Refreshments

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Zen Tea Traders “Cupping Party”

Deb and I had the pleasure of attending a tea cupping event at Chazzano Coffee, one of our local indie coffee houses. The event was presented by Anthony Capobianco of Zen Tea Traders, another in a growing line of people I've met who are truly living the dream of turning their passions into their careers. In much the same manner as Frank presents his coffee cupping parties (similar how one explores and experiences wine tastings), Anthony led us through the steeping, huffing and slurping of various single-origin, whole-leaf teas he sources directly from small farms throughout Asia. Our evening began with the subtle, mellow tones of a light bodied white tea, followed by a Japanese green tea, a darker, heavier still Oolong tea, a black tea and finally a special treat from Frank, a coffee-tea made from the dried fruits of the coffee bean which are left over once the beans are removed. blacktea For my tastes, the savory green tea, the powerful black tea and the really unexpected flavor of the coffee tea provided most of the mind blowing. Without transcribing the entire presentation, some highlights of knowledge Deb and I learned this evening which may inspire you to conduct further "research" aka pouring more tea into your face: All Tea is from the same plant: the Tea Plant or Camellia sinensis. White, Black, Oolong, Green, etc are all tea leaves harvested at different stages of development and dried at different amounts of time post harvest. The activities as a whole are called "Processing". The "lighter" the Tea, such as white or green, the less processing involved. Like the grapes of wine, the beans of coffee, the tobacco of cigars - Terroir matters for tea as well. Tea grown in Japan will carry the subtle influences of the climate that make it distinct from Tea grown in China or Taiwan. Many of us grew up knowing only of little paper sacks of bitter Tea leave chaff from Lipton - use it once, throw it away. Turns out most whole leaf teas can not only be steeped multiple times, but some are often even better tasting, albeit much lower in caffeine on the second and third steep. coffeeteaberries Like coffee, water temperature and steeping time vary from Tea to Tea and cold steep vs hot steep produce a wide range of flavor profiles. Similar to coffee (and for the same reasons). Unlike coffee, where farmers and farm workers in the countries of origin often never drink from the fruits of their labors, exporting every last bean of a crop to make every penny they can, many tea growing regions keep the best crops for themselves, and only share the harvests they feel are of lower quality. All told we spent about three hours exploring Tea with Anthony and Frank. If you're in the Metro Detroit area, definitely seek out a Tea or Coffee cupping event from Zen Tea Traders and Chazzano Coffee - and be prepared to stay up late afterward. I'm so frikkin wired right now I may not sleep until next week. If you're in the mood for additional tea photos, I stuck a bunch into a gallery on the RE Facebook page. -/// tea2
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.

Practical Pairing: Some Notes for Beginners

Pretty clever, if I do say...

We seem to be running short on pairing tips and tricks, so this seems as good a time as any to expand on that subject. Food and beverage pairing can be intensely intricate and daunting, but it needn't be. Simplicity can, and often does, yield amazing results, so you don't have to be a Master Sommelier or Brewmeister to find a beverage to go with your meal. With a little knowledge, experience and thought, it can be as easy or as complex as you make it. First, when contemplating a beverage pairing I always think in terms of comparative or contrasting flavors. I like to go with contrasting most of the time as it tends to add more interest, unless there is a really special ingredient (read as rare or expensive or both), then I try to go with something understated and complementary to let that ingredient be the star. Complimentary flavors are the easiest to start with. Certain foods will always pair well with certain beverages, but always keep in mind the full ingredient list of the dish and method of cooking when looking for a good pairing. Pork and shellfish, for instance, will go with beer no matter what the method of cooking. It's the other ingredients involved that will determine what you should pair with it. Mussels steamed in white wine can certainly be paired with a beer, but it's a trickier pairing than just going with white wine. The same or similar, maybe even a better quality wine than was used in the cooking process, is a no-brainer as far as pairing for such a dish goes. If you used a $5.00 bottle to steam them, serve them with a $15.00 bottle (especially if you are already familiar with that bottle) and life is easy. Bottom line with the complimentary method is you really only need some basic knowledge of beverages to pull off a successful pairing. The typical flavor profile of the various beer styles and for grape varietals and blends. Intuition often helps immensely here, too. Once you have that vision of the final dish in your head, what you want the end result to taste like, just stand in front of the beer or wine shelf and browse with that in the back of your mind. In any well stocked beverage store I'm sure something will jump out at you. Trust your instincts, and if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, ask yourself why. What was the beverage lacking? Was it too heavy or too flat? Did it overpower the food, or vice versa? Once you determine the answer, congratulations! You've just had a learning experience, and that is never a bad thing! This will guide your future selections. The point is, don't take this too seriously. The comparative flavor method is fairly forgiving, and works well enough most of the time. Acidity cuts through fat, is probably the best advice to give to someone who wants to venture into this endeavor. If the dish at hand is rich or has a rich and fatty sauce, go with a beverage that has some acidity. Braised pork, for instance, loves a lager or a white wine with higher than normal acidity. Hard cider is also a valid option since there's a fair amount of acid and apples are a classic pairing with pork. But, as I said, the other ingredients in the dish might scream for something more specific. Curry braised pork? I'd go with a light or medium bodied beer, depending on what sort of curry is used. Jerk braised pork? Would benefit more from a light lager, or maybe even bold white. Of course, if there is a particular beverage used in the construction of the dish, then that beverage is a no-brainer for

