Monday, October 5, 2015

Making Kahwah (Afghani Tea)

Last month's selection for my ladies' book club was An American Bride in Kabul by Phyllis Chesler. Everyone is supposed to bring a food or beverage item that somehow relates to the book of the month.  Being The Tea Mistress, I naturally offered to bring tea.  

I was originally planning to make some sort of an Afghani version of Masala Chai, because I have a lovely memory of walking around South Street in Philadelphia with my husband several years ago and popping into a little cafe on a side street.  The owner of the cafe, who was from Afghanistan, asked us if we would like some chai.  I said yes (because it's one of my favorite types of tea) but my husband said no (because it's not one of his favorite types of tea).  The shop owner replied, "Ah! That's because you have never had mine! This will be the best chai you have ever tasted!"  And off he ran into the back of the store.  He was gone for a good fifteen to twenty minutes and we were looking at each other, wondering if we should leave.  (This was in the days before Smart Phones, so you can imagine how bored we were with nothing to do but talk to each other!)  Finally he returned with two large, steaming hot cups of an incredibly delicious chai! My husband promptly declared it the best chai he had ever tasted.

It was with the memory of this tastebud-tantalizing experience that I searched the Internet for Afghani chai recipes.  I was especially looking forward to trying this one: . Alas, my attempt to replicate the delicious chai of my Philly memory was thwarted by the lack of milk in my refrigerator and the lack of time to run to the store and get more!

Luckily this Wikipedia entry saved the day: and Plan B was put into motion!  As you can see, the "Preparation" section does not contain an actual recipe with proportions, nor does it specify which type of green tea to use.

I surmised that a gunpowder green tea would be a logical choice, since that's the type of tea used in Moroccan mint tea.  I also figured that its strong flavor would stand up well to the sweetness of the other ingredients, in the same way that the tartness of Granny Smith apples works well in many desserts.

Although the webpage recommended a samovar, I don't own one yet. Instead I decided to prepare the tea in my Turkish double-boiler tea kettles, although I didn't do it the traditional way (e.g. making the tea itself in the smaller top pot and steaming it over the larger pot) because I wanted to make the tea in a container that I could transport easily to our book club hostess's home.  I came up with the solution of preparing the tea directly into the larger kettle.

Now, normally when I prepare tea for book club, nobody drinks it. I assumed that they'd mostly be drinking coffee since it was a Sunday brunch time of day.  Therefore I decided to make 6 cups of tea and have it "tested" by my husband and me prior to transporting it.

Here's the recipe I came up with, based on the rough guidelines in Wikipedia:
6 cups boiling water
6 teaspoons of gunpowder green tea
1 cinnamon stick
1 cardamom pods, cracked open with mortar & pestle
4-5 threads of saffron
6 rosebuds (from Vietnamese tea shop in Houston)

Bring water in kettle to rolling boil. Add tea (in muslin bags) and all other ingredients. Simmer for five minutes. Turn off heat.

I poured the tea into my Turkish tea glasses (because I don't have any Afghani tea glasses) and served it with a sugar cube (for me) and honey (for my husband).  He loved it so much that he drank two glasses of it! I enjoyed it as well.  Despite the photograph below, my dog Lilly did not actually drink any of the tea.

I wrapped up the kettle containing the remaining tea and carefully transported it to book club inside of a large stockpot.  I brought with me a set of six Turkish tea glasses and spoons as well as a box of sugar cubes.

To my surprise the tea was a big hit!  I wasn't expecting anyone to drink it, but I think the novelty of the delicate-looking tea glasses and spoons intrigued the ladies.  They drank every last drop of that tea and left me wishing I had made more!  

Our lunch consisted of turnip pancakes, plain yogurt, cabbage salad, couscous, lentil salad, potatoes in paprika, homemade bread, hummus and pita, rice pilaf, and some delicious desserts.

 Please excuse the burners which really need to be scrubbed and repainted!  One of these days I'll learn how to crop a photo.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fit to be Thai

Last week I was in a Thai Iced Tea kind of mood.  There's nothing like that combination of sweet, cold and brisk!
At home I have a box of Wangderm brand thai iced tea bags that I picked up in an Asian supermarket (Hong Kong Market, in case you're in the Houston area and need to know!) and it seemed like a good day to make a cup of it.
The tea bags have a very sweet aroma, like vanilla cream.  Indeed, the ingredients consist of black tea and vanilla flavor, so that's understandable.
I added 8 ounces of boiling water to one teabag and steeped it for five minutes.
The color of the steeped tea was that typical orange coppery color that we all know and love.  Unfortunately this can be attributed to the other ingredient listed on the box (FD&C Yellow #5) rather than to some mysterious and exoti

