Bikes and Brews – Victoria, BC

waterfront at Victoria with Empress Hotel Bikes and Brews in Victoria, BC

The venerable Empress Hotel dominates the waterfront in Victoria.

Delicious sunshine makes this the perfect day to explore this beautiful city on two wheels. I set out to see if Victoria, British Columbia lives up to its moniker of most bike friendly city in Canada. Just a short block from the harbour with its iconic views of the provincial parliament buildings and the Empress Hotel, Shawn, one of the owners of The Pedaler, fits us out with comfortable bikes and mandatory helmets. And we’re off on our tour. Continue reading

The Perfect Cup of Tea

pouring tea into a china cup - The Perfect cup of tea I unashamedly admit to being a tea granny. I start my day with a pot of tea and drink two cups. Do I make the perfect cup of tea? I think, after all these years, I have the formula down pretty much pat. But I have been foxed by awful water (I always take tea with me on my travels but sometimes the local water is unpleasant). And I have taken to carrying a china mug with me (see below for why).

To make the perfect cup of tea, always start with a clean pot that has never been used for coffee or any other strong beverage. (This is my biggest beef with airline tea – it’s invariably in a pot previously used for coffee).

Being of British background, I would add that a china or thin-edged cup is essential. I will swear that tea tastes better in a china cup! Never buy tea from a take-out spot that puts it in a foam cup.

Silver tea pots aside, I prefer my tea made in a simple ceramic or china tea pot. Many purists will debate this, but I find that metal surfaces leach their own flavour into the tea. After all, tea contains tannic acid.

I’m not a snob. I drink bagged tea but I’m careful to choose good quality teas. I have used tea balls for loose tea but here again, you run the risk of a metallic taste if the quality of the metal is poor. I often use a Teefilter bag (paper) when using loose tea as it’s easier to lift the whole thing out and prevent the tea from stewing. Note that bagged tea is usually composed of broken leaves so they require a lot less time to brew than whole leaves.

How to make the perfect cup of tea

  1. Boil fresh cold water.
  2. Add a little of the boiled water to the pot. Swirl to warm the pot, empty, then add tea and more boiling water. Note, in a chat with Sam Twining of Twining’s Tea, he affirmed this as a good way to do it because by the time you swirl the water and empty the pot, the hot water in the kettle is just off the boil, ideal for tea making.
  3. How long you steep the tea is up to you but if you know the variety of tea, you can get guidance on what’s optimum. Many fine restaurants in Britain now use a small coffee press (never before used for coffee!!!) for serving tea. The guest can watch the water darken, the tea leaves unfurl; then press down and pour the brewed tea.
  4. Tea should be served with milk or lemon (not cream or non-dairy creamer). Sugar is optional.
  5. There are two schools as to whether milk should be added before or after the tea is poured into the cup. It may not be as genteel, but I favour the latter since it lets me control exactly how strong I want my cup to be.

Did you know you can cook with tea? Check here.

A quick Menu of Basic Tea Types:

All tea comes from the same plant – Camelia sinensis – but their country of origin and their handling makes a big difference.

White teas: These are picked from the first spring buds and may even have some down on the leaves. They are kept out of sunlight to prevent them from becoming green. These are slightly fermented and usually have a delicate flavour and aroma. They also have a very high level of polyphenols.

Pu-Erh: These teas from China age beautifully and not uncommonly may be as much as 50 years old! Chinese researchers believe this deliciously earthy tea lowers cholesterol.

Keemun: A black Chinese tea with a fruity flavour; a key part of an English Breakfast tea blend.

Macha: Japanese green tea powder made from gyokuro leaves which have been steamed and dried.

Sencha: Japanese green leaf tea with a robust, grassy flavour and mild aroma.

Lapsang Souchong: An acquired taste, this smoky flavoured tea is withered over pine or cedar fires, pan-fried, rolled and oxidized before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine.

Oolong: The leaves are wilted, bruised and dried. Oolongs lie between green and black teas in that they are partly fermented. The flavour is not as grassy as green tea and a great oolong will have many nuances of flavour.

Darjeeling: A highly prized tea from India with a floral aroma and somewhat astringent, tannic characteristics, and a spiciness often referred to by tea connoisseurs as muscatel.


Have a cuppa – it’s tea time

man pouring tea - Have a cuppa- its tea time

Pouring a cuppa at the famed afternoon tea at The Empress in Victoria, BC

Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift?  In much of the world the answer to all these is tea time. Have a cuppa! After all, tea is the universal panacea for all ills, especially in Britain..

But tea isn’t British. It is said to have been discovered in China by Emperor Shen Nung in 2700 B.C. Unlike pestilence-ridden Europe, the Chinese made a habit of boiling water before consuming it. The story is told that some dry leaves fell into the emperor’s pot of boiling water and the aroma and flavor were so good, he brewed it regularly thereafter. The Portuguese brought tea to their court in the 16th century. From there it moved to the British court. In 1660, tea sold for 15 shillings a pound ($1800 in today’s terms), making it a drink for the aristocracy alone.

Thomas Twining's tea shop - Have a cuppa - it's tea timeIn 1706, Thomas Twining bought his first coffee shop in The Strand in London and started blending tea. Ladies sent their footmen in to buy tea as they couldn’t enter the shop, (this was a male domain). So Thomas opened three tea shops where ladies could be served with propriety. When Thomas’ grandson was elected chairman of the tea traders in 1784, he convinced the Prime Minister that the tea tax should be reduced.

