London Tea Club & A Giveaway!

Each April, my hubby and I celebrate our anniversary twice. We celebrate on April 1st to mark the day we met on a blind date (April Fools’ Day!) and again on April 25 for the day we tied the knot. I enjoyed these red roses as a surprise from my sweet hubby earlier this month, and along with some gorgeous teas from London Tea Club, we toasted to another rich and eventful year together. I’m always looking for elegant and effortless ways to enjoy tea, so I was really thrilled to learn that London Tea Club recently expanded to include memberships in Europe, Canada, and even the US! As I’m sure many tea lovers would agree, our friends over in London know how to do tea the right way. What I love most about London Tea Club is that they take all the fuss out of creating a luxurious tea time experience. Open your mailbox, boil some water, sit back and relax…it’s just as easy as that!
Each month, London Tea Club sends you 3 tubes of tea to cater to your personal tea tastes. Don’t like herbal tea? Just let them know (they’ll ask you before your first delivery)! Over time and as your tastes change, the package will continue to be customized to suit you. The month’s mailer will include detailed brewing instructions, tea filters, and my favorite…suggestions on how to pair each tea with food!
If you’re looking for a beautiful gift for Mother’s Day, birthdays, or anniversaries, a one-time or recurring subscription to London Tea Club is an ideal present for any tea lover. Their current tea offerings include Coffee Rooibos, Big Red Robe, Taiping Monkey King, Charles Dickens (a black tea blend of Assam, Keemun, & Lapsang Souchong), Sikkim Black Tea, Lemongrass Mint, Pomelo Oolong, and White Darjeeling. I know which 3 I’d love to see in my mailbox…which flavors are you curious to try?

GIVEAWAY ENTRY RULES:

Enter to win a gorgeous box of teas from London Tea Club by following three easy steps!

1. Leave a comment on this post.

2. Follow London Tea Club on Facebook.

3. Follow London Tea Club on Instagram (@londonteaclub).

*** Participants must be at least 18 years old and live anywhere in North America (US, Canada) or Europe (including the UK). The giveaway contest ends May 2nd, 2015 and the winner will be announced on May 9th…good luck!!

Tea of the Week: Sakura Blossom Tea

Japan is brimming with cherry blossoms this time of year. Just this past week, my great friend Danielle from This Picture Book Life got a glimpse of the blooming beauties, up close and personal, on her visit to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Me, jealous? You got that right!Every spring, Japan’s meteorological agency tracks the blooming of cherry blossoms across Japan. This geographical mapping helps for people to plan for hanami, otherwise known as picnicking under cherry blossom trees…sounds splendid, doesn’t it? My only hope (at least for this year) is to sit back with a cup of sakura tea in my living room…because darn it, if I can’t enjoy springtime in Japan then at least springtime in Japan can come to me!Brewing sakura tea or sakura-yu is an exquisite experience. The pickled blossoms unravel into delicate, feathery, tutu-like blooms upon being hit with hot water. The diaphanous petals give way to a salty, floral sip that’s certainly not your everyday herbal brew. If you’ve ever had sakura tea before and found it too salty, do what my tea blogger friend Nicole from Tea for Me Please suggests and keep a spoon and bowl of the saltier first steep (used to rinse the blossoms) around. You’ll be able to easily adjust the strength of the tea to your liking.

Tasting Notes for Sakura Cherry Blossom Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Have 2 teacups ready. In one cup, steep 1 large or 2 smaller blossoms in 160 degrees F water for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, use a spoon to transfer the steeped blossoms to a new cup. Leave the cup containing the first steep aside. Fill the second cup with hot water, then enjoy this tea. Spoon more of the stronger, saltier first steep into the second steep to your taste preference.
THE TEA:  Expect the blossoms to be hot pink or bright mauve in appearance, with brown stems. They’ll be completely covered in salt, so it’s a good idea to shake some of the excess salt off before steeping.
THE SCENT:  Preserved in tons of salt and plum vinegar, the blossoms smell sweet and pungent as you would expect from something that’s been pickled.
THE STEEP:  A faint, pinkish-yellow brew that’s lightly floral and slightly salty. Subtle on the palette and best enjoyed hot to bring out the mild flavors. Expect the blossoms to lighten in color as they steep.
GET IT:  At well-stocked Japanese markets or on Amazon.com.
FOOD PAIRING:  I love to enjoy sakura tea with traditional red bean based Asian treats like steamed buns or mochi. The mild saltiness of the brew is a nice contrast to the sweet, heavier taste of adzuki bean. For a savory change, enjoy these with decorative Matcha Sushi Balls. The blossoms can also be used to decorate and cook with as long as you give them a quick rinse to remove the excess salt and then dry them with paper towels. If you end up eating the blossoms their sour flavor will be that much more pronounced.