c traditional plant from Thailand!
The aroma of the steeped tea was that of sweet vanilla cream, and the vanilla was present in the flavor too. The black tea base is very mild.  It's mildly sweet on its own, but I added coconut sugar to make it sweeter.
Thai Iced Tea in restaurants is usually made with sweetened condensed milk (sometimes half and half or regular whole milk).  However, due to food allergies, I can't have milk very often, so I opted to make mine with So Delicious brand coconut-almond milk.  In retrospect, this choice proved to be a little too watery and thin and didn't add enough texture or body to the tea.  Since the nut milk also effectively diluted the tea, that also probably cut down on the flavor.
All in all, I was a bit disappointed, but I blame the coconut milk. I also would like to try either making it as a concentrate (with less water) or steeping it directly in hot milk next time in order to get more flavor.
That night my husband and I went out for Asian food and I ended up ordering a Thai iced tea at the restaurant. No doubt it was made with real milk, so the flavor was much better. I didn't feel too good the next day, but it was worth it as a special treat, just this once!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cinnamon Tea: Get It While It's Hot!

If you've never been to Houston, Texas, it's probably hard for you to imagine just how big and spread-out this city really is. According to Wikipedia, Houston proper is 1295 square miles, and Houston Metro Area (which includes several suburbs) measures 10,000 square miles!  My suburb lies about 25 miles Southeast of Downtown Houston, so understandably I rarely visit the areas to the north.
In the summer of 2014, one of the Meetup groups I belong to was having a lunch at Crossroads Tea Room in Old Town Spring.  In my ten years of living in the Houston area, Old Town Spring was one place I had been meaning to visit but hadn't had the opportunity yet.  Friends? Lunch? A tea room? It was the perfect excuse!
Lunch with the other ladies was delightful!  One of the teas we enjoyed was the Old Town Spice, a black tea flavored with sweet cinnamon oil!  I loved this tea so much that I bought a bag of it for myself and a bag of their decaf for my mother-in-law!
(The rest of Old Town Spring was great, by the way!  Lots of quaint little shops, including a German store and a Dutch Store (Little Dutch Girl), where I was able to purchase several food items that I had enjoyed as a child when I lived in Holland.)

This past Sunday, I made a pot of the Old Town Spice tea to share with my husband. He also enjoys this one a lot, because it reminds him of those cinnamon red hot candies.
The dry tea leaf pieces are very small and tightly rolled, like a Middle Eastern or Indian-style black tea.  The dry aroma is overwhelmingly red-hot cinnamon.
I used 1 tablespoon of tea to 3 cups of boiling water and steeped the tea for 4 1/2 minutes.
The result was a stunning rich cinnamon-red-brown liquor with the ever-present cinnamon scent.
This is a nice strong black tea with a delightful tongue-tingling cinnamon flavor!  There is sweetness in the cinnamon flavoring, so you do not even need to add sugar. (Diabetics be warned!)
This is definitely one of my favorite teas ever.
If the description of this tea sounds uncannily like the Cinnamon Spice Tea from Harney and Sons, you're not the only one who sees the resemblance!  I'm not sure who came up with this concept first, Harney's or Crossroads Tea.  But either way, I'm glad this style of tea exists under multiple brand names!

Crossroads' website is down at the moment, but here's the link:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Masala Chai Tea Bags are my Guilty Pleasure!

There! I said it!  They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.  I confess I have an addiction to masala chai tea bags from Indian groceries!  My favorite at the moment is Masala Chai from Tea India.  At just $4.99 for a box of 72 tea bags, it's a pretty good deal!

These are round tea bags (like the ones from Republic of Tea). Ingredients are: black tea, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, and "natural flavors".  In other words, typical masala chai ingredients.

The aroma of the teabags before steeping is predominantly cloves, cinnamon and ginger.  Directions call for 1 cup of boiling water per tea bag, steep for 3 to 5 minutes.  I tend to steep my black tea on the longer side if I'm just doing a single steeping, because I like that "bite" that stands up to milk and sugar.

The steeped tea smells like a lemony black tea with cloves, I don't really smell the other ingredients, but I do taste them!  This is a nice brisk tannic, jammy tea with a heavy clove flavor. What I love about masala chai from India as opposed to the more American-style blends (like Starbucks) are the cloves and black pepper: those spices both give it a kick and really add substance and essence.  This tea yields a beautiful cinnamon-brown-colored liquor.

This morning I added some coconut sugar and some coconut-almond milk. I've had it before with regular white sugar and cow's milk and it's delicious like that too.

