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How to brew the perfect cup of tea, from traditional to exotic

Wed., Nov. 3, 2010

‘As a child, I made peppermint tea from the backyard,” says Dawn Kiki, owner of Brambleberry Cottage and Tea Shoppe. “It was every girl’s dream to have tea parties.”

While the hectic pace of modern life makes daily tea parties impractical, taking time to brew a proper cup of tea is a great way to slow down and savor life, even if just for a few moments.

“Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages after water,” says Kiki.

Choosing a tea is an adventure, she says, and a matter of personal preference.

Select an herbal tea for a relaxing cup. Have a sweet tooth? Try a custom blend with dried fruit or chocolate pieces mixed in.

For an afternoon pick-me-up, try a strong, black tea or spicy Chai.

Thada Ziegler, owner of Taste and See Ministries, recommends buying loose leaf tea rather than tea bags.

“Tea bags have sweepings and fannings, which are the pieces of the tea leaf that falls off during processing,” explains Ziegler, whose nonprofit Spokane tearoom provides job training for women in transition.

The resulting taste is less flavorful than brewed loose tea. If you prefer the convenience of tea bags, make sure to look for ones labeled “whole leaf tea.”

Kiki recommends using a stainless steel mesh strainer. The strainer can be filled with any kind of tea, and rests on the rim of a tea cup or pot.

“You can put your spoon in it and move it up and down and get the tea moving,” she says. Agitating the tea leaves causes them to unfurl and release flavor.

She warns against using a tea ball to brew tea, as the tea leaves get trapped in this compact, round brewing device and can’t expand enough to release the tea’s flavor.

If you don’t have a tea pot, a French press coffee maker can be used to brew tea. Just stay away from loose herbal teas, which are so fine the sediment stays in the tea, cautions Ziegler.

Measure tea into the bottom of the press, add boiling water and steep for three to 10 minutes, depending on the tea, then push down the plunger. Or try an herbal infusion in the French press with a handful of fresh herbs, spices and fruit or citrus peel.

Spice things up

If you are looking for a little bit of zing to start your day, consider brewing up a pot of Chai tea.

While you can buy prepared Chai tea concentrate, it is simple to make this spiced tea from scratch and the flavor is well worth the effort. The boiling, milky blend of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves smells heavenly.

“In my state, we make tea like this three times a day,” says Gurmeet Gill, who is from the state of Punjab in Northern India.

Gill, who owns the recently opened Taaj Indian Restaurant in Spokane, explains that Chai tea is good to drink even in hot weather because of the tea’s digestive properties: “It settles your stomach.”

Taaj brews up a big pot of Chai tea (also called masala chai) every morning. This deliciously spicy and invigorating tea is traditionally served in India to welcome people.

“When going to someone’s house or business the first thing they do is to offer tea,” Gill says.

Going herbal

“A lot of people are going to tea instead of coffee,” says Louise Ramos, who owns Pleasant Blends Gourmet Coffees and Tea with her daughter, Vicki Leavey.

Pleasant Blends carries a large selection of herbal teas, which are popular with customers because of their health benefits, Ramos says.

Yerba maté, a traditional South American herbal drink, is high in anti-oxidants and is favored for its natural stimulant properties. It can be brewed with hot water like a tea, or prepared with steamed milk to make a tea latte.

Called maté in Spanish-speaking countries, this herbal drink is traditionally consumed out of a hollowed-out gourd.

Another popular herbal tea is rooibos, made from the leaves of a South African shrub. This reddish-brown tea (rooibos means red bush in Afrikaans) is high in vitamin C and is known to provide relief from hay fever and other minor allergies.

“It has a slightly sweet flavor,” says Ramos, who recommends brewing this tea with a fine mesh strainer to contain the particles.

Pleasant Blends carries more than a dozen rooibos teas, including one blended with anise seed and sunflower petals.

If you like your tea sweet, Ramos suggests the natural sweetener stevia. In its dried leaf form, stevia can mixed in with tea leaves and brewed into the tea.

Courtesy of Gurmeet Gill, Taaj Indian Restaurant, Spokane.

5 cups water

2 slices fresh ginger

2 black cardamom pods

2 green cardamom pods

1 small cinnamon stick

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

2-3 heaping teaspoons Assam tea (available at Asian markets or substitute any black tea)

1-2 cups milk

Crush the cardamom and cloves with a heavy cup or side of a knife just long enough to release their fragrance. Place cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and 5 cups of water in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for 5 to 10 minutes or until tea is dark in color. Add 1-2 cups of milk or until mixture is a caramel color. Add more milk for weaker tea. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and strain mixture to remove spices. Can be stored in a thermos or made ahead and re-heated. Add sugar before serving if desired.

Yield: 6 to 7 cups

Brown Sugar and Oat Scones

Courtesy of Dawn Kiki, Brambleberry Cottage and Tea Shoppe

3 cups flour

1 cup quick cooking oats

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ cup butter (1 ½ sticks)

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter. Mix the vanilla and buttermilk and incorporate into the oat mixture. Shape dough into two equal balls and flatten each into a circle with your hands. Cut each circle into 6 to 8 wedges, depending on the size of scone desired. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 15 to 20 minutes rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time.

Yield: 12 to 16 scones

Mock Devonshire Cream

Courtesy of Dawn Kiki

½ cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

½ cup sour cream

In a mixer, beat heavy whipping cream and confectioners’ sugar together until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the sour cream. Spread on scones or other sweet treats.

Yield: Enough for 12-16 scones

Thyme, Apple and Ginger Infusion

From Martha Stewart Living magazine, March 2010.

1 handful fresh thyme

3-4 thin apple slices

2-3 slices of ginger

Place the ingredients in the bottom of a French press. Add boiling water and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Press the plunger and enjoy. Add honey as desired.

Yield: 4 to 6 cups.

Variation: Try other herbal infusions with any combination of fresh tarragon, peppermint, lemon verbena, lemon grass, and citrus peel.

Pomegranate Mint Tea

From “Tea and Cookies,” by Rick Rodgers

Six 3-inch mint sprigs

½ cup bottled pomegranate juice

2 rounded teaspoons oolong tea leaves

Crush the mint between your fingers and put it in a small saucepan. Add 1 cup water and the pomegranate juice. Let the mixture come to a boil slowly over medium-low heat so the mint can infuse the water. Meanwhile, fill a small teapot with hot water to warm it.

Discard the water in the teapot. Add the oolong tea leaves to the teapot. Pour in the contents of the saucepan including the mint. Cover and steep for 3 to 4 minutes. Pour through a tea strainer into two cups and serve hot.

Yield: 2 cups

Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance writer. She can be reached at kharrington67@

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