New Holland Breweries Mad Hatter being added to a Cheddar-Ale soup. I wonder what I should pair with this?

pairing. Beef Burgundy (Bourguignon) loves a bold red wine, because that's one of the liquids in the braise, and beer poached bratwurst on a summer afternoon cannot and should not be paired with anything other than a good beer! I doubt even Ian, our resident wine guy, would argue that.   Another thing to consider are the ingredients used in the brewing of the beverage before you. This counts more for beer and cider than wine, since wines are nearly always made with grapes alone. Many beer styles incorporate herbs, spices, citrus, even seaweed in the brew kettle. If those adjuncts would pair well with the food on the plate if they were part of the dish, then they will work well when present in your libation. Beer with citrus peel works well with deserts and fish, one with heavy spices like a winter ale will go well when game or curry or jerk seasoning are on the plate, and one with fruit additives will go well with anything that particular fruit would. Chocolate and raspberry, for instance. A classic combination. Chocolate cake and/or ganache loves a raspberry lambic. And lambics are high in acidity, which will cut through the fat and richness chocolate brings to the table, thus washing your palate clean and preparing you for the next mouthful.   So let your intuition, instincts, and sense of adventure guide you. Count failures as learning experiences. Above all, dare to explore your options. Some great pairings can come from unlikely places, and the only way to find out is to try! There is a universal “ah ha!” moment in this endeavor, one that every beverage snob has had. Most people just don't get it until they've experienced it. The synergy that can occur with food and beverage mingling on the tongue, making each other greater than the sum of their parts.   I have a few more ideas in mind for future posts right now, but I'll get back to this subject. Next time I touch on this I'll tackle the not-so-easy pairing ideas of contrasting the potable with the plate.   -Jack

Weekend refreshment: Lemon-Arak Slushie

It was an unseasonably hot and humid day in the Motor City today with a high of 89F. The summer like sunny weather prompted our pals, The Hungry Dudes, to pose the following query to their facebook audience:
"It's toasty out there, how are you going to keep cool? Frosty beverage perhaps?"
While a cold bottle of beer is the quick and easy, This one is so damn simple to make that it's worth the ten minutes messing with knives and blenders. The unlikely flavor combination of lemon and anise is the most refreshing thing I've ever tasted on a hot summer day and it's made with lots of ice... ice is water... so it's good for you.
Lemon-Arak Slushie
Recipe Type: Beverage
Author: Bob Perye
Prep time: 10 mins
Total time: 10 mins
Serves: 2
Grab the blender and some straws. It's time to cool off.
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar
  • 1/3 cup Arak Haddad or similar anise flavored spirit
  • 1 tblsp lemon zest
  • 4 cups ice
Instructions
  1. Special hardware required: zester, juicer, blender and straws.
  2. Zest the lemons, then juice. Load the blender with the zest, lemon juice, sugar and booze. I prefer Arak Haddad Crystal, but any anise flavored liquor such as Pernod or Ouzo will do.
  3. Blend until the sugar is dissolved and you have a consistent syrup. Add the ice, cap the blender and power through until you reach a smooth slushie consistency.
  4. Pour into your preferred vessels, garnish with zest and a straw, then head out to the patio to sit on your ass and chill out.
Notes
You'll get roughly 24 oz  from this recipe, depending on how tightly you pack the ice. I mix it thick, if you prefer a milder flavor or need to stretch it, pop 2 more cups of ice in. Got a variation or a favorite alternative to whet your whistle after an afternoon of sunshine and yard work? I'd like to know about it. Tell the world in the comments. -///  
A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.