(PRINTED WITH THE PERMISSION OF THE ALPINE AVALANCHE)
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a Tea Talk and Tasting at the Jeff Davis County Library. Led by dynamic library director Gwin Grimes, (who is also a trained chef and cookbook author), we sampled five different teas – and although there are hundreds of different kinds of tea to choose from at the store – it all boils down to five different types of tea: black, white, green, oolong and tisanes (herbal tea). All types of tea, except for tisanes, come from the Camellia sinensis plant.
Gwin brought samples of loose tea and tea bags, and opened tea bags to show us the difference in the appearance and smell of the loose versus the teabags. Loose tea is always better quality and flavor. Tea bags are often filled with “leftovers” and you never know what exactly you end up with in that powdery little baggy.
Don’t sample tea like I tried to sample it… it’s a little too dry my way. Just kidding, I didn’t really do that.
We started with a delicate white tea. Our general consensus was that it “pretty much tasted like nothing.” Handpicked in China just a few days out of the year, white tea is naturally floral and slightly sweet.
Green tea was next. I drink green tea often for the antioxidants. Green tea most resembles tea in its natural state, and you should only buy organic or else you can pretty much guarantee it will be over-processed and chemical-laden. We learned that if you let loose green tea steep too long, you will not enjoy the cup of bitterness presented… we got to talking and forgot about the time. Nobody drank their bitter green tea. Green tea should be brewed for 2-3 minutes at 180 degrees, not 6-8 minutes. Watch the time to keep your green tea tasting grassy and nutty.
Black tea has long been one of my favorites, and not just because it has the most caffeine. Black tea includes the varieties Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Darjeeling, Lansang Souchon and Orange Pekoe. When I was growing up, my mother drank Constant Comment tea. I loved the smell of it – orange and spicy – but wasn’t allowed to drink it. I recently bought a box of Constant Comment and decided to exchange my afternoon Green Chai with a cup of Constant Comment. I finally understood why I wasn’t allowed to drink it as a child. I was awake until at least 2 a.m. from that one cup of nostalgia.
Tisane, or herbal tea, isn’t tea at all because it is made from plant leaves, roots, flowers and bark. No caffeine in an herbal tea.
All these years of tea-drinking, and I never knew the things I learned through the Tea Tasting at the library. I anxiously await the upcoming Cookbook Club and Pie Crust Making class in November, also led by our Library Director. I can’t think of a better place for learning something new.
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Homemade Chai Tea
2-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
6 cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional for some kick)
6 cups cold water
6 bags of black tea (preferably Darjeeling)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
Combine first 5 ingredients in medium saucepan. Using mallet or back of large spoon, lightly crush or bruise spices. Add 6 cups water; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover pan, and simmer gently 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Add milk and sugar. Bring tea just to simmer over high heat, whisking until sugar dissolves. Strain chai into teapot and serve hot. Double the spices (but not the cayenne!) for a Double Spice Chai.