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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Summatime and the Living is Easy...

Between the mosquitos and the humidity, summer in DC can be less than ideal.  I mean, who decided it was a good idea to build the city on a swamp anyway? That's why we're here to keep you in Ginger Limeade, Sweet Green tea, iced Moroccan Mint, or whatever chilled beverage strikes your fancy. Sometimes even Teaism is closed though (like on the 4th of July), so here are some ideas to try at home! 

Casablanca Cooler
(Adapted from The Book of Green Tea by Diana Rosen)

8 ounces Moroccan Mint tea (brewed)
4 ounces tropical fruit juice of your choice (mango, pineapple or tropical punch work well)
1 ounce passionfruit syrup
4 ounces crushed ice

Shake in a large pitcher or jar until frothy. Makes 2 servings.

Peach-Tea Jam

This jam is delectable on its own, as a dipping sauce for dumplings or spring rolls, to baste chicken, or on toast for breakfast. Or you could put it in small jars and give them to friends... 
The recipe was created by Chef Wemischner to highlight the fruity character of a fine Darjeeling tea. Once prepared, the jam can be kept for at least a month. Fresh summer peaches work best, of course, but canned peaches in fruit syrup (no extra sugar) will do when the season isn't right. 

16 ounces (2 cups) spring water
2 teaspoons loose-leaf Darjeeling tea
4 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped
2 pounds granulated sugar
1/2 cup chopped crystalized ginger

1. Bring the water to 180° F and steep the tea for 3 minutes. Drain the liquor to use for the recipe.
2. Place all of the ingredients except for the ginger in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, skimming frequently during the first few minutes of cooking.
3. Reduce the heat and cook just until the mixture coats the spoon, then flows off slowly.  It should look like a very thing syrup.
4. Add the ginger. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. 
5. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until cool, then refrigerate, well covered.

Makes 3 quarts of jam. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Ochazuke -- how do you pronounce it and what in blazing saddles is this exotic dish? This is one of the most common questions we get here at Teaism, and I could probably recite the answer in my sleep: Ochazuke (or just "Chazuke,"as it is sometimes called) is a Japanese green tea and rice soup. You get a bowl with brown rice, shredded vegetables, and salmon, shrimp, or pickled plums on top. You will also get a pot of sencha, a spinachy green tea, which is meant to be poured over everything else to make the broth. Finally, you will get a little container of what we call "Ochazuke sprinkles" -- a mix of seaweed, salt, and bonito flakes (made in-house) that adds a little savory crunch to the whole concoction. The meal should look something like this when correctly prepared:

(Salmon Ochazuke pictured)

After hearing the above explanation, usually the customer says something along of the lines of "oh, how interesting!" and then orders something a little less adventurous. Not that I'm one to judge -- I've worked at Teaism for more than three months now, and had yet to try an Ochazuke. It was always too hot out for hot soup, or I wasn't in the mood, or something else on the menu was calling to me. Today, though, I decided to take the plunge and see what this dish is all about.

Despite the soaring temperatures I made myself a small salmon Ochazuke, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. The flavors of the salmon, rice, and sencha combine well to form a light tasty soup. This makes sense, since the Japanese often used the dish as a delicious way to combine leftovers, a late-night snack, and even as a hangover cure. The overall effect is refreshing, without being over-bearing -- I can see how Ochazuke could be a nice hangover cure. It's warm and hearty, with a much more delicate flavor balance than I had anticipated. I am ready to admit that I was wrong in avoiding this dish for so long -- it definitely has a lot to offer, and I can see why it has such loyal devotees. So next time you come to Teaism, consider trying something a little different -- you won't regret it!

Oh and the correct pronunciation is something like this: oh-cha-zoo-key, from the Japanese for tea - cha and tsuke - to submerge. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Tiny Little Boxes

Perhaps it's because I went to private school as a child and never got to pack a lunch, but I've always had some lunchbox envy.  I wished I had a vintage metal carry-all for my pb&j, chips, and oreos, and that my friends and I could trade delicious treats. I wouldn't even have minded an embarrassing post-it or two from Mom, wishing me a nice day at school. Instead we had hot lunches and assigned tables -- over-cooked pasta, sickly-colored green beans, and a teacher telling us we had to try at least a bite of everything! 

Then I switched schools in 7th grade and got to pack a lunch -- but I still didn't have a cool box, just one of those insulated purple satchels, and the olive tapenade and mozzarella sandwiches my mother packed always left lots of gross gunk in my braces. Middle school traumas aside, the discovery of the bento box changed my life. 

We would often head to Penn Quarter after school, where a beautiful lacquered box filled with chicken, sticky rice, sweet potatoes and cucumber ginger salad provided a delicious late afternoon snack. The bento box was exactly what I had been looking for -- a stylish Japanese-style lunch box that made me feel sophisticated and worldly. 

The term "bento" originated from the Southern Song Dynasty slang term 便當 (biàndāng), meaning "convenient" or "convenience." The traditional box can be traced back to  the late Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333) and consisted of a meat or fish, rice, and one or more pickled vegetables. Japanese mothers would send their children to school and their husbands to work with perfectly compartmentalized and balanced meals. 

When Linda Orr and Michelle Brown opened the first Teaism in 1996, they decided to revive the Japanese tradition of the bento box. Whether Salmon, Chicken, Handroll, or Veggie, bentos remain some of our most popular dishes, providing the perfect opportunity to sample a little bit of this and a little bit of that. 

Pictured above: the most sought-after of Teaism's bento boxes, featuring Teriyaki salmon, edamame, cucumber ginger salad, and brown rice with furikake flakes. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Orwellian Views on Tea

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, was known for his strong opinions on totalitarianism and social manipulation, as you might know if you ever picked up a copy 1984 or Animal Farm. But as a proper Englishman, he also had a thing or two to say about tea and its proper consumption. In the article entitled "A Nice Cup of Tea," Orwell outlines eleven golden rules for making and drinking tea:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
(See link for full list). This is not to say that I agree with all of Orwell's rules -- a little honey can temper the bitterness of tea, and provides wonderful relief for sore throats. And I don't know which varieties he was tasting, but I think the Chinese have a lot to offer when it comes to tea. I do think, however, that having your own personal rituals for preparing and consuming tea is part of what makes the beverage so special. Water must be heated to the right temperature, and loose leaf will always be better than store-bought tea-bags. And somehow the perfect mug always seems to enhance the taste of the tea. 

I'll leave you with some video action, since I just watched the new HBO film on Hemingway and Gellhorn -- check out George Orwell talking about the Spanish Civil War and the way to brew a perfect cuppa: