongside vital stuff like how to score a penalty and making a fish finger sandwich.

James May cites a piece of work by Dr Andrew Stapley of Loughborough University that suggests that George Orwell was overdoing his tea strength and that you should revert to the old maxim of “one teaspoon per person and one for the pot”, that milk should go in first and that sugar can enhance the flavour of tea so long as it does not dominate the flavour. However, we use a quart sized teapot and I put in 5 – 6 teaspoons, so I reckon George Orwell was on the money.

Dr Stapley’s research is published by The Royal Society of Chemical Engineers as their “official” way of chemically brewing a perfect cuppa. In it, there are a couple of interesting points: firstly, they talk about drawing “fresh, soft water and place in kettle to boil” as previously boiled water has lost some of its dissolved oxygen, which is needed to bring out the tea flavour, while hard water tends to give rise to tea scum; he suggests filtering hard water and avoiding bottled waters for the same reason (note that McGee advises Volvic as well as bottled waters even though these do tend to have a high mineral content); secondly, he suggests preheating the ceramic teapot in a microwave by adding a quarter of the cup of water to the teapot and placing on full power for a minute; thirdly, they address the touchy subject of the timing of the milk – Dr Stapley’s research suggests that if adding the milk second, the milk is overheated for a few seconds, so causing milk proteins to denature and clump together, so making for a less pleasant cup of tea – at this stage the tea temperature should have fallen to 75C. Then as regards sugar, this depends on 2 factors: (i) the tea you are drinking as some tea blends are much more bitter than others; (ii) taste as in the end it is your brew and your taste buds, so Dr Stapley suggests adding some sugar moderates the natural astringency of tea (the milk also dampens the natural bitterness of tea). Dr Stapley, also, explains that what you are seeking is to balance the polyphenolic compounds being extracted during the brewing process as these give the colour and some of the flavour in the cup, however longer brewing brings out the higher molecular tannins that have a bitter aftertaste; the caffeine infusion is largely complete in the first minute.

Finally, James May mentions that soft water is best, which I agree with and it is also the best for brewing beer, so this is why brewers used to clump together around good sources of soft water, e.g. Tadcaster. He also goes for a 3 minute brew, which is the minimum and I reckon should be increased to 5 minutes, but that is a matter of taste again. Then, there is milk in first, and drink at 60 – 65C which agrees with the Cravendale-Northumbria research (he actually writes 60C but I think he means to follow the Dr Stapley method of 60 – 65C). As for sugar, the suggestion is for white sugar only and not other types, which I guess is to keep the extra flavours being added reduced, but I use a natural caster sugar and that does not have too many molasses tastes coming through, so for me that is also fine.

My way of making tea will be explained in my next blog post.

Our Agony With Peppermint

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Peppermint has been giving us here a headache over the last few months.  Somehow our peppermint just was not quite good enough and we have spent lots of time trying to work out why and what we could do about it?  Firstly, the peppermint tea was minty but missed that zinginess and spiciness that we really craved, while the peppermint extract was more tea-like than peppermint-creamy.  They were what they said on the tin, but for Steenbergs it was not good enough.

The first thing we needed to track down was the right peppermint.  Peppermint is a hybrid that crosses watermint with spearmint that was originally found in England but probably occurs elsewhere in the wild.  It has a higher menthol content than other mints, having a spicy and zingy flavour reminiscent of watercress rather than that sweeter and fruitier taste from spearmint.  Just like at Summerdown in Hampshire*, we fell for the Black Mitcham variety; actually, ours was sampled as a Mitchum strain originally from Montana on the west coast of America, but later it transpired that this was actually Black Mitcham.  Mitcham is in the Borough of Merton in Greater London and was well known for its lavender and peppermint crops.  Steenbergs organic Black Mitcham peppermint comes from a few plants that one of our suppliers took out to their project in Egypt several decades ago and has become the basis for their whole peppermint crop; it is grown organically and biodynamically.  It brews a tar black brew that has that powerful aroma from the menthol; if you brew the tea in a pot, then lift the lid off and stick your nose into the pot, you get a really powerful hit of menthol that is wonderfully cleansing.

