The Ladies' Tea Guild

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Celebrate with an Independence Day Tea party!

sample tea party centerpiece.
Godey's Lady's Book from 1852 contained a passionate opinion regarding the United States and our national identity. Here is the passage:

"The American people have two peculiar festivals, each connected with their history, and therefore of great importance in giving power and distinctness to their nationality. THE FOURTH OF JULY is the exponent of independence and civil freedom. THANKSGIVING DAY is the national pledge of Christian faith in God, acknowledging him as the dispenser of blessings. These two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.

Our Independence Day is thus celebrated. Wherever an American is found, the Fourth of July is a festival; and those nations who sit in chains and darkness feel that there is hope even for them, when the American flag is raised in the triumph of freedom. Would not the light of liberty be dimmed were this observation to cease?"

In the spirit of the Americans who've gone before us, why not celebrate their successes and honor their sacrifices by hosting an Independence Day Tea? You could even make it a picnic by spreading a blanket in a local public park, or even in your own back yard. Those lucky people who can see summer fireworks shows from their own homes, can set up the tea party outside in the evening, and have the event end with a bang, so to speak!

Dress up the scene with little American flags (which should be available even in the Dollar Store by now), and home-made items like red and blue paper stars (even snowflakes!), pinwheels, and place mats. Strings of white Christmas lights will also lend a festive touch, plus they are pretty enough to leave up all summer. Red and white peppermints and yellow butterscotch discs can be part of the decoration as well as part of the dessert, alongside strawberry shortcake and blueberries and cream. Lots and lots of iced tea should accompany the food. Bubbles, glow-in-the-dark bracelets and ice cream can add to the fun!

You may not feel supportive of our government's actions, but don't make the mistake of devaluing American ideals, history, and culture. We Americans have so many blessings that it's easy to take them for granted! We must remember that each one was paid for by the blood of those who lived and died before our time, and that it takes continual sacrifice of time and effort to maintain our rights and freedoms. They are worth preserving and celebrating! Why not do it in style with a tea party, I say?

Monday, June 22, 2009

How about some tea ice cream?

Since summer just officially started, cool and refreshing beverages – like iced tea – and foods are looking more and more appetizing. Did you know that tea and chai can be used to make some really delicious frozen desserts? Many of us have enjoyed green tea ice cream at a favorite Chinese restaurant, and some small ice cream companies are beginning to manufacture it, but green tea seems to be the only flavor available. Black, white, oolong tea and chai can be made into all sorts of delicious ice creams, varied by the type and flavor of tea used, as well as a range of other flavorings.

Ice cream and tea have been around for a long time, and it may be a surprise to you, but tea-flavored ice cream has been around for a long time, too! Here is a 19th century recipe for it:

Tea Ice Cream
2 tbs. tea
Boiling water, about 1/2 to 1 c.
1 qt. cream
Yolks of 8 eggs, beaten

Put two tablespoonfuls of good tea in a tea pot, pour on enough boiling water to cover it, and let it stand for half an hour to infuse. Stir into a quart of sweet cream the beaten yolks of eight eggs, and simmer it slowly till it becomes thick. Having strained the tea, stir it into the cream, and cool and freeze it as directed. [see below for Mrs. Bryan's freezing directions.]
From The Kentucky Housewife by Lettice Bryan, 1839

Now, despite what Mrs. Bryan recommends, I would not steep the tea for half an hour! That would tend to make the brewed tea very bitter, and I imagine that the bitterness would translate to the finished ice cream. It is interesting to me that the recipe doesn’t call for any sugar; the mention of “sweet cream” refers to fresh cream that has not yet soured, which raw milk and cream does naturally before it goes rancid and becomes inedible. For a more modern ice cream that will appeal to the 21st century sweet tooth, here is my adaptation of a recipe for Scented Geranium Ice Cream:

Modern Tea Ice Cream
2 teaspoons loose tea leaves
1 ¼ cups half and half
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream

Combine loose tea and half and half in saucepan and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let it stand and cool for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small stainless steel saucepan, whisk the sugar and egg yolks until they are light and frothy. Whisk the tea mixture into the egg mixture and cook the custard over low heat, stirring continually with a wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Next, strain the custard into a bowl and set the bowl in an ice bath to cool. Beat the heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks, and gently fold it into the cooled custard. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, pour the chilled custard into an 8-inch square baking dish and freeze it solid; then, break it up and process it in a food processor when frozen. Remove and place the ice cream in an airtight container in the freezer, and let it set overnight before serving. Makes about 2 cups of ice cream.

