Tea Tasting

What is it about tea parties? How do little girls and even little boys know about them? Right? How many of you have sat through a tea party with a collection of dolls and such fine edibles as leaves and sand and rocks pretending all the while that you are at the finest of establishments?

Since my early days of plastic teapots and muddy tea, I’ve taken tea at the Savoy London and at Brown’s Hotel. I graced Betty’s Tea Room once or twice and thought for a while that Darjeeling was my best friend. In short, I love a good tea party.

I can’t claim to organize anything nearly as posh as these establishments. But what fun to taste tea with a group of friends and a wide variety of tea!

Edibles:

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Scone bites
I used the Women’s Bean Project Denver Tea Room Cream Scone Mix from Trade As One to make tiny bite-sized scones, which I placed in a little plastic dish and topped with Strawberry Jam from The Cherry Hut. A dollop of whipped cream on top makes a delightful and light twist on the tea room tradition.

IMG_7145Berries in a tiny cup with a pinch of lemon zest and a taste of mascarpone are super refreshing and a great way to cleanse the palate.

IMG_7149 IMG_7146Melba toast with a spoonful of brie and apricot jam looks like little eggs but packs in the flavor.

I like to taste the gamut of teas when I do a tasting so we all get a sense for the nuances between greens, whites, oolongs, and blacks.

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My recommendations are:
Pai Mu Tan (white), Jade Cloud (green), Formossa Oolong, and Lover’s Leap (black). To round it all out and if there is time, I end with the tea that isn’t tea – our Compassion Spice rooibos. It finishes so well as it is comforting and calming.

With fall here and the holidays creeping up, now is a great time to break out the fancy china and plan a tea tasting with your friends!

There’s This

When you are radically grateful for what you have, you will go to radical lengths to share it. When you are radically grateful for being blessed — you are radically generous to the oppressed.
When you are radically grateful, you live out of a place of radical abundance — there’s always more space for more to share the grace.
And don’t confuse the idea of personal pride with radical gratitude. You aren’t actually thankful for something if you think you actually earned it. That’s pride, not gratitude.
You are only actually grateful for something if you see it as actually a gift -– as an unearned gift that was bestowed unexpectedly upon you. — Ann Voskamp 

Radical. Grace. Abundance. And when you see what you have in comparison to what they have…well. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, perusing bits of past blogs to see where and why and who… and you in it all!

First, there’s this:
The CareNow Foundation was created after Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom visited several countries in Southern Africa in 2002 and again in 2004. Aghast at the enormity of the AIDS crisis, Ed and Wendy saw that solving the AIDS crisis was an incredibly daunting task but that other aid could be offered immediately. Ed commented the other day that while one could sit around and discuss plans for solving the problem, that wasn’t caring now and caring NOW was what he and Wendy wanted to do, to find ways to help immediately. That people were dying due to the lack of a medicine that cost 25 cents, Ed added, seemed ludicrous and unconscionable to him. Hence, CareNow was created…. (Please remember that CompassioNow was originally called CareNow Foundation.) Lee Kennedy, another founder and Matt’s uncle, explained to me, “Seeing first hand, looking into the eyes of people and realizing how much I have, how much even the poor of this country have, by comparison, changed me. Bill Hybels (Founder and Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago) once stated that when he went to Africa and saw it, something changed and relocated in his gut and it never returned to where it had been. I understand that. Scriptures often talk about how Jesus looked at individuals, the leper, the prostitute, the down and out, and saw them, not their titles, illnesses, occupations. There is something about really looking into the eyes and seeing that changes you. I went through life looking at pictures and news and not really seeing. Once I saw, I had to do something.”

