Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/9/2010 (2530 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If your tea-drinking experience is limited to tossing a bag into cup and you don't find it very exciting, don't blame the tea. There's a whole world of traditions and tastes that make sipping a "cuppa" a sublime moment in time. But you might need a guide to explore that world -- and Lisa Boalt Richardson will gladly give you that tour.
Atlanta, Ga.'s, Boalt Richardson is a graduate of the Specialty Tea Institute and is designated as a "certified tea specialist." She's travelled and trained and she brings that knowledge and experience to her books Tea With a Twist (Harvest House Publishers, $27.99) and The World in Your Teacup (Harvest House Publishers, $27.99).
These books are lovely in every way, from the soft-hued photography of beautiful table settings to the made-to-order menus for differently themed tea parties. As useful and informative as they are for the potential tea party host, they are also a romantic indulgence for the tea lover who just wants to sit, sip and admire the pages.
"I just want to make sure that people know tea is accessible to anybody and that it's really easy," she says. While she does speak to the trade, her focus is on the consumer. She says tea, even really good tea, is an affordable luxury.
Part of her training includes "sensory evaluation," which is a similar process to learning the art of wine-tasting. "You have to have a really good palate. I have a really good sense of smell and that really affects your sense of taste," she says. To maintain that palate and hone her skills, she says she's tasting different teas from different countries all the time.
"The thing I love about tea is that it connects so many different people. I've met people from all over the world and we might have nothing in common," she says.
"But this one beverage just connects people, because it is the second most popular in the world. And everybody has their own sense of what it means. It's more than just a beverage, it's meeting and gathering and talking and sharing food and drink. And it's slowing down and finding out about people."
How to buy a great cuppa
In order to be an affordable luxury, you need to have a little tea savvy to be sure you're buying the good stuff. Boalt Richardson says buying online can be tricky because you can't smell the leaves or see how fresh the product is. If you find a trusted purveyor online, purchase small amounts at first, and if they're good, stick with them. Otherwise, look for someone local.
"The leaves shouldn't be dry and real brittle. There should be an aroma of freshness depending on what type of tea you're buying."
She says green teas, for example, generally should smell a bit like hay or "vegetal." If you're not getting an aroma, it's probably old. Tea doesn't go bad. It just loses its flavour over time. So look for freshness. Then look for price point.
"This should be an affordable luxury. It shouldn't be thousands of dollars per pound." You do need to pay for good tea, but you shouldn't have to mortgage the house to enjoy it on a regular basis.
She also says it's important for purveyors to have some sort of connection to the countries they purchase from, so ask where they source from and if they go to the place of origin to buy. Boalt Richardson says they don't need to go every year to these places, but a good purveyor will have a connection to their source. You should also ask what year the tea is from, especially if it is a single origin (not blended) or a single estate tea.
"If you're buying it, I would want to buy from that year. If you're storing it, I wouldn't store it beyond another year."
How to make a great cuppa
These are Boalt Richardson's basic tips for brewing a pot of tea, any size, with loose leaf tea.
1. Always use fresh cold water, spring or tap. Water you have already boiled will not be as good.
2. Warm the teapot with very hot water and drain.
3. Measure leaves carefully into the infuser. Use approximately 5 ml (1 tsp) per cup or according to the instructions with the tea.
4. Heat water to 71 C to 82 C (160 F to 180 F) for green or white tea and a full boil for black teas. Pour water over leaves immediately and cover pot or mug.
5. Steep for time instructed on tea package. Usually one to three minutes for green and white, 3 to 5 for black, 5 to 10 for herbal infusions and fruit blends.
6. Once steeped, remove leaves.
Here are two recipes designed to accompany a nice hot cup of tea, from Lisa Boalt Richardson's The World In Your Teacup. Visit her website at www.lisaknowstea.com
Savory Honey Scones
11 ml (2 1/4 tsp) rosemary, finely chopped and divided
325 ml (1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour
325 ml (1 1/3 cups) semolina
10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder
2 ml (1/2 tsp) baking soda
2 ml (1/2 tsp) coarse salt
170 g (6 oz) soft goat cheese, chilled and crumbled into bits
50 ml (1/4 cup) honey
125 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream divided
Preheat oven to 220 C (425 F). In a large bowl, mix 10 ml (2 tsp) rosemary with all other dry ingredients. Add goat cheese to the dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk together honey, half the cream, and egg. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients until a soft dough forms. Form dough into a ball. Turn out onto a floured surface and separate the dough into 2 equal portions and pat each portion into a circle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges. Separate and arrange wedges on a baking sheet. Brush tops with remaining cream and sprinkle with remaining rosemary. Place in oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with butter, honey, and/or softened goat cheese.
Ghoriba (Semolina Cookies)
280 ml (1 cup plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
250 ml (1 cup) confectioner's sugar
500 ml (2 cups) semolina flour
2 eggs, beaten
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
1 egg white, lightly beaten
50 ml (1/4 cup) blanched or slivered almonds
To make clarified butter, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Skim off the froth and then pour into a mixing bowl, leaving the white mild solids in the pan. Set aside until cool. Sift the flour and confectioners' sugar into a bowl, add the semolina and a pinch of salt, and mix thoroughly. When the butter is cool but still liquid, stir in the eggs and the vanilla. Then add the dry ingredients, mixing to a firm dough. Knead well, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for one hour. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Knead the dough again until smooth and pliable. Take 15 ml (3 tsp) of dough and shape into a smooth ball, then shape remaining dough into balls of the same size. Place on cookie sheets 1 inch apart (they do not spread). Brush the tops with egg white and press an almond on top of each cookie, which will also help flatten the cookie. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Cool on cookie sheets. Makes about 50.