Electric ice cream machines and freezers make the process a whole lot easier, but if you want to serve your ice cream in a more formal manner, why not try the method that was used before the invention of even hand-cranked ice cream makers? The earlier method of making ice cream was to prepare the custard, pour it into a metal mould, which could be a simple bowl or a fancy fruit basket shape (similar to chocolate molds, fancy Jello molds, or even specialty Bundt cake pans), which was covered tightly, and set in a bucket filled with ice and salt to freeze solid. The mould would have been dipped in hot water and inverted onto a platter for presentation and serving. You can omit the bucket of ice and salt by placing your ice cream mould in the freezer, and invert your fancy ice cream shape onto a chilled serving platter for your next party!

Whether frozen in a fancy mould, or scooped into sherbet glasses and garnished with fruit, edible flowers or sprigs of mint or other herbs, what could be more refreshing and elegant than homemade tea ice cream? It makes me wish I had room inside my freezer ...

Overview of how to make ice cream
Green tea ice cream recipe green tea ice cream recipe
How to make green tea ice cream without an ice cream maker
Chai ice cream recipe
Chai ice cream recipe from Simply Recipes
Vanilla Caramel black tea ice cream recipe
Another Vanilla Caramel tea ice cream recipe
Spiced tea ice cream recipe
Apricot Earl Grey tea ice cream recipe

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Did you know you can barbecue with tea?

image from
While the local weather is still more spring-like than summer-like, many people in my neighborhood have begun to barbecue every day. My mother is one of those people! Now, my mom makes a mean barbecue, and I'm sure you have friends and relatives who are good barbecue cooks, too, but everyone's best menu can sometimes use a variation! Iced tea and sweet tea are well-known and popular beverages at summer barbecues, but did you know that tea can be used to flavor the sauce, barbecued meat and veggies themselves? There is also a variation of the popular Beer Can Chicken recipe, called Iced Tea BBQ Chicken; it calls for instant iced tea mix in the spice rub and a can of iced tea inside the chicken.

While tea is usually used in sweet recipes, it is a wonderful addition to savory dishes, too. Some teas, like Lapsang Souchong – which is black tea that has been dried over a fire of pine needles – seem to have been made for meat dishes, especially barbecue, but you can add it to baked meat dishes, too, to imitate that flame-broiled flavor. There are several ways of adding tea to your barbecued and grilled meats. You can use brewed tea to make a barbecue sauce. A really simple recipe comes from a company called Two Leaves and a Bud:

Assam Tea Barbecue Sauce
“Brew a really strong pot of Assam Tea - 2 sachets for every 16 oz. of water. Dilute your favorite Barbecue sauce 50 - 50 with your tea. Marinate per your favorite grandma's recipe!”

You can also use dry tea leaves in a spice rub for meat or tofu, add tea to a spicy sauce to serve alongside, or prepare a marinade from tea and spices, to use on meat, tofu or vegetables. The slight acidity of the brewed tea will also help tenderize the meat! Several recipes for barbecued ribs require you to par-boil the meat before finishing it on the grill or in the oven; why not add some tea and spices to the pot with the meat? You can use any unflavored tea, and many flavored teas, as well, especially lemon or orange flavored blends. The tea will add a wonderful savory flavor to your dish, and will complement the flavor of beef, pork, chicken, fish, tofu and vegetables. Tea in your barbecue might become a tradition!

Here are some more tea barbecue recipes:

Green Tea Baked Kobe Beef Ribs with Ginger-Plum Barbecue Sauce
Grilled Green Tea Chicken and Peaches
Lapsang Souchong Baby Back Ribs
Lapsang Souchong Citrus Barbecue Sauce
Orange and Spice Tea BBQ Sauce
Pu-erh Tea Rub for Grilled Chicken
Tea-marinated Grilled Tofu Sandwich
Tea-marinated Grilled Lamb Kabob

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tea vendors at San Pedro Square Farmers' Market!

Teagre Teas booth at the Farmer's Market, San Jose CA.
Farmers’ markets have been increasing in popularity over the years, and in no place more than the Santa Clara Valley. These wonderful weekly assemblies are one of the last remnants of our area’s agricultural past, reminding us that some of the world’s most fertile farmland is currently underneath the sprawling metropolis of San Jose.

Aside from a great place to get wonderfully fresh and ripe fruits and vegetables, our farmers’ markets are a source of local and handmade goods from bread and flowers, to jewelry and clothing. A new product to join my local farmers’ market at San Pedro Square, downtown San Jose, is gourmet blended tea!

I first noticed the Tea Fancy booth in 2008, at the edge of the food section. The owner, Liuba Bejerano, was giving out samples of her custom-blended teas, and I bought a tin of her Black Currant flavored black tea, which I have enjoyed very much. She sold her own tea blends as well as teas from other companies, like Republic of Tea. When I first met Liuba, she told me that she worked as a real estate agent most of the time, but that tea was one of her passions. The website on her card,, is currently not in operation, and since I haven’t seen her at the market yet this year, I don’t know if she’s still in business. I encourage all tea lovers in San Jose to send Liuba an e-mail and ask her what’s up!

A more established San Jose tea business, Chic Chateau sells local designer jewelry and clothing at the farmers’ market, in addition to the tea and merchandise at her shop and tea room at 3rd and San Fernando. The owner, Luvi, puts a lot of effort into choosing the loose teas that she serves in the tea room and sells in the boutique, and she has both flavored and unflavored teas, black, oolong, green and white teas, as well as rooibos and other herbal tisanes. A fun business with a personable owner, Chic Chateau has become my go-to tea room in San Jose, when I want to celebrate a special occasion, and my tea guild has met there multiple times. I have never seen tea being sold from the Chic Chateau farmer’s market booth, but that may be in the works for the future. We’ll have to wait and see!

A new vendor for 2009, Teagre Tea has an interesting booth with their loose teas displayed in clear glass vials, in special rotating holders. They always have several blends already brewed and ready for sampling, which is fun. Teagre Tea specializes in gourmet organic loose teas, both flavored and unflavored. They have 9 black tea blends, 5 oolongs, 13 greens, 3 whites, 9 rooibos blends, 5 tisanes, a flavored pu-erh, and what they call Discovery Packs and Master Bags. They also have two children’s flavored teas, and two spice blends. Last Friday I stopped by and tried their Tropical Fire black tea, which I remember as a tasty citrusy, coconutty brew. It was nice as a hot tea but I bet it would be even better iced! They are in the process of putting up a website, so the web address is, but there is no information on it yet. The owner’s daughter, Victoria, recommended that everyone e-mail or call them for more information until the website is up and running.

It is so exciting for me to see tea vendors at the farmers’ market! I try to get my fresh fruit and vegetables at the San Pedro Square farmers’ market, while it’s open (May through December), and my Fridays will be extra fun since I can sample and look at so many wonderful teas at the same venue. I encourage everyone in San Jose to come down to San Pedro Square on Fridays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and check out the tea!

Contact information:
Chic Chateau: website
Phone (408)280-7323

Liuba’s Tea Fancy:
e-mail or
Phone (415) 812-8519

Teagre Tea: website (not yet up).
E-mail or
Phone (408) 772-4500 or (408) 564-7362

Monday, June 1, 2009

More Victorian soft drinks

Soft drinks, as we know them (i.e. soda, soda pop, cola, etc.) seem to have been invented in the early 19th century as a health drink; mineral waters had been touted as a healthy liquid for bathing in (the origin of spas), and were recommended health-giving beverages, as well. Some mineral water was naturally fizzy or carbonated, and the custom of making fruit-flavored or herb-flavored fizzy beverages began in imitation of these fizzy mineral waters. Recipes for these drinks, which could be compounded at home, rather than at the apothecary or druggist's shop, involved the combination of cream of tartar, baking soda, and water with sugar and flavorings. The prepared powders were often called "sherbet" or "kali", and were meant to be assembled in advance, and then mixed with cold water immediately before serving. The following recipes are from a book called Inquire Within for Anything You Want to Know, published in 1858.

Lemon and Kali, or Sherbet
.—Large quantities of this wholesome and refreshing preparation are manufactured and consumed every summer; it is sold in bottles, and also as a beverage, made by dissolving a large tea-spoonful in a tumbler two-thirds filled with water. Ground white sugar, half a pound; tartaric acid, carbonate of soda, of each a quarter of a pound; essence of lemon, forty drops. All the powders should be well dried; add the essence to the sugar, then the other powders; stir all together, and mix by passing twice through a hair sieve. Must be kept in tightly-corked bottles, into which a damp spoon must not be inserted. All the materials may be obtained at a wholesale druggist’s. The sugar must be ground, as, if merely powdered, the coarser parts remain undissolved.

Ginger-Beer Powders. Blue paper: Carbonate of soda, thirty grains; powdered ginger, five grains; ground white sugar, one drachm to one drachm and a-half; essence of lemon, one drop. Add the essence to the sugar, then the other ingredients. A quantity should be mixed and divided, as recommended for Seidlitz powders.—White paper: Tartaric acid, thirty grains.
Directions.—Dissolve the contents of the blue paper in water, stir in the contents of the white paper, and drink during effervescence. Ginger-beer powders do not meet with such general approbation as lemon and kali, the powdered ginger rendering the liquid slightly turbid.

Another fun summer beverage: homemade Cream Soda!

image from ClipArtETC. Soda water fountain.
With Memorial Day being the unofficial start of summer (according to the calendar, summer will begin on June 21), I thought that another cool drink recipe would be acceptable. Did you know that soda is a Victorian beverage? I found a recipe for Soda Powders in a household manual from 1858, and a recipe for Cream Soda in Godey's Lady's Book from 1865, which mentions a soda fountain! I knew that soda fountains were around by the 1890s but I didn't know that they were available in the 1860s. Here is the older recipe; I guess you're supposed to add your own flavoring and sugar:

Soda Water Powders.—A pleasant, cooling, summer drink. The blue paper contains carbonate of soda, thirty grains; the white paper tartaric acid, twenty-five grains.
Directions.—Dissolve the contents of the blue paper in half a tumbler of water, stir in the other powder, and drink during effervescence. Soda powders furnish a saline beverage, which is very slightly laxative, and well calculated to allay the thirst in hot weather. One pound of carbonate of soda, and thirteen ounces and a half of tartaric acid, supply the materials for 256 powders of each sort.

This one is from 1865:

Cream Soda -- an excellent Drink.
Five pounds of loaf sugar, one ounce cream of tartar, one ounce Epsom salts, five ounces tartaric acid. Dissolve all the ingredients in one gallon of water, and heat it till it boils; and skim, if necessary. When cool, put the syrup in bottles, and set in a cool place. To prepare the drink, put two or three tablespoonsful of the syrup into a tumbler two-thirds full of water; add one-fourth of a teaspoonful of super carbonate of soda; stir briskly, and the effervescence will be equal to any soda from the fount.

I don't know that I would try to make this recipe and actually drink it, but it's interesting to see that Cream Soda doesn't contain any cream -- at least in this rendering! I think I saw a recipe for Cream Soda that actually contained cream. I'll see if I can find it. Personally, I'd just buy a favorite brand of cream soda! A&W is one of my family's favorite brands, but Stewart's also makes a good cream soda. Pour it over ice and enjoy!
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)