Posts Tagged ‘tea’

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.

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“…

Blending Breakfast Teas (1)

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

I have been doing some research while trying to create a range of Breakfast Tea blends to complement our very popular English Breakfast Tea.  This has partly been a matter of curiosity as I like, in a slightly anoraky way, reading old books on tea, so have acquired small pamphlets on tea and tea blending from the Victorian period through to the mid 1930s.  What they give is a window into a completely different world, plus it makes me realise how much more interesting people’s palates must have been in olden times.  Also, it raises some historical anachronisms that I have sought to address in my range of retro tea blends.

The first thing is that tea blends contained a complex mix of flavours in everyday teas that mingled the simpler black teas with scented teas like lapsang souchong, jasmine green tea and osmanthus or gardenia oolongs in your everyday teas.  So tea must have been really quite exotic and not the strong malty, astringent black tea flavours that I had always imagined were being drunk.  Prior to then in the Regency times and before, teas were more likely single teas or simple mixes with more green teas and oolongs were being taken; smoky lapsang souchongs were perhaps the most popular teas in olden times, with it being written in the 1894 that “the old fashioned lapseng [sic] souchongs are also shipped from Foo Chow [Fuzhuo today], and the finer grades keep up the old characteristics and give us an idea of the sort of tea prized by our grandfathers; they still find their way into some of the best of the blends going into consumption.”  Lapsang souchong was still popular in the finer blends in the 1930s, but by the post WW2 period these type of blends appear to have fallen out of popularity.  Where general mixes are mentioned earlier, papers from the East India Company in 1730 suggest “if you mix Pekoe and Congo [sic], you shall have an admirable tea; you have all the goodness of the last in the first two waters, and of the first in the last two or three, but even then the water should not stand long.”

Secondly, the anachronism is that I often read something that goes along the lines of “research shows that Keemum was the original English Breakfast tea from the 1800s”, as suggested for example by Harney & Sons in the USA and Wilkinsons of Norwich.  However, in the 1800s, the Keemun region only made green teas and not black tea, so Keemum could not have been the basis for English Breakfast tea.  By 1883, Keemun is being suggested as a “one of the newest tea descriptions of China tea”, by which time Indian teas were already being grown and imported in quantity and forming around 50% of each tea blends.  Further, while we now would choose a Keemun over a Kintuck in the the 19th century and early 20th century, Kintuck was rated more highly than Keemun – tastes change, we all change.  Then by 1894, tea blends were pretty much using only Indian teas.  Prior to the late Victorian period, the core of blends was black teas, or Monings, like Ning Chows and Oonfas mixed together with red teas, Kaisows, like Ching Wos and Tseu Moos.  In fact, a blend of black and red teas still formed the basis for many blends in the 1930s, with Keemuns joining Kintucks as the Moning teas of choice, with Ching Wo  and Panyong teas being the popular Kaisows.  I don’t disagree that the original breakfast teas would probably have been made with China teas as Indian teas only started being produced in sensible quantities during the 1870s, growing from 6,750 tons in 1870 (10% of UK consumption) to 22,000 tons by 1880 (22% of UK consumption), however there was a switch from tea being a posh items to being everyday as pricing came down and perhaps sociologically as tea became a drink of men and women and not just the ladies – a polite way of saying men reduced their intake of booze as livelihoods became more industrial and less agricultural or artisanal.  Notice also that black teas and red teas were actually different categories of teas that have become merged into one by the 21st century – perhaps as we have become less discerning about the subtle differences between the various regional teas within China.

As you can see, there was a mindblowing array of different names given for teas with different names given to China and Indian tea grades.  Also, names change, so originally all black tea was called Bohea, then it became the lowest grade of black tea, before being more correctly attributed nowadays to lightly fermented oolongs.  Even more confusingly, Bohea is an anglicisation of Wu-I, which is a mountainous area of Fukien, from where China oolongs originally came from, i.e those that were lightly and up to 60% fermented.  Finally, teas were often sold as different things to they were and some were adulterated, for example, the leaf of [Canton Scented Capers] was “faced with soapstone, &c” and other books suggested these were “highly faced with gypsum, Prussian blue, magnesia, and other colouring matters.”  So getting down to what people actually blended together is fraught with difficulties.