And of course, this:
Jack and Chris Faherty, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, and Lee and Anne Kennedy met that weekend in February in Palm Springs as friends whose life experiences had scattered them around California. They left Palm Springs as the founders of a new business… Compassion Tea Company. (**Later, life-long tea drinker, friend, and relative of the Kennedys, Donna Cribbs was asked to join the core group of founders. Together, the board has built this very exciting new company!)
Jack explained to me that all three couples have been actively involved in the CareNow Foundation. Ed and Wendy founded it while Anne and Chris have served on its board and made trips to Africa taking wheelchairs, other medical equipment, and medicines to clinics supported by CareNow. All three couples are intimately involved in the fundraising efforts of CareNow as a result. But Jack wasn’t satisfied with the results. Surely, he thought, there must be a better, more sustainable way to raise funds and awareness.
After looking at the business models of several charitable organizations and after much prayer and research, Jack and Chris felt the answer was tea. Tea, they learned, is the number one beverage consumed worldwide after water. In 2009, Americans alone consumed over 60 billion servings of tea. Improved health is often attributed to drinking tea. Because tea is often produced in poorer, more rural areas of the world, places like those CareNow seeks to help, it seemed like a natural product for increasing awareness of those places. And finally, tea tastes great, encourages relaxation and conversation, and is the perfect event through which to spread compassion.
I remember Aunt Anne excitedly telling me shortly after this February meeting in Palm Springs, “God is our CEO!” The company has chosen this Bible verse as their standard: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” 1 Peter 3:8. It is this awareness, awakeness to use a theme from previous blogs, that started Compassion Tea, and it has been God’s hand that has driven its creation process. We, at Compassion Tea, are all ecstatic about the future… especially since the first shipments of tea have already gone out to eager customers. We have already begun to “Share Tea, Save Lives!” What can we order for you?

And because of all that, there’s this:
Nellie Chitambo, a worker at Mission Medic Air in Zambia, recently wrote the following report: “The airplane is under maintenance so this trip was made using our land vehicle. It started as a normal trip when we left Ndola… Thursday morning. Unfortunately, the vehicle broke down partway to our destination. We had to rebuild the diesel pump and filter which delayed our arrival at the mission hospital significantly. We finally arrived in the early morning hours on Friday….
After resting, the medical team was allocated rooms to operate from and the team got their bags to the rooms to begin their work. There were so many patients that the Optician missed lunch in order to clear the long line of patients.
Medical side was also busy with the group having to take turns to have their lunch. On Saturday after finishing the clinic, the following numbers were treated:
-Medical 251 patients
-Optical 120 patients
15 patients booked for surgery
-Dental 44 patients
TOTAL 415 patients in all” (Read the full report at www.compassionow.org.)
415 people served during a two day clinic in the bush! CompassioNow has in the past provided funding for that airplane which has carried more than one person to hospital in the larger cities to get treatment he or she couldn’t possibly receive in the bush. Back in November, CompassioNow team members carried over suitcases full of eyeglasses and shots of Novocaine which would have been used by the optician and the dentist during this clinic.
We could stop here and pat ourselves on the back. Hey, great job, Compassion Tea/CompassioNow! But that would be all wrong. It feels great to know that what we are doing has dramatic impact on our neighbors in Africa, don’t get me wrong. But we love because God first loved us. And that love aches for those who haven’t been served, it rejoices for those who have, and it hopes for a future wherein we can love on even more people. Love is why.

Tea Infused Rub

It’s been a month since I came to the keyboard to share tea-inspired musings. I’ve been to Ohio, The Netherlands, and France in the meantime. While in The Netherlands, I was introduced to a delightful new “tea” — mint-infused tea. The Dutch take boiling water and drop several sprigs of mint inside. Viola! They may add a bit of honey or sugar, but to my taste, the mint was sweet enough on its own. Served with a stroopwafel (a caramel filled cookie) or the treat of the season, peppernoten, it is a fabulous mid-morning perk.

All that peppernoten has me feeling spicy! So, today, with Christmas music playing in the background, I come before you with a great recipe from Tea Magazine for a meat rub that uses tea to add depth and dark flavors to its otherwise peppery sweetness. Use it on your chicken, pork loin, shrimp (lightly) for a quick meal or throw some in a soup or chutney (I think apricot would be delicious!). Or why not roll a log of goat cheese in the rub and serve it with dried fruit? Your Christmas festivities never tasted so good! Or, for a delightful gift for a special friend, mix up some of this goodness, find a cute container, and present. Christmas hero!

What you need:

12 tbsp finely ground full-bodied black tea leaves (I used our Ajiri Kenyan black which is already nicely ground and quite full-bodied!)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1tbsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp coriander seed

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp cayenne

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground mace

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until combined. Easy peasy! The rub will last for up to 3 months when stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. Enjoy!ImageImageImageImageImageImage

My Compassion Tea and Your Chocolate

A few weeks ago, one of our directors found a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens for a chocolate bark that incorporates tea. Of course, we were interested! But which tea should we use? The recipe indicated green tea leaves work the best. So, that’s where our testing kitchen began.

