It's Tea Time Somewhere: A Look Into Tea Cultures

According to Chinese legend, Emperor Chen-nung invented tea in 2374 BC--by accident. One summer day, he decided to relax beneath a shrub tree and place a bowl of boiling water beside him. Soon after, a soft breeze blew a few shrub leaves into the bowl, where they began to steep. After smelling the delicate aroma, Emperor Chen-nung tasted the infusion, and thus, tea was born.

Though the story remains up for debate, no one argues that the shrub Emperor Chen-nung sat under (the Camellia sinensis, or tea, tree) hails from China, nor that the country was the first to brew the drink. The popular modern method of infusion developed gradually, becoming prevalent by the Ming dynasty when drinking tea started to take on symbolic qualities. It began to signify more than a beverage, but a ritual, too, representing discipline and beauty.

When the drink’s popularity reached Japan in the ninth century, an artistic ceremony emerged. This tradition continues today, as an important cultural practice and way of Zen. Known as “The Way of Tea,” the ritual requires years of training to master and, at its most formal, can last up to five hours. Water is carefully heated over charcoal. Tea is then prepared to either a thick (koicha) or thin (usucha) consistency and served unsweetened. While the host leads the ceremony’s elaborate sequence, the guests are also expected to understand certain customs. Upon receiving the tea, one ought to bow in thanks and turn his/her cup’s face (that is, most lovely side) outward.

Just as serving tea in a Japanese tea ceremony expresses tradition and skill, serving tea at home in Arab cultures expresses hospitality and warmth. That said, like the tea ceremony, Arab cultures maintain certain rules about who should serve the tea, and how. The male head of the house prepares and pours the tea, always from a highly extended hand. The tea—typically green—is prepared in a metal teapot. In Morocco, mint leaves are routinely added to steeping, as well as a sizeable dose of sugar for sweetness.

The Western world wasn’t introduced to tea until the seventeenth century. England opened its first tea house opened in 1640, no less than three hundred years after China. Late start aside, English culture embraced tea fully and established its own iconic customs for the drink. Perhaps the most well known is afternoon tea, a light meal served around four o’ clock. Here, tea is drank with warm milk and sugar, and paired with various pastries, jam, clotted cream, and sandwiches. High tea is a similar ritual, though it takes place later in the evening and includes more substantial savory food items. Of course, the English enjoy “a spot of tea” not just in the afternoon and evening, but in the morning for breakfast, as well.

And in Russia, tea began to import around the same time as England. Similarly, the country also developed a cultural affinity for the drink that has yet to fade. The Russians' choice tea is strong, black, and preferably from China. Customarily, it’s prepared in a teapot, and served with lemon, sugar, and rose petal jam. Rather than milk, guests add simmering water to their tea, to dilute and customize the flavor’s intensity.

While the way tea is served depends on the culture, it seems that no matter the country, not all that much as changed since the day when Emperor Chen-nung sat beneath the shrub tree. Whether in a tea ceremony, house, or restaurant, drinking tea is still combining leaves and hot water while pausing to appreciate the aroma and taste.

What Real 'Brits' Eat: A Conversation with Chef Jason Hicks of Jones Wood Foundry

By: Saira Malhotra

Tucked away in the historic neighborhood of Jones Wood, on the Upper East Side, lies a humble and slightly recessed food driven pub; Jones Wood Foundry. This city has had its fair share of British and Irish pubs, but what many Brit expats will attest to is the feeling of home they get from their pint of Fullers and bangers and mash here at Jones Wood Foundry.

The pub culture is a way of life for Brits. Many recognize that there are few problems in life that comfort food, drink and straight forward British 'talk 'can't provide relief for. The place is charming and quaint with its warm lighting and mahogany accents, yet, there is an element of wit, be it the restrooms or the hand-picked art work. The food is understated and simple yet there is mastery behind it; your very palate will tell you so.

I headed over to Jones Wood Foundry to meet the man behind the magic, who serves up plates of Britain's finest with a side of nostalgia - Executive Chef and Partner, Jason Hicks. In this interview, he gives us the low down on real British food and simplicity.

You have gone from classical French to humble British cuisines, what inspired the switch?

My travels and experiences have shown me that while cuisines are different all over the world, they draw from a similar pool of techniques. When I was in the desert in Australia, the food was fantastic and yet there was such an overlap in methods of preparation.  French techniques are at the source of a lot of cooking practices, it comes back to 'bechamel or veal stock'. Here at JWF, the guiding principle is to keep it simple - pie and mash is pie and mash.

What is a Food Driven Pub?

For examples, Jones Wood Foundry is a food driven pub because it is the food that drives the flow and interest.

What is the first item you would recommend off your menu?

I would have to say the 'bangers and mash'. There are a lot of great dishes from perfectly crusted pies to crispy duck confits, but the bangers and mash are an example of simplicity and how simple things just 'work'. Perfect mashed potatoes and good quality bangers (sausages) with some caramelized onions that have been 'hit' with a touch of veal stock brings about the perfect balance of sweetness, starchiness and protein.

What do you cook at home?

My kids and I go to the farmers market and buy chicken, garlic, potatoes, cream and thyme. My little chefs truss the chicken and stuff it with the other ingredients and we put it on the spit and roast over the fire. We make a sauce from the bones and reduce with cream and butter. It goes on a plate, heaped with mash, slathered with gravy and life is good.

