When it comes to tourism in Belgium, Brussels gets a bad rap.

Go to Bruges, they say, for the picturesque canals and mediaeval centre.
Go to Antwerp, they say, for world class art and hipster fashion.
Go to Ghent, they say, for more of the same plus cycling too.
Go to Ypres, they say, for WW1 history.

But Brussels? Brussels is often dismissed as little more than a hub for politicians and lobbyists.

Of course, there’s much more to Brussels than politics! Yes, Brussels is the home of the European Union, NATO and the United Nation’s European office…

…but it is also the capital of a country of two halves – the Dutch-speaking Flemish region of Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia in the South. Multicultural Brussels, the third region of the country, is bilingual though French is now more prevalent than Dutch. These days English is widely spoken as well as many other languages, indeed it’s said that as much as half the population speak neither French nor Dutch as their native tongue.

As a Londoner, one of the things I find most appealing about Brussels is this sense of multiculturalism. Although the issue of language is still a hot potato for many Belgians, especially when it comes to education and cultural identity, Brussels is a city that is very open to the world.  Indeed, we chat to Pierre from the local tourist board who tells us that the people of Brussels refer to themselves as zinneke (bastard dogs), wearing their mongrel heritage with pride. Pierre is himself the perfect example – his mother is gipsy, his father Walloon and Flemish, his wife Brazilian and his sisters are married to a German, a Frenchman and a Czech, respectively!

Brussels is a vibrant city with a historic heart and a modern outlook. And the Eurostar service takes you from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi-Zuid in less than two and a half hours!

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-142707 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-145325 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-103446 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5652

When it comes to sightseeing, you still can’t beat a good old-fashioned guide book, or the website equivalent. I won’t try to recreate that here but suggest that as well as the popular Gothic and baroque buildings of the Grand Place and surrounding narrow cobbled streets, the shiny Atomium housing a variety of exhibitions and the incomprehensibly mobbed corner where the Mannekin Pis resides you might want to look up Jeanneke Pis and Zinneke Pis – the squatting female and doggie equivalents of Mannekin, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre (and the Comic Strip walk that takes you past comics painted on the walls of a number of buildings), an amazing array of grand buildings such as the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, the Bourse (stock exchange), the Royal Palace, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur and the architecture of art nouveau architect Victor Horta. Lovers of literature, art, history and even cars, will also appreciate several excellent museums in Brussels.

Instead, I’m going to share my tips for some great places to eat, drink, shop and sleep.

 

Chocolates and Patisserie

Brussels is awash with shops selling chocolate, but much of what’s on sale is cheap, bulk-manufactured products that are hardly worth wasting suitcase space for. Here are the ones that are worth seeking out.

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5647 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5640 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-103147
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5651 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-111942 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-112235

Laurent Gerbaud is one of Belgium’s rising chocolatiers and is fighting an uphill battle to move Belgians on from the idea of “Belgian chocolate” to an understanding of the actual origins and varieties available.

Like several chocolatiers I’ve met, Laurent was a chef first; he came to chocolate via chocolate sculpture with an artist friend, and that lead, eventually, to his current career. As a child, he developed an interest in China, perhaps because of several friendships he had with Chinese and Taiwanese families. He worked in Chinese restaurants, took courses in Chinese and, after a university degree in history, finally moved to China for a couple of years. There, he discovered that the Chinese don’t have as sweet a tooth as Europeans and he lost his taste for high sugar sweets. When he came back to Belgium, he had the obvious thought of bringing his experiences in China into his chocolate making but realised he wasn’t inspired by fusion flavours. Instead, he focused on quality ingredients, including some sourced from Asia.

Today, the Chinese influences is perhaps most evident in his logo which is an artistic interpretation of the Chinese hanzi characters for “chocolate” and his name.

Laurent is keen to make chocolate that people love to eat; he says “one of my purposes is to make junk food – you eat one and you want another because it’s really good”. Judging by the chocolates we tasted, he’s nailed it – I could have eaten a whole box of the chocolates made with dried figs from Turkey and candied oranges from Italy. His shop on Rue Ravenstein is also a boutique tea room, with plans to extend the service to offer a savoury menu too.

Tip: Of course, you can visit his shop just to buy some of his excellent chocolate, but for a more personal experience, book a chocolate tasting or chocolate making workshop.

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-144237 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6583 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-144633

Pierre Marcolini is one of the few Belgian chocolatiers to make chocolate from bar to bean, before then using it to make a range of chocolates. His chocolate shop at 2 Rue de Minimes is certainly full of temptation but what I recommend above the chocolate is a visit to the address around the corner at 39 Grote Zavel, where his spectacular patisserie is sold. I found the macarons surprisingly disappointing but a glossy strawberry patisserie was a winner.

Other famous chocolate brands in Brussels include Wittamer (a long standing bakery and chocolate business) and Frederic Blondeel (a chef turned chocolatier who also makes chocolate from bean to bar).

 

Speculoos Biscuits

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5657 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5660
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5661 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5667
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-121238 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5672

Speculoos, hailing from Belgium and The Netherlands, are spiced shortcrust biscuits that were originally associated with the feast of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) in early December. Made from flour, brown sugar and butter with a spice mix that usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper, these days they are popular and available all year round.

Maison Dandoy, established in 1829, makes a range of sweet bakery products but is best known for its traditional speculoos and gingerbread biscuits. These days, it has a handful of shops in Brussels, but its worth making a trip to its oldest remaining store at 31 Rue au Beurre, to admire the beautiful wooden biscuit moulds lining the shelves. The Tea Room on Rue Charles Buls (also known as Karel Bulsstraat) is larger, offering the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of biscuits, pastries and drinks inside. There are an additional four shops in Brussels, plus one in nearby Waterloo.

Having tried several supermarket brands of speculoos biscuit, I was surprised to discover that it’s not just a case of fancy shops and branding – the Maison Dandoy speculoos biscuits are definitely superior!

We also tried Dandoy’s pain à la Grecque, a crunchy bread-cum-biscuit coated with pearled sugar crystals. I was more fascinated by the origins of the name than the biscuit itself – over two centuries ago, the monks of a local Augustine abbey used to support the city’s destitute by giving them bread. The abbey was located near a place known as Wolvengracht (Wolves Ditch); the gracht pronounced grecht in local dialect. Over time, pain a la grecht morphed into pain à la Grecque, confusing generations of shoppers with its erroneous suggestion of a Greek origin.

Tip: If you’re as huge a fan of speculoos biscuits as we are, make a quick visit to a supermarket to pick up a couple of extra large packs of mass-produced biscuits as well. There’s a mini supermarket in Brussels Midi Station.

 

Cuberdons

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-145630 Cuberdons-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-184109

I first fell for cuberdons over two decades ago, and if anything, I love them even more today. A purply-dark red colour and conical in shape, the cuberdon is a raspberry-flavoured gummy sweet, firm on the outside with an oozing interior. In Dutch, it’s known as a neus (nose), in French it’s called a chapeau-de-curé or chapeau-de-prêtre (priest’s hat).

You can find cuberdons in quite a few sweet shops in Brussels, several of which sell multiple colours and flavours, a relatively recent phenomenon. But we’ve found that the best prices for regular raspberry cuberdons is from the Cric-Crac sweet shop inside Brussels Midi station, which sells by weight.

