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Matcha Teas - Tencha and Sencha

Matcha can be a rather confusing category of tea. This is because, in the United States, there is no strict classification of different varieties. In Japan, “matcha” refers to a particular variety of very finely ground green tea. Historically, the Japanese tea ceremony has revolved around the preparation of this tea. These days, matcha is used in a number of ways – from cooking applications (in ice cream and mochi), to drinking applications, to classic Japanese tea ceremonies.

True Japanese matcha – or, “tencha” as it is called more specifically – is made from the delicate shade-grown tea leaves used to make Gyokuro tea. The tea trees are covered in cloth to protect the leaves from light during the several week period before harvest. This process forces the plant to produce more chlorophyll, increases the production of amino acids and gives the leaves a very dark, rich shade of green. The leaves are then delicately hand-picked and laid flat to dry (if they were rolled, they would become Gyokuru tea). At this point, the leaves are de-veined, de-stemmed and finely ground into a powder which is then called “tencha.” This high-grade tencha has an intense sweetness and round richness that is unparalleled. Tencha is the only tea that qualifies as true matcha in Japan, despite the fact that most “matcha” sold in the United States is not tencha.

Matcha: Tencha vs. Sencha

Tencha and Sencha: Note the color difference between the two.

So then, what have you been buying all this time? Because of the extremely high cost of producing tencha, many tea suppliers and retailers have been marketing ground sencha as matcha. Sencha is a beautiful Japanese green tea that is bright, vegetal and grassy. The buds and broken leaves of the sencha tea are ground into a powder to make a less-expensive matcha-like tea. Technically, this type of tea is known as “konacha” (literally, powdered tea). Powdered sencha is quite a bit more intense in flavor than tencha and can have a rather tannic and astringent finish.

I think that both tencha and ground sencha have a place in a well-stocked tea shop. One of my favorite treats is homemade green tea ice cream. I find that the intense flavors found in the ground sencha are perfect for this and other baking applications. As for tencha, I must admit that I swoon for this tea. I have shelled out $35 for just a few grams of it – it’s that amazing. This tea should be enjoyed as it has been for centuries: place a small amount of tencha in a ceramic bowl, add hot water (not boiling – aim for 175°F) and whisk with a bamboo whisk until the tea has totally dissolved. Enjoy right away!

Julia Hallman wears many hats at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge – among them are cheesemonger, classroom instructor and tea buyer.

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Dom Pérignon statue in Épernay in the Moët et Chandon courtyard.

Dom Pérignon statue in Épernay

In part one of this sparkling wine series, we explored the many ways wines can become bubbly. In this post, we focus just on Champagne. The Champagne region of France is considered to be the home of the world’s finest sparkling wines. Champagne is so famous, in fact, that it’s common for folks to refer to any bubbly wine as Champagne, however true Champagne is produced only within the boundaries of the designated province. European Union law forbids the use of the word Champagne on wines made anywhere else, as do the laws of many countries (including the United States). (more…)

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Bubbly

When we pop the cork of a sparkling wine at a party a flurry of bubbles are released. We love sipping those bubbles, but how do they get in the bottle? There are several ways that it can happen.

Sparkling wine is bubbly because carbon dioxide gas, a byproduct of fermentation, is trapped within the wine. During fermentation yeast feeds on the grape juice’s natural sugars and produces heat, alcohol, and carbon dioxide. During the initial fermentation, this gas is released into the air. When wine is allowed (or encouraged!) to undergo a second fermentation within the bottle the carbon dioxide gas is trapped inside in the form of bubbles.

The following methods are a few different ways to produce bubbles in a bottle of wine. There is a lot more information behind each of these techniques, but this is a good start to get the general idea. We’ll start with the oldest method and move forward through time and technological advances. (more…)

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Three cocoas: Dutch-processed (L), Valrhona natural (R) and Les Confitures à l'Ancienne drinking cocoa (bottom)

Three cocoas: Dutch-processed (L), Valrhona natural (R) and Les Confitures à l’Ancienne drinking cocoa (bottom)

At this time of year, customers often pop into the shop looking for cocoa – whether for baking a dense chocolate torte or for a warming cup of hot cocoa after hours of shoveling. There are a few different type of cocoa available and we thought it would be helpful to shed a bit of light on the differences.

