May 23, 2011

Tea Cuisine on the Horizon

Yilang Tea Lodge's garden

Yilang Tea Lodge's side garden
A report on the new trend of tea cuisine reminds me of a 2006 trip to Taiwan's Yilang tea plantations.  The road to the tea farmer's lodge took quite a few hair-raising serpentine turns on a narrow mountain road.  Another highlight of the trip was a rustic 10-course dinner prepared by the farmer family in a patio kitchen with free range chicken, mountain fresh field greens and mushrooms. Perhaps it was the most refreshing and tasty meal experience ever for all the diners around the table.  One surprise after another, the big bowl of tea-infused soup or stir-fried vegetable with tea leaves were greeted by incessant oohs and aahs!

On the way to the tea lodge
As a cooking ingredient, wine is a common staple for many cuisines.  Tea, or tea leaves, however, is seldom used and any recipe including it might appeal to but a few adventurous cooks.  Nevertheless, there are two Chinese dishes which are worth the effort to try (at least for cosmopolitan gourmets) due to the unique use of tea.  One is "smoked tea duck", a banquet dish prized for the golden brown color and subtle smoked tea flavor imparted to the duck skin and meat.  The second one is "Lung Jing shrimp": Lung Jing the delicate, green tea sprouts from West Lake and pearly pink shrimp velvety but slightly crunchy to the bite.  In my personal opinion, both are culinary masterpieces with exquisite combination of color, texture, aroma and taste. 

For tea's parallel to coffee's use in desserts, Japanese style "green tea cheesecake" has quite a following in Asian bakeries because of its beautiful color and refined texture.  Also, green tea ice cream has become a popular item for its intricate tea flavor.

Now I am looking forward to add more memorable tea dishes to my list if the "tea cuisine" trend actually takes off!

May 15, 2011

The History of American Tea Gardens

Camellia bush in a misty morning (Descanso Gardens, Oct 2007)

Camellia collection in the Elezabethan Gardens (Nov. 2010)

Most of readers, I believe, would be hard-pressed to name a tea plantation in America except Lipton's Charleston Tea Plantation .  For me, the closest connection to American Tea Gardens would be the two camellia gardens I have visited--Descanso Gardens in Glendale (about 20 minutes drive east of LA) and Elizabethan Gardens  near Outer Banks, NC,  plus the "pride and joy" bush in a protected spot of my backyard!  From my experience, camellia plant is similar in temperament as my other favorite plant: gardenia.  Once the combination of right weather, location and soil are provided, it would proliferate without much extra attention. 

Few years ago, I dreamed of making my cup of tea from a tea plant in my own yard and had thus ordered various frost-free camellia plants from Camellia Forest Nursery .  Somehow none of the 20 plants survived after 2 years of struggle.

However, a recent article in the Word Tea News about The History of American Tea Gardens revived my hope about fresh American teas in the making from Alabama, Hawaii , SC, Washington, Oregon and Pacific NW areas.  If successful, a tea plantation tour similar to the winery tour would be my next travel pursuit!