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Archive for the ‘Tea’ Category

Fresh Chai Hot or Iced

Fresh Chai Hot or Iced

After a winter that seemed like it would never end, we have finally made it to the hot and humid days of mid-summer. Somewhat ironically, these days I find myself coming back to the same drink that got me through that long cold winter – fresh brewed chai tea.

The phrase “chai tea” is actually redundant. Our word chai comes from the Hindi word for tea, and it turns out that most people across South Asia and the Middle East, and even most of China, use some variant of cha or chai for the word tea (the Hindi word chai comes from the Chinese “cha” (茶); however, in some southern Chinese dialects the same word is pronounced “teh,” which is how we got the English word “tea” instead).

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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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Drinking Longjing Tea in Hangzhou

Drinking Longjing Tea in Hangzhou

I love Chinese teas. While I won’t turn down a full-bodied British cuppa or Indian Assam, China is where I fell in love with tea, and it’s Chinese teas that keep me coming back for more. The world of tea is at least as complex as the world of wine, but like wine, the most important part is that you enjoy what you’re drinking! While there are “best practices” for brewing certain flavors, Chinese tea culture emphasizes that the same tea leaves can be prepared different ways and multiple times to create different taste experiences. With so much to choose from, tea drinking really becomes a very personal experience, and tea drinking in China is all about this kind of casual enjoyment among family and friends. (more…)

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Tranquil Tuesdays TeaI first met Charlene Wang from Tranquil Tuesdays during one of her many trips to Boston from Beijing (as a Boston native and Wellesley College alumna, Charlene tends to be in Boston quite a bit). Charlene came into the shop and introduced herself as the founder of Tranquil Tuesdays tea company, a company that specializes in sourcing tea from small, family-owned farms in China. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect! (more…)

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Iced Tea

I am a year-round tea drinker and always start my day with a hot cup. That said, when it gets really steamy outside, there is nothing better than a fresh brewed cup of iced tea.

As the shop’s tea buyer, I love experimenting with different varieties and different preparations. For a great iced tea, I love  a less tannic brew with nice color and strong aromas and I have also found that unique and unexpected teas often make the most enjoyable cups. With this in mind, here are a few of my favorites: (more…)

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Cornelis de Heem - Still Life with a Basket of Fruit

At the end of each year, staff members at all three of our shops – in Cambridge, the South End and in New York – fill out a staff survey. We reflect on our year in food, pick our favorites and share memorable moments. Some items are tried-and-true favorites, regularly appearing on the survey. Others are new and exciting products that helped to define and distinguish our year in food. Here are our top ten picks culled from this year’s survey results! (more…)

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Darjeeling Teas

Over the past few months, Julia, our tea buyer, has been working hard to refine and focus our tea selection. Among the companies she works with is Dammann Frères, an impressive, third-generation French company that specializes in blending fine, loose leaf teas.

We just received in a shipment from Dammann Frères and asked Julia to share her top five picks with us. A lot of difficult decision-making was involved but, ultimately, she narrowed down her picks to the below – a selection of teas that encompass a variety of styles, flavor profiles and countries of origin. (more…)

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