We then debated adding back some peppermint oil to the leaves to increase the menthol strength of the leaves, but felt that this enhanced the aroma before brewing but slightly dulled the actual taste when you made the infusion.  In the end, we felt steeping the leaves a little longer more than compensated for any slight loss of volatile oils from the drying process.  We feel that that Steenbergs organic peppermint now compares well against leaves picked straight from the garden and the Black Mitcham variety has lifted our Moroccan Mint, which we sell as Green Tea With Peppermint.

As for the organic peppermint extract, it just did not feel or look right.  The old extract was deep green like an herbal infusion and had a strong alcohol nose, which worked well as an addition to herbal tea, but never felt quite right for that peppermint cream taste and aroma reminiscent of Bendicks Bittermints. So while it pains me to say it, we just needed something better.

We have done two things.  Firstly, we have put the organic peppermint extract on an organic sunflower oil base, rather than its previous alcoholic base, which has removed the strong boozy notes.  Secondly, we have sourced a good peppermint oil, whereas the previous version was more of an alcohol-peppermint infusion, which has dramatically improved both the aroma and taste.  It has all cost us a lot more in raw materials’ costs, which we are absorbing for the moment by holding our prices for Steenbergs Organic Peppermint Extract until 2012.

I hope the improvement pleases everyone as much as it does us.  Also, as an aside, we welcome constructive criticism anytime as it was one of our loyal customers who kicked me into action to make this change that I had been thinking about for some time.

However, ff you need something stronger, then I would suggest a pure peppermint oil rather extract, which is even more potent, but as of yet we are not geared to packing little bottles of oils.  Summerdown do a good non-organic one, or Baldwins have an organic essential oil.

Two quick, easy and tasty uses of Steenbergs Organic Peppermint Extract are to be found in my next blog…

* I must confess that I was disappointed by the Summerdown Peppermint Tea that I have tried, even if it is better than Twinings.  There was a hint of sweetness to it that I did not expect; in fact, I felt that it had a spearmint taste to it that should not have been there and is not right in a peppermint tea.

Blending Breakfast Teas (Part 3)

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

So how to get us started? Well, I decided to start at the end first and to work backwards, so I tried to work out what were the types or styles of tea that we wanted to come out with as products. Basically, we were looking for light, medium and strong teas for drinking in the morning, which would cover China, East Frisian and Irish Breakfast Teas to complement our English Breakfast Tea. The light tea should be drinkable without milk or sugar or brewed stronger and taken with a little milk, while the others would be cuppable with milk and/or sugar. Next, I tried to consider the ways of blending tea and styles of tea that were out in the market. I have drunk a heck of a lot of different teas from tea blenders across Europe and into the USA, plus read old books and magazines that either covered or hinted at how to make tea. Obviously, very little is given away as most tea blends are proprietary and closely guarded secrets, rightly so I might add.

I began with the Light Breakfast Blend which is designed to be drunk without milk or sugar, or just a smidgeon of each if you need to. As a base, I used a sentence I found in “The Girl’s Own Paper” from 1882 on “The Right Way Of Making Tea And Coffee” where it was written “Many grocers mix Moning and Kaisow, and thus furnish an excellent tea.” Taking this as our starter, I blended a number of red and black teas together to create our China Breakfast Tea that harks back to the Regency and Victorian periods. We have Ching Wo tea to provide a red hue and the base flavour, one that is silky, rich, like a lightly oaked wine. This is contrasted to the Keemun varieties for the black-leaf congous that give a richer, fuller and altogether more juicy flavour that in its higher notes has an orchid floweriness. This is a great tea for the morning, giving a gentle ease into your hectic day.

Irish Breakfast Tea

Steenbergs Irish Breakfast Tea

In contrast, the next tea I devised is a more vigorous wake up call. This is Steenbergs’ Irish Breakfast Tea or Strong Breakfast Tea. For this, we have based the tea on a blend of broken Assam teas from a number of different estates, however it is based around a Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe from the fabulous Borengajuli Estate in the Mangaldai district of Assam. This Assam is malty, lightly astringent and full of sweet fruitiness, like a rich strawberry jam, with an herby floweriness from the abundance of tip within the tea. This is second flush Assam at its best. Against this, I have added some Pekoe Fannings for extra colour from another Assam estate and some more flowery tip from Jamguri, a biodynamic estate in the Golaghat district of Assam and part of the Ambootia group, from whom we get our green Darjeeling at the moment. Then to round off the astringency, I have used a couple of teas from Ceylon and Nilgiri that give extra flowery tip and some extra polyphenol power. This tea is an awesome breakfast cuppa that will wake you up.