Roasted Blackberry Matcha Pops

I’m relishing LA’s 70 degree weather this week. It’s simply perfect. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and there’s a slight chill in the air to refresh and rejuvenate. The relentless California summer will be here soon, which in recent years feels like it begins weeks before its calendar start date. With Roasted Blueberry Matcha Pops on-hand, I’ll be ready with a healthy, cooling snack whenever the first heat wave hits. These pops are made with fresh blackberries, slow-roasted to thicken their juices and bring out their sweet-tart flavor. I’ve tried the simpler method of cooking the berries over a stove top, and must say that the oven-roasting route creates a far superior result. Top the pops off with coconut milk infused with soothing honey, earthy green tea, and vanilla beans scraped straight from the pod. Use only best-quality, natural ingredients to make these and they’ll satisfy and your not-too-sweet tooth all spring and summer long. 
Roasted Blackberry Matcha Pops

Makes 8 ice pops. 

Ingredients:

2-6 oz. packages organic blackberries

5 Tbsp honey or maple syrup

1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

1 can coconut milk

1 Tbsp matcha powder, sifted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Equipment:

paring knife, to scrape seeds from vanilla pod

small baking sheet, lightly oiled with non-stick spray

medium mixing bowl

sifter

whisk

Tbsp measure

liquid measuring cup with spout

popsicle mold

8 popsicle sticks, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes then blotted with a paper towel

Directions:

1.)  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Mix together the blackberries, 3 Tbsp of honey, and the seeds of one vanilla bean, then place this on a lightly greased baking sheet. When the oven comes up to temperature, roast the berries for 25 minutes. Remove the berries from the oven and lightly smash them with a fork. Set the berries aside to cool a bit. As the berries cool the juices will thicken.

2.)  In a medium mixing bowl, vigorously whisk the coconut milk, sifted matcha, vanilla extract, and remaining 2 Tbsp of honey together. Transfer this mixture to a liquid measuring cup. Spoon the cooked berries, about 2 Tbsp, equally into each of 8 popsicle molds. Carefully top the matcha coconut milk mixture over each of the fruit-filled popsicle cavities. Leave a 1/4″ allowance at the top of each cavity to allow the pops to expand during freezing.

3.)  Place the lid on the popsicle molds, then carefully insert the popsicle sticks, straight down, into each of the open slots. Leave 1″ of each popsicle stick above the lid. Let the popsicles freeze for at least 4 hours or until completely hardened. If you have difficulty removing them from the molds, run the outside of each popsicle mold under warm water to help the popsicles release.

Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs

A few days ago, outside my living room window, I noticed a bird tucking in and out of the crevice between the misaligned wooden fence panels surrounding our house. The bird seemed busy at work–occupied. Amidst its constant activity, it managed to shoot me an occasional glare, so as to say back off lady, or you’ll regret it! It wasn’t until I saw the same bird again two days later that I realized what it was up to. Just in time to mark the beginning of spring, my feathery friend was building a nest.

I get it, birdie. There’s a lot of work that goes into nest-making. As I learned a few days ago making these Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs, making a sturdy nest is a labor of love…an art form, really. My tea nests are made from maple syrup marshmallows covered in tea leaves. Although they look like you’ve just spotted them in a thick woodland forest, they serve an entirely different purpose. They’re designed to be an all-in-one tea brew, sweetener, and treat.
This project for Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs was inspired by 2 things: my sister and some very beautiful tea. On last week’s Tea of the Week post, I featured Bellocq Tea Atelier’s No. 22 National Parks Dept. This nature-inspired blend of Darjeeling and Assam has bright green cedar tips and twiggy kukicha (twig tea) thrown in. It’s so perfectly organic and rustic that I still can’t get over how delicious it is.

