One of the most famous of Chinese green teas, jasmine green tea has been popular dating back to the 14th century in China (if not earlier). The consumption of jasmine green tea was particularly focused in and around Bejing. During the late 18th century (Qing Dynasty), scenting teas with flowers such as jasmine, rose, honeysuckle, cassia and cloranthus was elevated by the demands of the Imperial Court and the wide variety of tea houses of Bejing.
An 14th century manuscript by the author Ni Zan describes the earliest methods for scenting tea with jasmine:
"Select average quality "small sprout" tea, and select an earthen pot for boiling. First lay down a layer of flowers, a layer of tea, a layer of flowers, a layer of tea until the pot is full. Then tightly lay down a layer of flowers on the very top and cover it up. Put the pot under the sun and turn it over three times. Pour a shallow layer of water into a saucepan and steam the pot over a slow fire. Steam until the cover of the pot reaches its hottest, then take it out. Wait till it is completely cooled down, then remove the tea from the pot. Take away the flowers, leaving only the tea. Use "lotus seed" paper to wrap up the tea and put it under the sun to dry. The paper should be opened frequently to shake the tea inside so that it is evenly distributed, and it will be dried easily. If each pot of tea is divided into three or four paper bags the sunning will be easier. Repeat the steaming and drying process three times, changing the flowers each time. Then the tea will be extremely good." [The True History of Tea, by V. Mair & E. Hoh]
While there have been changes to the production of jasmine green tea, for the authentic version, the tea is still scented with jasmine flowers (less expensive alternate versions will use sprayed on natural or synthetic jasmine scenting flavors). Due to differences in the growing cycles, the green tea is harvested in the spring, partially processed and stored until the jasmine flowers come into bloom and can be harvested for blending in August.
Loose leaf jasmine tea is an average quality grade of this tea due to the fact that the moderately manipulated leaf surface can only absorb so much of the jasmine scent. Jasmine Pearls are considerably more expensive due to the fact that the final rollong process helps trap a concentrated amount of the jasmine scent. Protected from weakening in the oxygen of an exposed leaf surface, the jasmine aroma is released when the pearl unfurls during brewing. Typically, 3-4 pearls can produce the same amount of flavor as a teaspoon of jasmine loose tea.
Jasmine Pearls along with Silver Needle white tea and a nice Pu-erh tea are three wonderful teas that are great to keep asie for special occasions or when you just want to treat yourself to a small indulgence. Close your eyes and sip, as if you were a member of the Imperial Court.
Our goal was simple, use a pumpkin and maple leaf bakeware pan we were given to make seasonal Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. What we found were a couple of great debates, how "spicy" is a pumpkin baked good and does the filling/icing inside a whoopie pie use cream cheese, marshmallow or neither?
Pumpkin, fresh or from a can doesn't have much flavor and actually what we associate with desserts such as a pumpkin pie is a collection of added spices usually including cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and brown sugar among a range of options. The strength of flavor of these spices can be a highly subjective interpretation. For the whoopie pie cake we chose a middle-of-the-road amount of spices, noticeable but not overwhelming.
When it comes to the icing filling, there are strong preferences over whether people like the taste of cream cheese or marshmallow as part of their whoopie pie experience. Nudged along by practical issues (the event we were taking them to didn't really have a refrigeration option, eliminating the cream cheese fillings), we went middle-of-the-road again with one of the simplest filling recipes we could find, without marshmallow.
Of course, the Pumpkin Whoopie Pies pair perfectly with a few of our teas: THE best were organic Masala Chai and organic Pumpkin Spice Chai, the spicy flavors playing off one another with the creamy filling a nice contrast. Also great were organic Golden Yunnan black tea and organic Cinnamon Vanilla Rooibos (caffeine-free).
To make the Whoopie Pie cake tops and bottoms:
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose King Arthur Flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (add a little more if you like a cinnamony flavor!)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (add a little more if nutmeg is your thing!)
