Pots of Tea

This winter for a Christmas present to myself I purchased a large quantity of specially loose teas from a variety of companies. Over the past months I have been trying each out and deciding which I liked and which I didn’t, and as things go the favourite teas have been consumed leaving me with the ok teas and the ones I don’t really enjoy.

Not wanting to simply throw away these “less preferred” teas, and being parched during the somewhat hotter weather now that we are into summer, I set about looking for ways to use these blends in cold drink concoctions. And as it turned out, these “lesser” teas became the preferred choice for cold iced drinks with some simple additions.

So now my home is often filled with pots of tea in the more literal sense. As I don’t have a tone of tea pots, and really only need containers to heat water, steep tea and allow to cool, my kitchen cooking pots have found yet another use. My stove top becomes tea steeping central as I steep, simmer or even boil loose tea in water to the desired concentration – works best with a tea infuser/strainer – and then turn the resulting liquid into syrups. What are some of my creations? Here is what’s currently brewing.

Chocolate Chilli Saigon Chai Syrup

I actually really love chai tea hot. In past blogs I have used chai tea to make various drink creations and had practically run out of tea. Digging through my cupboards I found a small sample of the Chocolate Chilli Chai which I had not yet used – preferring the more traditional flavour. So I rallied and mixed the last of my favourite tea with this new mix to make something fun for summer.

  • 2 Tbsp Chocolate Chilli Chai loose tea (Davids Tea brand)
  • 2 Tbsp Saigon Chai loose tea (Davids Tea brand)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar

This tea requires boiling the loose tea and straining it or using a tea infuser as tall as the pot of choice, I prefer the latter. Place tea into infuser, and set into pot of water. Bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes to get a strong brew. Remove tea infuser and add last two ingredients, bring back to a boil and allow sugar to dissolve completely. Cool and store in bottles.

When ready to serve pour over ice to fill half the cup, top with cold water or milk and serve.

My thoughts

My favourite chai is spicy and strong. While this drink qualifies on both counts, I realized today while frequenting my local “specialty cafe” that a good chai needs honey. This recipe used sugar and I think would benefit from replacing some of the sugar with honey. I have still not mastered that perfect chai taste and have not figured out how to get the right balance of strong, sweet and spicy. As a result the the specialty cafe in my town still sees me willingly pay $5 for a tall cup of Chai at least once a month so I can get my fix.

Pink Lemony Blossom Tea Syrup

Two traditional non-caffinated teas that I have never enjoyed are camomile and mint tea. I am not sure if this is because those are the most commonly offered to kids and I tired of it years ago, or if it brings back memories of sleepless nights, but either way I won’t drink these hot. One of my Christmas purchases was a herbal tea called Pink Lady Herbal Blossom Tea. The description indicated it was a blend of rose petals, hibiscus and mint. Unfortunately for me the mint overpowered the more subtle herbs and this tea got put in the “lesser” pile.

With summer upon us, the idea of mint juleps came into mind, and the tea came out from it’s dark corner. Preferring a milder mint taste I added some black La La Lemon Tea to round it out.

  • 2 Tbsp Pink Lady Herbal Blossom Tea (Epicure)
  • 2 Tbsp La La Lemon Tea (Davids Tea)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar

Boil water in pot and place tea (in infuser) in pot to steep. Simmer about 10 minutes (don’t boil unless you want a stronger black tea taste) then remove infuser. Add sugar and bring to a boil until sugar has completely dissolved. Allow to cool and poor into bottle to store.

When ready to serve simply pour 2-3 oz over ice in tall glass, add water or club soda to fill and serve with a fancy straw.

My thoughts

Hooray for the resurrection of mint tea into something that doesn’t remind me of bed time and toothpaste! While a true mint julep this isn’t, it is a refreshing alternative. I prefer it with club soda as it adds sparkle and makes this a bit more upscale. I am not sure what the tiny bit of hibiscus and rose in the teas blend add to the mix… Something to test would be to add a drop or two or rose and/or hibiscus water to the drink to see if that takes it to the next level.

