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TIP OF THE DAY: Cut The Calories In Thai Iced Tea & Thai Iced Coffee

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Coffee
The milky swirl of Thai iced tea or coffee is a visual treat (photo #1 courtesy Wife Mama Foodie, photo #2 courtesy Hella Good).

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

[3] Want to make your own sweetened condensed milk? Here’s the recipe, from Gluten Free On A Shoestring.

 

June is National Tea Month, time for an article on a type of iced tea not yet as broadly served in the U.S. as we think it should be. The easy recipe follows.

For those who already know and love Thai iced tea or coffee but not the overload of sugar, we have a solution below. But first, some history about the drinks.

WHAT IS THAI ICED TEA?

Thai iced tea, known as cha-yen in Thailand (cha is the word for tea), is served in Thailand, Vietnam, elsewhere around the Pacific Rim and in Thai restaurants around the world. It is made from strong-brewed black tea—typically Ceylon tea—and sweetened condensed milk, which adds creaminess, body and mouthfeel.

For visual appeal, the deep amber tea and white sweetened condensed milk (and often, evaporated milk) are swirled together or layered. The drink can be topped off evaporated milk, coconut milk, half and half or whole milk. It is sweetened with lots of sugar (local to the the South Pacific), and often served over crushed ice.

The brewed tea can be enhanced with spices, such as cardamom, clove, nutmeg, orange blossom water, star anise and tamarind. If you like chai tea with milk and sweetener, you are likely to enjoy Thai iced tea.

The countries where it’s most popular are known for hot, steamy summers. Thai iced tea is a welcome refreshment—and a complement to spicy food. If your neck of the woods is as hot and steamy as ours is, it’s time to try the recipe.

THE HISTORY OF THAI ICED TEA

In hot countries before refrigeration, where fresh milk was hard to come by, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk were used in coffee, desserts and other recipes requiring milk (including Key lime pie).

The precise birth date of what is now known today as Thai tea is uncertain. Americans and Europeans living in Asia brought evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk—first available in 1856—for their tea and coffee [source].

One source suggests that “It was probably introduced during the time of Field Marshall Pibul Songkram [1938 to 1944] who seemed to favour Western habits as being civilized” [source]—hence the ice and milk in tea, previously only a hot drink.

Tea is a relatively new crop in Thailand, brought in by the Chinese in the 1880s to supplant opium as a cash crop to [hopefully] curb drug trafficking. The tea became a street food staple [source]. The British and other foreigners in Thailand had their own supply of tea.

Why is the tea often very orange in color? After the tea was brewed for the master, the domestic workers took used leaves that would have been discarded, to brew tea for themselves. The flavor and color of this second infusion were faded, so orange color and flavoring were added to make a more appealing brew.

The tradition of orange color became a tradition of Thai brewed tea [source]. (See photo #4, below.)

Thai iced coffee followed much later, in the postwar 20th century.

 
WHO INVENTED EVAPORATED MILK & SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK?

Both products were invented by Gail Borden, who subsequently formed the dairy company that bears his name.

In 1852, Borden was traveling transatlantic when the cows aboard ship became too seasick to provide milk (there was no refrigeration in those days to keep milk fresh). He began to experiment, and two years later produced a canned milk that did not go sour at room temperature for three days after the can was opened.

Borden received a patent for sweetened condensed milk in 1856 and began commercial production the following year. Unsweetened condensed milk, now called evaporated milk, took more time to perfect since it didn’t have the sugar to inhibit bacteria growth. It was finally canned successfully in 1885.

In the days before refrigeration, both evaporated and sweetened condensed milk were used more than fresh milk in households, because they were less likely to spoil and harbor harmful bacteria.
 
 
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EVAPORATED MILK AND SWEETENED CONDENSED MILK

The quickest explanation is in the names: sweetened condensed milk has added sugar and evaporated milk doesn’t. It is also much thicker: Evaporated milk pours like regular milk, but sweetened condensed milk pours like molasses. They are not interchangeable in recipes, but both can be used in coffee.