Tip: These sweets are best eaten within a couple of weeks of purchase, as the liquid centre can crystallise and harden if left for too long.

 

Waffles

Belgian Waffles fall into two types.

Firm, rich and chewy Gaufre de Liège (Liège Waffle) are made from an adapted brioche-dough and work well both hot and cold. These are usually oval in shape and have a slightly crunchy exterior from the crystallised sugar that has caramelised against the waffle iron. They’re great for eating on the hoof as they’re traditionally eaten plain (though you can buy them with toppings too if you prefer).

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-144058

Rectangular Brussels Waffles are made with a leavened batter, resulting in a much lighter and airier texture and are definitely at their best enjoyed hot, fresh from the waffle iron. Traditionally, Brussels waffles are served with a dusting of icing sugar but these days you can choose from a wide selection of toppings including ice cream, chocolate sauce and fruits. But I suggest you ignore all of those and ask for your waffle with a generous dollop of speculoos paste. With a texture much like smooth peanut butter, this sweet spread is the same flavour as the famous biscuit and melts wonderfully into the indentations of a freshly-cooked hot waffle.

Tip: You’ll find waffles on sale all over Brussels, often from hole-in-the wall vendors, but if you want to sit down and eat, try Maison Dandoy’s Tearoom.

 

Beer & Bars

Belgium is world famous for its beers and rightly so, with a rich tradition that goes back many, many centuries. The range of beers produced by Belgian breweries is impressive, including pale, golden, amber, red and dark ales, dubbels and tripels, Flemish sour brown, Champagne beers (which receive a second fermentation using the method now most strongly associated with Champagne), wheat beers and lambics (spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts that are native to the brewery, as opposed to the addition of cultivated yeasts).

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5680 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-124551

Both Pete and I absolutely love what owner Jean Hummler is offering at his two bars, Moeder Lambic and Moeder Lambic Fontainas, located at 68 rue de Savoie and 8 place Fontainas, respectively. He started the first bar less than five years ago, after a career working for industrial food businesses in France.

He starts off by telling us why he wanted to do something different; “most places are not very selective, they sell coca cola and junk food” and their beer selection is not very inspiring either. He is committed to selling only quality produce and that applies to the beers, the food and even the soft drinks. He has two key criteria, the way a product is made and how it tastes. “Making money and brewing great beer are often not the same job”, he laughs. He looks for products that are made by hand, adding that he doesn’t want “industrial anything”. For a beer to be selected it must be made with craft and it must pass the taste test – it must taste good! Right now, he has approximately 150 beers on the menu of which 46 are on tap. These include beers from around the world, including a number from the UK.

The same principles apply to his sourcing of cheeses and charcuterie (which form the main thrust of the simple menu) and the non-beer drinks menu (which includes some delicious farmhouse apple juice, for those less interested in the beers).

The cheese selection (€12.5) is utterly wonderful; all are raw milk cheeses and range from soft and mild to fantastically pungent, each one a genuine delight. In the centre of the serving board is a bowl of pottekees – a blend of fresh white cheese, onion, pepper and lambic beer. Just as excellent is the meat selection (€12.5) which includes garlic sausage, French sausage, paté made with geuze beer, hâte levée – pork cooked slowly in bouillon with garlic and spices, Tierenteyn mustard, Belgian pickles (which are a lot like piccalilli). Both plates are served with a basket of bread and a superb raw milk butter.

As he introduces each item on the plates, his enthusiasm for the producers and their products is self-evident; “The idea is to offer another selection, another quality, another explanation that most people don’t know exists”.

Two other key policies for Hummler are ensuring that all his staff know and love the product range, and establishing strong relationships with each supplier – and one (of many) ways he furthers both is the Moeder Fucker series of beers brewed by Le Paradis microbrewery not far from Nancy, in France. For each beer he sends two of his staff to the brewery to help make it; they decide which style of beer to make and work with the brewery team to create their vision. During our visit, Moeder Fucker IV was on tap.

As we talked, Pete tried five beers, guided by Hummler through the staggering range available. He drank Taras Boulba by local Brasserie de la Senne (Belgium), Moeder Fucker IV by Le Paradis (France), Mozaic Black by Mont Saleve (France), Cuvée De Ranke by Ranke (Belgium) and Fièvre de Cacao by Thiriez (France).

In the end, Hummler is a man after my own heart. “We all have to decide. Each citizen has to decide what they want to do with their life. I decided for myself that I wanted to eat very good food. I eat less and less meat, maybe once a week but what I eat is very good, like the chicken that is aged 120 days on a small farm. Taste is very important to me.

Tip: Ask staff for guidance in selecting beers for your own beer flight.

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-182429 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6552
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6549 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6548

Small and traditional pub La Fleur en Papier Doré was the perfect place to meet local friends for an evening drink. At 55 Rue des Alexiens, it was very close to our bed and breakfast, and also easy to reach by local bus. The menu shares a little of the history of the bar, housed in a small maisonette that dates from the mid 18th century. In the past it housed a convent, which moved to a new home in the middle of the 20th century. As a pub, it became the favoured meeting place of the Surrealist cultural movement with regulars including René Magritte; a few decades later it was a focus point for the Cobra (avant-garde) movement, creators of experimental art and philosophy. Mementos of both remain on the well-worn walls of the cosy pub, protected (along with the façade, the ground floor rooms and some of the furniture) by the local government which has decreed them of historical value.

Stop for a few beers (and some charcuterie) or for a simple meal.

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-133942

The Cantillon Brewery welcomes visitors for brewery tours (7 Euros including a beer) or to buy beer. You can buy to drink in or takeaway; lovers of lambic will particularly enjoy a visit. The address at 56 Rue Gheude is only a short walk from the central tourist district.

 

Lunch Stops

My first recommendation for a light lunch is the cheese plate and charcuterie selection at Moeder Lambic, above. Super quality, and each provides a generous portion for the price.

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-122600 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-123841 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-124204

Another great option is recently opened Peck 47 (amusingly named for its address at 47 Rue Marche Aux Poulets). This all day cafe offers a short menu of home made sandwiches, salads, soups, cakes, fresh juices, smoothies and a small selection of local beers. For just €8, my poached eggs on sourdough with smoked salmon and homemade relish was far more generous than I expected and all the items were of excellent quality. The eggs were perfectly poached, the salad nicely dressed and the home made relish very good indeed. Pete’s sandwich – roast chicken, rocket, lemon and basil mayo and slow roasted tomatoes – also impressed, for €5.

Tip: A particularly nice touch is that the free tap water is stored in the drinks fridge in large bottles stuffed with mint. Ask for some!

 

A Traditional Dinner

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-200702 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6555 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6556
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6560 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6563 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-202535

I have to say from the off – don’t go to Restobieres if you’re looking for great service. The three staff on duty ranged from friendly but incompetent through utterly disinterested to downright sullen. That usually stops me from recommending a place but Restobieres is a good option if you’re keen to try traditional Belgian dishes alongside a range of Belgian beers.

Herve Cheese Croquets (€10) were a tasty comfort food, served hot and freshly fried. Homemade paté with Rochefort and foie gras  (€12) was a generous slab; light on the foie gras but tasty nonetheless. My calf’s liver with shallots and Chouffe  (€20) was decent; I really liked the beer and shallot sauce. Pete had satisfactory steak and chips with another good sauce and a generous well-dressed salad. The star of the mains was our friend’s bloempanch blood pudding (€12) which was both tasty and generously portioned for the price.