Scarlet O Citrus Twist Syrup

This is based on an Epicure Recipe for Berry-lemonaid Herbal Iced Tea which you can find the original recipe here. The recipe calls for Scarlet O Herbal Blossom tea infused syrup, fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice, and some berry flavoured mixes. For my recipe I chose to go more natural with the berries, and cheat with lemon juice. The tea itself is a blend of honeybush, elderflower and hibiscus.

  • 4 tbsp Scarlet O Herbal Blossom Tea (Epicure)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar or 1 Tbsp stevia powder
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice

Boil water in pot and add tea infuser full of tea. Turn heat down to low and allow to steep keeping water hot but not simmering (this tea is strong). Remove infuser and add sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved completely. (If using stevia you won’t need to boil as it will dissolve quickly). Allow to cool, pour into bottles and store.

When ready to serve pour about 2 oz over ice and a sprinkling of frozen blueberries, add 1 oz of lime cordial, top with water or club soda and serve.

Our thoughts

This is my favourite tea of the three, blended with the lime and club soda it adds a kick that cuts the thirst on a hot day. The original herbal blend comes through to give an intriguing and pleasant taste. Served without the blueberries is also nice. I am on my second bottle of syrup and summer has only just begun.

This tea is actually fabulous blended with the Pink Lemony Blossom tea, after their first tentative sip my girls both finished up two glasses at dinner tonight.

Black forest Magic Tea Review

Black Forest Magic Tea. Add a bit of sweetness and it's  delicious.

Black Forest Magic Tea. Add a bit of sweetness and it’s delicious.

The Black Forest is in wooded mountain range  Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany. In history this area was known for it’s mines, hardwood and clocks and chocolate.

While the clocks are still known today for their precision, it’s the Black Forest Cake invented in these mountains by Josef Keller, that is most famous. The blend of chocolate, cream and cherries with Kirshwasser gives the cake it’s name: Schwatzwalder Kirschtorte. According to the Kitchen Project the cake features one of the area’s main crops: cherries, in both the use of the fruit and the Kirsh a double distilled alcohol produced from cherries.

Cocktails, hot chocolates, shakes, martinis and shooters have all been inspired by this cake, some using the original concept of cream, cherry liqueur and chocolate and other blending other ingredients into the mix or choosing alternative takes on each. Most of these use some form of liqueur in the mix.

Mother Earth Living posts a Black Forest Magic iced Tea that blends cocoa powder, cinnamon and tea in an infusion that is blended with cherry juice and served cold over ice. I tried the recipe and found it very interesting but not sweet enough for my tastes. Without a superfine strainer or specialty tea bags I found that the ground ingredients remained in the water, reducing the clarity of the drink.

This is definitely a tea though, with the dominant flavour coming from the tea leaves. So since I like tea with milk and sugar, and since Black Forest Cake calls for whipped cream, I added a splash of milk and an oz of simple syrup to each glass and stirred. The result was an iced tea latte with the original flavour complex of the black forest tea, with a note of creamy sweetness. Yum.

What did my kids think? They were also not big fans of the original drinks, but with sugar the kids enjoyed the flavour.

Kid-o-metre 5/5 kids loved this!
Taste: 2/5 needed the sweetness
Simplicity: 2/5 needs specialty equipment to keep the tea clear.
Ingredient finding: 3/5 in Tumbler Ridge – I had to be creative with the cherry juice.

Cacoa Nibs and Cocoa Powder

The difference between Cacao and Cocoa. From left to right: Cacao Nibs, Cacao Nib Syrup, Chocolate Mocktini, Chocolate Syrup and Cocoa Powder.

The difference between Cacao and Cocoa. From left to right: Cacao Nibs, Cacao Nib Syrup, Chocolate Mocktini, Chocolate Syrup and Cocoa Powder.

Did you know that cacao nibs are the raw form of chocolate? Did you know that they are said to have one of the best sources of magnesium. According to WebMD “Researchers estimate that the average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones. Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly.” National Institutes of Health lists some of these chemical reactions “including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation” And that is just five! If your into nutrition and science then check out the links to find more.