Blending began in earnest when the Indian and Sri Lankan teas began arriving into the UK.  This was in part for pricing reasons, i.e. trying to make a decent, consistent blend from as cost-effective ingredients as possible, and the fact that the new teas from India especially were much more astringent and strong than the flavours that consumers were used to, so you needed to use Indian teas for bulk and strength and China teas to smooth out the flavour edges and add some character.  Therefore in 1883, it was written “the greater proportions of the English people like in every blend at least half China tea.  The reason is that most Indian teas have a sharp acrid taste, not to be found in the teas of China.  This acrid taste tea-drinkers rarely like, unless it is tempered by the softer milder flavours of some China varieties.”  However, by the 1930s, most tea blends were cheaper mixes with Ceylon, Indian and Indonesian teas making the blends.  In the post war period, especially, African teas took over from Indian teas, however the balance has shifted back towards India with many of the UK household brand names now owned by Indian tea groups, e.g. Tata Tea owns Tetley Tea and Typhoo belongs to Apeejay Surrendra Group.

Actually, I think tea blends and the growth in tea had more to do with class than anything else.  Prior to the late Victorian times, tea was a luxury item and its growth was defined by snobbery and the fact that it was expensive – as taxes on tea increased it only served to drive up sales further.  Blends were expensive and tea was a posh item for the afternoon for those with time to spare.  However, as wealth became less concentrated in the upper classes and so tea became more available with increased supplies arriving from India and Sri Lanka, tea became more of a general household item, hence blenders needed to create cheaper, more consistent brews for sale through the general tea shops set up by Lyons and later multiple grocers such as Sainsbury and Tesco, which had begun by selling tea in 1919.

However, tastes change and people become accustomed to different flavours.  Old tea blends would have been smokier in flavour and lighter in colour and taste than modern blends, as Kintucks and Lapsang Souchong have a strong smokiness, whereas Ching Wo and Keemun are much lighter but still have that hint of smoke; this comes from the process of making Chinese black and red teas which includes a roasting stage.  Then nowadays, we find that some tea blenders of fine teas actually blend in these bitter flavours either by using particular Assam teas as in Ringtons’ 1907 Blend and English Breakfast tea or by adding green teas as in Dallmayr’s and Eilles’ English Breakfast Teas. or Fauchon’s Siva Afternoon Tea dating back to the 1910.  All of these could do with milk and sugar, which perhaps reflects how classic English Breakfast teas were originally drunk, i.e. strong, with milk and sugar, in the early 20th century.  However, at Steenbergs, we like our tea to be smooth and capable of drinking without milk or lemon when brewed lightly or with milk if you want to take it strong, except for the very strong brews like an Irish Breakfast tea.

Two places for tea – The Old School House and Galloway Activity Centre

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I seemed to spend the first week of our holidays driving a triangle from Loch Ken to Cream O’ Galloway at Rainton and then to Kirkcudbright, ferrying our kids from activity to activity.  We did manage to break for tea a few times. 

Firstly, there is the delightful Old School House on the A75 itself that serves a good Brodies tea (I had Darjeeling) and a great selection of home made cakes, including brownies, fridge cakes, cheesecakes and a fruit frangipani that I indulged in.  Well worth a stop, should you have the time.  I will do a longer review next year when we revisit Dumfries & Galloway for our jollies.

Secondly, much more functional and certainly less indulgent, you could turn off the A713 to the Galloway Activity Centre and is a couple of miles from Parton.  It is a sailing centre*, but the food here is home baked and reasonably priced, so great if you are happy to have your tea in a mug and to take out your teabag yourself.  The shortbread, chocolate brownies and chocolate cake with pears are all heavenly and you can watch the boats or windsurfers floating on Loch Ken from the safety of the decking outside or the newly enlarged viewing area indoors.  And pricing is ideal: hot chocolate £1.20; tea or coffee £1.00; scone £1.25; shortbread 60p or £1.00 depending on size; tray bakes £1.35; brownie £1.00; and tarts £1.25.

