I have just added a video on YouTube – It’s a snapshot view of my traveling adventures in wine and food throughout Italy, Spain, France and Greece:
I sent my parents a couple tins of tea from Adagio Teas a few weeks ago just to test out my new, online store and some of it’s products. My mother, in particular, loves tea. In my opinion, she is a connoisseur so thought she, better than anyone, would be the one to try out this product.
Much to my pleasure, in just a few days, I received a call from my mother stating how timely, delicious and beautifully packaged the teas were. From my end, I was impressed with their above and beyond customer service. I was so impressed with the overall experience, in fact, that I felt compelled to write and thank them. I received a friendly response back the same day offering to send me some teas to try. How could I resist! My mother impressed upon me the enjoyment of tea too, so of course, I accepted their offer. I was anticipating 3 or 4 tins of teas but when the package arrived, it had 28 tins!
As you can imagine, I have been busy enjoying my teas. They came in cute, pale green tins with a simple, well presented label. My favorite one, so far, is cranberry. This surprises me as I don’t necessarily claim to like cranberry. The tea is subtle, well balanced and delightful. Some of my other favorites are candy cane (mild, vanilla-mint flavor), Rooibos Vanilla Chai, and Gunpowder (slight but interesting smokiness). The most impressive attribute of these teas is the ability to have very subtle yet perfectly balanced flavors. Even my 7 year old daughter has been taste-testing with me (the best tea parties ever!) and she has enjoyed most of them. Her favorite flavor…..candy cane!
In addition to the wonderful teas, I also received a book from Adagio Teas that had some fun tea facts in it. I learned that all real tea comes from the same botanical, Camellia sinensis, and contains caffeine. Many beverages that are called “tea” are actually not tea but drinks made from infusing hot water with dried flowers, fruits, plants or herbs. These are called “Tisanes” (a French word for “herbal infusion”) and are a caffeine free alternative.
One of the more significant benefits that makes tea so popular is it’s prowess in relieving fatigue. This is because the caffeine in tea is water soluble which allows the body to digest it easily and pass through your system quickly. The result is a rapid, tangible feeling of relief and relaxation. By the way, caffeine in coffee is not as water soluble and stays in your system longer making you unable to sleep and leaves you feeling restless. And while we’re on the subject, there is a myth out there that tea has more caffeine than coffee. While this is true when measuring coffee and tea in dry form, the relationship is reversed when comparing brewed coffee to steeped tea.
Studies show that all teas’ benefits are practically equal. That is, black tea benefits are consistent with green teas and the same seems to be true about oolongs. Slight differences may occur but while white tea may provide a few more antioxidants than black tea, the amount is negligible in relation to the benefits. This makes sense since, as stated earlier, all tea comes from the same plant.
So what does it take to brew a perfect cup of tea? Besides buying the best quality tea you can find, there are three basic steps to follow:
The basic rule is one teaspoon of leaves per cup of water. Use too little tea and your tea will taste weak. Use too much and it will taste bitter. The exception would be light teas such as chamomile which requires two teaspoons of leaves. Keep in mind that dry tea leaves expand up to 5 times their original size so make sure you give your leaves some room to grow so you get as much flavor out of them as possible.
The ideal temperature depends on the tea. Black, oolong and herbal teas require boiling water at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit while more delicate teas like green, light oolong, and white require cooler water at about 180 degrees.
The standard is 5 minutes for most black teas. Dark oolong, herbal and white teas tastes best when steeped for 7 minutes. Light oolong and green teas are more delicate and can only handle 3 minutes of steeping.
One other important note to remember is the water. Good water makes good tea. Most of the water coming out of our taps is poor quality; thus, it is best to use bottled water or a filtration system.
If you wish to make your own “decaf” tea, brew a cup as normal, leaving the leaves in the hot water for about 30 seconds, then drain the leaves, and rebrew. The second brew will contain the flavor but significantly reduce the caffeine. By the way, decaffeinated tea is not really caffeine free – it still contains about 5-10 milligrams per cup.
This is the perfect time of year to brew a cup for yourself, have a tea party with your children or share the gift of tea with someoneyou care about. And wouldn’t you know, Adagio Teas have some great holiday sampler sets! 🙂 Happy Holidays!