What is cocoa?
Cocoa is the result of processing raw cacao seeds into what is called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. Cocoa mass is made up of roughly equal parts cocoa solids and cocoa butter. When you buy a chocolate bar it often has a percentage figure on it. If, for example, the label indicates 75%, that means the bar is made up of 75% cocoa mass and unless other ingredients are mixed in, 25% sugar. If  you’ve ever had a taste of 100% cocoa mass, you know how important the sugar is to counterbalance the natural acidity and tannic quality of the pure cocoa. In some cases, a bit of extra cocoa butter may be added to give the chocolate a smoother textural dimension – a greater melt-in-your-mouth quality. (more…)

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Selection of Butters at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge

Most of us love butter. It melts beautifully on a piece of toast, it gives wonderful flavor to both sweet and savory goods and provides a preferred mouthfeel to the likes of buttercream frosting. Here at the shop, we carry quite a variety of butters and sometimes folks ask us what distinguishes them from each other – a very fair question! (more…)

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Some Favorite Food Books

When we’re not in the shop, we’re often cooking, eating or reading about food. Recently, we opened a Pinterest account and started pinning staff favorites – cookbooks, food memoirs and culinary references among them. Here are a few of our favorite reads – for the full list (an ongoing project), check out our Pinterest account!

Chez Panisse Café Cookbookby Alice L. Waters – all of Chef Waters’ books are amazing. Don’t expect fancy pictures, just lots of fascinating information and delicious recipes that never fail. In this volume, don’t miss making the “Morel Mushroom Toasts.” (more…)

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Vecchia Dispensa Balsamic Vinegars

Vinegars from La Vecchia Dispensa

As I mentioned in my prior post, Balsamico Tradizionale offers the best chance to taste some of the purest expression of true balsamic vinegar. One of the reasons for this is the thoughtful regulations governing the production of Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia, which dictate a range of protections – from the grapes varieties that must be used, to the style of bottle.

Once you move beyond the world of Balsamico Tradizionale into the less controlled world of non-tradizionale balsamics, things get more complicated. Historically, the category of balsamic, balsamico or balsamic vinegar consisted of products with levels of quality all over the map. Some careful producers, employing traditional methods, produced balsamics with beautiful balance and depth of flavor. At the same time, large, industrial producers sold balsamics using inexpensive ingredients and time-saving technologies to maximize profits, capitalizing on the balsamic name. (more…)

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Battery of Barrels used to age balsamicThere are many forms of balsamic vinegar on supermarket shelves these days. The most industrial forms can be made anywhere with a variety of ingredients that may or may not contain concentrated grape must, wine vinegar, sugar and caramel coloring. For this reason, it is often difficult to grasp the differences between a $10 bottle of balsamic vinegar and a $40 bottle of balsamic or even a $150 bottle. (more…)

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This week we’re highlighting one of our favorite French liqueurs, the inky black currant flavored Crème de Cassis de Dijon. These sweet little bottles of crème de cassis are made in Burgundy by Briottet, a company run by the Briottet family in the town of Dijon since 1836.

Briottet Crème de CassisBriottet makes their crème de cassis with only “Noir de Bourgogne” black currants. The word “crème” signifies that the liqueur is made from macerated, real fruit rather than flavorings and, the addition of the name Dijon means that the currants (“cassis”) used were grown only in the commune of Dijon. These currants are picked quickly at their peak ripeness and are immediately immersed in alcohol where they macerate for 3 months. Sugar is then added to balance out the tart flavor of the currants – it also makes the liqueur syrupy. Upon completion, crème de cassis has about the same alcohol content as port. (more…)

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I recently visited Barrington Coffee at their roastery in Lee, MA, in the heart of the Berkshires. Roastmaster Brian Heck, along with fellow coffee alchemist Paul, guided me through Barrington’s process of coaxing the delicate aromas and fine flavors out of their unroasted, green coffee beans. It takes an artisan’s practiced touch, a connoisseur’s critical taste, and a farmer’s dedication to his crop to create the consistently outstanding coffees Barrington is known for.

Green coffee beans starting to roast

Brian began by guiding me through the roasting process, from bag to finished bean. Barrington Coffee has three roasters, the largest handling up to 60 lbs. and the smallest able to roast as little as 1/4 lb. at a time. When I visited, Brian and Paul were manning all three roasters, producing select origin as well as blended coffees. (more…)

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