How to experience tea – the definitive tea experience

I was born in a Mediterranean country; I grew up in the culture of coffee.

Coffee is an essential element of Mediterranean culture, not only as a beverage, but also as a social binder. Phrases such as “let’s have a coffee after work” are more than common and have become social conventions for “let’s meet” (one does not need to actually have coffee).

It makes its first appearance at breakfast time, and it sneaks into many people’s morning breaks. However, its indisputable place is after lunch, normally accompanying the “sobretaula-sobremesa-nactischzeit”, that moment when the meal has been finished but no one wants to leave the comfort of the table and the company of those sitting around it.

Due to this strong cultural influence, one would expect me to be a coffee drinker. However, although I can endure the smell, I am not able to stand its sharp bitter taste in my mouth, even if made by experts (and believe me, I’ve tried very well made coffee).
Therefore, I have always had a tendency towards tea, a less aggressive drink. At the beginning, it was simply more accessible to my young paladar, but with time I started noticing its different dimensions and infinit possibilities.

I began getting properly used to it (if not addicted, now I cannot have breakfast without it!), so my first experiences were English teas. Nevertheless, I began being curious about other tea conceptions (mainly due to cinematographic influence), and I started to explore different varieties, from Moroccan mint tea to Japanese Matcha.

Three weeks ago, looking at the visual disorder of my mugs, and noticing the absence of a proper tea pot in my kitchen, I made up my mind and I decided to acquire proper equipment. I went to the local shops, nothing there. So I decided to pursue my quest online. After visiting several websites I discovered JING Tea. Their website is not only pleasant visually, but also provides accurate information regarding their range of products (from tea varieties to all the tools involved in the process of Gong Fu tea making). I particularly appreciated the section “New to tea“, the introductory tea packs and the explanatory videos.

The website offers the possibility to explore tea varieties geographically, by taste, by type and even by moment of the day, helping out during the choosing process for those who are still a bit lost in the tea world.

However, despite their wide range of teas (reasonably priced, I must say), I was most impressed by the tea ware and gift sections. Simply impressive. I ended up acquiring the a glass set for one. I couldn’t be happier about the choice. The tea pot and cup are beautiful and allow seeing and controlling the infusion process.  Perfect.

Along the tea set, I bought a tea starter set, including Dragon Well Green tea, Silver Needle White tea, Huo Shan Yellow buds, Yellow Gold Oolong tea, Yunnan Gold Black tea and Vintage Loose Raw Puerh tea. They are all very delicate, and I really enjoyed being able to taste a new kind of tea every day for almost a week (but I will never give up my Earl Grey addiction for breakfast!).

All in all, JING Tea has been a great discovery. Their webpage is bookmarked in my browser.

Enjoy!

JING TeaFrom Jing Tea

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Hummus

Sun, sun, sun… here it comes! 

Although April seems to be giving us the cold shoulder (literally, today temperatures went down to +1º!), I have already begin to think of all those things one can do to enjoy spring and warm weather. Having spent some days in Barcelona, with sunlight flooding the streets, terraces filling the atmosphere with laughter and the persuasive smell of the sea, England feels a bit grey. However, it is simply a matter of time: latent nature is waiting for the appropriate moment to explode, scattering streets, balconies and fields with flowers.

Meanwhile, and to start setting my mind in the right mode for enjoying the good weather (that I am sure, will come soon), I have a lovely recipe in mind: hummus. It is a great and healthy aperitif from the eastern side of the Mediterranean, prepared in hundreds of ways. Here you have my proposal. The result is a soft, velvet-like dip that goes well with absolutely everything: from pita bread to veggies (cucumber, carrot, and even some crispy fruits, like apple). I sometimes add it to the table on “Mexican” nights: spicy nachos are a great spoon for it.

Equipment: hand blender

Ingredients

– 1 can/pot of chick peas in water

–  2 or 3 garlic cloves (depending on your taste)

– 1 red pepper

– Abundant olive oil

Step by step

1. Drain the chick peas and place them in a container suitable for blending (important so as to avoid the resulting mixture splashing everywhere).

2. Chop the garlic cloves and the pepper, and add them to the chick peas.

3. Add olive oil to the bowl, enough so that it almost covers the ingredients.

4. Blend it to your taste. I prefer hummus being a bit chunky, but some people would rather have it completely smooth. Up to you!

5. If you are adventurous, try adding a few drops of Tabasco, a pinch of pepper or other spices.

Tip: if you are unsure about the quantity of oil to use, be spare. You can always add some more, little by little, until obtaining the desired texture.

Enjoy! 

Here comes the sun!

