Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Ultimate Tea Diet (Now We're Cooking with Tea)

Ehm, so I've gained weight again.  It is quite depressing to think that just a few short months ago I was thirty pounds lighter (and looking fairly decent, I might add).  Although I needed to lose another, say, 20 lbs to be at an "ideal" weight, I went the other direction and pigged out with a passion.  I don't know why, really.  Because I was feeling really good, I was in shape - exercising daily, eating anti-oxidant packed nutritious foods - and I loved the way I was looking.  But anyway, here I am.  And it's time to get that scale needle to budge downwards again.

What better way than to get my beloved beverage on board?  I have no idea if tea can help someone lose weight, although there are many who believe that it can.  I'm not talking about swallowing "green tea extract" pills (I think that might be dangerous, actually).  Besides, that just takes out all the enjoyment of drinking it, n'est-ce-pas?

I do believe that tea can play an important role in a healthy lifestyle, however, so I'm going to ramp up my use of Camellia Sinensis leaves in my day-to-day diet.  I'm going to drink more cups during the day, and I'm going to start cooking with it as well.  I've already started, in fact!  Today I made my newest and neatest culinary experience - Chai Oatmeal.  I prepare the masala brew minus the milk, and add quick-cooking oatmeal to the pot for 5 minutes.  It's really, really good.  And good for you.

I've also ordered a really cheap book from Chapters.  It's called The Ultimate Tea Diet, and although I have some misgivings (I'm hoping that this book doesn't condone tea fasting or anything), I've heard that this book contains recipes that include tea.  That makes me excited.  I'll let you know what I think when I receive it in 4-8 days.

So while this is not a weight-loss blog, I'll be chiming in from time to time about my progress and what I find works when it comes to tea.  Who knows, maybe I'll start a project a la Julie Powell, testing out tea recipes.  We'll see. 

In the mean time, I'm open to suggestion - if you have any favorite tea recipes or ideas of how to incorporate tea into a weight-loss diet that you'd like to share, please let me know!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Some Like It Hot

My apologies for the delay in writing.  My computer has succumbed to a virus or viruses, and therefore I am now writing this blog while in "Safe Mode"!  Too bad there's not a tea for that.  There is a tea to soothe my nerves and lower my blood-pressure while I try not to punch my computer screen however...and tonight I've settled on Bangkok White Rose, by Shanghai T Merchant.  A perfect digestif, it is a refreshing brew after a big, bloating supper.  I've also just had the brilliant idea to turn it into iced tea, because I think it would kick-ass.

Speaking of iced - how's this for a segway? - I'd like to talk a bit about temperature.  Not the temperature at which you infuse your tea, but rather the temperature at which you drink it.

When I was 20 years old (almost 14 years ago), I spent the summer working as a waitress at a hotel & country club restaurant in the U.K.  It was a fun job, even though we were run off our feet most of the time.  The staff was really grateful for the tea break we'd get on the evening shift.  We would take turns getting tea for each other; it was pretty easy, because we'd just pour it out of the large urn that had been prepared for the restaurant.  It was always Earl Grey (there was no other kind offered), we always had milk and sugar in it, and it was BOILING.  I always marvelled at my friends who seemed to be able to down it right away.  I always had to wait at least a couple of minutes for it to cool down just a little, even though our time was limited.  Scalding my palette and throat never seemed pleasant, but many of my fellow waiters didn't seem bothered by it.

Is this a cultural thing?  It seemed that most of the British people I hung around with, including some relatives (I'm half British) liked their tea HOT.  I've also heard that in many countries where black tea is heavily consumed, it is usually done so at very high temperatures.  Unfortunately, I've just read that doing so can be bad for your health.  As in, esophageal cancer bad.  Apparently some studies were done in Iran, where it was shown that drinking such hot tea can weaken the lining of the esophagus, and therefore contribute to cancer rates, even in those who did not consume alcohol or cigarettes (the usual culprits of esophageal cancer).  So the advice was to wait, about 4 minutes, before drinking your tea.  Makes sense to me - I'd rather taste my tea than feel it.  It'll still be nice and warm at that point, so why not?  You can add the extra waiting time to your tea-making ritual by meditating or by anticipating the taste and non-scorching sensation of your favorite cup of tea.  And if you're truly worried about losing heat, knit yourself a tea cozy for your teapot.