As an Easter gift (and because she’s a cool gal with great taste), my sister Melissa sent me some dark chocolate blue robin candy eggs from a fantastically elegant candy shop in Beverly Hills called Sugarfina. These delightful candies and a tin of gorgeous tea married to make this whimsical confectionary DIY. Here, a small blob of marshmallow holds about 2 teaspoons of loose tea together, just the right amount for small teapot brew. Although you can use any marshmallow recipe to make these, I like to use a maple syrup base because it enhances the natural, mild sweetness of my steep. You can even make the marshmallows separately to snack on.

More than anything, these tea marshmallows are ornamental, so don’t expect a lot of sweetness when they dissolve in your brew. Use any twig or flower based tea to make these Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs–a mix with colorful visual interest is ideal. Above all, just remember to enjoy the candy eggs before dropping the nests into the hot water. Happy springtime brewing my friends!Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs

Makes 12 small tea nests. Each nest makes 2 cups of tea.

Ingredients:

2 tsp gelatin

2 Tbsp water

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

12 small egg candies

1/2 cup twiggy loose leaf tea (I used Bellocq’s National Parks Dept.)

Equipment:

large mixing bowl

medium pot

wooden spoon

candy thermometer

hand-held mixer with whisk attachment

lightly oiled rubber spatula

large piping bag with 1/2″ round piping tip (or just cut tip)

mini muffin tin

Directions:

1.)  In a large heat proof mixing bowl, bloom the gelatin in the water. Set aside.

2.)  Place the maple syrup and cream of tartar in a medium pot, mix with the wooden spoon, then place on low-medium heat until the mixture hits 250 degrees F. Use the candy thermometer and be careful to watch the mixture so that the syrup doesn’t boil over.

3.)  Meanwhile, place 1 rounded tsp of loose leaf tea in each of 12 mini muffin pan cavities.

4.)  When the maple syrup comes up to temperature, take it off the heat then gradually pour it into the bloomed gelatin. Use a hand-held mixer to whip the mixture until you get stiff peaks. Use an oiled spatula to transfer the marshmallow fluff to a large piping bag with a 1/2″ open tip for piping.

5.)  Pipe small dollops of marshmallow fluff into each tea-filled mini muffin pan cavity. Attach a candy egg in the middle of each dollop, then top the marshmallows with extra loose leaf tea to create finished nests. Each nest is enough to brew 1 small teapot of tea (2 cup capacity). Simply eat the egg candy, then throw the nest into hot water to brew.

Azuki Bunny Buns

Soft, fluffy, sweet, and classically Asian. There’s no other way to describe red bean buns. Where Americans have chocolate chip cookies, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have their red bean buns. Whether it’s someone’s birthday or time for an afternoon snack, in Asian food culture red bean buns are always a welcome treat.

Maybe it’s the American in me, but I don’t find red bean buns nearly as appealing as chocolate chip cookies. After all, they’re made with–of all things–beans! Everything changed this past week when I did some tweaking on my recipe for savory steamed buns. Inspired by spring, I sought out to make an Easter bunny-themed variation, with the perfect mild sweetness and tender texture. The results are some seriously yummy buns that can easily steal the spotlight from those chocolate chip cookies.

Azuki buns are so popular that you’ll often find them ready-made in the freezer or fridge section in Asian markets. The tell-tale sign of a mediocre (or bad) azuki bun is that it’s chokingly dry and dense. And a good one? Tender and slightly chewy with just the right amount of filling. 
I based this recipe on the dough used for my Steamed BBQ Pork Buns and Chinese Fold-Over Buns, with a few changes. Instead of using Hong Kong flour, which is harder to find, I use regular all-purpose flour here. I also swap out the powdered sugar for superfine sugar, which creates a chewier, slightly heavier dough that steams up with a perfectly thin skin and smooth surface.

