We recently put in an order for tea from one of our favorite Chicago purveyors, Rare Tea Cellar, and one of their varieties is Sicilian Wild Flower Chai, featuring the the flavor “Fiori di Sicilia,” which literally means “Flowers of Sicily.” We were intrigued, so we took a chance (and it turns out we love the tea)! We looked up the extract, and it is not from any Sicilian flower per se, but is actually a combination of citrus and vanilla extracts. You can buy Fiori di Sicilia from King Arthur, or a variety of online sources. Food 52 has a cookie recipe that calls for Fiori di Sicilia, and it can be easily substituted for vanilla extract in most sweet recipes. If you are feeling especially DIY, An Edible Mosaic has a recipe to make your own Fiori di Sicilia extract. A similar flavoring is called Panettone Extract, which combines both vanilla and citrus flavors, along with some additional spices. This variety is also especially popular in Brasil, where it is known as Essência de panetone.
Tag Archives: Tea
There is nothing we love more than a good cup of tea, so we always try to do a little research into the best teas in the area when we are traveling. We were surprised to find out that one of the most storied teas in Egypt was found in Aswan, in southern Egypt, at the Old Cataract Hotel, a British colonial hotel from 1899. The Old Cataract Hotel is very expensive and decadent, and has played host to a variety of luminaries and dignitaries over the years. With this tea we have now had tea in 4 of the 6 populated continents. Somehow along the way we have missed South America, despite our long stay in Brazil – oh well – we will get there again eventually.
The price of tea at the Old Cataract Hotel is quite steep by Egyptian standards where a normal cup of black or mint tea will cost you only a few pounds. There are two versions of the tea available, a lighter and heavier option, and you pay by how many trays of food you want (versus per person). For the lighter teas, it is 360 pounds for one tray of food and 50 pounds for a second serving of tea (though nowhere is this listed). It is worth noting that the Old Cataract is quite fussy about letting non-guests in, and each non-guest must spend 200 pounds while there. We just walked right in the front door (be aware there is security as there are in many expensive Egyptian hotels), though we met others who have been stopped and questioned as to where exactly they were going.
The main attraction of the tea at the Old Cataract is the luxurious setting and the gorgeous view over the Nile from a comfortable shady terrace. We were a little disappointed to see that, of all of the teas being advertised on the menu (over a dozen), there were only 2 available: Darjeeling and Earl gray (we chose Darjeeling). After a bit of a wait, we got our tea in a substantial cast iron kettle, and a while after that, we got our tiered tray of food. There was plenty on the tray for both of us, so we were glad we did not order two, which would have been way too much for an afternoon tea.
For savories, we got roast beef, salmon with capers, and chicken salad popovers along with turkey and cheese and veggie finger sandwiches. M particularly liked the popovers and said that the salmon was his favorite bite of the whole tea. For sweets we had a “scone” with “clotted cream” (more of a bread roll and whipped cream), a mini berry macaron, a brownie, mini opera cake, a lemon tart and a fruit tart and a cup of custard. The mini opera cake was my favorite of this lot, though all of the desserts were pretty good. The last tier was a welcome surprise that you do not get at most teas: fresh fruit! We enjoyed the heaps of fresh mango, honeydew, strawberries and kiwi.
Sitting on the outdoor terrace and taking in views of the Nile was an extremely pleasant way to while away the afternoon. We felt like we could take our time and really take in the ambiance of the Old Cataract Hotel. During tea you definitely feel the last remnants of Colonial British Egypt (for better or worse). While you are certainly not paying for the service, the atmosphere could not be beat, and it is a relatively cheap way to enjoy the historic ambiance of the Old Cataract Hotel.
When we went to Spain we were expecting to get our fill of tapas, but one thing we were not expecting were the proliferation of tea salons! We are major tea lovers here at ETW, so we were delighted to learn about a genre of tea rooms found only in Andalusia: teterias. These are Moroccan-style tearooms influenced by the many centuries of Islamic rule when Spain was known as Al-Andalus. Teterias are found throughout Andalusia, and we were lucky enough to try them in both Cordoba and Granada. In Cordoba we visited the Salon de Té (Calle Buen Pastor, 13, 14003 Córdoba, Spain), a stone’s throw from the Mezquita. In Granada we stopped at La Teteria Del Banuelo (Calle Banuelo 5, 18010 Granada, Spain), in the shadow of the Alhambra.
The inside of a teteria is typically done in a Moroccan style, with an atmospheric courtyard filled with North African-style furnishings and pillows. Mint tea is always a good bet at the teteria, though the tea offerings are usually much more extensive; at some places you can even get smoothies and Mediterranean munchies. Another great aspect of the teteria are the little Moroccan pastries on offer, which transported us to the Djemaa al Fna.
I was impressed by the tea selections at the Salon de Té, with pages and pages of both hot and cold varieties. M got an almond shake, while I sampled an iced rooibos tea with berries. Our friend K fought through the heat and got a beautifully-presented mint tea with tons of fresh mint. At the Salon, we sampled baklava, kunefe (birdsnest pastries), tiny turnovers with pistachios, and makrout; you can get savory dishes as well if you are feeling peckish. Banuelo had a smaller selection of teas and savories, but offered sweet crepes along with a similar selection of Moroccan petit fours. Lemonade with mint and an iced coffee was a perfect selection for a particularly hot day at Banuelo, though the mint tea was still beautiful and refreshing. Banuelo also boasted a cute outdoor seating area, though it was too hot to venture outside on the day we visited.
Visiting these teterias was a highlight of our visits to Andalusia, and they definitely transported us to another era of Spain’s history. Whether you are looking to hide out from the punishing sun, or get some munchies, when you are in Andalusia you have to make sure to stop by a teteria for the full experience.
Who would have thought that Logan Square in Chicago would be home to a cafe with amazing hommade Chai and Nepalese food? We wouldn’t have either, until we came across the eclectic Chiya Chai Cafe (2770 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL). The main draw for the Chiya is the amazing array of Chai teas. One of my pet peeves is when you go to cafe, order a chai, and they don’t even hide the fact that they are just pouring your drink out of a box of Oregon Chai concentrate…and then charging $4.50 for it. Not so at Chiya, the brainchild of longtime tea importers, where all of the chai is brewed in-house. Along with their signature masala and spicy masala chais, you can get a variety of interesting non-traditional chais in flavors like Salted Caramel, Vanilla & Nutmeg and Orange & Ginger. Each flavor profile I have tried has been delectable, but my favorite is Pistachio & Cardamon. It is also nice that you can choose between black, green and rooibos teas, though on my last visit, the server gave me black tea twice when I had asked for rooibos.
The vibe at Chiya is bright and airy, with large windows overlooking Milwaukee Ave. Going with the coffeehouse vibe, Chiya also serves coffee and continental pastries like cookies, muffins and croissants if you happen to be in that mood. However, it was the mango lassi that most caught our eye for dessert. Though you will see people tapping away on laptops with mugs of tea while utilizing the free Wifi, don’t think it is just a coffeehouse. With a compact food menu alongside its teas, Chiya is actually a legitimate Nepalese restaurant. We are always glad to see Nepali food, which is only available at few places in Chicagoland, including Mt. Everest in Evanston.
At Chiya, you can get a basket of steamed Nepali dumplings, momo, in a variety of flavors (pork, veggie and even bison, $8). There is also an interesting range of side dishes (many of which are gluten free, $3-6) including a green apple raita, samosas, and curry fries. For the bigger appetite, you can get curry bowls ($9 small, $12.50 large) and savory pie in flavors like chicken balti and spicy minced pork ($8.50). We ordered the vegetable momo and spicy pork vindaloo curry bowl. The momo dumplings were made in house, steamed to order, and came out perfectly formed. The kale, bell pepper and mushroom filling was delicious, as were the two spicy dipping sauces. The pork vindaloo had some nice heat, and a slightly different flavor with the addition of fenugreek and mustard seed. Despite all this, the creamy, yougurt-y green apple raita just may have been our favorite dish of all. At first glance, it may seem that Chiya Cafe is trying to be too many things at once. As if the current options were not enough, for dinner, they also open up the larger dining room in the back and serve more substantial meals and alcohol. However, somehow it all works. The Nepali small plates and the chai work well together, and we were happy with everything we sampled. If you are a tea fan, make sure you sample some of the real stuff at Chiya Chai cafe. You’ll never be able to drink boxed chai again.
Cleveland is celebrating their NBA win today, so it seemed only fitting to feature a longtime Cleveland hangout on the blog. Tucked away a few blocks from the bustling atmosphere of Cleveland’s Little Italy is the serene, bohemian Algebra Tea House (2136 Murray Hill Rd Cleveland, OH). Filled with custom, natural wood furniture, textiles from around the world, and handmade ceramics, you may just think you’ve stepped into a hippie retreat on the silk road. True to its name, the specialty at Algebra is tea, and they have a bunch of esoteric blends for drinking in house (and for sale, to bring home). A small sampling of the teas on offer included: sage herbal, hibiscus, house-made chai, Darjeeling, Dragonwell, Yunnan, Assam and White Pekoe. In the international tea section there was Moroccan mint tea, Turkish tea, Palestinian tea, and a wholly new variety for us: Libyan Tea.
We didn’t go in to Algebra Tea House expecting to gain a new country for our list- but we’ve never had any food or drink from Libya before – so we were really excited to see “Libyan tea” on the menu. Libyan tea is a blend of strong black tea, mint, sugar, and peanuts! Yes – the whole shelled peanuts are thrown right into the tea itself. The flavor is rich and peanut-y – and perfect as a pick me up. Along with tea, you can order house-roasted coffee made in a variety of styles, caffeine-free milk drinks, and fruit smoothies.There is also a pretty sizable menu of Middle-Eastern food, including hummus, falafel, shewarma and ful medames (Egyptian fava bean dip). While we came for the tea (and the Libyan tea was delicious) we were also pretty impressed with their falafel, which was made in our favorite herby, Palestinian/Israeli style. Between the good food, tea and relaxed atmosphere we could have stayed at Algebra for hours. We hope to visit Algebra Tea House again soon to sample more of their tea (and food!) menu.
After an extremely enjoyable teatime at The Langham, we were jonesing for another tea experience. We attempted to have tea at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee for their lauded holiday tea – but it was totally sold out for the entire season…. oh well! We decided to drown our sorrows in a more casual teatime at The Allis (113 – 125 North Green Street Chicago, IL 60607) in the Soho House, a new members-only hotel that is a London export. Even if you are not a member you can dine in the first-floor restaurants, including the Allis, the tearoom.
When you open the door from the street you are right in the lobby, which is unlike any other we had seen. The decor is a mix of shabby chic, glamour and modern elements, put together in an eclectic way that still manages to be quite refined. Bookshelves are placed in the center of the room and the chairs are a mishmash of wood and velvet, with exposed brick walls and crystal chandeliers. By day it is a tearoom/lunch spot/coffee shop (serving San Francisco’s famous Blue Bottle coffee), where people hang out and use wifi, and by night it turns into more of a bar/lounge. Tea is served from 3-5 (at a cost of $24), and it is a good idea to make recommendations (we did not, but it worked out anyway for us, thanks to a stroke of luck).
Pretty much everyone in the room had the afternoon tea service. We ordered a tea for 2, which came out in short order.The loose-leaf tea selection is modest, and we each got a teapot, one with mint and one with chai. Other options included Chamomile, Jade green, Rooibos and Earl Grey. Both the sweet and savory elements come out at once, on striking custom black and white china. For the savory items, we had standard crustless sandwiches: tuna, egg and salmon. These were tasty, but nothing to write home about.
The sweet selections were much more extensive, and on the three-tiered blue-and-white tray we received Chocolate mint macarons, a tiny lemon cream tart, 2 profiteroles, 2 mini red velvet cupcakes, a slice of chocolate cake, scones with jam and Devonshire creme, and a thick slice of poppy seed pound cake (aka a vehicle for the clotted cream). Not a bad spread, right? We liked all of the treats in the selection, but the macaron and mini cupcake were especially delectable. We especially liked how they got a bit outside of the box, from the typical scones and pound cake model. Though we were stuffed by the end, we managed to work our way through all of the desserts.
The Allis had laid back service, and the servers were casual, and definitely not as polished as at other teatimes, but I think this is intentional. In their gray cardigans and skinny jeans, they are cool kids, not stuffy waitstaff. We definitely enjoyed our teatime at the Allis, and it was a completely different experience from the more refined tea times we had experienced elsewhere. This is tea for cool people, but you can bring your grandma too, she’ll probably like it.
To finish up tea week, we are going back to the source: London! When reading up on tea history for our trip, we finally learned the difference between a high tea and an afternoon tea. High tea is a heartier meal and is actually considered less sophisticated than the lighter afternoon tea, which has small finger sandwiches and pastries. After much deliberation, we selected the setting for our official London teatime: the Park Terrace Restaurant at the Royal Garden Hotel (2 – 24 Kensington High St, London W8 4PT). This modern but elegant restaurant featured a view of Kensington Palace grounds, which sealed the deal.
Front and center at this tea time was the tea, which we really appreciated. To help us make up our mind, the tea butler (who knew there were such roles?) presented us with a tea tray with little glass jars of each of the dozen or so teas from Emeyu. We selected the Pu-erh Chai Tea, and the enigmatically-named Leaping Tiger tea – white tea with mango and cornflowers. Other selections included a blooming jasmine and amaranth tea, red fruit infusion, and Lapsang Souchong as well as Japanese and Chinese ceremonial teas. Moreover, we were impressed that the selections even came with brewing temperature instructions. After we ordered our tea, our little tea sandwiches came out in quick order: tuna, chicken, tomato salsa, cheese, and egg salad. These were classic tea sandwiches, simply prepared on crustless bread. Not terribly innovative, but perfect for an authentic London tea experience.
Then came the high multi-tiered dessert tray, the perfect emblem of a classic tea time. Naturally, there were scones – two cinnamon and two raisin – which were delectable, as was the Devonshire cream we slathered on them. Why can’t we make scones like this at home? In addition to the scones, there were a staggering amount of desserts. First, unexpectedly were four slices of pound cake: chocolate, lemon, banana and cranberry nut. Basically, we used these as additional vehicles for the Devonshire cream, though they were tasty in their own right. Crowning the dessert tray were elegantly-presented petit fours: raspberry layer cake, a tiny dark chocolate tart with a white chocolate straw, lemon cream cake, and a coconut canele. Everything was delectable and perfectly formed, especially the photogenic multi-layered raspberry cake and the chocolate tart.
We relaxed in the elegant setting, taking in a view of Kensington Gardens. And were we ever full – we were totally floored by the amount of food. The restaurant actually even gained a piano player at the end of the tea, which added to the ambiance. We were very pleased by our tea at the Park Terrace, it was a classic experience without being overly formal or stuffy. At £26.00 per person, you can have the classic tea experience without succumbing to exorbitant London prices.
The Langham hotel in Chicago has quite a few things going for it, not only is it located in an iconic Mies van der Rohe skyscraper, it has also been named the top hotel in the US by TripAdvisor. When we were researching the top afternoon teas in Chicago, one name that came up repeatedly was the Langham. We figured the British pedigree of the Langham name wouldn’t hurt either for an excellent afternoon tea experience. The setting for tea in the Langham’s Pavilion (330 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL) was absolutely gorgeous, and was a stunning mix of classic and contemporary design in black and white. And if you looked up, there is even a constellation of shiny metallic sculptures floating overhead, giving an ethereal effect.
A pianist on a white grand piano added to the ambiance, and kudos to him for playing instrumental covers of Sam Smith and Adele. We were seated at a table for four, with comfy white leather chairs and sofas, and a little vase of violets. The view over the Chicago river, wasn’t bad either. Our enthusiastic server introduced us to the tea selection, and we were pleased to learn that we each got two teapots, to be brought out subsequently. There were a wide variety of teas for all palates: vanilla rooibos, “English Flower” rose and chamomile infusion, Moroccan mint, Black tea with Peach and Marigold flowers, Sencha and Darjeeling. There was also a special reserve tea on the menu (which changes every few months) – the Wedgwood blend – which was a blend of Indian and Kenyan black teas. It was described by our server as being closer to coffee in flavor, with a malty taste (intrigued, at least one of us had to get it).