What can we expect to see on the JWF menu in the horizon?

We plan to expand our repertoire with dishes from the Commonwealth. Perhaps curry, after all, it is a very important part of British culture and something you can see on the menu in most pubs. I would also like to expand my dessert offerings and offer real traditional English Puddings - Eves pudding, Bakewell tart, treacle tart, steamed cakes.

Check back for a real Brit recipe of Toad in the Hole right from Chef Jason Hicks himself!

Saira Malhotra is a classically trained chef and graduate from the French Culinary Institute. Saira brings her European, Asian and American background together via the palate and communicated through her food blog: www.passportpantry.com.

Photos courtesy of Jason Hicks

For more great interviews, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

An American Foodie in London: Mushy Peas and Early Drinking

By: Dylan Rodgers

For Christmas 2011, I went British for a week. Great Britain-the birthplace super broccoli and the people who would eventually lay the foundation for our country seemed so familiar and yet so inherently different at the same time.

To start, I sat in the front passenger seat of our cab disoriented and tense with oncoming traffic passing to the car's right. Throughout my week in London, I never really grew comfortable with the backwards nature of traffic. Even while walking, the pedestrians want to pass you to your right, something that can lead to plenty of awkward dances with confused locals.

Otherwise, Englander crowds are quite fluid. I guess it's better said in an analogy: if New Yorkers are like a hive of bees-stopping, starting, changing direction at an inconsistent pace, then Englanders would be more like a school of fish where everyone's quiet and seems to move with a similar rhythm in motion.

Speaking of fish, all the seafood I had was deliciously, melt-in-your-mouth fresh. Anything from the ocean didn't have to travel more than 50 miles from water to table... other than the lobster. To my surprise, Atlantic lobsters are found only on the western side and are shipped all the way from Canada to English pots. To boot, they don't serve it with butter. "WHAT IN TARNATION ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!" you ask. I know. I said the same thing. Plus the guacamole was awful until I realized that it was actually mashed peas and wasn't meant to be drizzled all over everything.

Traditionally people avoid England when they want a flavorful meal, but that stereotype has long been disproved. England has embraced international culture and skyrocketed to the level of a cuisine hub. Indian, Thai, US Southern, German, French, North African, Italian, Southern Mexican/Central American, and plenty of other food cultures have found a home on that tiny British isle.

Here's a quick rundown of my own English culinary experience: I had the excellent pleasure of a Venison Pie smothered in the best brown gravy ever, perfect pizza, Tom Yum Lemongrass Seafood Extravaganza, delicious pastries, whole white fish- eyes and all, great beer, tea, coffee (most often as espresso), and greasy but still pretty fantastic Chicken Mole.

The only real problem I had with the food was the complete lack of care put forth by many poorly tipped servers. Granted they do get higher hourly, but don't expect to be led through a memorable dining experience by the bored, non-attentive wait staff standing in the corner on their phones. I guess we in the States get better results by keeping our waiters and waitresses wondering whether or not they'll be able to pay rent this month, lights a fire under 'em.

All in all, I would very much enjoy going back to England... preferably in March when the sun actually peaks through the tumultuous clouds for a change. My only words of advice to anyone considering the same-do as the British do: drink early, look right first before crossing the road, and keep a stiff upper lip.

Cheers!

Dylan Rodgers is a writer with dreams of existential understanding and lyrical nonsense. Share with him in the well of human experience @dylangers.wordpress.com.

Photo: avlxyz

For more articles from Dylan, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

The Royal Wedding Cake

The Royal Wedding: Prince William and Kate Middleton

When Prince William and Kate Middleton tie the knot, their guests will feast on a lavish spread fashioned by the Buckingham Palace kitchen. From canapes and champagne to a beautiful cake, the Royal Wedding will show-off the best of British food. Although the Royal Chef Mark Flanagan refuses to reveal the menu, speculation and excitement are mounting.

Instead of just one cake, the wedding will have two. The future princess picked a fruitcake (traditional in Britain). Famous baker Fiona Cairns will make the cake and decorate it in a "British floral theme." In contrast, Prince William requested McVitie's, a British cookie company, to create a chocolate-cookie cake based on a family recipe.

Meanwhile, the Buckingham Palace kitchens are heating up in preparation for the big day. The kitchen serves food each year to around 50,000 guests, but these special occasions come under special scrutiny. 600 guests will attend the wedding reception in the Palace staterooms. There, the wedding cake will be on display. The staff has been planning for about 6 months. Click here to watch a video about all the preparations.

If you're craving a cake fit for a royal celebration, try this upside-down pear chocolate cake. It might not be Prince William's favorite-but if he tried it, he'd definitely fall in love.

Growing A Child's Intelligence

Could potato chips and Oreos have an impact on a growing child's intelligence? A new study released in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health by scientists at Bristol University in England says so! The study of nearly 4,000 children and their parents looked at 3 different diets: one of high fat, sugar and convenience foods, another of high meat and vegetable content, and the last of fruits, fish, and salads.

Even when taking other factors into account, such as social rank, parental education, and length of breast-feeding, the study showed that diets too high in processed food correlates with a lower IQ in developing children, though only by a few points.

To read more go here.