Now that you know my secret, do you still respect me?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Honey Black Tea from TECA Tea

Today I review honey black tea from TECA Tea in Houston, Texas.  Formerly Ten Ren Tea, this shop in Southwest Houston/Bellaire's Chinatown is now called Ten Yen Tea. TECA Tea is their own line of tea.  The owners, Richard and Pauline, are Taiwanese Tea Masters who speak multiple languages.  It's a beautiful shop with a choice selection of quality teas and teaware.  If you've been looking for supplies for gong fu cha (Chinese tea ceremony), you'll go crazy in here! There's usually something tasty to sample while you shop.

Anyway, back to the tea!  This is one of three teas I bought the last time I was there with my Meetup Group (Tea and Conversation with Friends Meetup (Houston Metro Area).  There is not a lot of information on the label, but from what I can tell, it's not actually honey-flavored.  It appears to be a mild Chinese black tea with a naturally sweet aroma.

Per the instructions on the label, I did the first steeping (1 teaspoon in 8 ounces of water) at 200 degrees for 3 minutes. It yielded an amber liquor with a smooth, floral flavor.  I tasted notes of jasmine, roses, and honeysuckle.  There is no bitterness to this tea at all, but it's highly astringent. After a few sips, I got that telltale dry mouthfeel.

This tea does NOT need milk and sugar!  I believe it would overpower the delicacy of this black tea.  However, I did add a little honey to the second steeping.

Oh! Before I forget, here's the link to TECA Tea:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ooh! Oolong! Ooh la la! French Feta!

Part 2 of the Phoenicia Foods saga:

Since I don't get to Phoenicia Foods (the international food supermarket in Houston) very often, I texted a few friends to see if they needed anything while I was there.  One of them (a friend from Iran whom I hadn't seen in months) called back right away and said, "You're not going to believe this. My mother is visiting me from Iran and we ran out of pita bread and French feta cheese.  I told her I didn't want to drive all the way to Phoenicia to get more. And then I got your text message! Nobody has EVER texted me from Phoenicia to ask if I needed anything!"

Apart from learning that there is such a thing as French feta cheese (I'm French and I didn't know!), my good deed was rewarded when my friend came to my house that evening to pick up her bread and cheese.  Not only was I reimbursed in cash, but she gave me a bag full of teas from Teavana that she no longer wanted!

The next day, I decided to try the Teavana Monkey-Picked Oolong.  The image of monkeys picking leaves in tea fields and climbing ancient tea trees to reach the highest tender buds is highly amusing, although I know it's not accurate.

This tea is slightly past its prime, but nonetheless it's a welcome addition to my collection.  My husband loves oolong tea, and not just because we read somewhere that it's good for hangovers!  The other oolong teas in my cabinet are darker and more oxidized, whereas this one is a less oxidized tea that's closer to a green.

The dark green leaves are flecked with lighter specs of yellow-green and rolled into uneven, slightly misshapen balls.  The dry leaves have a mild, pleasant vegetal aroma.

I used a heaping teaspoon of leaves per cup and steeped the tea for three minutes at 195 degrees Fahrenheit.  

This yielded a yellow-gold cup of mild tea with that distinctive flavor that is present in Japanese teas such as sencha, and which always reminds me of eggs or broth.  There were also notes of chrysanthemum and a delayed astringent mouthfeel.

I did a second steeping for five minutes at 190 degrees Fahrenheit and got an amber-hued liquor that was very mild (perhaps because the tea was older) with no bitterness or astringency.  I tasted muted notes of egg, vegetable broth, seaweed, chrysanthemum and jasmine.

Conclusion: not a bad tea. Not as bold as some oolongs, but it'll do when the oolong craving hits.  I'd be curious to taste this fresh.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I'm Just Wild about Saffron

...and saffron's good in a tea!  (With apologies to Donovan)

Last week I drove an hour to go to a networking event, which gave me an excuse to go shopping at Phoenicia, an international supermarket in West Houston (Energy Corridor/Westchase area).  Despite having more than a cabinet's worth of tea at home already, I couldn't help but browse the tea aisle.  I was excited to find (among other things) a saffron black tea from Spain!  The brand name is Azafranda: it's manufactured in Spain and distributed by Sadaf Foods in Los Angeles. 
The ingredients are black tea (97.5%) and saffron (2.5%), and the price ($10 for 25 teabags) seemed in keeping with the price of saffron.   I know that many "tea snobs" are anti-teabag, but sometimes you just want convenience along with your flavorful tea experience.
The origin of the tea itself is not listed on the package, but the phrase "exotic aroma and seductive flavor" is!  The aroma of saffron was indeed redolent in the dry tea bags. 
I used a cup of boiling water per tea bag. The first one I oversteeped at five minutes: it proved to be a strong, very astringent cup of black tea with a lingering after-note of saffron.  It was too bitter to drink straight, but it stood up well to two sugar cubes.
The second tea bag I only steeped for three minutes, but even with the shorter steeping time, it made for a brisk cup!  This time I added a splash of milk along with sugar, and WOW! The saffron flavor really popped!  It reminded me of some Indian desserts I have had.
All in all, I'm quite pleased with this tea.  In the mornings I often crave a strong cup of black tea that I can enjoy with cream and sugar, and the added saffron flavor gives this tea a sense of exotic luxury.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Indian Food, Tea from Nepal, and "Unsweetened" Iced Tea