After our tea orders had been taken, our four little savory items were brought out on a separate plate. The selections of the day were: “Coronation” chicken salad on a mini brioche roll, Cucumber, watercress and piquillo pepper sandwich, Smoked salmon rillette, and truffled egg salad. All of these dishes were a cut above, and we liked that each had a unique spin on the typical crustless tea sandwich. A standout was the egg salad, which was served in an eggshell! Everything was delicious and well presented, and had us ready for “dessert.” Each person received an individual pot of tea, with an adorable accompaniment of mini pots of honey. In keeping with the attention to detail, the tea serving was made custom for the Langham itself.
Next, came the tiered serving tray – also in signature Langham china – with four tiny, elegant pastries and two scones apiece. The two scones, raisin Earl Grey and plain, which were hot out of the oven, and each came with little pots of Devonshire cream and homemade blueberry jam. The scones were light and flaky, and were an absolute dream, especially with the clotted cream, which we devoured. The four little pastries were also adorable: “Queen’s Perfection” chocolate cinnamon cake, raspberry Charlotte Russe, a shortbread citrus cookie, and almond and coconut “Manchester” tart with cherry. The multi-layered chocolate cake and Charlotte Russe were particularly stunning and delicious. The thing with teatime, it always looks like there are measly little portions of delicate food, but by the time you get to the end, you are completely stuffed. The scones put us over the edge hunger-wise, so we were unable to finish all of the petit fours, but the few we had left were just as good that evening. Fortunately, you can get your extra treats boxed up to go.
And lest we forget, the tea itself was delicious, the Wedgwood blend was a favorite, as was the sweeter vanilla rooibos. We also appreciated that the server brought out the unflavored black teas with our savory dishes, and more flowery or flavored teas with the dessert. The bright-pink, rose tea (pictured above) was a perfect accompaniment to the sweets. Throughout the entire teatime, the attention to detail at the Langham was impeccable. We were celebrating a birthday, and because we mentioned the special event, we got an extra chocolate cupcake with a candle, and some chocolate bars for the birthday girl to take home. Though expensive ($50 apiece) we really felt that the afternoon tea at the Langham was a worthwhile, special experience. The service, food and atmosphere were all superb. If you are looking for a refined tea with all the trimmings, definitely visit the Langham.
We first encountered Tibetan butter tea at the now-closed Taste of Tibet in downtown Madison, WI. We consider ourselves adventurous eaters, so along with the stews and dumplings, we decided to try the national drink of Tibet – po cha or Tibetan butter tea. True to the name, this tea is strongly buttery – but what you may not expect is that it is also a bit salty and sour. We have had salty, creamy drinks before, like ayran in Turkey, but never one like this! It is simple enough to make, with strong black tea and a pat or two of butter (often Yak butter in Tibet), which is then mixed to give a frothy texture. This rich drink is a staple of the Tibetan breakfast, and seems pretty similar to the trend for “Bulletproof coffee” or coffee with butter. Maybe Tibetan butter tea is the original bulletproof drink?
Tea in London is serious business, as you may imagine. We went to the big name tea stores, but often felt they were more flash than substance. However, Postcard Teas (9 Dering St, London W1S 1AG) is the perfectly understated answer to the glitzy superstore. Postcard Teas’ stock in trade is in providing a curated variety of teas from small tea farms all over the world. Now these are really small farms, less than 15 acres. Postcard Teas is tucked away on a side street right off of the hustle and bustle of Oxford street. The store is truly an oasis of calm, and is very beautifully arranged with 60 tea varieties in cute tins alongside an assortment elegant handmade teapots from Japan. Taking up one wall of the store are all of the tea varieties available.
The 60 teas available at Postcard Teas range in type and price from tiny tea estates throughout Japan, China, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea. Most of the teas are black, oolong and green, but there are also purh-eh and flavored teas. The choice is almost overwhelming, but the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. Even for such specialized teas, the cost is pretty reasonable. We also appreciated the nice artwork on all of the tea ins, which each come with information about the provenance of the teas and brewing instructions. The amount of care that Postcard Teas puts into informing its customers about tea is very apparent – they even offer classes!
