Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride by Celestial Seasonings

Seller's Description: "That festive sugar cookie aroma and taste — yours in just 4 to 6 minutes!"
Ingredients: Milk thistle, roasted barley, orange peel, natural sugar cookie flavor with other natural flavors and vanilla bean.
WebsiteSugar Cookie Sleigh Ride by Celestial Seasonings
Sample source: Provided

Teaware: 16oz glass tea infuser
Measured dry: 2 sachets
Water Temperature: 212º F
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

They nailed it. They totally nailed it. This smells and tastes exactly like sugar cookies made with a slightly more generous dash of vanilla.

When I first opened the package, I was more than a little shocked at how my kitchen suddenly smelled like I'd been baking cookies all day.

With how amazing this smelled on its own, I was sure it wouldn't translate the same into the cup. I was so wrong. Once the tea was steeped, the flavor was nearly identical to the original aroma.

The same rich, buttery baked flour, slightly caramelized sugar, and vanilla was packed into each sip. On the box, their Blendmaster's Notes proclaim this tea is "...a guilt-free way to partake in the real pleasures of the season..." and I have to agree. What a fabulous way to enjoy the holidays!

Prominent Notes: Buttery flour, sugar, and vanilla.
Aftertaste: The caramelized top of a creme brûlée.
Overall: The sugar cookie experience without the calories!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gingerbread Spice by Celestial Seasonings

Seller's Description: "Step into a cozy kitchen warmed by the spicy aroma of freshly made gingerbread — with no baking required!"
Ingredients: Cinnamon, roasted chicory, ginger, natural flavors (soy lecithin), roasted carob and Luo Han Guo.
WebsiteGingerbread Spice by Celestial Seasonings
Sample source: Provided

Teaware: 16oz glass tea infuser
Measured dry: 2 sachets
Water Temperature: 212º F
Steeping Time: 4 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

As soon as I opened the box, I was hit with a wave of ginger. There's no missing its spicy bite in this tea, and as I tend to be a bit of a ginger fiend that was no problem for me!

It's not until you steep it up that the other notes come out to play, but not in the way I was expecting. This strikes me more as a ginger tea than a gingerbread tea... or at least not your usual holiday gingerbread... something a lot older.

When I visited Hampton Court Palace back in 2003, I picked up a recipe book from the Tudor kitchens and have since tried out some of the dishes. This tea reminds me more of the flavor of their Gyngerbrede honeyed treats than a more modern cookie. It's where the "bread" part of gingerbread cookies got their name. Those treats were made with honey, white breadcrumbs, cinnamon, ginger (of course!), and ground black pepper.

Sipping this tea, I had to check the ingredients again to make sure this one didn't have the black pepper in it. It has that kind of a robust yet gentle bite. Part of that may be due to the roasted ingredients, but I think I may have to make up a fresh batch of Gyngerbrede in order to compare!

All in all, this was a very interesting cup and it has sparked my curiosity. 

Prominent Notes: Ginger!
Aftertaste: A slight honeyed effect with hints of pepper
Overall: Curiouser and curiouser

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nutcracker Tea by Simpson & Vail

Outside the snow and ice have taken over North Texas, so I wanted something both brisk enough to help me wake up and spicy enough to give me an extra little kick of warmth.

Seller Description"A delectable tea blend for you and all your guests this holiday season. We've combined Autumn flavors with decadent chocolate and mint and added a touch of warming cinnamon. Nutcracker brews to a deep amber color with a creamy, refreshing taste and a heavenly aroma. The flavors in this blend are not competitive, they perfectly complement one another … kind of the way it should be during the holiday season!"
Ingredients: Black tea, almond pieces, orange peel, cranberries, cinnamon & chocolate mint flavors.
Website: Nutcracker Tea by Simpson & Vail
Sample source: Provided

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug
Measured dry: 3 teaspoons
Water Temperature: 212º F
Steeping Time: 3 minutes
Additives: 4 teaspoons of raw sugar

This one was a little difficult to pigeonhole, because unlike so many other holiday teas, it doesn't attempt to replicate the flavor of a specific holiday treat.

After opening the sample, I had to take a moment to consider the blend. Initially, it smells like a complexly spiced dark chocolate... the kind of thing you'd pick up in a specialty chocolate store. 

When steeped, the chocolate steps back a little, and the black tea begins to assert itself. It still tastes chocolately, but the flavor is definitely sharing the stage, and the more minor notes begin to peek out of their initial hiding places.

Most prominent of those is the cinnamon, which is wonderfully true to form, and doesn't fall into the same cinnamon-candy pitfall that so many other teas do. After that, there are very, very slight hints of the orange and cranberry, but they're pretty difficult to pick out.

If anything, this reminds me - just a little - of Mexican hot chocolate, but keyed down to a level of spiciness that my tongue can handle.

Prominent Notes: Black tea, dark chocolate, and cinnamon.
Aftertaste: Cinnamon and slight hints of almond.
Overall: A great choice for this morning!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sweet Harvest Pumpkin by Celestial Seasonings

I tried two pumpkin teas this morning, and while the first one was a horrible mistake, this tea was the morning's saving grace. Fresh, sweet, and with just the right amount of kick!

Seller's Description: "Our newest holiday creation combines smooth black tea with real pumpkin flavor and a hint of natural sweetness."
Ingredients: Black tea, cinnamon, ginger, roasted chicory, natural pumpkin flavor with other natural flavors, Luo Han Guo, cloves, nutmeg, natural sweetener (Stevia extract) and pumpkin.
WebsiteSweet Harvest Pumpkin by Celestial Seasonings
Sample source: Provided

Teaware: 16oz glass tea infuser
Measured dry: 2 sachets
Water Temperature: 212º F
Steeping Time: 3 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

As I open the tea's wax paper bag, the scents of ginger, cloves, and what might be the roasted chicory hit me first. Following on their heels are the slightly more understated aromas of pumpkin and nutmeg.

What I've found with the Celestial Seasonings teas is that they are happiest when you stick as close as possible to the ratio of one teabag per eight ounces of water, so I used two bags in my 16oz infuser mug instead of just one.

It was totally the right call, because the scent profile takes an about face as soon as it's steeped. The pumpkin takes center stage, buoyed by the rich blend of spices. This is like drinking pumpkin spice bread, where the cook hit just the right spice balance: enough to leave a tingle on your tongue, but not so much as to let any one spice overwhelm.

I find myself craving some cream cheese to spread over it, the flavor is so similar!

In lieu of that (because this isn't a fresh, warm slice as much as it tastes like it!) I decided to add a dash of milk. If anything, it made the experience stronger! So I may have a little baking to do. In the meantime, this was a wonderful drink to spend the morning with.

Prominent Notes: Pumpkin, cinnamon, and clove
Aftertaste: Nutmeg and clove
Overall: Tasty!

But I don't feel like I'm done with this tea yet...

Sweet Harvest Pumpkin Pancake Butter

As will sometimes happen when I'm enjoying a cup of tea while cooking, I got a little inspired to experiment. I will usually use straight spices (like cloves, anise, or cardamon) to infuse butter for pancakes, but I thought this tea might lend itself well to the process.

Because I will do this from time to time, I picked up a tiny butter warming pot at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It was something like $15 and has lasted us a couple years now... mostly because our waistlines wouldn't appreciate it if we used it more often!

Place your butter in the pan and turn the unit on medium. After making the pancakes and leaving them in the oven to keep warm, I had about 3/4 stick of butter left. In the future, I think 2 bags per stick would be better.

Get a nice, solid layer of melted butter before you put the teabag into the mix. Bring the butter to a gentle simmer and then reduce the heat. Simmer for something like 3-5 minutes so the flavors of the tea can work their magic.
Transfer the infused butter to a bowl or serving dish that's up to the heat - I prefer Pyrex. As the butter drains from the pan to the dish, make sure to press the teabag well, to get more flavor out.

Serve and enjoy!

But be careful of kitties with feral instincts. We were going to put the left-overs in the fridge, but Mei-Mei decided it was just too tempting. By the time I realized she'd snuck away, she already had her face inside it!

All in all, this was a very scrumptious breakfast! The tea flavor was a little light, but still added a nice spicy kick to our pancakes. Should I do this again in the future, I think I may add some cloves or cinnamon pieces for a little extra kick. Overall, though... tasty!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Beaded Tea Infusers

The power is now (thankfully!) back on, but yesterday I had a bit of a quandary. My Kindle was out of power, my laptop had to be set aside for emergency phone charging, and I pretty much only had good light at the kitchen table. What to do?

Well, I decided to get started on some Christmas gifts I hadn't gotten around to yet. I took pictures during the project, so if you're the crafty sort this might be a nice way to spiff up some simple teaware for the people on your list. 

This was the finished product. As you can see here, I started with some basic tea infusers. I was so excited when these went on sale, I goofed and bought the extra large ones. It's too late to do anything about it now, but I hope the people on my gift list have very large cups to accommodate them! 

My supplies, fairly neatly laid out. If I hadn't already had a bit of a hoard going on with beads, I would have chosen some nice coordinating styles of different sizes. Also needed were:

* Headpins
* Round nose and flat nose pliers
* Wire cutter

First things first - I removed the hook on the end of the tea infuser's chain. You could leave it on for two reasons:

1. You're using pre-made charms or keychains and can't attach to the chain otherwise.
2. You want to be able to remove the beaded section later for easier washing... wish I'd thought of that earlier!

Next, fill your headpin with all sorts of wonderful things! As you can see here, I didn't need the full length of this headpin, so I cut it off about 1.25cm above the top of my beads.
Now that you've got the headpin cut to where you want it, grab your round nose pliers. Place the very top of the headpin around the ring-size you want (smaller near the front of the nose, larger towards the back) and start to spin around. Stop when you have created a full circle.

Right now your circle will look a little lopsided. To straighten up your loop, now you need to move the round nose pliers to the other side of the wire and tilt it back to the other side a little. 

Now that you've created your loop, you need to attach it to the chain. Use the flat nose pliers to tilt your loop open to the side. 

Note that you don't actually change the curve of the loop. You're just opening it enough to fit the chain inside it.

And you're done! With the first drop at least. You can add additional ones if you like. I was feeling a little... decorative, and it may have gotten out of hand!

And from here it just becomes like a sickness... wouldn't it be cute with one more? How about a tiny little drop. Eeek!

Here's another gander at this finished version. Remember that you can always click on the pictures to see them larger and in greater detail!

For the heck of it, here's one more. I think this one is actually one of my favorites, because I love the play of amber and shell together. It makes me think of my rather awesome mom.

And again we come to a possible stopping point, but I just can't do it! More frippery must be added!

And this one comes to an end as well. I used a little pre-made drop to hang down over the shell, and I really liked the effect. 

Altogether, I think I made fourteen of these little beauties. Should I do this project again, I might gather some simpler charms that could either go well with the beads or stand on their own. This would also work with keychains, so I could do something that's more specific to someone's favorite show or hobby. I did have some steampunk keys at one point, but I couldn't find them with the power out.

The only real caveat to this project is the washing. It will be a bit tricky, and best all around if your tea drinker only washes the infuser and keeps the beady bobbly bit nice and dry. Not all beads like water, and the headpin can become tarnished over time. I really will consider detachable ones next time.

So, immediate family... anyone want to call dibs their favorite? ;)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Coffee Cake by DAVIDsTEA

Today has been such a strange day that I wanted something completely different in my cup this evening. It was different all right... just not in the way I expected!

Seller's Description"There’s nothing more nostalgic than a classic coffee cake. Just picture it. That dense, yellow cake, dotted with fruit and topped with crumbled brown sugar. And this sweet, fragrant black tea blend is every bit as satisfying. It has all the aroma of a fresh baked coffee cake, plus an energy boost from rich black tea and a fruity hint of cherry and pineapple. Now getting that fresh-from-the-bakery taste is so simple, it’s a piece of cake. Limited edition."
Ingredients: Black tea, cherries, pineapple, natural and artificial cake flavoring
WebsiteCoffee Cake by DAVIDsTEA
Sample source: Free sample with purchase

Teaware: 8oz of water in glass cup with pinch infuser
Measured dry: 1-1/4 teaspoons
Water Temperature: 212º F
Steeping Time: 5 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons raw sugar (oops!)

When I think of coffee cake, my memory takes me straight back to Mom's recipe. The flavor of a yellow cake with cinnamon-sugar striations which were at turns oozy and crunchy, depending on how close they were to the surface.

Maybe it's a regional thing, but I've never heard of a fruity coffee cake. Every time I would look at this sample, I would sigh happily and think of lazy mornings at home. I didn't check out the ingredients because I just assumed it was the same sweet treat that I was used to.

Now, when we look at this tea, I was a little heavy-handed on the raw sugar (an accident, I swear it!) but I think this one steeped up pretty true to form... it tastes exactly as it promises, but unfortunately, it's just not Mom's. To me this tastes more like pineapple upside down cake than coffee cake.

Even dry, the caramelized pineapple flavor just punches out of the bag and plays a game of "Got your nose!" And it doesn't let go... or even loosen its grip at all. It just holds on, from one step of the process to the next, it shouts, "Look at me!"

Now, some notes do manage to slip past it. The yellow cake batter does present itself as one of the more prominent flavors, which is what makes it so much like a pineapple upside down cake to me. There are very slight hints of the black tea base and cherry, but they stay fairly firmly in the background, and a pineapple glaze just seems to drizzle through each sip.

As a dessert tea, this is actually quite tasty... I just want to slap a different title on it!

Prominent Notes: Carmelized pineapple and cake batter
Aftertaste: Slight, very slight, hints of black tea and cherry
Overall: I think a name change might be in order :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Organic Candy Cane by Simpson & Vail

This evening's tea is a cheerful yet soothing peppermint, as we move on to the Organic Candy Cane Rooibos Herbal Tisane by Simpson & Vail.

Seller Description: "It's fabulous hot or iced (so yes you can enjoy it in the summer too!) and with no added sugar, this calorie free blend is sure to please. The aroma of the dry leaf is amazing - a definite mood booster - with its euphoric aroma of minty sweetness. When brewed, this herbal blend has a taste that is tingly, refreshing, and harkens me back to my childhood - or rather just last December….. The taste lingers delicately and deliciously on the tongue. A cup of this tea brings joy to our day and we hope it does the same for you!"
Ingredients: Organic green Rooibos, natural candy cane flavor, organic stevia, and red and white organic cornflower petals.
WebsiteOrganic Candy Cane Rooibos Herbal Tisane by Simpson & Vail
Sample source: Provided

Teaware: 16oz glass infuser mug
Measured dry: 2-1/4 teaspoons
Water Temperature: 212º F
Steeping Time: 5 minutes
Additives: 3 teaspoons of raw sugar

Most of the holiday teas I've encountered this season have been caffeinated, so I was delighted to discover this cheerful peppermint herbal - all the better to sip during a long evening of grading!

After I opened the sample envelope, my senses cleared and I could close my eyes and imagine stepping into a candy cane forest. The herbal and rooibos elements are beautifully blended, and the rooibos (which can overcome some blends) had been perfectly balanced and restrained. It supports the flavors gorgeously but stays behind the curtain.

Mei-Mei timing the steep
from atop the tea chest.
I can't believe it, but it really is like licking a candy cane! Each sip brings a wave of peppermint, which quickly settles back and lets a creamy cool minty calm, which just lasts and lasts, slide in its wake. My tongue is still tingling even a full minute after my last drink. I can pick out very, very slight hints of the cornflower, but like the rooibos it is more of a stagehand, helping backstage to bring the experience to life. Now, My husband loves peppermint teas, but we rarely keep them on hand because so many of them can be overwhelming, and I hadn't found one that I could just sit back and enjoy... until now.

Prominent Notes: Peppermint with very slight hints of cornflower
Aftertaste: Creamy, lasting minty freshness
Overall: I love it!