The only duff note (with the exception of the service) was a scoop of speculoos biscuit ice cream (€4) which we decided could only possibly have been made by a chef who’d never tasted speculoos (and not bothered to look up a recipe for the spices usually used). The texture was unpleasantly gritty too.

Located at 9 rue des Renards, not far from the Jeu de Balle flea market.

 

Brussel’s Modern Dining Scene

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-190324 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6607 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-210428
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6608 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6611
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6615 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6617
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6625 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6627
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6635 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-5712

I already explained how much we liked the multicultural vibe in Brussels. This goes equally for the food scene, which has some great restaurants to explore. One such place launched just a few weeks before our visit; located along very trendy Rue de Flandre in the Sainte Catherine district, Gramm is a restaurant offering bold, inventive and modern food. It’s headed up by Chef Erwan Kenzo Nakata, who grew up in Brittany to a French father and Japanese mother, thus explaining some of the eclectic Japanese touches to otherwise modern French cooking.

The evening offering is a fixed tasting menu, 6 courses for €38. Although the courses are individually quite small, we felt very satisfied at the end of our meal, having enjoyed the array of tastes, textures and colours in Nakata’s self-assured dishes.

While I felt the food was good value, I was less impressed with the drinks pricing, for wines, beers and soft drinks (which were served in shockingly tiny glasses) so if you’re on a fixed budget, keep an eye on your drinks orders to avoid a shock at the end of the evening. Also, do set aside plenty of time. Service is very warm and friendly but the wait between courses, even in a nearly empty restaurant, is a little longer than ideal.

Tip: Don’t be shy about asking for more of the excellent bread and butter, by the way, it’s great for mopping up some of the juices and sauces!

 

The Marolles Flea Market

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-103519 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-103538
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-105344 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-105047

Usually, I’m not much of a shopper but offer me the chance to browse a car boot sale or flea market and I’m instantly excited, so I was very keen to return to the famous Marolles Flea Market held daily in the Place du Jeu de Balle. On sale is a charming mix of cheap tat and more expensive “antiques”; it’s definitely a case of one man’s rubbish being another man’s treasure. With my love of retro kitchenware, I was in heaven as there’s plenty of it here, at very bargainous prices. It’s actually a miracle I came away with only a couple of ornate old teaspoons and two Nestle branded cups and saucers in amber glass – there was, I think, a complete set of six in the box but most were too chicken-shit-and-feather covered to assess very well, so I just bought the two cleanest ones for a whopping €1!

The market runs every day of the year. Official start times state that it starts at 6 am and finishes at 2pm on weekdays, 3pm on weekends.

Tip: Take lots of small change with you and of course, be prepared to haggle!

Brussels has many more markets to visit including markets for art, food, flowers and vintage clothes.

 

An Elegant Pillow

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-213355 Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-211310
Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-6578

X2B Brussels is a family run luxury bed and breakfast in the heart of Brussels, just a few minutes walk from the Grand Place. The three guest bedrooms are each on a different floor – we booked the first floor double and were delighted to discover a vast room with soaringly high ceilings, simple and elegant furnishings and a very generous en-suite bathroom. Do note that none of the rooms have step-free access and, as you’d expect in a private home, there is no lift. Guests are welcomed either by owner Xavier or his mother Monique, who sit down with guests on arrival to share tips for visiting Brussels, personalised to their guests’ interests. Breakfast is excellent: a basket of fresh bread and pastries with an enormous selection of jams and spreads, cheese and cold hams, yoghurt, eggs however you’d like them, rounded off by coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. The hot freshly made raisin bread pain perdu is a lovely touch. Free wifi is also a boon, for those of us who like to stay connected. From £160 a night including breakfast.

Tip: make sure you jot down the house number as well as the street name; there’s no obvious sign on the outside so we walked up and down the same stretch of road several times, eventually identifying the B&B only by peering at the tiny labels for individual doorbells.

 

Getting Around

Brussels-Kavey-Eats--(c)-KFavelle-1

In terms of getting around, the key sites in Brussels are within a fairly small area and its certainly possible to walk. But you can also make use of the metro and tram network, as well as local buses. The Brussels Card gives unlimited use of public transport, free entry into some attractions, discounted entry into many more and discounts in shops and restaurants too. You will also be given a free city map. Available for 24, 48 or 72 hours for 24€, 36€ or 43€.

 

With thanks to Eurostar for the complimentary return tickets between London and Brussels and thanks to the Brussels Tourist Board for their assistance in planning some of our sightseeing highlights and their insight into historic and modern Brussels.

 

White cherries aren’t really white; they’re gorgeous pale yellow blushed with rose.

White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-122806 White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-124707 White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-135800

Fortunately for me, the small fruit stall just outside the office where I currently work has had them on sale recently and I’ve purchased so many the stall holder probably assumes I’m a weird cherry addict. When I told him this bag were destined for cherry rum liqueur, he asked me to bring him a taste of the finished hooch!

I’ve been sharing images of these beauties online and friends have asked if they’re rainier cherries, a variety developed in Washington (and named for Mount Rainier) in 1952. All the stall holder could tell me is that they were grown in Spain, so I’m not sure whether they’re rainier cherries or not.

Regardless of variety, they’re utterly delicious and I felt inspired by twitter friend @ShochuLounge to preserve some in alcohol. Their tip about leaving the pips in to infuse almond flavour notes was an extra push as stoning cherries is a thankless task.

The strawberry vodka liqueur I made a few years ago turned out wonderfully well and since then I’ve made a few more random fruit liqueurs simply by combining my chosen fruit with lots of sugar and whatever clear spirit I have to hand – I tend to amass bottles of spirit that languish in the drinks cupboard for years, so am determined to make something interesting with as many of them as possible.

White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-191545 White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-191614 White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-191727
White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-191844 White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-191951 White-Cherry-Rum-Liqueur-KaveyEats-KFavelle-192119-800px

Home Made White Cherry Rum Liqueur

Ingredients
300 grams white cherries
200 grams sugar
500 ml white rum

Note: You can switch the fruit for whatever is seasonal and the spirit for whatever you have to hand. A clear spirit is best, with a flavour that marries well with your chosen fruit. Adjust the ratios of fruit, sugar and alcohol to suit your tastes. I have a sweet tooth so am aiming for my liqueur to be rich and sweet.

Method

  • Wash the cherries and remove the stems. Use a sharp knife to cut into the cherries and slice at least half way around, without cutting them in half. This makes it easier for the sugar and alcohol to take on the flavours of the skin, flesh and pips.
  • Place cherries, sugar and rum into a clean airtight glass jar and seal.
  • For the first few weeks, shake and turn regularly, to help the sugar dissolve and the flavours to mix.
  • Leave to mature for at least 3-4 months; the longer the better.
  • Strain through muslin for a clearer finished result, before bottling your finished liqueur.
  • Enjoy the alcohol-soaked fruit as a bonus dessert – lovely with double cream or vanilla ice cream.

I’ll update this post with a photo of the finished cherry rum liqueur in a few months but I’m confident it will be another really delicious home made tipple!