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Oatmeal cookies with “Lacasitos” (Smarties)

Easter… Chocolate… Spring…

The sun rays are at last, entering the gloomy room from where I am writing these lines. The weather has been as British as it can get during the past days, and an instant of light is the best remedy for the lethargy in which I was slowly sinking. So I forced myself to be constructive, and direct my energy towards something positive: cookies! And it was the perfect excuse to get rid of the pack of Lacasitos sitting on my shelf, filling the room with a thick and oppressive atmosphere in which I would have ultimately succumbed (and devoured them).

I adapted the recipe from the BBC Good Food website, and I made it less oatie (I like cookies to taste of cookies, not of cereal bars). They turned out to be very, very sweet, but still delicious! It is a great recipe to do with children (since they can stick their hands anywhere). So quick and worth the time!

Ingredients (20 cookies aprox.)

– 200 g of Moscovado sugar

– 150 g of rolled oats

– 1 big egg

– 170 g of soft butter (salted or unsalted)

– 1 tsp of Vainila essence

– 105 g of all-purpose flour

– 1 tsp dry yeast

– 1/2 ground cinnamon

– 1/2 tsp of salt (if using unsalted butter)

– A handful of Smarties (or whatever you feel like: nuts, berries, chocolate chips…)

Step by step

1. Preheat the oven at 180ºC, and cover two big trays with baking parchment.

2. Beat the butter with the sugar until getting a soft mixture (3 minutes at least, if using an electrical whisk). Add the egg, the vanilla, the yeast, the cinnamon and finally the salt.

3. Incorporate the flour to the previous mixture, mixing it until well integrated.

4. Eventually, add the oats and whatever you feel like, in my case, Lacasitos.

5. With a scoop spoon, take balls of dough (2 inches – 4cm of diameter aprox.) and place them on the baking tray, with a 5 cm gap between each ball.

6. With slightly wet fingers, flatten the dough balls (thus, you’ll avoid getting the sticky dough everywhere).

7. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until the edges look slightly gold and the middle is still soft and moist.

8. Let them stand for a couple of minutes before transfering them onto a cooling rag. Delicious!

Enjoy!

PS: you can always froze some dough to have a quick fix for a Sunday morning breakfast or a friends visit. It lasts up to a month in the freezer.

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Tiramisù au chocolat

Navigating in the many websites that present tempting recipes of tiramisu accompanied by tempting pictures, I finally decided to give a go to this traditional Italian cake last Christmas (that is the extent to which I was fed up of Christmas sweets!).

I followed every step meticulously, without adding or taking a gram from the original recipe. The result? A good tiramisu, but not excellent, at all. Just a mediocre cake, enough to calm a sweet craving but not at all at patisserie level. So as soon as I had another chance (and why not, a suitable mould), I gave it a second go, and believe me, this time, not even the crumbs stuck on the mould walls were left.

Soft, velvet-like, sweet but at the same time with enough coffee taste to avoid cloying. Simply delicious! After this second experience, tiramisu has scaled to the top positions of my “easy-quick-tasty” recipes that leave people wondering how you made it. You’ll certainly be asked for the recipe.

Ingredients (4 servings, 10×20 cm mould)

–       250 g of mascarpone

–       2 medium eggs

–       100 g caster sugar

–       50 g of dark chocolate chips

–       100 g of sponge fingers (or just as many as you need to cover the base of your mould twice)

–       Cocoa powder

–       ½ cup of strong black coffee (“expresso lungo”)/exchangeable for liqueur (Amaretto, Tia María).

Step by step

–       Separate the whites from the yolk. Beat the yolks with the caster sugar until white in a big bowl. In another recipient, beat the whites until consistent.

–       Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave (40 sec at 800W). Stir well after taking them out, they tend to “preserve” their shape despite of being actually melted.

–       Mix the mascarpone with the yolks and finally add the chocolate. Eventually, add the whites to the mixture in several stages, moving the spatula or spoon from the bottom of the bowl to the top, thus, “incorporating” them.

–       Place a layer of sponge fingers at the bottom of the bowl and sprinkle them with coffee (I would personally avoid soaking them in it, since the moisture of the mixture will already soften them enough, coffee should only steep them so that they get the flavour).

–       Cover the sponge finger layer with half of the mixture and scatter some cocoa powder on it.

–       Place a second layer of sponge

fingers, moisten them with the remaining coffee, and cover with the remaining mixture. Finally sprinkle with cocoa powder.

–       Let it set for at least 4 hours in the fridge. I would personally make it the day before, so that it has plenty of time to gain consistency.

Enjoy!

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