Decorated with a pair of bunny ears and a nubby nose made from soft candies, the humble buns are instantly transformed into wagashi-like Easter treats. You can also just scatter some sesame seeds in the center of each rounded bun before steaming. The buns will look elegant and easy, ideal for no-nonsense adults who aren’t in to adorably chubby bunnies. Enjoy these with Japanese green teas like a pale jade gyokuo, a toasty genmaicha, or a delicate sencha like Palais des Thés Tawaramine Shincha. Any tea that’s light, grassy, and fresh on the palette is ideal with the classic Asian flavor and look of these buns. Some may say that these Azuki Bunny Buns are too cute to eat, but as you can see I clearly don’t agree!Azuki Bunny Buns

Makes 10 buns.

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp non-fat dry milk powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

6 Tbsp lukewarm water + 1-2 tsp water more (if needed)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sweetened smooth red bean paste (koshian)

black sesame seeds, for bunny eyes

soft, pink chewy candies, for bunny ears and noses (I used Hi-Chews)

non-stick spray or oil, for coating proofing bowl

Equipment:

stand mixer with dough hook attachment

large bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

chef’s knife

Tbsp measure

large bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

parchment paper, cut into 2 1/2″ squares

small cupcake liners (optional)

Japanese bento grass (optional)

Directions:

1.)  Place all dry dough ingredients into the bowl of a large stand mixer. Start the mixer on low, then gradually add the water and oil. About 3 minutes in, the shaggy dough should come together to form a ball. If it does not, add 1-2 tsp of water until the dough comes together. Let the dough continue to mix on low for 10 minutes, until you get a soft and supple ball of dough.

2.)  Lightly spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, coating the top surface of the dough with some of the same oil. Place the dough ball in the large bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in a draft free place to rise until almost doubled in volume.

3.)  After the first rise, take the dough out onto a work surface. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion it out into 10 equal pieces using a chef’s knife. Shape each dough piece into a ball, then flatten each ball into a disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter and fill it with 1 Tbsp of red bean paste. Gather the edges of the flattened dough disk, pinching them together to seal. Flip the filled dough ball over, then roll it into a slightly oval circle. Place this shaped bun on a small square of parchment paper.

4.)  Attach the eyes of the bunnies with the slightly wetted tip of a toothpick. Place the bun into the bamboo steamer. Shape a total of 10 buns, placing them at least 1″ apart in the steamer. Cover the steamer and let the buns rise for about 15 minutes, until just slightly puffy. Meanwhile, boil some water in a wok or stockpot so that the water is at least 2″ deep in the pot. 5.)  Steam the buns for 12 minutes over water at a full boil. After the buns have finished steaming, let them cool before decorating them with soft, pink candies (I used Strawberry Hi-Chews, but you could use any soft pink candy). Cut a candy crosswise, in 1/4″ thick pieces. Shape the pieces (see below) into elongated bunny ears. Use the center pink part of the candies to make tiny balls to make the bunny noses. Attach the candies to the surface of the cooled, steamed buns using light dabs of water. Decorate these buns just before serving as the attached candies get soft and sticky after being adhered to the buns. Place the buns on cupcake liners decorated with bento grass for a festive Easter finish.

Tea of the Week: Bellocq’s No. 22 National Parks Dept.

Here’s a blend for all you rugged wilderness lovers out there. Now that spring has officially arrived and nature is coming back to life, it’s time for an invigorating cup inspired by everything we love about the new season. Bellocq’s National Parks Dept is an earthy, organic blend of botanicals and blooms. As you drink this tea you can literally sense branches and twigs crushing under your steps. As an avid Martha Stewart fan, I learned about Bellocq Tea Atelier many subscriptions ago. This company hails from Brooklyn where the founders of this tea company met while working at Martha Stewart Living Omimedia. Bellocq has an exquisite collection of mostly organic, handcrafted, single-estate teas. Their teas can be on the pricey side, but if you pick a blend like National Parks Dept., the tea is worth every penny.
National Parks Dept. is like a tranquil walk through the woods without the threat of mosquito bites, dehydration, and getting lost. What’s most remarkable about the blend are the added cedar tips, still bright green and aromatic, as if they’ve just been snipped off of a sappy fir tree. Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Great Smokey Mountains…turn that tea kettle on and you’ll be there!Tasting Notes for Bellocq Tea Atelier’s No. 22 National Parks Dept.:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew at 200 degrees F for 5-6 minutes.
THE TEA:  This rustic, organic blend is a mix of twigs, leaves, and blooms. What seems like a random scoop of nature’s shrubbery is actually 2nd Flush Darjeeling, Assam, twig tea, juniper berries, wild blue cornflowers, and cedar fir tips.
THE SCENT:  Like a hike through the woods on a sunny day. The scent of pine and cedar is pleasantly strong here. If you love the smell of freshly cut Christmas trees during the holidays then you will love this blend.
THE STEEP:  A handsome, coppery brown steep. Full-bodied yet mellow. You can definitely taste the twig tea (Kukicha) here. It takes the edge off of the stronger Darjeeling and Assam teas, and gives the blend a rich, rounded, slightly sweet finish. If you enjoy your black teas with sweetener, I would suggest a touch wild honey or maple syrup.
GET IT:  At One Kings Lane or at the exquisite Bellocq Tea Atelier site.
FOOD PAIRING:  This tea is ideal for a spring brunch or with breakfast favorites like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. Also great with Fragrant Orange English SconesMaple Brick Toast, or Blueberry English Muffins. For a savoy change, enjoy the tea with Beef Bourguignon Pastries or Turkey Tarragon Tea Sandwiches.