 

ssbadge300 no-waste-food-badge FSF

I’m entering this into Ren Behan’s Simple & In Season Challenge, the No Waste Food Challenge (hosted this month by Utterly Scrummy Michelle) and the Four Seasons Food Challenge (hosted this month by The Spicy Pear).

 

Do you drink a variety of teas? Black, green, white? Oolong? {whispers} Herbal or fruit? {stops whispering}

How do you make yours?

Do you boil the kettle, pour boiling water over the tea bag or leaves and stir impatiently to make the tea brew faster?

Do you brew directly in the mug?

AdagioTeas-3719 AdagioTeas-3725

I use loose leaf tea in a mug.

I don’t really miss a teapot as I rarely drink more than a mug of tea at a time (and never the same tea as Pete chooses to drink). Tea leaves go into a fine mesh strainer that can easily be lowered into my mug. I reuse the same leaves for at least another brew, often two or three, depending on the tea.

But I am guilty of using boiling water straight from the kettle.

And, as any fule kno, many teas are not at their best when brewed in boiling water.

Black tea (and herbal or fruit infusions, which I snootily don’t consider to be tea) are better suited to brewing at 100°C.

But oolong, green and white teas benefit from lower temperatures.

Flavour-providing amino acids and natural sugars dissolve into water at relatively low temperatures, releasing sweetness as well as a range of rich and complex flavours. Higher water temperatures extract more tannins resulting in bitterness that can easily overwhelm the key flavours of these types of teas.

Good quality tea should be treated with respect.

I really ought to know better, having benefited from the wonderful expertise of many a top tea master over the years. I have tasted exquisite teas from China to Japan, Taiwan to Korea, India to East Africa and enjoyed them at their optimum. And yet the best I’ve managed when making tea at home is to leave the kettle for a few minutes after boiling, to allow the temperature of the water to drop a little. Of course, I never have any idea of just how much it’s dropped.

It’s criminal really, given that I happily spend money on excellent tea. My current favourite is still Momo Cha Fine Teas’ High Mountain Oolong, but I’m also enjoying a delicious genmai-cha from The East India Company and an elderly but surprisingly well preserved oolong from Teanamu (my fault: I found it, forgotten, at the bottom of a box of tea).

For over a year, I’ve loosely been investigating smart kettles – the kind that allow you to heat the water to a number of different temperatures. A friend of mine has one and I’ve been coveting my own but I never get farther than an idle internet browse. I’ve not even made a shortlist, let alone picked a winner and placed an order.

sage by heston tea maker 2

Lucky day, then, when Sage by Heston Blumenthal asked me if I’d be interested in trying their Tea Maker, a specialist kettle with tea making function built in. The Tea Maker has a number of pre-sets and the option to use customised settings too. You can use it simply as a kettle, heating the water to your desired temperature. It also offers a brewing function: place tea leaves into the basket provided and the Tea Maker will lower the leaves into the heating water for a specific amount of time, dependent again on the type of tea. Lastly, the Tea Maker can keep the tea (or water) warm for up to an hour.

I probably won’t use the brewing function very often, as it’s recommended for a larger volume of water than I’d want to brew at a time. But the adjustable brewing temperature is an easy way for me to enjoy my favourite teas at their very best.

 

You can find more information about the Sage by Heston Blumenthal Tea Maker here, including a video of Heston explaining how it works. To hear Heston talk in more detail about tea, see this #TalkTeaWithHeston Youtube video.

Kavey Eats received a sample Tea Maker from Sage by Heston Blumenthal. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

I have always had a sweet-tooth. I’m overly sensitive to sour and bitter flavour profiles, so much so that I find regular wines make my jaw muscles clench in reaction to the taste – to me even those usually described as medium taste far too much like vinegar. It’s also the reason I struggle with beers, especially given the current trend for bitter hop monsters.

So I usually opt for sweeter choices such as dessert wines, sweet sherries and ports. I have a soft spot for liqueurs too, though I’ve not included any in this list. Next time!

Here are my sweet choices for Christmas 2013.

 

Peller Estate Cabernet Franc Icewine (375 ml)

icewine1

When I tried this beautiful dusky pink icewine at a Morrisons’ press event, I was amazed to be told that no, it didn’t have any strawberries in it, so clearly did that fruit flavour sing out to me. Raspberries, rhubarb and pomegranate come through too. In fact, this dessert wine is made wholly from Canadian Cabernet Franc grapes, picked when naturally frozen by winter temperatures of around minus 10 C and immediately pressed.

ABV 11.5% – £45 from Morrisons

 

Harveys Pedro Ximenez VORS (50 cl)

harveyspx

I adore PX; an intensely rich,  gloriously sticky, syrupy-sweet sherry with its flavours of figs, prunes and raisins is utterly redolent of Christmas. Made in Jerez, in the heart of Cadiz province in Andalusia, this is a drink I enjoy all year round. I have tried many brands over the years and this is one I go back to again and again. Harveys’ VORS tag tells us this PX has been aged using the traditional solera process for at least 30 years. A shot over good quality vanilla ice cream makes a simple but decadent dessert.

ABV 16% – £21.00 from Waitrose Direct

 

Neige Core de Glace Premiere Ice Cider (375 ml)

icecider

Listed as ice wine on the Harvey Nichols website, this is more accurately an iced cider – apples are picked and pressed in a frozen condition, using the same techniques applied to grapes to make ice wine. Produced by François Pouliot in his Québec cidery La Face Cachée de la Pomme (The Hidden Face of the Apple), it is described as crisp and sweet and, of course, full of apple fruit flavours. I think it would be a delicious alternative to the usual grape offerings.

ABV 11% – £28.50 from Harvey Nichols

 

Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (375 ml)

yalumba

The muscat grape is not only fabulous to eat, it also produces a wonderfully perfumed wine. This golden Australian muscat is made from partially raisined grapes, and fortified with neutral grape spirit, to preserve the floral and citrus notes inherent in the grape. Beautifully sweet, it’s a classic dessert wine.

ABV 18% – £11.99 from Morrisons

 

Kourtaki Mavrodaphne of Patras (75 cl)

greekred

I was first given a bottle several years ago by a friend who was intrigued by the idea of a properly dark red dessert wine, and one made in Greece at that. I’ve bought it again a number of times since, appreciative of its full-bodied black berries and dried fruits richness. The mavrodaphne is a black grape variety indigenous to the Achaea region of Greece (the capital of which is Patras). The wine is vinified in large vats exposed to the sun; once matured, distillate prepared from previous vintages is added, and then the wine is transferred to underground cellars for maturation; there, the solera method of adding older vintages to new ones is used to create a balanced blend.

ABV 15% – Priced from £5 to £6.50 a bottle, available from major supermarkets including Tesco and Morrisons.

 

Quady Winery Elysium Black Muscat (375 ml)

ElysiumBlack

Another muscat, produced by Quady Winery in the United States, Elysium Black is, as the name suggests, made from black grapes. I first came across it on a restaurant wine list a few years ago and have enjoyed it a few times since then. Rich and sweet, with a very floral flavour.