This is in part a review of a local Indian restaurant and partly a discussion of tea. My local Mensa group meets for lunch once a month at Salateen Restaurant in Southeast Houston near Ellington Field and Clear Lake.  They have an affordable and delicious lunch buffet with a variety of options. (In case you're curious about the menu, their website is

One of my group members is very particular about her iced tea. She hates iced tea from a concentrate, which is what most restaurants carry.  This restaurant is no exception; however, a few months ago there was a happy accident: the soda fountain dispenser was broken and there was no iced tea!  Wanting to make her customers happy, the owner very kindly brewed some of the special Nepalese tea that they use for the masala chai and made fresh iced tea!  The result was that my group member was VERY happy with the delicious tea and couldn't stop raving about it!  Now she asks for it every time we go, and she's gotten others in our group hooked on it.  Yesterday we went there again, and the owner recommended that we call ahead next time we come so that she'll have it ready and waiting for us when we arrive! How's that for great customer service?

Me? I like iced tea OK, but I'm a masala chai fanatic!  I absolutely love the masala chai here: it's strong, spicy and creamy, and I can add my own sugar to taste. They give you a pot of it, which works out to two cups: a generous portion compared to the other Indian restaurants in this area.

Below I've posted some photos of this delicious black tea from Nepal in its iced and hot forms.

But first, read this shocking information about most commercial "unsweetened" iced teas found in restaurants:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Turkish Tea

Last weekend I was feeling the need for copious amounts of caffeine, so I broke out the Turkish double-boiler teapot (çaydanlık) and the Turkish black tea that a friend had sent me from Turkey and made a big pot of dark, strong, steaming hot Turkish tea.  
Although it's not rocket science, it's a more complicated process than just throwing some hot water over a teabag.  First you have to measure the tea and rinse it in a sieve, then measure the water for both pots, bring the water to a boil, add the tea and water to the top pot, and steam it for 20 minutes.  The result is an incredibly strong brew that you dilute with the boiling water from the larger pot.  
Milk is not used in this tea, only sugar cubes.  This tea has a brisk (slightly bitter) bite that stands up to sugar. After two cups, I was jittery for the entire day, although I didn't regret it until it was time to go to bed! 
I had enough leftover "tea concentrate" that I saved it in the refrigerator and I've been using it to make tea the last two days.  Today I actually pulled out my beautiful Russian tea glass so I could drink it in style. (I do have Turkish tea glasses, but they are put away somewhere.)

Before I forget, I want to give props to this Russian lady living in Turkey for her entertaining and useful blog:

Hello and welcome to my tea blog!

Before I introduce myself, let me warn you that I am technologically challenged. I actually tried to start this blog on but was unable to get any photos to upload despite following the instructions. I am not having much luck over here on either: I keep getting error messages that my photos are too large.  Please bear with me! Yes, I know that's a cup of coffee in the current layout, but I had no luck uploading my tea photos.


Hello!  My name is Amanda and my company is The Tea Mistress, LLC.  I am certified as a Tea Master by the American Tea Masters Association and I've been in business since 2013 selling specialty teas, teaware, tiny teapot jewelry, and doing talks, tastings, tea and food pairings, lectures and tea parties.  I recently organized the first annual Lone Star Iced Tea Festival held in Houston, Texas on August 9, 2015.  I am the organizer of two tea meetup groups, Tea and Conversation with Friends (DFW) and Tea and Conversation with Friends (Houston area). I have so much tea in my kitchen that I have not even tried yet, and I thought maybe a blog would motivate me to taste and evaluate the teas.  I'm also going to review tea-related businesses (restaurants, cafes, tea rooms, tea shops, festivals and fairs) that I visit alone or with my meetup groups, and maybe post some articles too. We'll see where this leads!

I'll be reviewing some teas I sell, some teas that I've purchased as a customer, some teas I've received as gifts, and sample teas I've received at World Tea Expo or local tea festivals. I will disclose the origin of the teas in each review.

Oh...I'm on Facebook and Twitter too. I have an Instagram account, but haven't done much with it yet. That's on the to-do list as well.