Tea for Two...or Three or Four...

Growing up in Texas, iced tea is the beverage of choice. In the summer, I confess to making hundreds of gallons of sun tea, hibiscus tea (agua de jamaica) and dozens of other varieties including green and ginger; but in the winter, iced tea is not my cup of tea.

I vividly remember an aunt who drank hot tea every day no matter what the season. Because coffee was the preferred adult morning drink, this stood out for me as unusual. It seemed like such a British thing to do and I honestly liked that she didn't drink coffee. Now that I am probably her age, I have a new found affection for hot tea and it's become something of an obsession.

Similar to the ritualistic feeling of making a pour-over or Chemex coffee, steeping tea is equally ceremonial and grounding. Though I have always been a "tea bagger"--as tea bags are much more prevalent in the specialty grocery stores near my home--my expanding affinity for this lovely beverage has recently taken me to the next level of seriousness: loose tea.
Sure, the aisles at the stores are overflowing with an array of bagged and flavored tea options, but the real fun (and authenticity) begins when you brew with loose teas placed in a tea basket.   

I shared with you in the last post about my new found adoration of hot teas and mentioned David and I both placed tea balls in each other's Christmas stocking. We thought we were so creative with these trinket stocking stuffers, but here's where we got educated...

To celebrate our new tea balls, I knew I wanted to visit a tea store while on a recent trip to New York City--the city where you can find, buy, listen to, see and eat anything you want. And so we did. While cruising the Village one afternoon with a business associate, we literally stumbled across the Harney & Sons tea store. This was not planned and totally kismet, as we had previously and intentionally walked by another tea store in the East Village but it was closed until noon, so we continued on our mission and I left this intention behind.

The previously closed tea store was a broom closet compared with this massive and tranquil space dedicated to all things in the world of teas and master tea blenders. For a neophyte like me, the selections of bagged and loose teas were simply overwhelming. I browsed a bit and then mustered the nerve to step up to the area where the loose teas are housed and ask a few questions of one of the tea-loving employees working behind the auspicious loose tea counter.
To be honest, I had a rough start with the salesgirl and, at one point, wasn't even sure I was going to leave with any loose tea. But once we found a rhythm, we sailed together like a team in sync and settled on six heavenly loose teas and a new loose tea basket. Here's why.

When I mentioned to her our newly gifted tea balls was the reason I was buying all of this tea, she said "I wish those things were never invented because they allow too many tea leaves to escape and there's not enough room for the tea to bloom"--and she's right. The one time I did use the tea balls, there was quite a bit of loose tea floating in the cup, which was unappealing. But now I understood why tea balls are wrong and a tea basket is right. 

After a brief education into the world of loose teas, we left with a sturdy bag filled with several green teas, black teas and a fermented tea--rooibos chai, organic ginger, Pu-erh, organic banda, organic Earl Grey and matcha.

One of the first things I did upon returning home from our trip was to dive into the tea for our first tasting of the real deal. I selected rooibos chai. Upon first whiff of the freshly brewed cup of tea, we immediately smelled and tasted why experts prefer loose teas for a more authentic, aromatic and rich drinking experience.

Because I love ordering Japanese matcha lattes at cozy coffee shops (but have struggled over the last year to make it lump-free at home), the second cup was matcha--the highest quality powdered green tea available and considered for millenia a Far East miracle elixir. The growing popularity and amazing healing properties of matcha mean it can be found at most quality coffee shops--especially those that make their own almond milk.

Matcha's bright green color is a result of the high chlorophyll content and it is heavy with antioxidants. Yes, it's a bit pricey, but a little matcha goes along way--about 1/2-1 teaspoon per cup--and the Ceremonial grade is recommended, so you don't need to buy a big amount. Keep it in an airtight container in a dark, cool place or in the freezer and it will last up to six months. Add it to smoothies, as well as cold/hot matcha tea with homemade almond or coconut milk (koicha, a thicker tea) or, for a thinner tea (usucha in Japan), a combination of non-dairy milk and filtered water. To sweeten the matcha, add a bit of raw honey.

Seriously earthy with a bold pop of chartreuse, you can sweeten it with a bit of raw honey. At first sip, you can almost taste the health benefits in a steaming cup of calming L-Theanine brimming with a high concentration of antioxidants, especially catechins. Some experts report matcha contains more than 60x the antioxidants of spinach and more than 7x than high quality dark chocolate. Similarly, others have suggested that drinking one cup of matcha tea is equivalent to drinking 10 cups of regular green tea in antioxidants and health promoting benefits.

With such powerful nutrients in just one serving, why not make friends with this special tea and help spread the word of its goodness.

Buen provecho!

NOTE: The matcha I used for this post is some older matcha I had on hand and need to use up before opening the Harney & Sons matcha tea. The color should be vibrant as opposed to the dingy color featured here, but it still tastes great. To keep the match super fresh, store it in the freezer and it will last longer. See picture at the end of the post for a comparison of old vs. new matcha, as well as a visual comparison of the tea balls vs. tea basket.

Curious on other ways to use matcha powder? Here are a few creative and nutritious suggestions:
Hot Matcha Latte
The Cowgirl Gourmet

Print recipe

The ritual of steeping tea reminds me of my great-grandmother. Though I have no recollection if she drank tea or not, I trust she would have relished the calming qualities of the task. It requires no thinking, simply boiling water and pouring it over loose tea where it then steeps and blooms for a few minutes before becoming a colorful, pungent, intoxicating and rich tea that nourishes and warms the heart and soul. Because matcha is a finely ground powder, you will need to make a paste with the matcha and a little liquid first--and then add the remaining liquid.

If you become a true connoisseur, invest in the matcha making kit that includes a bowl, bamboo scooper and whisk.

Makes 1 serving

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup milk or non-dairy milk (such as almond, coconut or cashew), divided into 1/4 and 1/2 cups
1 teaspoon matcha tea powder, rubbed through a fine sieve to remove any lumps and clumps
1 tablespoon honey

In a small saucepan, add 1/4 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy) and heat over medium-high. Using a small whisk or a special bamboo whisk, briskly stir the pre-sifted matcha into the liquid so there are no lumps and it is well combined. The matcha will melt into the liquid and dissolve quickly.

Now add the remaining liquid of water and milk and continue to whisk well. Drizzle in the honey and continue stirring so everything blends to together. Allow the tea to warm thoroughly, pour in a cup and enjoy hot. With or without a freshly baked cookie.

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