Midnight Matcha Bites

Midnight and matcha in the same thought? Doesn’t seem quite right does it? Matcha is hands down the best drink to have in the morning, but as much as I love it I’d definitely tell you to think twice before partaking late in the PM.

Luckily, we aren’t talking about the time of day here, we are talking about an ingredient–one of my favorites–black cocoa. This ultra dark cocoa powder, also known as midnight black cocoa, is known for its incredibly intense color and flavor. It can sometimes be hard to find, but if you know where to look it’s definitely worth the extra effort.

Aside from being rich and sinfully chocolatey in flavor, it’s also earthier than regular cocoa powder is. The unusual charcoal-like color comes from the dutching process, which greatly reduces the cocoa powder’s acidity. Every time I taste black cocoa I’m reminded of Oreos, Devil’s food cake, and whoopie pies…and in my book, this can only be a good thing.

There are few teas that can stand up to a strong, dark flavor like black cocoa and matcha is one of them. The two ingredients actually have similar taste profiles. If you love the bittersweet taste of matcha, then you’ll love the taste of black cocoa powder too. When they are of good quality, both are pleasantly mellow yet intense.

Instead of dusting the bites in pure matcha, I coat them in matcha-laced unsweetened coconut, which helps to balance just the right amount of tea in each bite. The sweet factor comes from super ripe bananas and a touch of honey, which give mild sweetness and bind the dry ingredients into a brownie-like texture.

Enjoy these as an on-the-go breakfast, a mid-day pick me up, or whenever you need a sustained energy boost. If there were ever such a thing, I like to think of these as healthy chocolate truffles. Midnight Matcha Bites are a hearty way to indulge your darkest and most serious chocolate cravings!

Midnight Matcha Bites

Makes 35 balls.

Ingredients:

{Chocolate Energy Balls}

2 bananas, very ripe & mashed

1 cup almond meal

1 cup ground whole oats, ground to a powder in a food processor

3/4 cup whole oats, left whole

1/4 cup chia seeds

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

1/3 cup dried coconut, unsweetened

1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used midnight black cocoa)

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup almond butter

1/4 cup honey

2 tsp vanilla

{Coconut Matcha Coating}

1/2 cup dried coconut, unsweetened

1 Tbsp matcha powder

Equipment:

food processor

large mixing bowl

large mixing spoon

cookie scoop with 1 3/4″ diameter (2 Tbsp)

Directions:

1.)  Place the dry Chocolate Energy Ball ingredients in the mixing bowl, then lightly toss together. Add the wet ingredients, then mix everything together thoroughly with the spoon.

2.)  In a small bowl, mix the Coconut Matcha Coating ingredients together. Use your fingers to evenly distribute the matcha with the dried coconut. Set aside.

3.)  Use the cookie scoop to scoop out a 2 Tbsp portion of the Chocolate Energy Ball mixture, then roll it into a smooth ball. Repeat this process to form 30 energy balls/bites. Roll and evenly coat the chocolate balls in the matcha coconut. Store the bites in a sealed box or bag in the fridge.