IMG_1357Jasmine with Flowers, Sencha Cherry Rose, and Hermes Orange all seemed like winning combinations to be mixed with chocolate. Indeed! However, Sencha Cherry Rose added the most flavoring to the chocolate. Subtle notes of rose floated over the chocolate in a truly enchanting way. Hermes Orange was a bit overpowered by the chocolate. “Ah, but what about Coconut Oolong?” we thought. That proved to be remarkably delightful as the flavor of coconut blended with the chocolate and the lovely curled leaves gave a delightfully subtle crunch to the bark. IMG_1375Feeling bolder now, we went back to our tea supply and looked again. The entire herbal and rooibos line looked interesting. What would happen with Lemon Mint Rooibos, Jasmine Vanilla Rooibos, Provence, Caramel Rooibos or Lemon Ginger Rooibos? Delightful flavors! But, go light because the actual rooibos bark can become a bit chewy. It’s fine for a panda bear but you might not enjoy it as much. The last flavor we gave a try was Lemon Black. IMG_1381Lemon and chocolate are so lovely together! The bites that had a smallish piece of lemon rind in them were delectable! The black tea itself added a heavy richness that counteracted the lemon in an interesting way. Again, remove the larger pieces of fruit from the chocolate as they tend to get rather chewy.

But don’t take our word for it. Try it yourself! Here’s what you need!

Ingredients:
8 oz good quality semisweet chocolate*
8 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate
¼ cup tea leaves
½ tsp sea salt flakes

* Dark chocolate is too heavy for the lighter, floral notes of the tea. We recommend sticking with a regular chocolate.

IMG_1353Directions:
1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
2. Line a half-sheet pan (13×18) with parchment. Pour melted chocolate into pan, spreading to the edges.
3. Sprinkle tea over chocolate and follow with sea salt.
4. Set aside in a cool place until firm (about 2 hours). Cut bark with a chef’s knife and enjoy! (Bark stays best if kept cool.)
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens recipe, April 2013)IMG_1367

Package up the bark in a sweet little bag and give as a gift to Mom, graduates, or someone who needs a little pick-me-up. And if you discover another Compassion Tea flavor that works well, please pass it on!

To Sugar or Not to Sugar

Not long ago, I made the Saturday morning trek to the Farmer’s Market downtown. I love the Farmer’s Market… all the fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, organic breads, and even the balloon man. Usually, I stop to chat with a local olive oil producer whose olive oils are amazing. (Olivina if you are interested!)  This day, I mentioned my work with Compassion Tea to Charles and his ears literally perked up. “I drink way too much soda,” he shared. “I’m looking for a new beverage that doesn’t have as much sugar in it.” Well, you can imagine the next 30 minutes! Duh! ICED TEA!

I’m not sure what sparked Charles’ decision to alter his drinking habits, but it seems to be a trending topic.

You may have noticed on September 14 that New York City’s Board of Health approved Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on 16 oz. soda and/or sweetened drinks. Effective March 12, 2013, this ban will prohibit any beverage with more than 25 calories per eight ounces from being sold in a container larger than 16 ounces. So, basically, in 6 months’ time, when you take in your weekly movie or swing through Jack-in-the-Box in New York City, you won’t be able to buy the mega beverage of your choice. You can, however, drop into the grocery or 7-Eleven and purchase a 2 liter or a Big Gulp. And at the restaurants, you may have as many refills in your smaller cup as the restaurant will allow. The reason behind the ban? According to Mayor Bloomberg, banning these drinks will “curb obesity” and “save lives.” To read more about this, click here and here.

Okay, so don’t travel to NYC if you plan on consuming large amounts of Pepsi. Maybe stay in Trenton instead.

This week, the New York Times ran an article in the opinion section of the paper titled, “Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?” In the article, Mark Bittman explains the scientific advances that are suggesting a link between the body’s reaction to too much sugar over long periods of time, the development of type-2 diabetes, and the similarities between type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In fact, studies with rats have shown that, when the insulin in the brains of the rats is limited, the brains of the rats “show all the signs of Alzheimer’s.” (Bio refresher: Insulin is released by the pancreas and goes knocking on the doors of cells telling them to open up and grab the glucose, which is what the body turns sugar into, coursing past in the blood. When insulin becomes a constant, persistent, and annoying knocker, which is what happens when we consume large amounts of sugar regularly, the cells become “insulin resistant;” they stop listening and refuse to open the door. This is damaging to blood vessels, the heart, and other organs, and causes the kind of damage to the brain noted in the article.) The article goes on to discuss the implications of this study from a health perspective and from a “cost-to-society” perspective. It also adds the caveat that while sugary drinks and foods are instrumental in increasing the rate of type-2 diabetes in Americans, sugar may not be the only culprit. Heavily processed foods certainly have their place in the decline of American health, too, according to the article.