Note: This shouldn't be an issue for drinkers of white and green tea.  It is often recommended to wait a minute or two before even pouring the water on or around the tea leaves, so that you don't "bruise" them.  Bruising can lead to a bitter cup, and I believe it can affect the amount of times you can re-infuse. If you want, you can purchase a thermometer to use in your kettle, so that you can get an idea of your perfect brewing temperature.

Friday, November 13, 2009

For all the Sickies Out There

I fully believe that tea (with additions) can help you when you're sick. Tea isn't a medicine, and I'm not a doctor, naturopath or a practitioner of Ayurveda. But these are some of my recommendations:

For those suffering from H1N1, stomach flu, dysentery, Montezuma's Revenge, Delhi Belly, or basic indigestion: Add ginger to your tea. Lots of it. As much as you can stomach. I found this wonderful recipe at the Chai Pilgrimage website and tried it today. Not because I'm having any tummy problems, but rather because I had a large chunk of ginger waiting for something fabulous to happen to it. Good call. It was so gingery that it gave the impression the tea was hot even when the liquid was tepid. Very tasty, and I'm sure my stomach will love me for it.

For those with sinus colds, congestion: White tea with lemon and honey. Drink it all day long. The caffeine will keep you going too. A nice thing about loose leaf tea is that you can usually infuse it many times. Good bang for your buck, and it'll shorten your cold. Yay!

Also for your sinuses (colds, allergies, sinusitis) - this doesn't have anything to do with tea, except that the apparatus looks like a teapot, and that can only be a good thing in my books - use a Neti Pot.

For sore throats, I like Honeybush, or a green tea with lemon and honey.

I also like the "usual" tisanes, like echinacea, chamomile or mint for soothing purposes.

For general good health (I believe this will rejuvenate your arteries, and possibly fight cancer too!): Mix some turmeric, black pepper and sweetener (I like black molasses) into your black tea. It's not for everyone. My friend Rebecca said it was like a curry broth. Admittedly, it's an acquired taste. But there are good stories coming out of the scientific community about the excellent effects of turmeric, and I'm going to take that to heart.

Like I said, I don't really think these will cure you of anything, but they certainly can't hurt to drink (well, except the Neti Pot. Don't drink from that. Snort it up your nose instead!) And besides, a cup of something warm usually makes you feel better anyway. So if you're feeling a little something coming on, don't panic. Just put the kettle on, get your favorite blanket and hot- water bottle and sip something wonderful.

And get better soon, 'cause personally I'm getting sick of toting the Purell around. :)

Photo courtesy of Auzigog @

Monday, November 9, 2009


This past weekend I was really happy to visit a tea house in Ottawa with my special friends, Rebecca and April. I was excited to be there because I hadn't been to a tea house in a long time, and it was nice to share the experience. Do people ever visit tea houses alone? It seems to me that this is something you would do with friends most of the time.

Nectar Fine Teas (no website yet) is located on Wellington Street across from Thyme & Again Catering (another place you must visit, if anything to get an amazing lemon cake with white chocolate icing). Nectar is a little shop, divided - people actually line up to purchase loose leaf teas or tea ware on one side, and on the other side you can sit down to tea. It's a lovely place, minimally decorated and quite laid back.

Highlights of Nectar Fine Teas: The tables actually showcased different tea leaves under (plexi?) glass, so it was kind of neat trying to identify them. The waitress was friendly and helpful. She brought us each a digital timer to let us know how long to steep our tea - something I had never seen before, which was kind of neat. The owner was knowledgeable and busy - her place is obviously popular. She also gave us a sample of an apple cider tea, perfect for colder weather.

