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TIP OF THE DAY: Make Spiced Tea

Spiced Tea Spices

Constant Comment Spiced Tea

Spiced Rooibos Tea

[1] It’s easy to make spice tea without special tea. Just blend your own (photo courtesy Republic Of Tea). [3] Constant Comment, America’s favorite specialty tea (photo courtesy Yankee Magazine).

 

Many tea lovers buy spiced tea as a fall and holiday favorite; gift tins are popular holiday gifts.

For home, perhaps the most popular spiced tea is the first major commercial brand, Constant Comment. A longtime favorite of ours (and the most popular specialty tea in the U.S.), the original black spiced tea bags are now available in decaffeinated black tea and green tea. It’s also available as loose tea.

But if you’re home and hankering for a cup of spiced tea, with none in the house, the solution is simple:

Just make your own with the tea and spices you already have in the kitchen.

In addition to black tea, you can make green spice tea or white spice tea, or rooibos (caffeine-free red tea) spice tea, exactly as Ruth Bigelow did when she created Constant Comment Tea in 1946.
 
SPICE TEA VS. SPICED TEA (IT’S SPICED!)

A bit of a grammatical note on spice vs. spiced:

  • Spice tea would be an infusion of spices in boiling water, with no tea leaves. It’s analogous to herbal tea, where herbs are steeped in boiling water with no actual tea (Camellia sinensis). We know of no spice teas, however. While herb leaves steep into a liquid like tea leaves, spices do not.
  • Spiced tea is tea with added spices; the tea is spiced—the correct adjective.
  •  
    EASY SPICED TEA RECIPE

    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 3 tea bags or 3 teaspoons loose tea
  • Optional: 3/4 cup sugar
  • Garnish: lemon wedge
  •  
    Variations

    You can keep playing with the spice mix until you have your perfect recipe (see more ingredients in the section below).

    You can fill jars with your signature tea blend and give them as gifts to tea-loving friends. For friends who don’t use loose tea, add these unfilled drawstring tea bags.

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE water, cinnamon and cloves in a medium pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

    2. ADD tea bags; steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices.

    3. SERVE the tea hot or iced with a lemon wedge and choice of sweeteners, although the spice flavors are so exciting that no sweetener is necessary.
     
    TEA INFUSIONS

    You can also infuse the tea with:

  • Fruits: apple, citrus peel/zest, lemon, orange, pear or other fruit, fresh or dried
  • Herbs: basil, fennel (licorice flavor), mint, sage, rosemary*
  • Spices: allspice, anise/star anise, black peppercorns, cacao nibs, cardamom, chopped dried chiles, cinnamon, fennel seeds, ginger (fresh, ground, crystallized), nutmeg, vanilla bean, turmeric
  • Sweeteners:Agave, honey, flavored syrup
  •  
    Just look around your kitchen for things to infuse.
    ________________
    *Here are 10 herb choices from Garden.org.
     
    WAYS TO INFUSE TEA

    1. With a spice ball. We prefer the new twist-and-lock spice ball style. The closure is less likely to loose with continued use.

    2. Loose. If you don’t have a spice ball, just infuse all of the ingredients in pitcher or a large measuring cup, ideally one with a pouring spout. Then pour the tea through a strainer, into the cup.

    There are many devices for steeping loose tea, from simple infusers to more complex devices; for example, travel mugs and electric tea pots with built-in infusers.

    IngenuiTEA is our favorite device. Tea steeps in the unit, then easily dispenses into the cup.

     

    RECIPE: MASALA CHAI

    Masala chai is Hindi for spiced milk tea (masala = spice, chai = tea). It’s a strong black Indian tea infused with spices—commonly cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorn, clove and nutmeg (chocolate or licorice are sometimes included)—with milk and sugar.

    Traditionally, the milk and tea water are boiled together, then infused. This ensures that both liquids are hot. In the era of the microwave, you can infuse the tea in boiled water and then add heated milk.

    While masala chai is traditionally made from black tea, green tea chai and rooibos chai have become popular in the West, where it is often simply called “chai.”

    There is no one “best” chai recipe. As with any other recipe, the best version has the seasonings you prefer, in the proportions that you want.

    Here’s a basic masala chai recipe that makes eight cups of tea. Take it as a starting point and adjust the ingredients and the proportions next time.

    If eight cups is too much for you, cut back the recipe. Or, refrigerate the remainder, store it in the fridge and and heat it as needed. You can also drink it iced.

    TIP: Some recipes (and store-bought blends) are pre-sweetened. If you may be serving the chai to people who prefer unsweetened tea, or use a noncaloric sweetener, omit the sweetener (the last ingredient) and provide sweeteners at the table.
     
    Masala Chai Ingredients

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups whole milk (or substitute a lower fat or nondairy version)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 vanilla bean, chopped fine
  • 4 teaspoons black tea leaves: Assam or other strong tea
  • 8 ounces honey or 4 ounces agave
  •  

    Masala Chai

    Masala Chai Blend

    [1] Masala chai means milk tea. In its country of origin, India, it’s black tea steeped with spices, with added milk (photo courtesy Charles Chocolates). [2] You can mix your chai spices ad hoc, or keep your favorite blend in an airtight jar (photo courtesy Foodie Underground).

     
    Preparation

    1. HEAT the water and milk to a boil in a sauce pan. Add the remaining ingredients except honey and simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.

    2. REMOVE from the heat and strain into another pot or bowl. Add sweetener and blend thoroughly.

    3. SERVE from a conventional teapot or a pitcher; or bring pre-filled cups the table.
     
    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEA

    Check out our tea Glossary: the different types of tea, with beautiful photography.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Drinks For Mexican Independence Day

    Tequila & Grapefruit Juice Cocktail

    Bandera Shots

    [1] The Paloma, said to be Mexico’s favorite tequila-based cocktail (photo courtesy TasteCocktails.com). [2] The Bandera comprises shots in green, white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag (photo courtesy FoodNetwork.com). [3] A layered bandora shot with chartreuse, maraschino liqueur (clear) and grenadine (photo courtesy BarinaCraft.com).

     

    September 16th is Mexican Independence Day. It’s also National Guacamole Day. Coincidence? We think not!

    Yesterday, we explained how Mexicans celebrated with shots of Reposda tequila, aged for up to a year.

    But what if you don’t like drinking straight tequila?

    You can enjoy another tequila cocktail or a non-alcoholic Mexican drink. Here are some of the most popular:
     
    RECIPE #1: MICHELADA: MEXICO’S BEER COCKTAIL

    You can have a plain Mexican beer, of course. Bohemia, Corona, Dos Equis and others are commonly found across the country.

    But if you like a bit of heat, have a Michelada (mee-cha-LAH-dah), a traditional cerveza preparada, or beer cocktail.

    Michelada is a combination of beer, lime and hot sauce served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. Chela is Mexican slang for a cold beer, combined with mixto, referring to the the mix of ingredients added to the beer. Eliminate the hot sauce and you’ve got a Chelada.

    Here’s the complete Michelada recipe.
     
    RECIPE #2: PALOMA COCKTAIL, TEQUILA & GRAPEFRUIT

    This cocktail couldn’t be easier: 3 parts grapefruit soda and 1 part tequila, served over ice cubes in a highball glass, garnished with a lime wedge. You can add an optional salt rim.

    And you can make it by the pitcher-ful, which we’ll be doing tonight.

    Paloma is the Spanish word for dove. In Mexico the soft drink of choice is Jarritos brand grapefruit soda (in the U.S., look for it at international markets or substitute Fresca.

    You can purchase pink grapefruit soda from the premium mixer brand Q Drinks, or combine grapefruit juice with club soda or grapefruit-flavored club soda.

     
    At better establishments, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice is combined with club soda. Use pink grapefruit juice and you’ll have a Pink Paloma (our term for it).

    Here’s the history of the Paloma from TasteCocktails.com, which says it’s the most popular tequila-based cocktail in Mexico.
     
    RECIPE #2: BANDERA SHOTS

    In Mexico the Bandera (flag), named after the flag of Mexico, consists of three shot glasses representing the colors of the flag (photo #2).

    The first is filled with lime juice (for the green), the middle has white (silver) tequila, and the last contains sangrita (for the red), a chaser that usually contains orange and tomato juices. Here’s the recipe from Food Network.

    You can also make layered shooter with liqueurs in the national colors (photo #3). Here’s a recipe.

     

    NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINKS

    RECIPE #4: AGUA FRESCA

    In Spanish, agua fresca means fresh water.

    In culinary terms, it refers to a variety of refreshing cold drinks that are sold by street vendors and at cafés throughout Mexico and other Latin American countries (photo #4). They’re also sold bottled at stores, and are easily whipped up at home.

    Agua fresca is nonalcoholic and noncarbonated. The recipe can include a combination of fruits or veggies, flowers (like hibiscus), herbs and/or spices, cereals (barley, oats, rice), seeds (chia), even almond flour (which is used to make horchata, the next example).

    A traditional agua fresca is an infused, sweetened water, flavored with fruits and/or vegetables—often a more complex layering of flavors than lemonade and limeade.

    Our favorite combinations: watermelon (or any melon), basil cucumber and mint hibiscus. Here’s how to make them.

    As you can see from this recipe template, it’s easy to mix your favorite flavors.
     
    RECIPE #5: HORCHATA

    Agua de horchata—horchata for short—is a very popular recipe, made from ground almonds and rice spiced with cinnamon (photo #5). Other flavors such as coconut can be added.

    Here’s a recipe from Noshon.it.

    It’s not conventional, but, you could add a shot of tequila or rum.

    After all, it’s a day to celebrate!

     

    Watermelon Agua Fresca

    Mexican Soft Drink

    [4] Whip up a pitcher of watermelon aqua fresca with this recipe from Whole Foods Markets. [5] Horchata, made from ground almonds and cooked rice, may sound unusual—but it’s unusually good (photo courtesy Noshon.It).

     

      

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    FOOD FUN: Getting Political With Snapple

    Through Election Day (November 8th), you can drink to your political party with Snapple TEAcision 2016.

    The new limited-edition flavors from Snapple include:

  • Blue Fruit Tea, a blend of blueberry and blackberry flavors
  • Red Fruit Tea, a blend of pomegranate, cherry and raspberry
  •  
    These “political” flavors follow on the heels of of the “patriotic” July 4th special edition, Oh Say Can You Tea, a black tea with strawberry flavor and a hint of mint.

    That flavor had this Snapple Real Fact on the back of the bottle cap: In Massachusetts, it’s illegal to dance to the National Anthem.

    What’s under the caps of Snapple TEAcision 2016?

    You’ll have to try them to find out!

    Stock up for election results-watching.

     

    Snapple TEAcision 2016

    Drink to your party with TEAcision 2016 (photo courtesy Snapple).

     

      

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    PRODUCTS: For Summer Sipping

    Over the last few weeks, we’ve been sipping some new water and wine products, with happy results.
     
    LILA WINES: QUALITY IN CANS

    We haven’t had much success with canned wines. They’re too sugary-sweet, more like soft drinks.

    But Latitude Beverage Company has introduced what they say is the first-ever premium wine collection in pull-top cans (top photo). Selecting good wines from wine regions that are well-known for the varietals, we can finally respond, “Bring on the cans!”

    The three varietals are just right for lighter summer fare: with a sandwich, some cheese, a pasta salad. Lila suggests these pairings:

  • Pinot Grigio, made with grapes from Delle Venezie IGT—the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northwest Italy. Enjoy it with corn on the cob, crab cakes with lemon aïoli, olives and other “cocktail nibbles.”
  • Rosé, made with grapes from Provence, in the south of France. Pair it with shellfish, sandwiches with summer tomatoes, Caprese salad, pasta salad.
  • Sauvignon Blanc made with grapes from Marlborough, New Zealand. Pair it with oysters, avocado salad, grilled chicken, grilled fish with cilantro and lime, grilled vegetables, seafood salad sandwiches or turkey.
  •  
    So grab a can and head for the backyard, pool or the great outdoors. Attractively “dressed” in colorful graphics, these wines are ready to join the party.

    The 8.4-ounce cans come in four-packs with an MSRP of $12.99 (more at e-tailers). The four cans combined contain 33% more wine than the standard 750ml wine bottle.

    We stuck them in the freezer to partially freeze. They kept cold for quite a while outside in the heat; and since each can holds two servings, when it was time for the second, the wine was nicely chilled.
     
    ZERO WATER: HOME & PORTABLE WATER FILTRATION SYSTEM

    Zero Water* turns your tap water into purified water—more pure, the company says, than the leading brand (Brita).

    Even if your municipality could clean your tap water to remove almost all the total dissolved solids (TDS), the water can pick up chemicals on its way from the treatment plant to your faucet.

    Zero Water’s unique filter removes 99.63% of all TDS. The filtered water tastes crisp and refreshing. Pitchers are available in 6, 8, 10 and 12 cup sizes; in a 23-cup countertop model; and in a 26-ounce travel tumblers. The 10-cup model shown in the photo is $32.99.

    You can see the entire line at ZeroWater.com.

       

    Lila Wine Cans

    ZeroWater Pitcher

    Zero Water

    [1] Lila premium wines in 8.4-ounce cans (photo courtesy Latitude Beverage Company). [2] [3] Zero Water, with a patented filter that removes virtually all dissolved solids from your tap water, is available in home units and portable tumblers (photos courtesy Zero Water).

     
    Bonus: You can use Zero Water in your iron and other devices instead of purchasing bulky gallons of distilled water. The only difference between distilled and purified water is the process: distillation versus other purification processes such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange and Ozonation, among others.
     
    __________________
    *We used a Zero Water system we received from the manufacturer, and did not test it against other systems. There are numerous online articles that compare the major brands.

     

    Define Fruit Infusing Water Bottle

    This model of Define water bottles is ideal for infusing fresh fruit (photo courtesy Define Bottle).

     

    DEFINE WATER BOTTLE: BEST FOR FRUIT INFUSION

    We love “spa water”: plain water infused with fresh fruit. We’ve tried half a dozen water bottles with fruit-infusing options, and the Define Bottle Sport Flip Top is our favorite.

    The superior freezing mechanism, the detachable lower canister, gives you options:

  • Basic: add fruit to the bottom cylinder and add cold water to the entire unit.
  • Colder: Freeze the fruit, then add to the unit with cold water. As the fruit defrosts, it will keep the water colder.
  • Coldest: Freeze the fruit and water in the base cylinder.
  • Fruit-Free: Don’t feel like fruit? Use both cylinders for water. Even better, you can freeze water in the bottom cylinder and enjoy ice-cold water for 4-6 hours.
  •  
    Remember that water expands when frozen, so leave a half inch of space at the top.

     
    We drink the water quickly, but if you freeze the bottom part, you can keep adding new water and it will chill down.

    The bottle is made from Tritan, the standard in quality plastic food and beverage containers. The total capacity is 16 ounces. The bottle disassembles for easy† cleaning and the cylinders are dishwasher safe.

    There are other bottle designs and colors. See them all at DefineBottle.com. You can purchase this bottle on Amazon.
     
    __________________
    †We noted some complaints online about the difficulty of cleaning the strainer and gaskets. We keep a toothbrush with a rubber tip along with the scrub brushes at our kitchen sink. It, along with our faucet sprayer, did the trick.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Shrub, a.k.a. Drinking Vinegar

    There are shrubs for landscaping, and shrubs for drinking. The latter is an acidulated beverage: made with an acid such as vinegar, lemon or lime juice along with fruit juice, sugar and optional ingredients including herbs, spices and alcohol.

    The word is a transposition from the Arabic shurb, a cool drink.

    In the U.K. today, shrubs are popular fruity vinegar tonics. But they have not yet achieved a level of awareness in the U.S., even when called “drinking vinegar,” a modern term for the syrup that can be used to make cocktails and cocktails.

    Perhaps ten years ago, we were in the Japanese pavilion at a restaurant industry trade show and first encountered “drinking vinegar.” It was an exquisite shot for an after dinner drink: sweet and tart, complex, exciting.

    We treasured the bottles we picked up at the show, bringing them to dinners with connoisseur friends, where they were greatly appreciated. Then they were gone, and we moved on. We couldn’t find it for sale, and didn’t realize how easy it was to make it at home.

    But drinking vinegar moved on too, as vinegar-based shrub drinks began to be revived around 2011—on a limited basis at trendy bars and restaurants in the U.S., Canada and London.

    The acidity of a shrub makes it a fine digestif* or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails.
     
    TYPES OF SHRUBS

    There two different types of shrubs, both acidulated mixed drinks:

  • The original shrub is a fruit liqueur mixed with rum or brandy, sugar and the juice or rinds of a citrus fruit. It evolved to syrup made of vinegar, sugar and fruit that was popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • The second type of shrub, made on the other side of the pond, was a Colonial-era cocktail or soft drink made by mixing spirits with a vinegared syrup and water or carbonated† water.
  • Shrub can also refer to drinking vinegar, the vinegar-based syrup used to make the cocktail. The vinegar is often infused with fruit (or made with fruit juice), herbs and spices for use in mixed drinks or as a digestif†; and can serve as a sophisticated soft drink.
  •  
    THE MODERN SHRUB: DRINKING VINEGAR

    Shrubs date to the 17th century (see the history of shrubs below). Fresh fruits were steeped in vinegar and sugar, and infused anywhere from overnight up to several days. The fruit solids were then strained out to create a sweet-and-tart concentrate that was mixed with spirits, water or sparkling water.

    Beyond mixology, today’s cooks also add “drinking vinegar” to sauces and salad dressings. We’ve drizzled them on lemon sorbet and rice pudding.
     
    MAKE YOUR OWN SHRUBS

    You can buy artisan shrub syrups at specialty foods stores, but they tend to be pricey, like any top-quality drink mixer. You can find bottled shrub syrup in flavors like Apple, Ginger and Strawberry as well as compound flavors such as Apple Caraway, Blood Orange Cardamom, Blood Orange Ginger, Meyer Lemon Lavender, Smoked Spiced Pear, Watermelon Habanero (these compound flavors from Kansas City Canning Co.).

    But it costs very little to make your own.

    Some people use the ratio of one part fruit, one part sugar and one part vinegar for shrub syrup; but these proportions should vary according to the sweetness of the fruit. If the fruit is particularly sweet, you could cut back on the sugar and increase the fruit ratio.

    Think seasonally: berries and stone fruits in the summer; apples, pears and quince in the fall; blood oranges and grapefruits in the winter; strawberries, blackberries and pineapple in the spring.

    While apple cider vinegar is traditional, go beyond it to champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar and flavored vinegar (see the different types of vinegar and how to pair vinegars and foods).
     
    TO MAKE A SHRUB, combine 1 pound chopped fruit, 2 cups sugar and 2 cups apple cider or other vinegar.

    Use the instructions below. For an apple shrub, we cut back on the sugar.

    RECIPE: APPLE CIDER SHRUB

    Prep time is 5 minutes plus 3-5 days infusing time.

    Ingredients For 3/4 Quart

  • 3 apples
  • 1-1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar (the best vinegar makes a difference)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Optional: 1-2 sprigs of rosemary or thyme
  •    

    Strawberry Shrub

    Fresh Pineapple

    Stone Fruits

    Boyajian Vinegars

    Watermelon Shrub

    [1] A strawberry shrub (photo courtesy Quinciple). [2] We’re particularly fond of pineapple shrub (photo courtesy Del Monte). [3] In the summer, use stone fruits for your shrubs (photo courtesy Frog Hollow Farms). [4] Beyond apple cider vinegar, consider vinegars flavored with fruit, herbs and spices like these from Boyajian. [5] A bottle of watermelon-habanero shrub from Kansas City Canning Co. (photo © Laura Noll Photography).

     
    Preparation

    1. DICE the apples into very small pieces and place in a quart-size mason jar. Add the vinegar and sugar, and the herb sprigs. If there’s room at the top of the jar, add a few more splashes of vinegar.

    2. CAP the jar tightly and shake it a few times to blend in the sugar. Place the jar in the fridge for 3-5 days, shaking once or twice.

    3. TASTE the shrub after three days. If you like the intensity of flavor, strain out the fruit, first pressing the fruit with the back of the spoon to get all of the juice. Then, store the shrub in an airtight container. Otherwise, let it infuse for two more days.

    4. SERVE: Pour the shrub over ice and mix with sparkling water or make a cocktail. Or try it as a shot: We did, and really liked it.
     
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    *A digestif is an alcoholic beverage served after a meal, in theory to aid digestion. Digestifs are usually taken straight, and include brandy, distilled spirits, eaux de vie (fruit brandy, Schnapps), fortified wine (madeira, port, sweet vermouth), grappa and liqueur. Here’s the difference between apéritif and digestif.

    †Carbonated water was first created in 1767 by British chemist Joseph Priestley, but was not manufactured commercially until J. J. Schweppe did so in 1783.
     
    THE HISTORY OF THE SHRUB

     

    Apple Shrub

    An apple shrub (photo courtesy Good Eggs). The recipe is above. Good Eggs also sells artisan shrubs in blackberry, lemon, lime, strawberry and quince. They’re pricey; hence the option to make your own.

     

    The shrub is infused (pun intended) with history.

    Originally, shrubs were developed as another way to preserve seasonal fruits for consumption throughout the year.

    The English shrub evolved from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century. As a mixture of fruit and alcohol, the shrub is related to the punch; however, punch is typically served immediately after mixing, while shrub syrup was stored as a mixer for later use.

    Shrub drinks were sold in English public houses in the 17th and 18th centuries; for the holiday season, shrub was mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry and rum. The syrup was a common ingredient in punch. However, the drink fell out of fashion by the late 1800s.

    The Colonial American shrub derived from the English version. The vinegar was used as an alternative to citrus juices in the preservation of fruits.

    Shrubs remained popular for a longer period of time in the U.S.: through the 19th century. According to Wikipedia, shrubs fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration (ice boxes), which enabled a wealth of other cold drinks.

    Vinegar-based shrub drinks appeared again in 2011-2012. Help to continue the trend: Make some shrub syrup(s) and invite friends over for shrubs.

     

      

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