*  You can also do windsurfing, power boating, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, laser quest, climbing wall, abseiling, zip wire etc, or further down the loch there is a water ski centre.

Matcha Tea Cupcakes – Green, Healthy and Tasty Recipe

Monday, March 21st, 2011

The terrible events in Japan lay bare to us all how much we are still at the mercy of the elements, rather than completely in control of our earth.

Steenbergs Matcha Tea And Cocoa Powder

Steenbergs Matcha Tea And Cocoa Powder

So I decided to revisit my recent post on matcha tea and create these Matcha Tea Cupcakes ideal for charity events to raise money for the tsunami victims.  They are really delicious combination of matcha and cocoa, with with the cupcake tasting just of chocolate cake and the very mild seaweedy taste of the matcha in the icing complements the classic sweetness of the chocolate.  As an aside, this is great way to get some of the benefits of matcha without needing to drink a cup of slightly bitter matcha tea

Matcha Cupcakes

Matcha Cupcakes

Recipe for Matcha Tea Cupcakes

1 tsp (rounded) organic matcha tea
120ml / ½ cup milk
100g / ¾ cup plus 1 tbsp organic plain flour
1¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp Fairtrade cocoa powder
Pinch of sea salt
150g / 1 scant cup Fairtrade caster sugar
1 large free range egg
1 tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
50g / 3½ tsp unsalted butter 

For the topping:

80g / 5 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp (level) organic matcha tea, sieved
2 tbsp fromage frais
250g / 2 cups Faitrade icing sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

2.  Pour the milk into a milk pan, then sieve the matcha tea into the milk.  Whisk the mixture with a matcha whisk or a fork.  Then carefully heat the milk until hot to touch but not starting to simmer.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Infuse Milk With Green Matcha Tea

Infuse Milk With Green Matcha Tea

3.  Sieve the plain flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl.  Add the sea salt and then tip in the caster sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients together.

Put All The Dry Ingredients Into Mixing Bowl

Put All The Dry Ingredients Into Mixing Bowl

4.  Put the egg and vanilla extract into the dry ingredients and mix up a bit with a fork.  Chop the unsalted butter into small cubes and add to the mixture.  Mix thoroughly with an electric whisk or in a blender.  When creamed together, add the matcha milk mix and throughly mix.

Mix In The Matcha Milk

Mix In The Matcha Milk

5.  Spoon the mixture into paper cupcakes until about three-quarters up.

Pour In Mixture Three Quarters Up Cupcake

Pour In Mixture Three Quarters Up Cupcake

6.  Place in oven and cook for about 25 minutes, or until spongy to the touch.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

7.  To make the matcha icing, simply mix all the ingredients together and put a dessertspoon of the matcha frosting onto each cupcake.

Mix Together The Ingredients For Matcha Frosting

Mix Together The Ingredients For Matcha Frosting

8.  Enjoy the taste straight away.

Blending Christmas Tea

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

It is that time of year when customers are after our Christmas tea which is made to my own special recipe. 

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Christmas Tea

We use a high grown organic Fairtrade from the POABS biodynamic tea estates in Kerala in Southern India as the base.  This is a lovely clean drinking black tea, while at the same time being mild in flavour without any maltiness or meadowy flavours coming through; therefore it is a wonderful base tea.

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

Whole Fairtrade Spices Ready For Grinding

I take organic Fairtrade cardamom, organic Fairtrade cinnamon quills and organic Fairtrade cloves from the Small Organic Farmers’ Association in the Kandy region of Sri Lanka.  I then get some organic Fairtrade vanilla pods from the warehouse and chop these to about 1 cm in size.  All of these are mixed together and then ground down to a 1 – 2mm chop.  By grinding the whole spices in small batches, I can ensure that the quality of flavours is fresh and strong and that I am happy with their quality.

These are added to the tea together with some organic orange peel granules.

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

Cracked Spices And Black Tea

I mix it all together by hand, transfer it into sacks and leave to infuse with these gorgeous spicy flavours for a couple of weeks before testing and releasing for packing.

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

Christmas Tea All Mixed Up

No additional flavours are added, no chemicals; it’s just tea and spices, blended by hand in North Yorkshire by me.  The final tea is a gently spiced, homely and warming for these darker evenings.

Recipe For Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

One of the classics of British cuisine is to poach pears in red wine or syrup.  As a variation on this, I sometimes create a sweet spicy syrup to poach the pears in, then reduce these to a thick, sweet sauce.  Recently, however, I have been thinking about how to use teas and infusions in my cooking, as well as the impact of different liquids such as beer versus wine and even different beers, to add extra depth to the flavour of your food without bringing in too much extra complexity.

That’s a rather geeky way of saying the liquids you use in cooking can alter subtly the flavour of the meal and they are something we all tend to ignore when cooking, focusing on the big ingredients like the meat or the vegetables or the mix of spices, then just pouring in tap water or “red wine” when we should be screaming hard or soft water, bottled water, fizzy and which red wine, wine from where, as it makes a huge difference.

So as an experiment, I brewed up a large pot of Red Chai Tea, which I make with an organic rooibos tea from South Africa and my own flavour combination of spices.  I left this to steep for a bit then filtered out the sweet, orangey-red tea that is coloured like an amazing African sunset.  Next, you add a mix of ginger powder, saffron and Madagascan vanilla and a light muscovado sugar to the tea; in my usual recipe, I add lemon zest but not here as there is lemongrass in the chai spice mix.  This is the base flavour for the pears and the sweet sauce, which you then use to poach some pears.

At this time of the year, pears are deliciously ripe but you can use this recipe even on the most flavourless brick of a pear in mid winter and get some flavour into them and soften them up, so it is good for your five-a-day.  The result are perfectly soft and succulent sweet pears in a sweet sauce that has a richly luxuriant saffron-vanilla flavour.  Sometimes, I finish my normal versions of this recipe with a vanilla whipped cream, but that really is almost too decadent and I did not have any cream the other night.  Eating with a knife and fork, the knife just glides through the soft flesh of the pear and the taste is heavenly with the characteristic sweetness of the pears perfectly offset by the chocolately, creaminess of the vanilla.

It does take a bit of time to make, but not much effort.  And simple is often the best thing in life.

How To Make Pears In Rooibos With Vanilla And Saffron

4 pears (choose the nicest you can find, but they should still be hard)
500ml normally brewed rooibos tea or Red Chai tea
125g Fairtrade light muscovado sugar
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod
½ pinch organic saffron
¼ tsp organic Fairtrade ginger
125ml double or whipping cream (optional)
1 organic Fairtrade vanilla pod (optional)

Peel the pears leaving the stalk, then cut a small slice off the base of the pear to enable them to stand upright in the pan and on the plate.  Find a heavy bottomed pan that is tall enough to accomodate the full height of the pears with the pan lid over the top.  Leave the pears on a plate to the side for the moment.

In a family sized tea pot, brew the rooibos tea.  It is best to use loose leaf tea as the tea bag imparts a dusty, foisty flavour to the tea, but a teabag will do for convenience.  Brew as normal based on equivalent of 1 teaspoon per person so that is 4 heaped teaspoons into the pot, using freshly drawn water that has been brought to the boil, then steeped for 5 minutes; strain and pour into the pan.

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Brew Your Rooibos Tea

Add the light muscovado sugar, saffron and ginger.  For the vanilla, slice this lengthways and scrape out the vanilla seeds into the rooibos tea, then place the whole bean into the liquid for good measure.

Place the pears upright into the pan, put the lid carefully over the pears slightly off the rim.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and poach for 45 minutes until the pears are perfectly soft; you may need to adjust the cooking time depending on the ripeness of the pears.  Take the pears out of the sauce, put on a plate and leave to cool fully.