ABV 15% – £12.50 from Fortnum & Mason or £12.49 from Majestic Wine (available vintages may vary)

 

Royal Tokaji Aszu Gold Label 2006 (50 cl)

tokaji

Tokaji is wine made in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary; Tokaji Aszu is the region’s well known dessert wine. It is produced by harvesting grapes after they’ve been shrivelled by botrytis (noble rot), which concentrates their natural sugar content. Categorised according to sweetness (on a scale of 3 to 6 puttonyos), I’ve particularly enjoyed the sweeter Tokaji Aszu wines I have tried. I’d dearly love to try a Tokaji Aszu Essencia, an even sweeter variant with an unusually high residual sugar count, but am yet to come across this at an affordable price. I’ve not tried this specific 6 puttonyos Aszu from Majestic, but I have loved others by the same brand, The Royal Tokaji Wine Company.

ABV 9% – £28 from Majestic Wine

 

Rubis Chocolate Wine (50 cl)

rubis

I came across this chocolate-flavoured fortified wine at a food festival or show. A nice balance between chocolate and the fruity tempranillo grape, it’s best served chilled. My only criticism of this product is the lack of information about which chocolate is used and how it’s sourced.

ABV 15% – £14.38 (incl. delivery) from Amazon UK

 

Maynard’s 30 Year Old Tawny Port (75 cl)

Aldiport

Tawny Ports are aged in wooden casks rather than in large tanks or bottles, like their Ruby counterparts. The wood gives them a lighter body and colour, and a wonderful smoothness on the palate. I love the nutty sweetness, with far less tannin than other styles of port. Most commonly served at room temperature, I think tawny ports are also lovely chilled. Although I’ve not tried this 30 year old, the Maynard’s 10 year old that Aldi sold last winter was well reviewed.

ABV 20% – £29.99 from Aldi

 

Castelnau de Suduiraut 2009 Sauternes (375 ml)

sauternes

I adore Sauternes, with it’s intense floral and citrus honeyed notes and straw honey colour. I’ve tried Château Suduiraut a few times; it’s a much more affordable premier cru classé than it’s neighbour Château d’Yquem. Another to look out for is Château Rieussec, usually a touch more expensive.

ABV 14% – £11.99 from Majestic Wine

 

Please note that this post includes an Amazon affiliate link. The price you pay doesn’t change but I receive a tiny referral commission for items you buy after following such links.

 

Some of you know that my Pete is a keen home brewer. He often writes about his efforts over on Pete Drinks.

On Wednesday, he spent the day at The Bull, a wonderful pub in Highgate with its own brewery on site. With their brewer Jenna and assistant brewer Jack on hand to help, Pete made his own recipe coffee porter, getting properly stuck in at all steps – weighing the ingredients, cleaning and heating the mashtun, adding the ingredients, sparging, transferring to the kettle, boiling the wort, adding hops, boiling, adding the coffee, transferring to the fermenter, adjusting the gravity and pitching the yeast.

He said it was reassuringly like the process he follows at home, just on a larger scale with (slightly) fancier equipment! Read his post on the experience, here.

If you’re London based, please come along to The Bull on the evening of November 12th, when Pete’s Coffee Porter will be launched. You can view the Facebook invitation here.

(Don’t worry if you can’t make it on the night, the beer will remain on tap for a few weeks until it runs out).

PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2228 PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2255
PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2269 PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2272
PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2281 PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2282
PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2289 PeteDrinksLondonBrewingCoBullHighgateCollab1-2294

I hope you can join us!

signed,
Mrs Proud Wife

Jun 212013
 

I’m not usually a fan of fruit teas, not least because what are so often described as such are not teas at all but fruit infusions. Call me a stickler but I like to call a spade a spade, a tea a tea and an infusion an infusion…

Real fruit teas (containing fruit and tea) I do like; jasmine green, lychee black and a mango black tea I used to buy from a little old man in Camden market when I was a teenager (in the 1980s) but have seldom found since.

Bluebird sell a range of blends which combine good quality tea leaves with fruits, herbs and other ingredients in a way that struck me as fresh and appealing, so I was happy to accept their offer to review some samples. I asked for them to send small taster pouches rather than full packets of each. Great tea doesn’t keep well and I hate wastage. They did include a couple of full size packets to let me see their packaging.

bluebird-packaging BluebirdTea-0475

The company names comes from a ski term: a bluebird day being one with sunny blue skies and fresh powder snow; ideal ski conditions, in other words. Why skiing? Because founders Krisi and Mike escaped the rat race to become “ski bums” in Canada (as they put it). Krisi had worked in the UK tea industry before their trip and whilst in Canada, found a job in a Canadian tea business selling some innovative tea products which they both really admired. The couple decided to hot foot it back home to set up a tea business of their own. Focusing on blending teas and other ingredients to create unique mixes, they refer to what they do as “tea mixology’; although the term struck me as a bit pretentious at first, it’s grown on me more as I’ve come to know their products and can see how well it fits.

Most of the thirty-plus teas in the range are priced at just £4.50 per 65-75 gram pack, with a couple that are a little more at £6 and £7.50. Delivery is similarly reasonable at £2.95 and free on orders over £30. That makes Bluebird one of the most affordable tea companies I’ve reviewed.

You can explore their full range of teas for yourself on their website, but here are my thoughts on the eight I tried.

BluebirdTea-0476 BluebirdTea-0480
Cherry Lips – Sencha green tea, Rose petals, Cherry

Brews to a traditional green tea pale green colour. Has the pleasant familiar grassy green flavour of green tea with clear real fruit cherry and a floral scent from the rose.

 

bluebird-great-british-cuppa
A Great British Cuppa – Indian Assam black tea, Ceylon black tea, Chinese Yunnan tea

Brews to a rich dark reddish-brown. Blending three black teas from different tea growing regions of the world creates a nicely rounded and rich black tea.

 

bluebird-elderflower-champagne
Elderflower Champagne – Chinese oolong tea, Elderflower, Lemon verbena, Apple pieces, Orange peel, Lemon peel, Hibiscus, Rosehip.

Brews to a pale green with little pools of pink from the hibiscus flowers; mixes to a pinky green. Initially, the smell is of mint and citrus (perhaps the lemon verbena coming through) but as it brews for longer, a clearer tea aroma pervades. When tasting, the apple dominates for me, with little elderflower, citrus or oolong detectable.

 

bluebird-toasted-apple
Toasted Apple – Chinese green tea, Apple, Japanese Genmaicha

Brews to a pretty green colour. The most dominant scent is that of the popped rice from the genmaicha. On the palate, the green tea dominates with a hint of fruit and rice. This is an ideal tea for those who want tea first, fruit second.

 

bluebird-mojitea
MojiTEA – Chinese green tea, Peppermint, Dried lime pieces, Lemongrass, Lime leaves, Stevia

Brews to a pretty pale peach colour. On the nose this tea is intensely minty, indeed little else comes through. I found it similar on the palate, with little evidence of the lime and lemongrass. The stevia gives a hint of sweetness.

 

bluebird-monkey-chops
Monkey Chops – Ceylon Black Tea, Vanilla, Calendula, Banana

This tea brews to a peach colour and smells intensely of sweet popcorn; it’s not an aroma I particularly like but I have a feeling it’s one of those love/ hate kind of smells. On the palate it tastes completely different to the smell, with a rich fruity flavour. I’m disappointed it’s not more obviously banana but it’s certainly fruity. The black tea is lost a little.

 

bluebird-lady-lavender
Lady Lavender – Ceylon black tea, Lavender, Bergamot oil

Brews to a pale peach, paler than I expected from a black tea. Smells of citrus but the typical medicinal tang of lavender comes through on tasting. The bergamot takes a back seat. A nice alternative to the usual Earl or Lady Grey.

 

bluebird-earls-paradise
Earl’s Paradise – Ceylon Black Tea, Papaya, Strawberry, Lime, Jasmine, Bergamot

Brews to a rich dark reddish-brown. Has a heady scent of tropical fruits and flowers, not obviously bergamot. But when you taste it, the bergamot comes through clearly and the fruits are less evident. It’s a lovely version of earl grey, with fruits used to add aroma and a gentle fruitiness to the finish.

 

I’ve enjoyed trying these unusual and inventive blends and am happy to recommend them, especially at the price point. And if you order a sample set you can work out which ones you like best without spending too much and then order larger packs of your favourites.

And for those who like to try something new, the Bluebird matcha is a blend of Japanese matcha (powdered green tea) and Kenyan white matcha (powdered white tea). That’s certainly something I’ve never come across before!

 

Kavey Eats review samples of the products above from the Bluebird Tea Company.

With thanks to Pete for most of the photographs.

 

I don’t order bottled water in restaurants. We are fortunate enough to live in a country with safe, clean and reasonably plentiful drinking water. It strikes me as crazy to pay (financially and environmentally) to drink bottled water instead.

There’s an argument for those who prefer carbonated, in which case buying fizzy bottled water is no different to buying any other soft drink. But personally, I prefer still, so I always ask for tap. Often, it’s the lower end restaurants that get sniffy about it, never the posh ones.

I have occasionally bought bottled water when out and about. It’s a rare thing, as I’m conscious of the cost not to mention the litter.

We live in such a disposable culture. Now that a lot more packaging is labelled recyclable, people seem think there’s no environmental impact to throwing it away. But of course, even when something can be recycled, there’s a huge energy and resource cost to create the original item, to collect and sort the used item and to recycle it into something else. And, for various reasons, probably not least of which is that our recycling efforts are still rather half-hearted, 75% of post-consumer plastic waste in the UK is sent to landfill.

Pink Hydros Bottle

Recently I came across the Hydros Filtering Water Bottle. Instead of buying water, carry a Hydros bottle with you. You can either fill it at home, or if you’d rather not carry the weight around, fill it on the go. More and more restaurants and cafes are willing to fill reusable water bottles for free.

Made from Tritan plastic (BPA free) it has a filter embedded with an anti-microbial, to stop the build-up of bacteria which can be a problem when reusing some bottles. The filters are replaceable and last for about 150 uses. Oh and, best of all, it’s dishwasher friendly.

I like that you can fill from the top or through the side opening, which allows you to fill from a low or awkward tap – it’s a little slower but it works fine. The water passes through the filter into the bottle fairly quickly. Just make sure you close the bottle properly though, as a leaking bottle in your bag definitely won’t put a smile on your face!

The bottles aren’t cheap at £24.95 each. Replacement filters cost £7.94 each or £19.94 for three. However, given the price of bottled water, this doesn’t represent all that many bottles. When you factor in the environmental benefits, it makes the decision easier.

Another pleasing aspect to buying a Hydros bottle is that the company contribute about 60 pence / $1 from each bottle sale to “sustainable water infastructure projects”. They remind us that one in seven people around the world – that’s over a billion people – don’t have access to clean, safe water. They currently partner with Engineers Without Borders to fund rural water projects such as Project Gundom in Cameroon. Visit their website to read their mission statement, criteria for choosing projects and Project Gundom.

 

Other reusable bottles on the market include Give Me Tap (£12 for a metal bottle, no filter), LifeBottle (£12 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter), Camelbak Groove (Approx £25 for a plastic bottle with integrated filter), Ohyo (£4.99 for a collapsible plastic bottle, no filter), Brita Fill & Go (£14.99 for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), H2Onya Bottle (£8.50-£10.50 depending on size for a stainless steel bottle, no filter), Bobble Bottles (£8.99-£12.99 depending on size, for a BPA-free plastic bottle with integrated filter), Klean Kanteen Wide (£13.50-£26 for a BPA-free stainless steel bottle, no filter included, but compatible with standard filters), Aladdin Papillon (Approx £10 for a plastic bottle, made from recycled material, no filter), Aladdin Aveo (£9for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter). Contigo Autoseal Madison (£Approx £15 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter), Kor Delta Hydration Vessel (Approx £20 for a plastic bottle, no filter) and Nalgene On The Fly (£Approx £13 for a BPA-free plastic bottle, no filter).

 

Kavey Eats received a review sample Hydros Filtering Water Bottle.

 

It’s no secret that I love great tea and I’ve shared many fantastic tea suppliers here on Kavey Eats over the years.

A recent find from the BBC Good Food Show was Momo Cha – their High Mountain Oolong tea absolutely blew me away when I first tasted it and every single time I brewed a cup thereafter. As I said in my original review, it’s the best oolong I’ve ever tasted.

More recently, I’ve also tried and enjoyed some of their amazing Korean teas. Also fabulous.

MomoCha-4072

In the current economic climate, I take my hat off to people like Niels and Mojca, brave enough to create a new business. It must surely be an on-going challenge to bring their products to a wider audience, to get noticed amongst all the others in their niche. But by offering a truly exceptional product, they are building a base of repeat customers who appreciate their quality teas as much as I do.

How did the couple come to launch their tea business? The pair had always dreamed of running a tea house and sharing good quality tea with their customers. During a holiday to Japan, they researched tea production there, and hooked up with a gentleman who’d been trading tea for decades. He helped them plan a specialist trip around Japan, to meet the best producers and farmers. After that, they started selling Japanese teas at Brick Lane, to gauge customer interest; that was two years ago. They also travelled to Taiwan and Korea to find more producers and more top teas. And just over a year ago, they developed their packaging and opened the web shop.

 MomoCha-4075

Several of their teas won one, two or even three star Gold Awards in last year’s Great Taste Awards, great recognition for such a young and small company. I am sure they will be recognised once again in this year’s awards.

MomoCha-4084

If you’d like to try Momo Cha teas for yourself, do so now using this special Kavey Eats discount code, valid throughout March 2013. The code is “KaveyEats10%” and knocks 10% off your order (excluding postage).

(This isn’t a referral code, I don’t get commission on the orders you place. I simply want to play a tiny part in helping fellow tea lovers discover Momo Cha’s fantastic teas).

 

I love sharing recommendations for great products and great gifts. Here’s last year’s epic gift guide. And a selection of food books I suggested the year before. And the main gift guide from 2010 too. And back in 2009 I shared some great tea products from suppliers including Jing, Lahloo, Rare Tea Company and Teanamu.

It’s certainly well worth reviewing those posts as they’re full of fabulous shopping ideas, most of which are still available.

This year, I’ve encountered more excellent tea from a range of sellers, and decided it was high time to share the very best of those on Kavey Eats – Adagio Teas, East India Company, In Nature, Momo Cha, Steenbergs, Tregothnan and Waterloo Tea.

 

Adagio Teas

AdagioTeas-3680

Adagio Teas is an American family business that grew out of a love for Chinese tea. Sophie Kreymerman switched from being a part time manicurist to running her own tea retail business, with her two sons Michael and Ilya. Launched in 1999, the business opened a European website (based in the UK) back in 2008.

I tried a selection of their teas, and found the range and quality very good.