  • Evaporated milk is fresh cow’s milk from which about 60% percent of the water has been removed by evaporation. It’s then homogenized, fortified with vitamins and stabilizers, canned and sterilized. The heat from the sterilization gives the milk a bit of a caramelized flavor, and makes the color slightly darker than fresh milk. Evaporated milk was originally called unsweetened condensed milk, although that term is no longer used.
  • Sweetened condensed milk also has about 60% percent of the water removed, then sugar is added as well as vitamin A. Condensed milk contains 40% to 45% sugar, but it means that no (or less) added sugar is required in the recipe. Condensed milk requires no sterilization, since sugar is a natural inhibitor of bacteria growth. It is darker and more yellow in color than evaporated milk.
  •  

    THAI ICED TEA OR ICED COFFEE RECIPE

    Substitute strong-brewed coffee for the tea, with spices as desired (here’s the recipe for Thai Iced Coffee).

    You can chill the drink in the fridge, for enjoyment without the dilution of ice cubes.

    Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup black tea leaves (approximately 3 ounces)
  • Optional spices: cardamom, ground tamarind, nutmeg, star anise or others (cinnamon works for us), to taste
  • 6 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or equivalent noncaloric sweetener)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup evaporated milk to top (you can substitute coconut milk, half and half or whole milk)
  • Crushed ice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. STEEP the tea leaves (and any optional spices) in boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain out the tea leaves. Using an infuser (tea ball) makes this step easier.

    2. STIR in sugar while the tea is still hot, until dissolved; then stir in condensed milk.

    3. COOL to room temperature or ideally, chill in the fridge.

    4. ADD ice to tall iced tea glasses and pour in tea mixture until glasses are roughly 3/4 full. Slowly top off glasses with evaporated milk.
     
    VARIATIONS

    If you find yourself in the Pacific Rim, you can have what Americans think of as iced tea.
     

  • Dark Thai iced tea (cha dam yen) is simple iced tea without the milk, sweetened with sugar.
  • Lime Thai tea (cha manao) is dark Thai iced tea flavored with lime. Mint may also be added.
  • Boba Thai iced tea, a modern fusion, adding the black tapioca balls used for Chinese bubble tea.
  •  

    Thai Iced Tea

    Thai Iced Tea Pops Recipe

    [4] Thai iced tea and [5] iced tea pops with added boba (tapioca balls). The orange color is a Thai tradition. Here are both recipes from Pineapple and Coconut.

     
    For Low Sugar Thai Iced Tea

    If you’re looking for unsweetened iced tea in the Pacific Rim, you may be out of luck. It’s the birthplace of sugar.

    But use the low-calorie or low-glycemic sweetener of your choice (Splenda, agave), and use evaporated milk instead of sweetened condensed milk.

    You’ve created a low-calorie Thai iced tea.
     
     
    A BRIEF HISTORY OF SUGAR

    Sugar is native to Southeast Asia. Three species seeming to have originated in two locations: Saccharum barberi in India and Saccharum edule and Saccharum officinarum in New Guinea.

    Originally, people chewed on the raw sugar cane stalks to enjoy the sweetness. Refined sugar appears around 500 B.C.E., when residents of what is now India began to make sugar syrup from the cane juice. They cooled it to make crystals that were easier to store and transport. These crystals were called khanda, which is the source of the word candy.

    Indian sailors carried sugar along various trade routes. In 326 B.C.E., Alexander the Great and his troops saw farmers on the Indian subcontinent growing sugar cane and making the crystals, which were called sharkara, pronounced as saccharum.

    The Macedonian soldiers carried “honey bearing reeds” home with them. But sugar cane remained a little known crop to most Europeans for the next thousand years, a rare and costly product that made sugar traders wealthy.

    In the 12th century, Crusaders brought sugar back to Europe from the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying the “sweet salt.” Venice began to produce sugar in Lebanon to supply Europe, where honey had been the only available sweetener (beet sugar was not isolated until 1747). By the 15th century, Venice was the chief sugar refining and distribution center in Europe.
     
    HOW MANY TYPES OF SUGAR HAVE YOU HAD?

    Check out the different types of sugar in our Sugar Glossary.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: When Life Gives You Limes, Make Limeade

    Summer is lemonade season. But what about limeade, it’s oft-ignored sister?

    You can easily make a quart of limeade with a can of frozen concentrate. Limeade is a refreshing base for a cocktail. Fill a rocks or highball glass with limeade and ice; then add gin, tequila or vodka to taste.

    While frozen concentrate is slightly easier, this limeade recipe can be made in 15 minutes. Give it a try: Friends and family will find it more special, since its so much more rarely served than lemonade.

    RECIPE: LIMEADE

    We adapted this recipe from one by Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes. Prep time is just 15 minutes, plus chilling (or if you can’t wait, add ice cubes).

    As with any cold drink, it’s easier to make simple syrup rather than trying to get straight sugar to completely dissolve. It takes only as much time as the water to boil. If for whatever reason you don’t want to make simple syrup, superfine sugar is a second choice.

    For a more exciting lime flavor, the simple syrup is infused with lime zest. Grate extra lime zest for a glass rimmer.

    The proportion of sugar is a guideline. You can use less if you like your drink less sweet. Also, limes can have different levels* of tartness. If you want to hedge your bets, use only 3/4 of the simple syrup, taste the finished limeade, and decide if you want to add the rest.

    Ingredients For 1 Quart

  • 1 tablespoon grated zest (from 1 lime)
  • 1 cup lime juice (from about 4-6 Persian/Tahitian limes)
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • Fresh mint sprigs
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the simple syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, one cup of water and the lime zest, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve any remaining sugar granules, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool.
    The amount of sugar is a guideline, it depends on how sweet you like your limeade and how tart your particular limes are.

    2. STRAIN out the lime zest: Place a strainer over a bowl or serving pitcher and pour the sugar syrup through it, straining out the zest.

    3. ADD the lime juice and 2 cups of water and taste. If it’s too sweet, add a bit more lime juice. Add several sprigs of fresh mint.

    4. CHILL or serve immediately over ice.

    Variations

  • Berry lemonade: Mix in berry purée (recipe). The limeade in photo #3 is deep purple from a cup of blueberries. Raspberry limeade is also terrific.
  • Cucumber lemonade: Peel and dice 1 large cucumber and purée in a blender with the simple syrup and lime juice [photo #4]. Garnish with a cucumber wheel. Add some gin or vodka!
  • Fizzy lemonade: Substitute sparkling water for one or both cups of the tap water.
  • Glass rim: Mix equal amounts of zest and coarse sugar in a shallow bowl. Dip the rims of the glasses 1/4 inch into a bowl of water, then twist in the zest-sugar blend [photo #2].
  • More intense flavor: Muddle mint leaves or cucumber slices in the pitcher for more mint/cucumber flavor.
  • Patriotic lemonade: For Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day festivities, set out three pitchers: raspberry lemonade (red), plain lemonade (white) and blackberry lemonade (blue).
  • ________________

    *Limes have a slightly higher acid content: On average, it’s about 6% for limes and 4.5% for lemons. Lemons have more fructose (fruit sugar): 2% for lemons, and between 0.5% and 0.75% for limes. Sugar has a suppressive effect on the perception of sourness, so lemon juice will appear to taste a bit less sour than lime juice. The composition of acids in the two also differ. The acid in lemon juice is almost entirely citric acid, which also makes up most of the acid in limes. However, limes include about 10% each of succinic acid and malic acid which have an effect on their flavor. Source: Craft Cocktails at Home by Kevin Liu.

     

    Limeade Recipe
    [1] Mint is a delicious complement to limeade (photo Elise Bauer | Simply Recipes).

    Limemade Lime Zest Rim
    [2] Make a lime zest and sugar rim (photo courtesy Saint Marc Pub-Cafe | Huntington Beach, CA.

    Blueberry Limeade
    [3] Blueberry limeade, Here’s the recipe from Ciao Florentina.

    Cucumber Lemonade

    [4] Cucumber limeade: Just add sliced cucumbers. Here’s a recipe from Saveur.

     
    THE HISTORY OF LIMES

    It is believed that lemons derived from limes. In fact, if limes are left on the tree to fully ripen, they turn yellow and are indistinguishable from lemons. They’re harvested when green to prevent confusion at the market.