Strain the sugar syrup to remove the saffron and any bits.  Return the pan to the hob and heat to a vigorous boil and reduce the syrup to about 150ml.  Leave the syrup to cool.

To make the vanilla cream: pour 125ml of cream into a bowl; slice a vanilla bean lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream; using an electric or hand whisk, whisk to a thick, whipped cream.  Place in fridge while the pears and sauce are cooling to allow the vanilla flavours to infuse the cream.

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Poached Pears In Rooibos Tea, Vanilla And Saffron

Place the pears onto individual plates and pour over some of the sauce.  Add a tablespoon of vanilla whipped cream on the side of each plate.

Recipe For Yorkshire Fruit Tea Bread

Friday, September 17th, 2010

We have always loved teabreads here at home like those made by Elizabeth Bothams of Whitby, but I reckoned that some of those homely, comforting cakes could not be too difficult to make.  So this weekend I set out to make a traditional Fruit Teabread, plus I wanted to have an experiment with cooking with tea.  Quite a lot of the English traditional cakes call for fruit to be laced with alcohol and soaked for a time, but couldn’t this be replaced with soaking in tea?

What I ended out with is a cross between a teabread and a Yorkshire brack, a lighter brack than maybe traditional but richer than a teabread.

Yorkshire Brack

Yorkshire Teabread

Firstly, the practical error, I used a loaf tin that was too small for the mixture, and will need to add an extra 30% to the quantities for the loaf tin, or use a smaller loaf tin; I think I have two little loaf tins hidden somewhere in the cellar.  Secondly, you could perhaps increase the amount of pepper used, but not by much as little of that flavour seemed to come through.  Thirdly, the tea used in this case was a Christmas Chai that we hand blend at our Ripon factory and was hanging over in our cupboard from last year, as I felt that its extra spiciness would add a mysterious hint of the exotic to the background flavour, but I am not sure that it was tastable (if that’s a genuine word).  Finally, I boiled the fruit in the tea, whereas most recipes suggest that you soak the fruit overnight, which is fine, however I never real know what I want to bake until the day has arrived, so I needed to speed up the process.

Otherwise the taste and texture were great, and it lasted for about 30 minutes without a complaint from anyone who tried it.  In fact, most came back for more, so it cannot have been half bad.

How to make Fruit Tea Bread

115g / 4oz / 2/3 cup sultanas
75g / 3oz / ½ cup raisins
40g / 1½ oz / 3tbsp currants
200ml / 7 fl oz / 7/8 cup strong black tea (2tbsp in 6 cup pot; try a chai for subtle differences)
1 pinch of ground black pepper, or lemon pepper
115g / 4oz / ½ cup soft brown sugar
180g / 7oz / 1½ cups plain flour (I used Gilchesters strong white flour)
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp Fairtrade cinnamon powder
½ tsp Fairtrade nutmeg powder
1 large egg, at room temperature and lightly beaten
30g / 1oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled to touch warm

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.  Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Place the dried fruit into a small saucepan, then add the strong tea, heat and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until the fruit has plumped up.  Leave to cool in the pan.  When cool strain away any excess liquid, add the pinch of ground pepper, stir the fruit around and try and coat most of the fruit.  Stir in the sugar and leave to the side.

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Fruit Boiled In Chai Tea

Sieve together the plain flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg powders.  Make a well in the centre of the flour, then add in the egg and stir thoroughly with a spatula.  Add the melted butter and stir until you have a soft dough.  Add the sugar coated fruits and throughly beat together with the silicone spatula.

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Stirring Up The Fruit Bread Mix

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tea Bread Mixture In Loaf Tin

Tip the fruit cake mixture into the prepared loaf tin.  Bake for 1 hour, remove from the oven then leave to stand in the tin for about 10 minutes, before turning out and leaving to cool on wire rack.  You do not need to leave this to cool down completely as it is lovely eaten warm.

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Axel's Tea Bread Just Out Of The Oven

Serve on its own or spread with butter.