There is a small but nice selection of tea ware and books at this shop. I purchased a beautiful little covered cup that is small, but perfect for multiple infusions - I just wish I had asked where she got these cups, as there is no potter's signature or manufacturer marking on mine. But I've already tried it with the three teas I purchased there: Jasmine Pearls, Ti Quan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) Oolong, and Thiashola Estate Nilgiri (2nd Flush SFTGFOP). Mmm Mmm Good! More thoughts on these particular teas to come.

I plan on visiting more tea houses in the near future. Although I might not have the selection there is in Ottawa, I'm looking forward to some time at Tea at the Whitehouse, which is in Waterdown, about 5-10 minutes' drive from my house. Who wants to join me?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All I Can Smell is Asparagus

I'm ramping up my tea appreciation a little bit. I just purchased this amazing book, The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, by Michael Harney. You know that saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"? Yeah! This is my new go-to guide!

This book goes beyond the usual, and it teaches you how to be more of a connoisseur by describing how a master brews and tastes all the myriad types of teas out there.

I have yet to get myself a kettle thermometer, and a gaiwan (small lidded ceramic cup ideal for smelling the drained leaves), and I also need to dust off my water filter. But I'm certainly paying more attention to my brewing rituals and trying to assess what I smell and taste.

It's not easy. After all, I've never had exceptionally refined tastes - I've eaten way too much junk food in my life, and I believe that it has clogged my taste buds (not to mention my arteries, but I won't cry about that just right now; I've got too many teas to taste). I also suffer from environmental allergies, which sometimes inhibits my smelling capacities. Two strikes against me. However, keep calm and carry on!

A nice thing about Michael Harney's Tea Guide is that he makes you feel very at ease about tea tasting. He suggests that you drink what makes you happy, what puts a smile on your face. And, he repeats that there are never any wrong answers when it comes to impressions and taste: "From ten tea tasters will come eleven opinions." So he doesn't make you feel inadequate in the least.

I will be following the guidance of And hopefully I will become more able to distinguish a great oolong from an inferior one. My blog will probably never include such descriptions as, "It contained delicate high notes of Tasmanian boronia, with a lingering aftertaste of vanilla orchid". But at least I won't have to say that I liked a tea "just because", nor will I need to reveal which tea goes best with a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. So thank you, Michael Harney!

Chai Update: I tried brewing yesterday with Rishi Tea's Ancient Emerald Lily (which is awesome on its own - it reminds me of a Darjeeling, actually). It was actually the second brewing for this set of leaves, so the tea taste was quite mild compared to the masala, but it was delicious. I even gave some to my daughter Sophie, who drank it all up once it cooled down.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Secret

Anyone who knows my tastes in tea and tea ware will know that I'm not into Victoriana or fine bone china. I prefer earthy, heavy and artistic teapots and I usually drink my tea in a coffee mug. I don't like the dainty tinkling of silver plate spoons in fragile cups, or sitting in chairs with flowery, laced antimacassars. I'm anti-antimacassar. I don't subscribe to a particular tea time, either.

But, I have a secret. I would really like to take my daughter Sophie to a very fancy High Cream Tea when she's older. I don't even know why, but I get a little giddy when I think about going to The Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto, all dressed up and ready for some delicious scones, rich Devon cream and a nice hot cup of specially-blended tea. I don't care what they serve it in, although I assume it'll be fancy-schmancy. And I cannot wait! I want it to be a mom-daughter occasion, not on a birthday or a holiday, but a just-because day. I have no idea if she'll want to do this, but over the next few years I'm planning on instilling the idea - making little hints, kind of like the way I tell her that there are magical things in the forest across from our house. Perhaps she'll go along with it because she'll see how excited I am. Hopefully she'll get as much enjoyment out of it as I do. Heck, I don't even know if I'll enjoy it that much. But I can't wait to try. It's expensive and a little bit ridiculous, but it's an experience that I'm hoping will create a fond shared memory.

Have you gone to High Tea before? What was it like? Do you have any special memories surrounding tea?