Then sitting somewhere in the middle, I have made a tea (that I have moulded around samples of Ostfriesen Mischung from various German tea companies, including Dallmayr, Eilles and Thymian Tee) that sits somewhere between the two other breakfast teas. Steenbergs Medium Breakfast Tea is a more flowery and gentler blend of Assam teas that has been topped out with some Ceylon from Lovers’ Leap and Darjeeling second flush teas. The idea here was for a more sophisticated breakfast tea than the typical small leaf breakfast teas, so here we have used mainly Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe teas from estates like Dekorai (named for the Dickori River in Sonitpur district) and Hazelbank (Dibrugarh district), together with Ceylon teas. All in all this is a good fresh start to your day, combining the malty strength of four different Assam teas with the gorgeous complexity of Lovers’ Leap that is reminiscent of Darjeeling teas. Interestingly, the Darjeeling tea we have used uses the same Assam jat tea bushes as are indigenous to Assam rather than the China jat of most Darjeeling Estates, so here we get the muscatel flavours from the high Himalayan flush but with the body of an Assam coming through – this is terroir over genotype. I have named this Steenbergs’ East Frisian Tea in homage of the strong Assam based teas from Northern Germany, although I have made this more subtle by used larger leafed tea and a tiny, teensy amount of Ceylon and Darjeeling to reduce the bitterness that often comes through.

These new teas are designed to complement our classic English Breakfast tea that we have been blending to our own recipe for some years now, and hopefully give our customers a decent choice of flavour types to suit your palates and water. Our English Breakfast tea is more plural, using Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling and Nilgiri teas, while using a smaller leaf that the East Frisian Tea, so it sits somewhere between Steenbergs Medium Breakfast (East Frisian tea) and Strong Breakfast teas (Irish Breakfast tea). Then Steenbergs’ English Breakfast Tea is organic and Fairtrade as well.

I hope you like something amongst these new tea blends, but as I said in the previous post – anyone who has any hidden little family recipes our classic tea blends that they know , I would love to here about them for curiosities sake.

Blending Breakfast Teas (2)

Monday, October 10th, 2011

These developments in tea blending style are best described through the developments in the composition of the standard household tea blend over the years.  These show how the blends became more complicated, even as they became less complex in flavour, and how the ingredients shifted from China towards Indian teas, so from artisanal Camellia sinensis towards Camellia assamica and industrial tea.  If anyone has any great family tea recipes – the older the better – I would love to hear them, so do not hesitate to leave a comment, or email me direct.

General blend – 1730 East India Company

All China teas

Mix together pekoe and congou China bohea teas

General medium quality blend – 1883 from “Tea blending” by Whittingam & Co

Mix of China and Indian teas

37.5%  Oonfa (China)
12.5%  Indian souchong or broken black (India)
25.0%  Tseu moo or souchong-flavoured Kaisow (China)
6.25%  Foochoo scented orange pekoe (China)
6.25%  Darjeeling pekoe souchong (India)

General English blend – 1892 from “Tea , its history and mystery” by J. M. Walsh

Mix of China and Indian teas

6lb  Ningchow (China)
6lb  Oonfa (China)
5lb  Darjeeling or Cachar congous (India)
5lb  Oolong (China)
1lb  Caper (China)
1lb  Pekoe (China or India, but most likely from Assam)
24lb

General medium quality blend – 1894 from “Tea and tea blending” by Lewis & Co

Mix of  Indian teas

Principal ingredients:-
Brisk pungent Assam
Rich Dooars

General blend – 1929 from “Tea and Tea Dealing” by F. W. F. Staveacre

All Indian teas (I have counted Ceylon and Java as Indian in that they are not Chinese style teas)

1lb  Darjeeling BOP
2lb Ceylon BOP
1lb  Ceylon Fannings
2lb Assam BOP
4lb  Assam BP
4lb  Dooars BPS
2lb  Java BP
4lb  Cachar BP Fannings
20lb

But perhaps the most intriguing is an unknown blend that is kept secret in the National Archives – the Royal Family’s “Empire Tea Blend“…