Interestingly enough, I was recently reading an update from Karero Medical Clinic in Kenya… yes, as in Africa. A team of doctors and dentists from the States had recently visited the clinic and had provided dental services to “dozens of people.” Rev. Jeff Spainhour, from North Carolina, was among the delegation of professionals who traveled to Karero. After watching the extraction of countless teeth among the Kenyans, Rev. Spainhour commented, “It was obvious that sugar has had a great negative impact on the health of the people seen.” Even in Africa, sugar is becoming the boogie man. It starts with the teeth, spreads to diabetes, and may even lead to the most mind-debilitating disease we know.

As our pastor always says, “So what.” As in, “What should we glean from these campaigns, comments, and studies?” I see the answer as very simple. Put down your 16 oz. Coca-Cola and pick up your tea cup! (Or maybe moderation?)

There has been lots of talk throughout time about the medicinal properties and health benefits of tea consumption. Ironically, when you look for conclusive evidence to support tea as the healthier alternative, what you find is lots of “suggestions.” “This study suggests,” “studies on this are not conclusive,” and “not enough research has been done” are the constant caveats. I’ve turned to my favorite stand-by, WebMD, for a little help here. According to a compilation of studies put together by Julie Edgar, here’s “what some studies have found about the potential health benefits of tea:
• Green tea: Made with steamed tea leaves, it has a high concentration of EGCG and has been widely studied. Green tea’s antioxidants may interfere with the growth of bladder, breast, lung, stomach, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers; prevent clogging of the arteries, burn fat, counteract oxidative stress on the brain, reduce risk of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, reduce risk of stroke, and improve cholesterol levels.
• Black tea: Made with fermented tea leaves, black tea has the highest caffeine content and forms the basis for flavored teas like chai, along with some instant teas. Studies have shown that black tea may protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. It also may reduce the risk of stroke.
• White tea: Uncured and unfermented. One study showed that white tea has the most potent anticancer properties compared to more processed teas.
• Oolong tea: In an animal study, those given antioxidants from oolong tea were found to have lower bad cholesterol levels. One variety of oolong, Wuyi, is heavily marketed as a weight loss supplement, but science hasn’t backed the claims.
• Pu-erh tea: Made from fermented and aged leaves. Considered a black tea, its leaves are pressed into cakes. One animal study showed that animals given pu-erh had less weight gain and reduced LDL cholesterol.”

The article has little to say about the health benefits of different herbal, rooibos, and chai teas even though so many claim benefits such as weight loss, digestive aid, cold prevention, and stress reduction. Again, the issue is lack of study. (Click here for the whole article.)

What the article does point out is that bottled iced teas are often laced with sugars and/or artificial sweeteners and should therefore be avoided. Edgars includes a quote from Diane L. McKay, PhD, a Tufts University scientist who studies antioxidants as saying, “You want to incorporate healthy beverages in your diet on a more regular basis to benefit from these health-promoting properties. It’s not just about the foods; it’s about what you drink, as well, that can contribute to your health.”

So what? I realize people like soda. I grew up drinking it and I haven’t grown two heads or sprouted wings or anything too bizarre. But when it comes to health and making healthy choices for me and my family, I’m inclined to avoid things that contribute to obesity (goodness gracious, I have enough trouble keeping off the pounds!), tooth decay, and now possibly Alzheimer’s. Yes, soda offers variety and flavor and caffeine and a cool, refreshing pick-me-up or get-me-going boost. But, I have to argue that tea is even better.

As a Compassion Tea drinker, I find plenty of flavor and variety in our offerings, enough to keep my changing palette intrigued and satisfied. And because of the intense and robust flavors, I don’t need to add sweeteners to the teas to improve flavor. If I want sweet, there’s Provence or Bourbon Street Vanilla or Almond Rocker or Jasmine Vanilla Rooibos or our new flavor Caramel Rooibos in the pyramid bags. If I want fruity, well, that selection is endless. From blueberry to mango, we’ve got fruit! For a spicy mood, there’s West Cape Chai, Cochin Masala Chai, or Spicy Rooibos. If I’m looking for something gentle and delicate, there’s Sencha Cherry Rose or Peony White Needle or Silver Needle or even Coconut Oolong or Jade Cloud. And of course, there’s always the oolong, pu’ erh, and black teas, which offer that robust cup, the get-me-up-and-going cup of tea. Tea is varied and as long as we don’t pour in a pint of sugar it is healthier than soda.

Why not make it your beverage of choice!