Tea: A great beverage, especially sweetened

Use honey to sweeten tea

Drinking tea can be a great thing to do. I really love to drink a cup of Chai tea and it helps soothe my throat and sinuses as well. However, it never seemed to be sweet enough. This is when I started to use sugar, but it never seemed to reach a perfect balance and would drastically alter the taste of the tea. To help me with this issue though, I started to use honey in my tea, which is a great solution. 

The first reason I started to use honey to sweeten my tea is that it does not alter the taste of my tea. With honey not altering the taste of my tea, I am able to still enjoy my tea, but not have to be concerned about the taste being completely different. Without honey, I was using sugar and it would make it so think and crunchy that I could not drink the tea.
Another reason I have decided to use the honey is it is more natural than what I have available. Since this is more natural than what I used before, I am able to have a great cup of tea and not have to be concerned about it impacting the taste of the tea or even my body. 
Having the best cup of Chai tea around is a great thing I like to do. However, I have found these teas can be not that sweet tasting at times. This is when I started to avoid artificial sweeteners in my tea and opted instead for the natural and raw honey. 

Have you tried boba tea?

Skip the boba, go for the tea.

Yesterday we visited Fitz’s Root Beer in The Loop for the first time, and even though it was wet and rainy and too cold to explore, we did drive down the street for a quick peek and I have to say that it looks like a really magical place. Maybe it’s not as incredible as Haight-Ashbury, but it’s still pretty awesome, with hippy stores, fun food shops, the amazing Moonrise space-themed hotel, and something that caught my eye as we were leaving—a bubble tea shop!

Bubble tea is something that I’ve always wanted to try but have never had the opportunity. We don’t have any bubble tea shops nearby where I live (though my small town is rapidly becoming bigger and more commercialized, I must sadly say) and I have had “Try bubble tea” on my list of things to do before I turn 30 all year. I only have about a month left to finish this list, so I asked my husband to stop the car so we could grab some bubble tea.

I asked for the most iconic flavor available—I am always the annoying person who asks, “What are you famous for? What’s the most authentic thing on your menu?” and I will eat that before ordering something I know I will love just to try something new—and the man working there gave me a million different options. I could have spent all day seeking a flavor, but the meter was running and we’re not used to parking meters, so we had to hurry!

I ordered a boba milk tea with boba tapioca pearls at the bottom and a lychee slushie. It was hard to decide on both and the three of us decided to split them all in the car on the way home. The slushie wasn’t bad; the lychee flavor reminded me of a sort-of-bitter lime margarita at my favorite Mexican restaurant. The boba tea wasn’t bad, either; it was like a sweet, slightly chocolate-y milk. But the boba pearls themselves were awful!

They are like black gummy balls without flavor, so they would be awesome if they just had flavor. I thought I knew what I was getting because I get boba at our local frozen yogurt place, but apparently those are quite different, bursting with fruit juice and not gummy at all. I probably should have listened to the guy when he offered me a sample to try, but I thought I knew what I was ordering. Typical me!

Overall, I think the experience was a pretty positive one, and I would love to go back to the bubble tea shop sometime and try even more flavors, as well as the interesting list of snacks they featured. What new eats have you tried this year? I think I’ll be adding something Russian to my list of things to do before 31…

Tea on the Go

Search for the perfect mug.

As the weather warms, I find myself leaving the house earlier. This means my required morning cup of caffeine must accompany me on these journeys into the world. I'm not a dainty, single cup of tea person. Nope, I need at least three cups before I can face the day as anything other than an angry cave bear.

At first, I used a travel mug called the “Bubba Keg.” The label is long worn off, but I know it holds nearly 12 cups of liquid. It's also well insulated, so the tea stays warm for a long time. The main issue is its size. I'd rush out the door, tea bag tags trailing from the top of the 'Keg,' only to have no place to put it in my car. No way it would fit in even a super-sized cup holder.


For awhile a used a daintier version of the 'keg' that only held about 6 cups of tea. It fit in a cup holder, but the lid eventually cracked and it was time to move on. Those pretty ceramic mugs from the coffee shops barely held more than a single cup, plus I somehow would chip them just by looking at them. The plastic versions were slightly better, but they soon discolored and nothing would clean them. What was I to do?


Finally, I resorted to a mason jar. Yep, that's right, one of those jars you can peaches in. I picked up a lid that screwed on somewhere, I wish I could remember where so I could get some back-ups. A cup cozy, made for the larger size to-go cups and purchased from Etsy, kept my fingers safe from burns. Thus far, the old mason jar as provided the best travel mug for my tea, and I even think it's sorta of pretty when filled with my favorite brew.


Tazo at Home

A tea review.

If you spend anytime in that giant of coffee shops, Starbucks, you are familiar with Tazo tea. The founder of Tazo originally started the Stash tea brand, which he later sold before starting the Tazo company. In 1994, Tazo was born and later sold to Starbucks, where it quickly became a household name.

Tazo makes more than 80 unique types of tea, but not all are available to consumers. Many are specialty blends for consumers. There are both looseleaf and bagged varieties, depending on your brewing preference. The tea isn't just available at cafes, you can also purchase it at most grocery stores.


I have a love-hate relationship with Tazo. The tea is good quality, but often overpriced. I can buy better quality, more flavorful tea from lesser known makers at a fraction of the cost. Part of this is plain marketing and brand recognition. If people are willing to pay more, naturally the company will charge more.


One place where Tazo has let me down is their liquid chai blend. I love myself some Starbuck's chai. Although the barista has tried to convince me that the blend they use is the same available in little cartons at grocery stores, I have never been able to replicate the flavor of those purchased at a local cafe. This is after carefully noting the amount of tea concentrate and milk used in its creation. I'm forced to believe that either chai tastes better when made by someone else, or that there is a recipe difference between what the cafes use and what is available for home use.

I'm a Little Tea Pot

Tea Tips

I have a huge collection of tea pots, yet there is only one or two I use on a regular basis. I'm a sucker for pretty or interesting looking pots so I tend to pick them up often, but once I get them home they are insufficient for one reason or another. When it comes down to it, most tea pots available today are made for looking at, not actually using.

Before you purchase a tea pot, decide what size you need. If you only brew enough to have a cup or two, there is no need for a mammoth 12 cup capacity pot. If you often invite others over for tea, a single person pot and cup combo isn't going to work well.


How do you heat your water? If you prefer to heat the water on the stove and use the same pot for heating and serving, you need a metal tea pot. Those pretty ceramic ones are great for serving, but you can't heat the water up in them. Basically, you need a tea pot that is also a kettle, or you need a separate kettle and a serving tea pot.


If you brew mainly loose tea, consider a pot with a built in strainer. This way you don't need to fish tea leaves out of the cup after pouring. If you prefer bags, keep in mind that a bag can clog the spout if you don't remove them before serving. Choosing the right tea pot for your needs requires more than just picking out the prettiest one.


Creating Tea Blends

Make your own simple syrups.

Lately I have been experimenting with sweet tea infusions. These are similar to those liquid tea mixes you can buy at the store, but they are much less expensive and pack more flavor than anything you can buy. You can create almost any flavor of tea you want with a homemade simple syrup.

A simple syrup is nothing more than a sugar syrup infused with herbs and spices. They all begin the same way with 1 part sugar and 2 parts water. Place the water and sugar into the pot then add the herbs and spices you want to the mixture.


You can make a simple ginger syrup by adding sliced ginger root. For a chai-like mixture, add cloves, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns to the the ginger in the pot. Peach or apple peelings give you a fruity syrup. Play around with fruits, spices and herbs, mixing the flavors you enjoy most.


Bring the syrup to a simmer over medium-low heat. Allow it to simmer for at least two hours, or until you have about a cup of liquid left. Promptly strain out the herbs and spices and store the syrup in a sealed container. Add up to a teaspoon of vanilla, if you like, after the syrup cools. You can store the simple syrup in the fridge for up to a month.


Add a tablespoon of the syrup to your brewed tea and stir it in to dissolve. You can even add it to cold tea. For the chai mix, you must add some milk to get a true chai latte experience. Enjoy!






Herbal Teas

Tea without tea leaves.

I used to hate herbal teas. They were flavorless substitutes for my beloved black and green teas. They usually contain no caffeine, which made them even more useless. Of course, at this point in my life I had only tried the bland herbal tea bags readily available at grocery stores.

My sister, an accomplished herb gardener, introduced me to what an herbal tea is supposed to be. She grows and dries all her own herbs, which means they are harvested at their peak flavor. She made me a cup of homegrown mint and chamomile tea. Suffice it to say, I was surprised.


Most herbal teas I had previously tried had a flavor similar to wet grass, if they had any taste at all. This tea had a mild mint flavor that was perfectly highlighted by just a touch of honey. Like tea leaves, herbs require proper drying and moisture-free storage to develop their full flavor.


Another mistake I had made was brewing herbal blends the same as I would a black tea. The flavor of herbs is much more delicate so long brewing ruins it. Use 160 degree Fahrenheit water and steep the tea for only 3 minutes. Herbal tea usually has a lighter color than black tea, and may appear nearly colorless depending on the type of herbs used.


Sugar and milk overpower delicate herbs. If you must use a sweetener, a small amount of honey works best. I have also heard that agave nectar is suitable for herbal teas. Finally, store the herbs the same way you would tea bags – in a sealed, dark, moisture proof container. Experiment with different herbs and combinations until you find the one that appeals to you.


Reading Tea Leaves

The secrets of tasseography tea

I'm not one for horoscopes and I'm usually pretty clueless about superstitions, so divination and getting my fortune isn't normally on my daily to-do list. Yet, what could be so bad about enjoying a cup of tea and finding out how my weekend's going to go – all in one sitting? So when a friend's daughter offered to read our tea leaves, I decided “sure, why not?”

She began by pouring us each a cuppa, sans strainer. I allowed the leaves to settle for a moment before drinking it down, but I still wouldn't describe it as a pleasant process. Maybe I should have had the tea leaves stuck to my teeth read instead!


Once we finished our tea, she took our cups. The remainder of the brewed leaves was primary on the bottom of the cups, but some had stuck to the sides as well. She held the cup fairly level and began reading with the handle facing her.


It seems that a tea reading begins with the present and moves toward the future. My friend's daughter explained that the symbols left behind by the tea leaf residue each provided clues to what was currently going on and what would occur later. The leaves on the side of the mug are the present while those on the bottom are the far future.


So what does my future hold? Well, it began with a bat, which I was informed meant appointment and false friends, and ended with a pipe, which symbolizes a solution to a problem. Considering I was disappointed with drinking leafy tea but on my way to solve that by brewing a clear cup, I would say the reading was spot on.

The Art of Ice Tea

Enjoying your brew on the rocks.

Sometimes a hot drink just doesn't sound appetizing, but that's okay because there is always ice tea. All too often I see otherwise discerning tea drinkers settle for a subpar tea, thinking quality doesn't matter since they are serving it iced. This often results in weak or overly bitter, cloudy pitchers of tea.

You can use your favorite bag or looseleaf hot tea blends to make ice tea. Green teas make a light, refreshing cold drink while black teas make the more traditional ice tea. Even herbal and spiced teas work well. Don't settle for discount teas!


The quickest way to brew a pitcher is to place five teabags or 5 tbsp. of looseleaf tea in a pitcher then pour two cups of hot, almost boiling water over the tea. Let it steep for three to five minutes, then carefully remove the bags or strain out the tea leaves. Don't squeeze the bags, or you'll end up with cloudy ice tea. Top off the pitcher with two cups of cold water then serve it chilled or over ice.


Sun tea is a favorite in my house. Use the same amount of tea in a glass jar, but start with 4 cups of water. Let the tea steep outdoors in a sunny spot for a minimum of four and preferable six to eight hours. Remove the tea bags carefully and enjoy.


Special sun tea jars are also available. These have a spigot to serve the tea easily. You must still remove the bags, though, or the tea ends up bitter or cloudy.




















Alternative Brewing: Keurig Machines

Can a good cuppa come from a K-cup?

My mom received a Keurig machine last year for Christmas. It was at the top of her list, which I found odd because her and my dad mainly drink tea. I was soon introduced to the world of K-cups and hot brewing water on demand. Suffice it to say, a Keurig machine isn't likely in my future.

These machines use little plastic pods filled with coffee or tea leaves. I'm not a coffee drinker but I've heard from my husband that they make an excellent cup of joe, delivering it quickly and piping hot. In fact, the machines are primarily made for coffee but an ever-increasing line of tea is also available. Twinings, Celestial Seasoning and Tazo (Starbuck's house tea brand) all have offerings for the Keurig.


On a whim, I tried them out. The machine didn't deliver a bad cup of black tea, although it was a bit weak. My guess is even with the hot water flowing through the k-cup, the tea didn't have time to brew properly so the full flavor didn't leach from the leaves. This was most disappointing in the Earl Grey, since it didn't develop that heavenly aroma I'm used to.


The green tea, in my opinion, is a total bust. My guess is the water is too hot. A Keurig brews at 192 F, while green tea is best brewed at a much lower temperature, generally near 160 F. Some Keurig machines allow you to adjust the temperature, but by no more than 5 degrees so they really aren't suitable for green tea and some herbal blends.


I now use their Keurig for the hot water when I am visiting, but I brew the tea the old fashioned way with a bag in a mug. I think Keurig machines do what they were made for, brewing coffee, well, but they fall a little short in the tea department.