Yunnan Gold is a black tea from Yunnan province in China. The loose leaves have a wonderful caramel aroma which comes through more gently in the flavour once brewed. The liquor is a beautiful bronze colour. The tea has just the merest hint of sweetness to it. This is a mild and light black tea with no bitterness even when brewed strong. (£9 / 43 grams)

AdagioTeas-3719 AdagioTeas-3725

Ti Kuan Yin is one of my favourites, and this example is lovely. The clear liquor has a very subtly floral aroma, but also the typical fresh grassy smell of an oolong. On tasting, it’s similarly subtle and pleasantly refreshing. (£14 / 85 grams)

Adagio-3854 Adagio-3857

The Earl Grey Lavender is a beautifully balanced black tea. The slightly medicinal floral taste of lavender blends beautifully with the citrus notes of the bergamot to create a wholly new flavour. This is rich, sweet and smooth. (£5 / 85 grams)

 

East India Company

The first time I tried a small selection of products from The East India Company, I was disappointed, especially with the tea. The box of The Campbell Darjeeling Loose Leaf I was sent to review was so bland, dusty and so lacking in flavour that I threw it away. (Follow this link to learn about the history of The EIC and read my first review).

However, earlier this year, I went in to the store itself – on Conduit Street, just off Regent Street – and tried a wider range of teas, under the guidance of the East India Tea Company tea master, Lalith Lenadora. Mr Lenadora began his tea career 3 decades ago, as a tea planter in Sri Lanka, and has enormous experience working for some of the great tea estates of his home country. Nowadays, he personally selects and supervises the teas sold by The EIC.

EastIndiaCompany-4103 EastIndiaCompany-4095

All the teas I tried were very good (though I didn’t try that Campbell Darjeeling again) and some were truly excellent. I’d recommend going into the store in person, so you can smell the sample leaves for each one and taste the samples they brew each day.

Mi Lan Dan Cong Oolong is also known as Phoenix Honey Orchid and is a black oolong from China. Typically, tasters describe floral and honey notes, but for me the key characteristic that comes through on smell and taste is malty milkiness and then, just a hint of honey. The tea is a pale cream colour when brewed, and needs a fairly long brewing time for the flavours to fully develop. It’s great hot but delicious enjoyed cold. This would be a good choice for someone who usually likes milk in their tea but is looking for a tea to enjoy without it. (£10 / 50 grams – this is the least expensive of EIC’s oolongs, with others priced at £35 / 100 grams and £50 / 100 grams)

EastIndiaCompany-4098 EastIndiaCompany-4099

Italian Orange Blossom is listed on EIC’s website as an Iced Tea; I’m not sure why and I brewed it with hot water. Dry, the leaves have a strong orange blossom aroma, which is quite intoxicating. Once brewed, they produce a beautifully orange-coloured tea liquor however the orange blossom flavour is very subtle, giving just a tease of floweriness to a classic black tea. This would suit anyone who loves bright and fragrant blacks and wants to change it up a little, without going down the route of full-on flavoured teas. (£7 / 100 grams).

 

In Nature Teas

NatureTeas-1112

In Nature offer organic teas sourced from China. They sell only loose leaf tea which is grown in high mountain tea estates.

I tried their three oolongs, natural, alpine and floral.

The Natural oolong has a smoky, caramel and condensed milk aroma. On the palate, a creamy, malty milk flavour and gentle smokiness comes through. (£5.45 / 50 grams)

The Alpine oolong brews a greener liquor, and the aroma carries more of a fresh green tea along with that condensed milk smell again. Milk comes through in the taste, along with the grassiness of green tea. (£5.45 / 50 grams)

The Floral oolong is quite unusual in that it brews to a pale amber-pink colour. The aroma is heady with apricots, with a hint of smoke. On tasting, it reminds me of a black tea, with citrus and dried apricots. Brew stronger for a richer colour and taste. (£6.55/ 50 grams)

NatureTeas-1138

 

Momo Cha Fine Teas

In recent years, I’d grown more and more disillusioned with the Good Food Show, disappointed with the prevalence of big brands, low quality products and even exhibitors that had no connection to food whatsoever. This year, assured that the show’s focus was on high quality and relevant products, with many more smaller producers in the mix, I was persuaded to give the show another try. Sceptical, I went along, only to be genuinely blown away, not just by one or two of the new producers I encountered but by many of them! It was a fantastic day meeting many talented producers offering many fantastic products.

MomoCha-4068

One of my biggest pleasures of the day was meeting Niels & Mojca of Momo Cha and trying some of their teas. The pair had always dreamed of running a tea house and sharing good quality tea with their customers. During a holiday to Japan, they researched tea production there, and hooked up with a guy who’d been trading tea for decades. He helped plan a specialist trip around Japan, to meet the best producers and farmers. After that, they started selling Japanese teas at Brick Lane, to gauge customer interest; that was two years ago. They also travelled to Taiwan and Korea to find more producers and more top teas. And just one year ago, they developed their packaging and opened the webshop.

MomoCha-4075 MomoCha-4078

Several of their teas won one, two or even three star Gold Awards in this year’s Great Taste Awards, great recognition for such a young and small company. These are the most expensive teas in my round up, but if you have the budget, I’d strongly urge you to give them a chance.

Happy Sencha is an early harvested green tea from Japan’s Uji region. The aroma is typical cut grass and meaty umami, and when the tea is brewed hot, this comes through clearly in the taste. This is one of the best green teas I’ve tasted, and the flavour is wonderfully intense. It can also be brewed cold for a sweeter, less bitter drink. I still got lots of flavour not just from the first and second hot brew, but from the third and fourth as well. (£22.50 / 50 grams)

I’ve never had anything like the Cherry Tea, which consists of hand-picked and rolled leaves from Japanese cherry trees. It has an amazing floral smell, but not like your typical fruit teas, which smell or taste of the fruits themselves – it’s a woodier sweetness, somewhat musky and reminiscent of tobacco. On tasting, there’s a suggestion of sweetness and a gentle black tea flavour. A very unusual tea. (£11.50  / 30 grams)

MomoCha-4084

The High Mountain Oolong is, without a doubt, the best oolong I’ve ever tasted. The aromas are just as you’d expect from a high quality oolong – a fresh grassiness, a sweet malted milkiness, the merest hint of smoke and flowers. The taste is incredible – a more intense or vibrant version of the oolongs I regularly enjoy. All the promises of the aroma come through on the palate. Best of all, you can brew the same leaves three or four times during the day, so a little goes a long way. (£13 / 50 grams)

Amacha is a tea made from the Japanese Hortensia plant, which we more commonly call the Hydrangea. The leaves are picked, steamed, dried and hand rolled, just like traditional tea. But unlike regular tea, they are sweet – and not just a little sweet but super sweet! The leaves contain phyllodulcin which is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, hence the name ama-cha, which simply means ‘sweet tea’. That said, as it’s not a true tea and has no caffeine, it would be better thought of as a tisane. In Japan this tea is traditionally served on April 8th, to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. You can enjoy this tea on its own, though the sweetness is very intense, or alternatively you can brew then water down, or mix with regular teas to make your own blend.

 

Steenbergs

I had previously associated Steenbergs, a small family-run business founded in 2003, with high quality herbs and spices but recently learned that they offer tea too. They focus on organic and Fair Trade, with a genuine commitment to ethical sourcing.