Ok, but back to food right?

What the heck is Cacao? and why are they spelled different? Is that just a Canadian thing, eh?

Nope. Nothin’ like that. Turns out that Cacao is unprocessed and the real  raw deal. Cocoa processed and can refer to products with added sugar. But not always.

I checked this out by reading the ingredients on the back of my Fry’s Cocoa Powder. Processed – yes. Sugar added – nope. Here is the ingredients on my container: Cocoa, sodium carbonate. May contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and/or sulphites.

So the last bit is all about the “don’t sue us if you have an allergic reaction, we processed this somewhere where other stuff you may be allergic to is held and/or processed.” But the first bit? So Cocoa and … what? Sodium Carbonate. An additive used to keep the powder from caking, grumping up, compacting like a lump. Get the picture? So processed, but pretty pure, well mostly.

Ah sorry, again with the science right? Jeez. This blog is called Experimental Virgins for a reason. Love me some science.

Back to drinks though. Why do I care? Why bother with all this research?

I want to make drinks as close to the original tastes of the adult versions as possible, when possible. Infusing Cacao Nibs will give a clear fluid, while using Cocoa Powder will give an opaque look. Think of it as the difference between cinnamon sticks and powder, there is a place for both. You don’t put whole cinnamon sticks into cinnamon buns (mmm cinnamon buns…) and you don’t put ground cinnamon into a clear iced tea. Same thing with Cacao Nibs and Cocoa Powder.

On to the recipes and enough with the preamble.

Cacao Nib Syrup

I came across cocoa nibs in my research to find a way to make an alternative to creme de cacao and looked up as my starting point DIY Chocolate Liqueur. The basic ingredients for flavouring? Cacao nibs. Infused in vodka along with sugar, water and vanilla.

So can you make a similar syrup and how? Turns out it’s pretty easy and has been done. I found the recipe simply with Google and a little poking around on a site describing a yummy iced tea using a cacao infused syrup. Great! The ingredients? Cacao nibs, water, sugar and vanilla. Sound familiar? You can check out the original recipe here for the whole drink. For the syrup alone here is what they say:

  • 3 tbsp cocoa nibs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve; discarding the solids. Store in fridge until needed.

My Thoughts:

First thing you should know is 1 made six, yes six, times the recipe. Go big or go home I say, and I am gonna use this a lot! Gotta have stuff to test with, and gotta have enough to make mistakes and go “ick” and chuck the drink in question down the sink.

Second I have trouble telling if sugar is dissolved completely when there is particulate matter in my syrup. So I tend to make the syrup first and then add the flavouring to it, simmer a few minutes, and then continue as before. Will that affect my final product? Not sure…

After the said time I strained the syrup, keeping the nibs for the time and tasted the syrup. Then in an exercise of science, I divided the syrup in half (remember I made six times the recipe) and added the nibs back to half the syrup. According to the DYI for chocolate liqueur, it calls for 8 days to steep the cacao nibs in the vodka before adding the remaining ingredients, then one more day to blend flavours. Since sugar syrup is thicker than alcohol I gave it two weeks in the fridge.

How did the original syrup taste?

Chocolatish. Ok so that’s not a word, but cacao nibs don’t taste like a chocolate bar. Remember not processed and unsweetened? They also have a nutty taste and are a bit acidic. The husband says it tastes a bit like maple syrup with a dash of apple cider vinegar.

14 days later I tested the second batch of syrup that had been infusing in the nibs for in the fridge. The flavour had mellowed and was more chocolatey but also less acidic. Much more pleasant but still the hint of a bite is there. I wonder…

In order to be completely scientific I purchased a different brand of nibs to repeated the recipe. My first reaction to the new brand was that they smelled different. When I made the recipe again using the new product, the resulting syrup was the best of the bunch, chocolaty and sweet with only a hint of acidity. (My husband still finds it unappealing, give him regular chocolate syrup any day.)

Final thoughts? The quality of the nibs makes a difference, and infusing the nibs for 2 weeks with high quality nibs will give you the best product. What name brand did I finally choose? Navitas Naturals Raw Organic Cacao Nibs (unsweetened). If you can’t find them locally, I got mine from HealthyPlanetCanada.com.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Sometimes you need a real thick chocolate syrup for the job. Our family tested out a few we found on the net with the “chocolate milk” test. Does the syrup make a good cup of chocolate milk? Is it chocolaty enough, too bitter, too sweet?

The first from Allrecipes.com was too weak in our minds, especially when mixed with milk. The second passed the muster. This one is from KitchenTreaty.com and is thick and strong, but makes a great chocolate milk. You can find all the instructions on their site here, but to get you started here is the basic list of ingredients you will need.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Mocktini

  • 1 oz chocolate syrup
  • 1 oz cacao nib syrup
  • 2 oz club soda

To show the difference in density and opaqueness of the two syrups I decided to make up a simple martini using both drinks, layered and topped with soda water. I probably wouldn’t serve this, as is, since the Cacao Syrup doesn’t work alone with soda water. Once it’s mixed it is reminiscent of a rich cold cocoa drink. – more appealing, but again, not quite there yet. My husband added a splash of cream and it became “OK”.

It is pretty though, and if one were to mix something else with each layer, and serve with cream on top, or maybe a candy cane for stirring, this could have potential. I think I will revisit this around Christmas time, maybe add some mint and see if I can’t come up with something inspirational.

Drinking Chocolate

Three drinking chocolate serving options. From left to right: Frozen hot chocolate, North Canadian Drinking Chocolate and Decadent Hot Chocolate Whip

Three drinking chocolate serving options. From left to right: Frozen hot chocolate, North Canadian Drinking Chocolate and Decadent Hot Chocolate Whip

Did you know that chocolaty beverages have been around for 2,000 and first made by the Mayas? Today, many cultures enjoy hot and cold chocolate beverages made from either cocoa or melted chocolate, sugar and milk. Additions such as vanilla, cinnamon and of course marshmallows have been introduced. The drink has come along way from the xocolatl that was said to be an acquired taste. Check out Wikpedia if you are a history buff and want to know more about the original drink.

When my kids were younger, hot chocolate before bed was a tradition. Powdered mixes or chocolate syrups were as common in my kitchen as milk and bread, and it took nothing for me to whip up two warm cups of cocoa and settle down to a story before bed.

Turn the clock back about two decades to when I was in France as a teen. Hot chocolate was served at breakfast with baguette and had a more elegant taste than I was familiar with back home.

So, when I started looking for a more sophisticated version of hot chocolate to use in virgin drinks, it was natural to research and find out what made this Parisian drink different from my kids night time beverage. Turns out what is drunk in France, and elsewhere, is called drinking chocolate. This beverage is made from milk or cream and melted chocolate and can be as thick as pudding (in Spain), or diluted with water and spiced (in Peru), and vary from creamy versions offered in bowls (in France) to strong and rich portions in demitasse cups (in Italy).

In order to make a chocolate beverage or ingredient in beverages I wanted something rich creamy but not too bitter. Here are a few recipes we tried as a family.

My first search results lead me to about.com which had a good step by step guide to the technique and a link to recipes.

Basic Drinking Chocolate

This recipe is simple, and can be found here. Take 3 cups milk and heat in a pot, add 6 oz semi sweet chocolate (chopped fine) and let melt. Pour and serve. Nothing to it. How did it turn out? Strong, not sweet, and not a hit with the kids. Ok for sweet drinks and mixed drinks, but not great as a stand alone.


Le Chocolat Chaud

This version of drinking chocolate uses some sugar, whole milk and may or may not be diluted with water. In attempt to get the first recipe more to an all ages palate, I chose to keep the recipe as similar to the first as possible for best comparison. So I added 2 tablespoons sugar, used the same chocolate again, and tried whole milk instead of my standard 1%. (I omitted the water from the recipe). The original recipe for French Hot Chocolate I used can be found here.

The results were better, sweeter but there was not enough creaminess for my family.

Back to the kitchen and back to the internet! Another recipe another test.

David Lebovitz offered a drinking chocolate recipe on his website davidlebovitz.com that called for 2 cups whole milk to 5 oz of chocolate and 2 tbsp brown sugar.  The result was much thicker, but still a bit too strong for my kids. What to do, what to do?

Add more cream.

While about.com suggests that Parisian Warm Chocolate is made with heavy cream and whole milk, I couldn’t find the recipe it wanted to link to. Thanks to Allrecipes out of the UK i found a recipe that suggests half double cream, half milk (half cup each) to 4 oz dark chocolate. This seemed more chocolaty but also richer in milk product but posed a problem. Double cream is 48% milk fat and is not available in Canada. Whipping cream is 36% fat. Ok so out comes the science and math! See Zoe, what you learn in grade 6 does apply to life!

Mixing Double Cream at 48% with equal parts whole milk at 3.25% makes a milk product of 25.6 milk fat. This is thicker that half and half (18 %) and thicker than whipping cream which were my two choices in town. Back to the math to figure out proportions.

North Canadian Drinking Chocolate

Here is the Canadian version and what I settled on as the best ever drinking chocolate tested so far. This is based on the various drinking chocolate recipes that use cream, but with the addition some cocoa powder and brown sugar, suggested by some of the recipes.

  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2/3 cups whipping cream
  • 5 oz semi sweet chocolate (chips or broken up baking chocolate)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (optional)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

Heat milk and cream in pot over medium low heat. When milk is warm add chocolate and remaining ingredients. Stir until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool or serve warm in demitasse glass with a splash of cream swirled in the top.

My Thoughts:

This produces a rich thick chocolate drink, with enough sweetness and strength to work in multiple recipes. Served cold it’s thick like pudding and needs a spoon, while warmed up it thins to drinking consistency. One recipe served four 3 oz demitasse glasses, made two warm chocolate drinks and I had enough to make up some frozen hot chocolate! It should last about a week, if your kids or you don’t get to it all first!

I served this to my guest tonight—all the way from Yellowknife (originally from South Africa) along with my daughter and hubby. All three gave the thumbs up on this creation. “Not what my taste buds expected” was the comment from my South African friend.

Kid-o-metre 5/5 jackpot!
Taste: 5/5 the perfect blend of dark chocolate richness with creamy taste.
Simplicity: 4/5. now that I have done the math for you, a cinch!
Ingredient finding: 5/5 all Canadian Ingredients, all easy to find at my small town store.

For some fun ideas with this drinking chocolate try the following.

Frozen Hot Chocolate

Makes 2 servings

  • 6 oz North Canadian Drinking Chocolate
  • 9 ice cubes approx
  • 2 oz half and half cream
  • chocolate shavings

Blend Drinking Chocolate and 6 ice cubes in blender until finely chopped. Pour into two old-fashioned glasses, margarita glasses or martini glasses. Rinse blender and add remaining ice cubes and half and half cream. Blend until ice is finely chopped and spoon icebergs of frozen ice on top of each drink. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate and serve.

My Thoughts: 

This dilutes the flavour of the drinking chocolate to a milder taste but retains it’s flavour complex The result is a little more like milk chocolate with an edge of the original semi-sweet tone.

My husband figures this should be eaten with a spoon, or possibly a straw, or just give it a few moments, swirl and drink!

Decadent Hot Chocolate Whip

Makes two servings

  • 8 oz North Canadian Drinking Chocolate
  • 8 oz whipped cream
  • Ground cinnamon for garnish

Half fill a coffee cup or specialty mug with hot drinking chocolate. Whip a batch of fresh whipped cream and generously top to fill the cup. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and serve with a long spoon. Tell them to stir and enjoy!

My thoughts:

When you stir the whipped cream into the warm chocolate, you get something very much like what the Spanish have for breakfast: warm chocolate pudding. This is great for guests who prefer a more creamy drink. If you prefer to keep the drink hot and more liquid, consider warming the cream and simply layering it on top of the chocolate below.