*Written with assistance from Adagio Teas book called “A Guide To Teas”
ABT is only produced in two towns in the whole wide world. To me, that is utterly mind-boggling! But I guess when you consider the production process and that fact that it isn’t, what most would say, a lucrative business, it would make sense. And it makes even more sense, this syrupy potion comes from Italy because the beautiful people of Italy have done an outstanding job of upholding old-world tradition.
ABT is made from the must of grapes. Many different varietals can be used including: Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatto, Spergola, Berzemino and all the various Lambrusco Reggiano DOC varieties, namely Marani, Salamino, Maestri, Montericco, Sorbara, and Ancellotta. The must is aged in wooden barrels.
Often, the barrels are old wine barrels that are no good for producing wine but flavorful for producing vinegar. The origin of the wood can vary – oak, cherry, chestnut, acacia, etc. Anywhere from 5-7 barrels are used varying in size from large to small. Each barrel has a small, cloth covered hole on top to access the product. The production starts by filling the barrels with the must where it remains for a year. During that time, approximately 10% of the vinegar is lost to evaporation. After one year, the smallest barrel gets topped off with vinegar from the next size up, and that barrel gets topped off with vinegar from the next size up and so on until the largest barrel is reached and gets topped off with the new production. When another year passes, the same topping off occurs again. This happens for a minimum of 12, yes….count them, TWELVE years! After 12 years, a few liters of vinegar can be extracted from the smallest barrel and sent to the consortium for tasting and approval. Once the vinegar has met all the requirements, the consortium numbers, records and brands it. Then, and only then, can the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale be sold.
In Modena, ABT has two levels of quality – a cream colored cap indicates 12 or more years of aging and a gold colored cap in addition to the wording “extravecchio” (extra mature) indicates 25 or more years. Both are individually numbered and sold in a bottle specified by the consortium. In Reggio Emilia, ABT has three levels of quality – a red label for 12 or more years of aging, a silver label for 20 or more years, and a gold label in addition to the wording of “extravecchio” for 25 or more years. These are also individually numbered and sold in a uniform bottle specified by the consortium along with a wax seal and “AB” (aceto balsamico) on the label. Generally, ABT is not aged more than 30 years.
The prices of the different levels of quality range considerably. From Reggio Emilia, we purchased a silver label ABT for about 40 euro ($52) and a gold label one for about 50 euro ($65) although, I’m told that is a very good price so maybe my memory serves me incorrectly on that price. From Modena, we stumbled on a bottle that was allegedly 56 years old – according to my calculations, the beginning of it’s production occurred about the time television was being introduced into the homes of Americans! That one was a splurge at 150 euro ($195).
Of course with something this prized, the suggested consumption is to show it off as much as possible. We often just serve ours on a small spoon as an aperitif to our guests. It is also very good drizzled over Parmigiano Reggiano, a fresh salad, risotto or a good steak. For a unique twist, drizzle it over strawberries or ice cream. No matter how it is consumed, I bet the experience will seem like you’ve just plunged into the best condiment on the planet!
I knew when I moved to Italy 2 1/2 years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was visit as many regions as I could. For me, one of the more important regions was Emilia-Romagna. It is the region that has the distinguished title of being famous for Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and Proscuitto di Parma.
Oh the opportunities that have come my way since coming to Italy in April 2007. I have been taking them all in with utter amazement. The experiences and adventures have been just incredible.
One such experience took place in May while traveling through the Piedmont region in Northern Italy. My husband, me and some of our favorite wine-crazed friends, the Stockermans, were on our way to Burgundy. We stopped over in the famous town of Barbaresco just to have a look around (by the way, the expanse of vineyards flowing over the land enroute was absolutely beautiful). It was a rainy day but the town was still welcoming with its quaint shops and picturesque streets. We spotted an Enoteca opened and excitedly parked our cars across the street. Upon exiting our car, we became even more excited when we spotted the GAJA winery right next door to the Enoteca! Oh my goodness! I can’t even begin to tell you the adrenaline rush to literally stumble on such a prestigious find! We went into the Enoteca and my friend, Cathy (who thankfully speaks fluent Italian), asked if GAJA was open for tours. The lady behind the counter graciously offered to call and ask. She said they usually do not give public tours but by nothing short of a miracle, we were given the opportunity for one.