“It was this act that enabled the British to become the tea drinkers we are today,” says Samuel Twining, current president of Twining’s Tea. “But for that, we’d still be drinking beer for breakfast.”

“Tea is healthy. It is totally natural, and because it contains anti-oxidant flavenoids, it fights free radicals in the body. So tea is good for you,” says Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada, enumerating tea’s virtues. “It has less caffeine than coffee, it tastes good, and (without additions) has no calories.”

tea plant - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

The tea plant – Camelia sinensis.

Black, green and oolong tea all come from the same plant – Camelia sinensis. The leaves of black tea have been withered in the air so the leaves are completely oxidized. “Think of an apple, which turns black when exposed to the air,” suggests Roberge.

For green tea, the leaves are steamed to prevent oxidation so they become bright green. “Like steaming broccoli,” adds Roberge. Oolong is between black and green, with a shorter oxidation time than black tea.

Many consumers assume green tea is caffeine free. It’s not. It contains 24-45 mg per 8-oz cup while black tea 14-70 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, brewed coffee serves a whopping 95-200 mg per cup.

More significantly, tea is the perfect pick-me-up because the caffeine in tea is processed more slowly. It doesn’t give you the quick high of coffee, but because it lasts longer, it also doesn’t have the same rapid drop, leaving you feeling tired and in need of another fix. But you should make it properly.

tea tasting with cups and fresh loose tea - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

A tea tasting at Ten Ren Tea in Richmond, BC. Loose tea leaves are added to the pot.

Tea – the new wine

Think of tea as the new wine. Serious tea connoisseurs will taste teas the way oenophiles taste wine, with much sniffing and slurping. Single estate teas are prized. Descriptives like astringency, balance, citrusy, smoky, bright, complex, flowery and even finish are tossed around like confetti. And these days, tea sommeliers in many restaurants can help you find the best tea pairing for your meal.

And as with wine, tea can be used in cooking. Most people have sampled green tea ice cream. But says Shabnam Weber, owner of The Tea Emporium and creator of the Tea Sommelier program for the Tea Council of Canada, tea can be used to flavour broths. “Tea is flavoured water, so infusing jasmine tea into the broth when poaching chicken or shellfish adds a beautiful flavour,” Weber explains. “And that broth makes a wonderful stock for soups.”

Reducing a tea-infused stock to make a sauce can produce a unique flavour profile, she adds.

salmon with tea leaves on top - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

Tea in the marinade or rub adds a lovely flavour to salmon

Tea leaves – especially lapsang souchong – can add a whole new dimension to barbequed and smoked meats. Instead of applewood chips, she suggests, try adding tea leaves to the coals.

And finally, finely ground tea leaves with complementary spices make a delicious rub for meats. She suggests jasmine with lemon grass and salt; or lapsang souchong and chipotle peppers. Earl Grey tea, with its underlying Bergamot, really enhances the flavour of roasts.

Tea can enhance any sweet recipe too. Infusing warm cream or milk with tea before using it to prepare puddings or crême brulée adds a whole new dimension. “Tea can replace any liquid in a recipe to enhance the flavour,” says Weber, adding, “How about adding macha (green tea) powder to the flour when making a sponge cake?”

Here’s an easy recipe provided by Shabnam using jasmine tea:.

Jasmine cured Gravad Lax

lax with bagels on plate - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

Jasmine tea adds a delicate flavour to lax.

This recipe uses jasmine tea in place of the usual dill.

500 gr. Salmon filet ( center cut, skin on )

300 gr. Coarse sea salt

150 gr. Sugar

1 tbs. Jasmine Dragon tears or other high grade jasmine tea

1 tbs. olive oil

Fresh ground pepper

Mix the sugar and salt. Pulverise the Dragon Tears in a spice grinder.

Rub the salmon with the olive oil and the jasmine tea. Season with fresh pepper.

Cover the bottom of a rectangular container with 1 cm. of the salt/sugar mixture.

Set the salmon on top and cover with the rest of the mixture.

Cover with saran wrap and weigh down with tins or jam jars.

Let this cure for 36 hrs. in the refrigerator. Remove the salmon and clean of all the salt and sugar.

Thinly slice the Jasmine cured Lax and serve with dark rye bread, a lemon wedge  and honey mustard sauce.

Masala Chai Tea

spices for masala chai - Feeling tired, sad, upset, cold, in need of a lift? Have a cuppa! In much of the world the answer to all these is a cup of tea – the universal panacea for all ills.

Masala chai brings the flavours of India to a cuppa.

This classic Indian spiced tea has a wonderful scented flavour. This makes enough for two cups.

350ml/12fl oz water

100ml/3½fl oz milk

4 black peppercorns

10 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

good pinch green fennel seeds

small piece cinnamon stick

1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced

1 black tea bag

sugar, to taste

salt, to taste (optional)

Heat the water and milk in a pan with the spices and ginger until it comes to the boil. Turn the heat down and cook over a low to medium heat for 15 minutes. Be careful as the milk can easily rise and boil over.

Once the volume is reduced to a large cupful, add the teabag and let it brew for one minute, or longer if you like strong tea.

To serve, strain into a cup and add sugar to taste.

Richmond, BC – A Dip into Asia

Richmond Night Market Richmond BC

The colourful, delicious Richmond Night Market is a must for visitors

Few cities in Canada can boast a true immersion experience into another culture. I don’t mean the gentle toe-dip into Little India or Greektown in Toronto, or the mild submersion of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Richmond, BC takes one into the underwater depths of an extraordinary ethnic ocean. Several Asian traditions – China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Viet Nam, etc – flourish in this multicultural lagoon. Continue reading