SteenbergTea

They offer a wonderfully wide range of teas, and all their teas come in tea caddies and tins rather than packets.

SteenbergTea SteenbergTea-3

Baihao Oolong, also known as Beauty Oolong, is an unusual oolong from Xinhui in Northern Taiwan, a wet and humid region. Dry, the leaves have a strong spicy aroma which reminds me of garam masala. The tea produces a red liquor, typical of a heavily oxidised oolong. Once brewed, the smell of spice resolves into black pepper and nutmeg, and this definitely carries through to the taste. I’ve never encountered this in a tea before! I would recommend it to those who like Indian masala chai. (£8.95 /125 grams)

Produced by the Ambootia Tea Estate is in Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Green Darjeeling is not at all like traditional Chinese and Japanese green teas. Dry, the smell reminds me of dried fruits and forests, with none of the grassiness of East Asian green teas. The taste is very mild, like a very light black Darjeeling. (£5.95 /125 grams)

SteenbergTea-2

The Organic White tea is an organic Pai Mu Tan, named for the petals of the white peony, and comes from the Fujian province of China. The leaves are dried in the sun and packed immediately, with no oxidisation or rolling. It releases less caffeine on brewing than most teas. Dry, it smells musty, but in a pleasant way, like a freshly rain-drenched forest and there’s also a strange salty sweet aspect to the smell. Brewed, it has a very fresh and leafy taste. (£5.50 /125 grams)

SteenbergTea SteenbergTea-2
SteenbergTea-3 SteenbergTea-4

Flowering teas offer a little spectacle in the cup, as well as drink of tea. Sold as tightly wrapped balls, they slowly unfurl once hot water is poured gently over them. Steenbergs Jasmine Silver Balls are hand crafted in China’s Chongquing Province; long white-mottled leaves are selected, tied together, shaped by cutting and then formed into a ball before being steamed and dried with fresh jasmine flowers. For me, the flavour was 100% wonderfully intense jasmine – I couldn’t detect the tea at all. My only disappointment was that the ball started to disintegrate almost immediately, even though I’d poured the water very gently down the sides of the glass. It didn’t unfurl into the beautiful flower shape more common of these balls. (£7.95 / 70 grams)

 

Tregothnan

Tregothnan grow tea in England. Yes, it really does grow here! Two hundred years ago, this estate was the first place in England to grow ornamental Camellia. The team made their first, experimental teas back in 2000 with those original camellia plants. Now, they grow Camellia sinensis tea in a number of locations on their Cornish estate, and at additional farms in Cornwall. #

Tregothnan-3755 Tregothnan-3756

Manuka is usually associated with New Zealand but Tregothnan grow it here too, and use the leaves to make their herbal tisane, called Manuka Infusion . Caffeine free and rich in antioxidants, this is not a strictly a tea, but adds welcome variety to the range. (Loose leaf caddy £5 / 25 grams or £3.50 / 10 sachets)

I also tried Classic Tea, a breakfast blend black tea, and Earl Grey, both of which are good quality every day teas.

 

Waterloo Tea

How I came across Waterloo Tea is a lovely story to share. Last year, my sister and her friends held a memorial charity fundraiser in the name of a very dear friend who was tragically killed in a car accident 10 years previously. Asked to help secure auction prizes for the event, I turned to twitter and my request was generously shared by others. That’s how it came to the attention of Kasim Ali, director of Waterloo Tea in Cardiff, Wales. Having never interacted with me online, let alone met in person, Kas generously donated some of her teas for the auction, knowing that there wouldn’t be any media coverage. She did it just to be nice. Having read Waterloo Tea’s website, I knew these teas were high quality, and of course, I wanted to bid on some of the auction items myself, and contribute to the fundraising total, so I bid on these teas … and won them! The memorial event raised £3579.57 for The Chicken Shed Theatre.

WaterlooTea-4114

Kas chose four Indian black teas, having secured Grand Reserve lots, which are the best available.

WaterlooTea-4118 WaterlooTea-4127

I’ve already enjoyed 2 of the packets in the selection but opened the Darjeeling Second Flush Makaibari Estate, Grand Reserve to include in this review. Dry, the leaves have an incredibly intense aroma of dried figs and a hint of tobacco or wood. It’s a really heady, intoxicating smell. What we call black tea here is known as hong cha or red tea in China, where it originated. When you see the beautiful red-orange colour of this freshly brewed tea, it’s obvious why. Once brewed, the fruit takes a back seat and the tea smells much more like a regular black tea. On the palate too, it’s a light, elegant black tea. (£8.50 / 100 grams)

The next tea I want to try from Waterloo Tea is the incredible sounding Yuzu Oolong, made by infusing Taiwanese high mountain alishan oolong with citrus peel. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 

Kavey Eats received review samples from some the suppliers above, along with others which I’ve chosen not to include, as they did not impress.

 

Earlier this year, Valrhona released what they’re calling the fourth chocolate (after dark, milk and white) and that is blond chocolate.

They’ve named it Dulcey, though I can’t tell you how that’s pronounced. At the London-based launch event, some Valrhona staff pronounced it with a soft “s” and others with a hard “ch“. “Dulsey” or “Dulchi“, take your pick.

Dulcey-1951

Although home cooks and dessert chefs have been caramelising white chocolate for many years, Valrhona seem to be taking credit for inventing it, and even trot out the unlikely story of it being an accidental discovery on the part of a Valrhona chocolatier who forgot some white chocolate in an oven for a few hours. Who knows for certain, but came over as pure marketing story-weaving!

Regardless of the true origins, it’s definitely a fascinating product.

The sweet, butterscotch fudge flavours are reminiscent of childhood confectionery Caramac, though a side by side comparison by a friend makes it abundantly clear that the two products are nothing alike. As we all agreed, Caramac tastes of sugar and cheap fat, with a slightly grainy texture. Dulcey is silky smooth, with a far richer, more complex and delicious flavour.

Dulcey-1957 Dulcey-1965 Dulcey-1967

You could eat it on its own, if you have a sweet tooth. It’ll probably appeal more to fans of white chocolate than dark, of course. However, where it comes into its own is as an ingredient for desserts. At the launch, we tried a range of dainty treats such as panna cottas, tarts and chocolate truffles, all showcasing the Dulcey and all very good.

Leaving the launch, we were given a small sample to take home. Going through ideas for recipes, I considered making Cookies of Dreams, chocolate ice cream or a chocolate fondue, all of which I think would work very well.

In the end, I decided to make some quick and simple hot chocolate.

DulceyHotChocolate-3736 DulceyHotChocolate-3738DulceyHotChocolate-3741

 

Caramelised White Hot Chocolate

Serves 2

Ingredients
40 grams of caramelised white chocolate
500 ml milk, whole, semi or skimmed as you prefer

Note: If you can’t readily find Valrhona Dulcey, you can caramelise white chocolate at home. Here’s a handy YouTube tutorial.

Method

  • Heat the milk to just below boiling point. I used a microwave, but you could also use a small saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Whilst the milk is heating, break the chocolate into small pieces.
  • Remove the milk from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted and completely combined.
  • Pour into mugs and serve.

Of course, this is the same way I make dark hot chocolate too, and you can ring the changes by making this with the many great flavoured chocolates available such as Green & Black’s Maya Gold, which works really well.

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha