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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).

Here in the U.S. the word chai has come to mean that distinctly Indian blend of strong black tea, spices (usually a mix of ginger, cardamom, and one or two other ingredients depending on the specific blend), and milk. Hot or iced, it has taken the American beverage world by storm as one of the most popular café teas and as a delicious, savory alternative to coffee. Interestingly, this tea may be closest to some of the first teas ever made – which were used as medicine and prepared more like a broth than the sweetened drinks we see today. This practice persisted in some parts of Asia, and developed into chai as we know it during the British effort to break China’s tea-producing monopoly by establishing tea plantations in India.

Women picking tea in Darjeeling, India

Women picking tea in Darjeeling, India

While I always consider chai the perfect winter-weather complement because of its warming spices, there’s something about those same spices that takes on a new dimension in the bright, full sunlight of a summer day. I discovered this for myself in Malaysia, sipping hot chai at my friend’s home near the beach without a second thought for ice. Back home, I more often opt to keep things cool with iced chai, where those spices add an extra punch that makes it one of the most refreshing and delicious iced teas I’ve ever had.

Unlike most other teas, chai is traditionally brewed by boiling tea in water for several minutes (as opposed to pouring just-boiled water over the leaves and leaving them to sit). This helps bring out the full flavor of the spices, and also creates a bolder black tea infusion that can hold its own amidst all those competing flavors.

Our newest chai addition to the shop comes from Chai Wallahs of Maine, and it is a strong, authentic chai blended right here in New England! As aficionados of both hot and iced chai, I asked them to share their favorite way to brew up some refreshing iced chai at home.

For two cups Iced Chai:

    • In a pot, combine 1 Tablespoon chai and 1 cup water.
    • Bring to a boil and let boil for 5 minutes.
    • Add 1-2 Tablespoons of honey (to taste).
    • Strain the mixture and stir in 1 cup cold milk.
    • Pour over ice and serve!


Rob Campbell is a culinary adventurer, world traveler, science geek, and also the assistant tea buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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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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Midnight Fireworks for Lunar New Year

Midnight Fireworks for Lunar New Year

When you think “Chinese food,” Formaggio Kitchen might not be the first place that comes to mind, but that’s a shame. While it’s true that cheese is still only just starting to make inroads into East Asian cuisines, here at the Cambridge shop we have more than enough products for a Chinese New Year feast. (more…)

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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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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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Bergamot oranges

A couple of Sundays ago, a fellow Formaggio Kitchen colleague introduced me to Bergamot oranges.  Our produce department recently received a batch and I had never seen one before!

Bergamot gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor (the essence is extracted from the skin of the orange).  When I sampled one, I was given a small slice to try because it turns out they are more like lemons in terms of their sourness than they are like conventional oranges. (more…)

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Darjeeling Teas

A cup of hot tea has always been something of a rallying cry in my family – over the summer, iced tea prevails, generally garnished with fresh slices of orange.  In winter time, however, hot tea reigns supreme, usually accompanied by a piece of shortbread, a ginger cookie or a slice of fruit cake.

This past summer, I deviated from my usual stove-top iced tea routine and invested in a dedicated iced tea maker.  Determined to find my optimal brew, I purchased small quantities of different loose teas we have here at Formaggio Kitchen.  It was difficult to choose a favorite but, in the end, Everglad from Dammann Frères‘s became my go-to tea – a green tea with notes of grapefruit, imparted by dried bits of grapefruit rind.  It is amazingly refreshing when iced and, given the tendency to drink more during the hot months, it was nice that it wasn’t as caffeinated as black tea. (more…)

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