You can pay to sample any of the teas (£2), but the fee is waived if you end up purchasing the tea itself. This is not just dipping a teabag into some boiling water though. Each tea has a specified steeping time and temperature and the gentleman who helped us at the store prepared our tiny cups of tea with the precision of a surgeon. We sampled the rich English breakfast tea that is a mix of Indian, Japanese and Chinese teas. We also tried a delicate Darjeeling from the Mineral Spring Tea Farm in Darjeeling, India. We really liked both of our choices, and it was remarkable how different each was (Darjeeling is on the left, English breakfast on the right).
The coolest aspect is that you can actually send a “tea postcard” (£8.95-12.50). You can select from one of their tea varieties and put it in a special envelope and mail it directly from a little red postbox right in the store, to pretty much any location. You pay the extra for postage and they take care of the rest for you. We sent ourselves the tea postcards and a few weeks later they arrived – what a nice souvenir! We would highly recommend Postcard Teas to any tea lover visiting London, they truly promote the very best of global tea culture.
Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods [closed]
1405 W Irving Park Road
Chicago, IL 60613
While we are frequenters of Mexican, Haitian and Thai grocery stores, until this trip we had never visited a British / Irish grocery store in the United States. Selling everything from Dairy Milk chocolates to house-made British sausages and back bacon, Spencer’s can fulfill almost any British grocery craving. When we found out that this little grocery store also served high tea we knew we had to visit ASAP.
We got a lovely sample of tea from M’s family when they were passing through Savannah, Georgia. It’s called Emperor’s Bride, and its fragrant, fruity aroma was perfect for us sweet tooths [teeth?]. Little did we know that this tea is actually a popular Finnish variety known as Keisarin Morsian (Literally, ‘Emperor’s Bride’ in Finnish). Though it is popular there, it is almost unknown elsewhere. In fact, we had trouble finding any information on it at all. What we do know is that Keisarin Morsian is a black tea blend with tea leaves from Ceylon and Assam, and it is flavored with pineapple chunks and orange peel. We tried Keisarin Morsian both iced and hot, and it’s perfect with just a spoonful of sugar (guess we are not tea purists). You can buy some from The Savannah Tea Room online, or at their store (7 East Broughton Street, Savannah, GA).
My friend Anne and I [L] ended up at the Russian Tea Time on the snowiest day of the year (Yes, in Chicago the blizzards extend well into Spring…). After having walked by this restaurant for years upon years on my way to the Art Institute, I was happy to actually go inside. We entered the cozy restaurant at about 2 PM to find it absolutely packed to the brim with a bus tour of senior citizens. Luckily, we managed to find space at the bar. Looking around the restaurant, it did begin to feel a little bit like brunch with a grandma, with throwback decor and porcelain dolls everywhere, including on top of huge samovars. But also like grandma’s it’s a cozy and inviting space.
The menu was full of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian specialties (one of the owners is originally from Uzbekistan). Anne ordered latkes ($8.95), which came with sour cream and applesauce. I ordered the the varineky- Ukrainian potato dumplings ($8.95) with carrot salad, sour cream and yogurt sauce. Both dishes were tasty and stick-to-your-ribs good. Perfect for a cold day. The service was pleasant but a bit slow, mostly on account of the tourbus crowd. I would definitely return to Russian Tea Time later to try some of their more exotic specialties like the Uzbek chick pea stew or the Azerbaijani mushroom caps. Appropriately, they also have a nice afternoon tea.
So, I tried for the first time my Mariage Frères tea – and it was worth the expense. The cost was 20 euros [!!!] for a 100gm tin of Thé sur le Nil, a green tea mixed with citrus and spices. Green tea, sadly is probably my least favorite type of tea, but now I might be a believer. The quality of the tea is amazing. Each leaf is probably 1+” long which puts the “whole leaf” teas sold commonly in the US to shame. The instructions on the tin said to steep 3 grams for 4 minutes, so I did and I’m telling you – this is the best green tea I have ever tasted in my life. After the recommended 4 minutes of steeping, the tea was sweet, light, delicate and fruity. I didn’t even need to add any sugar.
Now I just need to find a way to get back to the store to get some more.