Let me take a moment to give you a little history – Four generations of GAJAs have been producing wine in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy’s Langhe hills since 1859. That is the year Giovanni GAJA founded GAJA Winery in Barbaresco. Today, the winery is owned by Angelo GAJA. Besides combining respect for traditions with bold innovations in the vineyards and cellars, Angelo also introduced GAJA wines to the foreign markets. In addition, he recently started introducing wines, spirits, and accessories such as wine coolers, decanters & wine glasses to Italy through “GAJA Distribuzione.” Angelo’s wife, Lucia, and 3 children, Gaia, Rossana & Giovanni also work with him. In fact, Gaia GAJA officially joined the winery in 2005 making her the fifth generation of GAJAs to work at the winery. Besides the 250 acres of vineyards GAJA has in Barbaresco and Barolo, they have added 40 acres of vineyards in the Tuscan town of Montalcino and 250 acres in Tuscany’s Bolgheri district. Guido Rivella is the very talented winemaker for all three of these estates (a busy man no doubt).
So there we went. We arrived at a large, ominous door which began to creak open and expose the vast, beautiful business structures with views of the vineyards beyond. We walked in and were showed a room to wait in until someone came for us. We were sitting there so giddy with glee, it was hard to actually take in the whole gamut of where we were, what we were doing, etc.
As if we were at the end of the rainbow, luck was continuing to overwhelm us. Our tour guide showed up and introduced herself as Sonia, Angelo GAJA’s personal assistant! Sonia was a delight and spent a generous amount of her time taking us all over this lovely winery. And I do mean lovely, the building where the press, tanks, and barrels, etc. dwell were decorated as if on the pages of “Architectural Digest.” Beautiful sculptures, lighting, wall hangings – even the floors were shiny, black and uniquely exquisite. We were shown an art gallery on the premises that displayed several wonderful pieces (there was a painting I would’ve loved to have in my home 🙂 ).
As our tour came to an end, we were taken into yet another beautiful room where a tasting was set up for us. Ok, I know I keep going on with ridiculous adjectives to describe this whole experience, but the wines we were able to taste were absolutely divine. We tasted 5 wines:
My ingredient list consisted of Dijon mustard that I actually just purchased a week ago in Dijon. Olive oil that I picked up from a small Tuscan town by the name of Scarlino. Lemon juice that was extracted from the lemons I picked on the tree behind my little Italian villa and herbs grown in the backyard.
As I pondered how awesome this predicament I found myself so gloriously in was, I thought about my blog and how this would be a perfect way to share with you a great website I found – igourmet.com. It’s a wonderful site to buy gourmet food from around the world (i.e. Dijon mustard from Dijon, olive oil from Italy, etc). I found igourmet about 5 years ago. I was living in Kansas and absolutely “Jonesing” for a tasty cheese I had at a bed & breakfast in Kinsale, Ireland several years ago. My biggest obstacle was that I knew the cheese was from only one area of Ireland and nowhere else. I started searching the internet and reigned victorious when my search led me to igourmet.com. I purchased the cheese and was estactic when it arrived and tasted as good as I remembered.
Another time, I spotted a way cool salt cellar in a pricey mail order magazine. I really wanted it, but just couldn’t justify the cost – a whopping $89 for the cellar with some fancy, grey salt. By chance, I was shopping through the internet pages of igourmet looking for something else when I stumbled on the exact same salt cellar I was envying from that other place. The great news, this one didn’t come with the fancy salt, but it was only $10! I’ve been enjoying my $10 salt cellar ever since. 🙂
So, as you can see, this is a great site full of the ordinary and extra-ordinary! I highly encourage you to scour the internet pages of igourmet.com. If you’d like, you can click on the banner on the right side of my blog and receive a 5% discount. By the way, most of the items I mention on my blog are available on igourmet.com so keep this in mind if you’re “Jonesing” for something gourmet. Have fun!
In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for the vinaigrette:
Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TB basil
1 TB parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together lemon juice, herbs, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually add the olive oil until combined.
If all this talk of Chevre is making your mouth water, I encourage you to explore the world of artisan cheese and hunt down a log, disk, cone or pyramid. And let me encourage you to wash it down with a white wine from the Loire region, a Sancerre perhaps. By the way, many U.S. goat dairies produce some pretty darn good versions that can stand up quite well to the French…..just don’t tell them that I said that.
About a year and a half ago, me, my husband and daughter took a trip to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This is the region famous for Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. WOW, talk about having something to boast about – three of the greatest gifts a foodie could ask for from this country all in one region! We spent several days in Emilia-Romagna and toured all three productions but were most inspired by the production of ABT and in fact, ended up visiting several places that produce this extraordinary elixir.