  • Persian lime. The principal supermarket lime, the Persian/Tahitian lime, originated somewhere in the Pacific Rim but more than that is unknown. It is believed to be a hybrid of the Key/Mexican/Bearss lime and citron, a variety of lemon. It may or may not have been hybridized in Persia; the Key/Mexican lime appears to have arrived in the Middle East and Africa, via Arab traders, by 1000 C.E. Crusaders brought it to Western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries; however, mosaics of lemon and lime trees have been found in remains of Roman villas. The lime was first grown in large quantities in Persia (Iran) and Babylonia (Iraq).
  • Key lime. The Key lime/Mexican lime lime (small, round, yellow flesh) arose in South East Asia, in the Indo-Malayan region.
  • The names lemon and lime are derived from the same Arabic word, limun.
  •  
    The first known mention of limes in Western literature is Sir Thomas Herbert’s Travels, published in 1677. He speaks of finding “oranges, lemons, and limes” on the island of Mohelia off Mozambique.

    Here’s a full lime history, the difference between Persian/Tahitian and Key/Mexican limes, and a photo glossary of the different types of limes the world over.

    Our favorite example: The blood lime of Australia is red inside and out!

      

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    PRODUCTS: 4 New Favorite Foods & Beverages

    Belvoir Elderflower & Rose Lemonade

    Cholula Sweet Habanero

    [1] A drink that says “summer” (photo courtesy Belvoir Fruit Farms). [2] A new, limited edition Cholula Hot Sauce (photo courtesy Jose Cuervo).

     

    In two days we head to the Fancy Food Show, a trade show of specialty food producers so vast that, like Disneyland, you can’t possibly see it all, much less eat it all.

    So before we head out to find new favorites, here are five more of our current faves, in alphabetical order.
     
     
    1. BELVOIR FRUIT FARMS: CORDIALS & FLAVORED LEMONADES

    Belvoir calls their beverages “non-alcoholic fruit cordials.” We’d call them elegant non-alcoholic sparkling drinks or a very sophisticated soft drink. But evidently, in the English countryside where they are made, says the company:

    “Cordials were originally a way for country people to preserve some of each summer’s glut of fruit for the coming winter. Adding sugar to the fruit juice would stop fermentation and keep the juice fresh for a few months.”

    Belvoir Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland. The current duke’s mother infused elderflowers, grown on the estate, into a delicious beverage for family and friends, who couldn’t get enough of it.

    Her husband saw a revenue potential, and the family business has been pressing and cooking fresh flowers, fruits and spices since 1981, combining them with local spring water. The line expanded, and is now sold worldwide.

    The all-natural flavors include:

  • Elderflower Cordial
  • Ginger Cordial
  • Flavored lemonades: Elderflower, Organic Elderflower, Elderflower & Rose
  • Ginger Beer
  •  
    Each one is a must-try. There are 25.4-ounce full bottles and 8.4-ounce individual bottles. Buy them for yourself, buy them as party favors or as gifts to summer hosts.

    Discover more at BelvoirFruitFarms.com.

    Trivia: Originally, all the elderflowers were handpicked from bushes growing around Lord and Lady John Manners’ garden. The whole family helped to make the first batch of elderflower cordial, chopping the lemons and stirring the syrup. Lord John then popped the 88 cases of drinks into the back of his car and went around to local farm shops, persuading the owners to buy a bottle or two.
     
     
    2. CHOLULA HOT SAUCE: SWEET HABANERO

    Cholula Hot Sauce as had a cult following for some time. Now the cult has another flavor to enjoy.

    Sweet Habanero is a limited-edition flavor in a line that includes Chili Garlic, Chili Lime, Chipotle, Green Pepper and Original. The sweetness comes from pineapple flavor, and it’s a charmer, especially to those, like us, who like sweet + heat.

    The brand is thanking fans for their support by launching the Order of Cholula, in tandem with the new Sweet Habanero.

    Only 1,000 bottles of Sweet Habanero were made, so head to the Order Of Cholula and sign up.

    Trivia: The hot sauce is named after the 2,500-year-old city of Cholula, Puebla, the oldest still-inhabited city in Mexico. The name is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) Chollollan, meaning “the place of the retreat.”

    Cholula, a third-generation family business, is now licensed by Jose Cuervo. It was begin by the Harrison family, originally of Chapala, Jalisco, now of Dallas, Texas. The image on the bottle is a portrait of Harrison family matriarch, Camila Harrison.

     

    3. DR. PEPPER CAKE

    Café Valley Bakery, a leading bakery producer for better grocers, has partnered with Dr. Pepper to create a Dr. Pepper Cake.