1/8 teaspoon cloves
4 tablespoons (= 1/2 stick) of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup of pumpkin puree from a can
1/2 cup buttermilk (easy substitute is 1/2 cup milk + 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, let sit for 10 mins., stir)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray or coat the type of pan (decorative or flat baking pan) you are using with shortening or butter.
In one bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cloves.
In another bowl beat the butter and sugar together with a mixer until fluffy and well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, blending after each one. Add the dry ingredient flour mixture 1/3 at a time alternating with adding the buttermilk and pumpkin. In the end mix thoroughly and place in pans to bake.
For decorative molds, fill only 1/2 way to the top, bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown. For flaking baking sheets drop 1 tablespoon for each round cake top or bottom, allow enough space between drops. Bake until the edges just begin to turn brown, test with a toothpick in the center. Time will vary depending on the size of the cookie 7-9 mins or 13-15 mins.
To Make the Filling
1/2 cup of milk (whole or 2%)
2 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract (add a little more if you like more of a vanilla punch)
In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk and the flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until the mixture thickens, remove from heat and let cool while preparing the other ingredients. In a medium sized bowl beat together the shortening, sugar, salt and vanilla. Gradually stir in the cooked milk until thoroughly mixed. Continue blending for ano.ther 10-15 minutes until the filling is very fluffy. Layer the filling between a top and bottom "cake".
Again, depending on the size of your cakes, the recipe will bake about 30 halves. The filling should be enough to assemble 15 whoopie pies. Keep the finished whoopie pies in a container or wrap them to remain fresh. No refrigeration is required
By using rice flour and baking at a lower temperature, our Matcha Chocolate Chip Rice Cookies have a light flavor and retain their beautiful matcha color while also being gluten-free.
MATCHA CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES WITH RICE FLOUR (Gluten-Free)
3/4 cup Rice Flour (see note below if you want to use All-Purpose)
1 1/2 teaspoons Zen Tara Tea Matcha
1/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
4 1/2 tablespoons Butter (room temperature)
1 medium Egg
1/3 cup Sugar
1 oz. Chocolate Chips
1. Sift the matcha, baking powder, and flour together.
2. Allow the butter to come to room temperature and stir until creamy.
3. Fold a portion of the sugar (about 1/3) into the butter. Repeat until all the sugar is incorporated and smooth.
4. Beat the egg and mix into the butter and sugar.
5. Fold in the sifted ingredients from step 1.
6. Mix in the chocolate chips and allow to rest.
7. Roll small balls of dough in between two spoons*, place on a cookie sheet, and lightly flatten.
8. Pre-heat the oven to 340 F. Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
9. Lower the oven temperature to 300 F and bake for about 10 more minutes.
10. Remove from the oven, place on a rack to cool, and enjoy their light, crunchy texture!
Makes approximately 20 small cookies.
Notes* - Although this recipe calls for rice flour, all-purpose flour can be substituted but may result in a heavier cookie and will no longer be gluten-free. The cookie dough is sticky, so it is preferred to portion it out to the cookie sheet via the "two teaspoon method" instead of handling it directly.
Homemade sugar syrups provide an easy way to sweeten your favorite teas, whether they are hot or cold. This simple ginger flavored sugar syrup is perfect for sweetening a black or green tea and adds another ginger flavor layer to our popular tea and ginger blends. Follow the recipe below using conventional or organic ingredients and store in the refrigerator ready to use with your next cup of tea.
2 cups of unpeeled, organic fresh ginger root, roughly chopped
2 cups of organic sugar
6 cups of water
Once cut into chunks, further chop the ginger into small pieces by hand or using a food processor. Place the ginger in a large pot with the water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer on medium-low heat for about an hour until it begins to thicken into a syrup consistency. Strain the sytrup twice through a cheese cloth or sieve into a jar or bottle. Refrigerate.
Our recent travels included a side trip to Singapore for 3 days. A city/sovereign country off the southern tip of Malaysia with a population of 5.3 million people, it sits 85 miles north of the equator. Given its relatively small size, even though there were long lists of "to dos and must sees" in all the travel books, three days to get a feel for the country seemed possible with a little careful planning and prioritizing. Yet with all the options available, my traveling companions were set on what was most important to do while in Singapore: try chicken [over] rice, the unofficial national dish of Singapore.
My first thoughts were that it must be some elaborately prepared chicken with exotic spices and culinary twists prepared in such a way that only chefs in this small country knew how to orchestrate. My expectations were high. The days passed by too quickly and late in the afternoon of our last day we realized we still had not tried chicken rice, but where?
Asking locals wasn't very helpful as they all seemed to have different favorite chicken rice places. Through bits and pieces of the conversation I noticed words like "food court" and "street vendor" were frequently a part of the descriptions. Expectations lowered to half-mast. Finally, with help from our favorite concierges, Google & Yelp, a location was chosen, Heng Ji Chicken Rice. When shown the location, go down a side street, then another side street to this food stall that sells out if you don't get there soon enough, I noticed the photos of this national dish - basically, plain chicken over a bed of rice. Expectations sink down to WTF? All this effort for a meal that my mother would have served us when we were kids and came down with a cold?
Gourmands and Anthony Bourdain devotees will roll their eyes at my lack of appreciation of the essence of great, simple food (Why have so many former chefs food television shows stopped exploring fine dining and extravagant meals to feature street foods, proclaiming them the democratic food of the people AND the highest aspirations of dining experiences?) Yes, on his "No Reservations" episode about Singapore, Bourdain specifically features chicken rice, going through the same WTF initial experience I did and then waxing on poetically about all the qualities infused into this simple dish. Flavors and nuances you and I would never have detected on our own without Mr. Bourdain pointing them out for us.
So was his recommendation where we were headed for our chicken rice? No, my companions had found a place who reviewers on Yelp insisted was even better than the one Bourdain tried and off we went into the hot, steamy evening. In the Chinatown district we dodged street market shoppers and tourists to find the first side street, made the turn to the Smith street only to find it closed, completely blocked off due to a construction project except for a sliver of the sidewalk next to a construction partition. We checked with a couple of local merchants about the chicken rice place and were pointed to a skinny opening along the sidewalk. Once through to the other side there it was, a hole-in-the-wall place with chicken rice. But not the right one. Didn't matter, it was getting late and it was close enough.
We sat down on small tables and plastic stools open to the outdoors, which is to say the heat and humidity, to eat room temperature chicken over rice. Fans were on the wall but were turned off, locals were not even breaking a sweat. Now the reference shifts from Bourdain to Seinfeld as a single, laminated menu was tossed on our table by a woman whose demeanor was every bit that of the "Soup Nazi" of chicken rice. You order from the menu, no substitutions, to drink there is water or lemon orange juice (?) and you pay when served. My travel companions ordered the traditional chicken rice, also known as Hainese chicken rice reflecting the region in China from where it originated. Just to be different I ordered the lemon chicken rice (better to go with my lemon orange juice beverage I thought).
There are small Bourdainian things about chicken rice that do make it unique and that are expected by those discerning enough to prize the best chicken rice to be found in Singapore. The rice is cooked using chicken broth, garlic and chicken fat and thus has a flavor that enhances the chicken. The steamed chicken is soft and tender and served at room temperature (given the heat and humidity, not such a bad thing). Typically, there are small side garnishes, cucumbers or cilantro perhaps and a cup of light chicken broth is a side dish for dunking pieces of chicken or spoonfuls of rice. There are also sauces, ginger, soy and hot pepper spice levels vary according to the cook but a hit of the strong spicy flavor livens up what is otherwise a pretty bland plate of food. Asian comfort food.
For what it was, our restaurant "Tiong Bahru Hianese Boneless Chicken Rice" probably was a pretty good representation of the national dish of Singapore. Was it worth the trip down side streets and sneaking through a construction zone, meh, probably. I suppose if America can have a hamburger as a national dish or an entire city can be celebrated for a bagel, having a chicken rice national dish isn't too far fetched. At least when we mention traveling to Singapore in the future, unlike Bourdain at first, we will be able to say, yes, we ate chicken rice in Singapore.