Monday, February 22, 2010

Bubble Tea and Rooibos - New Experiences

So I went a little wild and visited some new tea stores/rooms this past weekend and I found a place called Indigo Tea Co. that not only had a great variety of loose tea, but it does a fantastic bubble tea. I tried a peach green tea iced milk latté w/pearls and I have to say it rivals the bubble tea variety I've tried before at Teagarden. But to be fair - I had a really nice Almond green bubble tea latté today at the 'Garden that was terrific as well - both places get kudos.

What was different about the version at Indigo? Really tasted the green tea. The flavor syrup was sweet, but it didn't overwhelm the tea flavor. By the time the ice had melted down a bit, it was in perfect harmony.

What I like about Indigo is twofold: it happens to be the only tea shop around my neck of the woods without a trek into Metropolis and it has a fantastic selection of accessories, particularly Japanese servingware. Despite being part of an out-of-the-way strip mall, the decor didn't have an industrial feel, and there were tatami mats available for an 'authentic' experience, though only several. My guess is that you'd have to time your visit for a day when school's in session to fight the younger crowd for dibs. Large selection of loose teas - I took home an organic Pu-Erh and a couple of inexpensive storage tins since my tea collection is overtaking the cupboard.

It doesn't strike me as the kind of place where you'd necessarily get an experienced point-of-view about tea steeping or origins from the staff, though in fairness, I walked in with an idea of what I was looking for and didn't have any serious questions. Very chain-like in that you're left to browse while there are baristas waiting to take your order at the café counter should you want to try some prepared teas or something from the pastry counter (pastry selection was nice, but not overwhelming.) There were lots of tea lattés heading out the door. The loose teas are arranged in pre-packaged heat-sealed bags for you to pick and choose yourself. Nice selection of greens and oolongs.


The other place I found near the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis, my full review can be found on my review log at I won't go into detail about the store except to say that it was very tiny, with an ecletic no-frills Asian-Euro decor, but had a nice selection of teas and staff that knew their stuff. A small, but thorough selection of accessories including Maté gourds with bombillas

I brought a family member along who's just learning about tea and who was excited to try a Rooibos, after having invaded the Rooibos tin in my cupboard. We ordered a pot of Rooibos Bourbon, served with optional rock sugar. Rooibos Invader marveled at how the rock sugar took so long to dissolve, and I chuckled because my own cup didn't need it. The bourbon vanilla made it rich enough already.

The proprietors were friendly and had lots of good steeping advice and storage hints. I bought a nice silver storage tin (once again, my collection is growing), several ounces of the flavorful vanilla Rooibos, and an organic Pu-Erh that even Rooibos Invader admitted was good. Score one for the non-soda crowd :).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Starbucks Yixing-Lined Tea Tumbler

I was initially surprised to see a tumbler of this quality being offered at the 'Big Chain' because it's a bit more sophisticated than the usual plastic ware being touted as tumblers for coffee. People who know tea will tell you hands-down that good tea is best served in Yixing clay servingware because the clay is porous and will eventually retain the flavor of the tea that's repeatedly served in it. Some claim that over time, all you'd need to do to a well-seasoned Yixing cup is to add hot water and you'd have tea without having to add any leaves.

While this tumbler isn't altogether traditional, it is lined with Yixing clay and offers the modern convenience of a plastic outer shell and screw-on lid for traveling. I've used it almost daily for over a month and it hasn't disappointed. Even when I'm home and have the time to steep in a regular ceramic teapot, I still use the tumbler because it usually takes me a while to finish what I prepare (see my bio).

The most interesting feature isn't the fact that it's clay-lined. It is an interactive work of art. When empty or when it's contents are cold, the artwork on the outside features a blue design against a dark navy/purple background. When you pour fresh tea into the tumbler, the clay heats up and the background designs come to life, turning shades of light blue and orange. You always know when your tea is warm.

With Starbucks seeing the light and converting to loose leaf teas this winter, it's nice to see them taking their accessory awareness to a different level as well. The only thing that could improve the tumbler at all is if it included a mesh lid or infuser to brew directly in the tumbler itself, but there are plenty of alternatives out there for the imaginative tea drinker.

If you're looking for a way to bring your favorite tea with you in a briefcase or backpack, this is a great choice.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February Focus update

One more week left to the month and here's where I stand with my February Focus items:

- Started a walking program this week where I'm now tracking via a pedometer. Still working toward getting 10,000 steps per day, but lots of family milestones this week didn't allow for the time. Roughly 5 miles of walking a day takes a bit of focus even if you're getting it done via other things :)

- Looking at various seed catalogs and decided which tomato varieties to order, thinking of switching from the Nantes Scarlet carrots to try a variety that's meant to be more fingerling-like and see if I can get them spaced out better this season.

- Still on track with my savings plan. The freezer meals I prepped last fall are still serving me well. Haven't had to make an official grocery stop in 2-3 weeks. The tea purchases I made are the only fallback, but completely worth the investment, as will be evidenced in my later reviews. Still cheaper to brew tea than to purchase prepared coffee or soda.

Lent is here! Looking forward to spring and the perennials to start coming back. We've had our snow mountains turn into dripping ice floes this week - won't be long until we see grass again.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kolache - Not As Mysterious As I Once Thought

I had a chance to take a half-day course in the art of baking Czech Kolache pastries. In our house, they've come to be known as Polish Dog Food. Why? We brought home a $20 assortment from our local Ukranian deli a week or two after Christmas, left the house to run errands, and returned home to find that our labrador had consumed every last one. It wouldn't have been a big deal except 'local Ukranian deli' for us means a 45-minute car commute and a battle for parking on the streets of Downtown Minneapolis.

Enter the cooking course yesterday, taught by an instructor who's done a lot of footwork in researching the older recipes.

I have zero experience in bread making, so the tip about keeping the temperature of the dough below 110 farenheit so the yeast will work was well-received, but apparently fell on sleepy ears. My dough didn't rise, though my mother's did, and the instructor graciously allowed me to use her pre-made example, with some left to take home.

The Kolache are fabulous - though a little more "bunny" than the Polish version that me and my family are more familiar with. We plan to thin ours out in the next attempt. But the recipe we were given for the dough didn't take very long at all to rise, and the results were edible - what more can you expect? :)

Paired with my Strawberry Pu-Erh tea that arrived Thursday, it made for a good change-of-pace from my oatmeal breakfast.

About 30 minutes for dough prep, including time to rise
10-30 minutes for filling prep (can be done while waiting for the dough) depending on what you're making
15-25 minutes in a 350-degree oven
10 minutes to cool and store

If this was all you had to prepare in an afternoon, there'd be no room for complaint, but I can understand why traditional holiday meals turned into 3-day events when you had other things to juggle.

The traditional 'sweet' fillings were presented: poppy seed, apricot, cheese, prune. But a bit of net research has shown me that there are more places and bakeries turning the traditional Kolache idea into savories. Now that I've made a batch of my own, I can envision a "Quiche Lorraine" type of kolache - a bit of egg and cheese and spinach or bacon pieces in the middle of the wheel-style would be fabulous.

Some net resources if you'd like to try your own or learn more:
Kolache blogger with a dough recipe and pics of the different cooking stages
Montgomery's Kolacky Days