    We’re wary of foods that sound like gimmicks, but we’re always willing to try a sample when offered. We’re both happy and sad about this, because Dr. Pepper Cake is so delightful, we ate the whole thing.

    Made with real Dr. Pepper, the cake has a bottom of yellow cake, topped by a Dr. Pepper-flavored layer. The cake is drizzled with white icing.

    Dr. Pepper Cake is is certified kosher (dairy) by OK Kosher. It joins an array Café Valley Bakery soda cakes, including 7UP, Orange Crush, and A&W Root Beer (we haven’t tried any of these).

    The new flavor is available at grocers nationwide. The 26-ounce cake has a suggested retail price of $5.99. Here are the retailers that carry the line.

    Trivia: The Dr. Pepper soft drink is made from a secret formula of 23 flavorings.
     
     
    4. P.B. CRAVE: COCONUT MILK CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER

    We have long been fans of P.B. Crave’s flavored peanut butters. These days, the line includes peanut butter and chocolate combinations:

  • Chocolate Banana Peanut Butter
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Peanut Butter
  • Raspberry Dark & White Chocolate Peanut Butter
  • Sweet & Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter
  •  
    and the latest:

  • Coconut Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter
  •  

    Dr. Pepper Cake

    PB Crave Milk Chocolate Coconut Peanut Butter

    [3] A Dr. Pepper Cake, which goes great with…Dr. Pepper soda pop (photo courtesy Dr. Pepper). [4] The latest in a line of chocolate-peanut butter flavors (photo courtesy PB Crave).

     
    The company calls their newest flavor “a Caribbean beach escape with a blend of coconut, organic honey, and milk chocolate chips.”

    Resistance is futile!

    Discover more of this all-natural line at PBCrave.com. Might we suggest an all-flavor tasting party?

    Trivia: Peanut butter was originally developed by a physician as a protein-packed food for patients who no longer had teeth to chew meat. Here’s the history of peanut butter.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Chocolate Ice Cubes In Vanilla Milk Or Cocktails

    Today’s tip might be a natural for Valentine’s Day, but we like it even more for the cold drinks of summer.

    These chocolate ice cubes are the brainchild of the Parisian chocolatier Jean-Paul Hévin.

    His Summer Chocolate Ice Cubes are simply a chocolate ice cream recipe that gets poured into ice cube trays instead of an ice cream churn. Why didn’t we think of this years ago?

    While M. Hévin’s recipe is for a family-friendly, gourmet chocolate milk drink, you can also use the chocolate ice cubes in cocktails or with liqueurs.

    They keep your drinks cold, as they add chocolate flavor by slowly melting. Use them:

  • In regular drinks: Iced coffee, an egg cream, an ice cream soda, or a simple glass of…regular or chocolate milk.
  • In cocktails: Black Russian/White Russian, Chocolate Martini, Coffee Martini, Grasshopper, etc.
  • With liqueurs: Add to a rocks glass of chocolate, coffee or Irish cream liqueur.
  •  
    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE ICE CUBES & VANILLA MILK

    The recipe makes enough for one ice cube tray: cubes for 6 rocks glasses or 4 highball glasses. While it goes without saying, we’ll say it: Make the ice cubes 6 hours before you plan to use them, or the night before.

    The vanilla milk also needs to chill for several hours. You can make the entire recipe the night before.

    You can also enhance the flavor with chocolate-friendly seasonings: cayenne pepper, cinnamon, instant coffee, nutmeg, etc.

  • Add a teaspoon of spice to the ice cream mix.
  • Mix the spice with coarse/decorating/sanding/sparkling sugar for a sugar rim.
  •  
    Hévin’s recipe starts with his homemade ice cream, which is poured into ice cube trays instead of churned into ice cream.

    We used Lactaid milk so that all of our crowd, including the lactose sensitive, could have them. Lactose-free milk is virtually like regular milk, but the lactose (milk sugar) that is hard for some people to digest has been de-activated. All the Lactaid products (cottage cheese, ice cream, holiday egg nog) are delish!
     
    Ingredients For The Chocolate Ice Cream

  • 6.8 ounces/200ml milk
  • 3.5 tablespoons/50ml water
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Optional: 1 cup of instant coffee (prepared, not granules)
  • 70g of 66% cacao dark chocolate
  •  
    For The Vanilla Milk

  • 2.5 cups/600ml whole milk
  • 1/4 cup/60g sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  •  
    Optional

  • Liqueur of choice
  • Straws for tall glasses
  • Sugar, spiced sugar or cocoa mix rim (use sparkling sugar/decorating sugar
  • Whipped cream
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CHOP the chocolate finely and place it in a heat-resistant bowl.

    2. COMBINE the milk and water in a saucepan. Add the sugar, cocoa and coffee and mix thoroughly to avoid lumps. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Then…

     

    Chocolate Ice Cubes

    Chocolate Ice Cubes

    Milk With Cocoa Rim

    A tall glass with chocolate ice cubes, and [2] wioth the vanilla milk added (photo courtesy Nordljus). [3] How about a Black or White Russian in this rocks glass (photo courtesy Ellen Fork). [4] Who won’t drink milk with chocolate ice cubes and a cocoa powder rim (photo courtesy Oxmoor House)?

     
    3. REMOVE from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let it melt for 5 minutes; then gently mix with a wooden spoon until it is smooth and creamy. Allow to cool, pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.

    4. MAKE the vanilla milk. Pour the milk into a large saucepan, add the sugar and mix to dissolve.

    5. SCRAPE the vanilla bean and add the beans and pod to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and remove from heat. Allow to cool; then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

    6. TO SERVE: Place the chocolate ice cubes in the glasses (depending on the size of the glasses 3 to 4 ice cubes) then pour over the milk to the cold vanilla.
     
     
    This recipe by Jean-Paul Hévin appeared in the Elle à Table and appeared on Nordljus.com. We can across it on Sandra Kavital | Blogspot. Thanks also to Keiko of Nordljus.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Teas For Sushi & Sashimi

    Japanese Green Tea & Pot

    Cups of Green Tea

    Sushi Plate

    Sashimi

    Genmaicha Tea

    [1] Green tea and a conventional iron pot, called a tetsubin (photo courtesy Japanese Green Tea Online). [2] Green tea isn’t necessarily green. It depends on where the tea was grown and production factors (photo courtesy Coffemania | NYC). [3] A conventional sushi plate of nigiri and maki (photo courtesy Takibun). [4] Sashimi (photo Direct Photo). [5] Genmaicha, with toast rice: our favorite (photo courtesy Sugarbird Sweets).

     

    Sushi and sashimi are among our favorite foods, and we down cups of green tea with each plate.

    Most of the complimentary green tea served at Japanese restaurants is, not surprisingly, average quality. Even if it’s good tea to start with, it can grow pretty weak due to infusing the same leaves one time to many.

    In Japan as well as the U.S., the tea used is often sencha, a basic green tea (approximately 80% of the tea produced in Japan is sencha). It may also be bancha, the second-most-widely-produced tea, more robust and astringent than sencha.

    If you want to train your palate to the differences, ask your server to tell you which type it is.

    In Japan, the lower down the line the sushi bar is (such as a takeout place), the more likely it is that the tea is agari, a low-quality, powdery tea—which should never be confused with to the pricey powdered matcha, to which it has zero relation.

    The variety, known as konacha or kona-cha, is a mix of the residual dust, fannings, leaf particles, and bits of stem broken off during the processing of quality teas, like gyokuro or sencha (paradoxically, it’s low-quality tea from high-quality leaves). Konacha has a bitter taste, said to complement the flavor components of of sushi very well.
     
    ENJOYING GREEN TEA WITH YOUR SUSHI OR SASHIMI

    If you don’t like the green tea that is served with your raw fish, consider that it may be the particular green tea, and not an indictment of the entire green tea category. As with any product, those at the top end can be glorious. They just may not be available where you eat your sushi.

    In New York City, where we enjoy thrice-weekly sushi meals, it’s very rare that we get anything resembling a satisfactory (much less a good) cup of tea unless we’re at a very high-end restaurant. While our everyday sushi is excellent quality, the tea quality never measures up to the fish. We wish we could pay for better tea, but it’s not the Japanese way.

    That being said, any green tea served, no matter how bland, goes well with the raw fish.
     
    Trending At Asian Fusion Restaurants

    Some Asian-fusion restaurants we patronize don’t give any tea away, but will sell you pots of tea.

    We respect that: Profit margins in restaurants are notoriously low, and since we’d rather have tea with our sushi than [higher profit] beer, we have no problem paying for it. You’ll get higher quality than with freebie tea, abut it still may not be sublime, depending on available varieties and your palate.

    Only once in a blue moon do we find our favorite green tea to pair with sushi and sashimi, genmaicha (photo #5), at a restaurant. This lively green tea, a base of sencha, bancha or a combination of both, is blended with earthy roasted rice or popcorn. You either love it or not; but for us, it’s green tea happiness.
     
    Should You Pay For Tea?

    Our tip of the day is: If your restaurant offers a cup of better tea at a price, don’t hesitate to try it. It’s a modest sum compared to the price of the sushi (or a beer). It could be good and worth it; or you don’t have to order it again.

    We’ve been to chic restaurants (Asian and Western) that have a tea menu. Ideally, this should be top-quality loose tea. Some even bring out a fancy wood box that holds different bags* from which you choose.

    It’s a step in the right direction, but we often find that these teas—which are from specialty American purveyors—are not assertive (flavorful enough). While some people may like that milder style, we want full-flavor tea.

    Don’t let the box, or silky tea bags, convince you that this is top green tea; or think that the tetsubin, the traditional small, cast iron tea pot, makes the tea any better (more aesthetic, yes; better-tasting, no).

    Again, you don’t know until you try.

    If you’re a tea fan as well as a sushi fan, what can you do to ensure that the tea is at the level as the sushi?

    In foodie desperation (and not wanting to insult the restaurant), we thought to sneak good green tea into our local restaurant, to augment the tea we purchased. Then, fearing that we would, in fact, insult them if discovered, we asked if they would mind if we added some of our own tea to theirs—or if they wished, take our tea, add hot water, and charge us the same as their tea.

    This was not a difficult ask, as we brought genmaicha, green tea blended with toasted rice or popcorn (photo #5). It’s an easy excuse to claim one’s love of genmaicha with sushi.

    The other option was ordering in (i.e. delivery)—a less aesthetic experience, but one which guaranteed our choice of tea.
     
    AN OFT-ASKED QUESTION ABOUT RESTAURANT GREEN TEA

    Why is the tea served in sushi restaurants so hot?

    It’s often so hot that we can’t pick up the cup without using a napkin to protect our fingers. We laud the servers who bring it to us with no such protection.

    The answer:

    The very hot water and green tea both work to cleanse the palate and remove the natural oil reside that can be left behind by the fish. You may not notice them in your sushi or sashimi, but they’re there.

    Green tea, which is the norm in Japan, has more astringency than other tea types (black, oolong, white). This makes it even more effective to cleanse the palate.

     
    Here’s more on palate cleansing:

    As one navigates through an assorted plate of sushi or sashimi, the subtle flavors of each type deserve appreciation.

  • Each type of raw fish has a very distinct but delicate taste. It is also desirable to cleanse the palate to fully appreciate the flavor of each piece.
  • Marinated slices of ginger, called gari, also serve to refresh the taste buds between pieces.
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    IF YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR TEA, WHICH SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?

    The tea should not be overpowering or have a flavor/aroma that could dominate the fish: never a flavored tea! Much as we like jasmine tea, the floral aroma and flavor detract from the delicate raw fish.

    We would pair what the restaurants serve, but the best quality we can get:

  • Bancha: A widely used restaurant and household tea; “the peoples’ tea”; a refreshing, lightly sweet flavor.
  • Sencha: Juicy sweet flavor, deep umami, and crisp, refreshing finish.
  • Genmaicha: This can be sencha, bancha or a blend, combined with roasted rice. The rice acts as a starchy sponge, aiding in the absorption of oils and flavors in the mouth. It’s one of our favorite green teas for any tea-drinking occasion.
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    For more robust, richer, cooked foods in Japanese restaurants, such as teriyaki, shabu shabu, negimaki and yakisoba, go for a more robust tea.

    A popular pick is houjicha, bancha leaves and stems that have been roasted. It’s smooth, with hints of coffee and roasted barley.

    Tea and sushi lovers: Go forth and conquer.
     
     
    DISCOVER LOTS MORE IN OUR:

    SUSHI GLOSSARY

    TEA GLOSSARY

      

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