My ‘New’ Green Tea Book

Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers & Sweet & Savory Treats

A lovely woman who produces a food radio program telephoned me recently to set up an interview about my ‘new’ book on cooking with green tea. She caught me off guard because I don’t have a new book on cooking with green tea. Then I realized she was referring to a book that I wrote in 2006 titled: Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers and Sweet and Savory Treats ( Harvard Common Press, 2006).

We got it straightened out, had a laugh, and fortunately she still wanted to have the interview.

After this, I started to think about my book and the idea of cooking with tea. Back in 2006, cooking with tea or using tea as in ingredient in cooking and baking was an unfamiliar concept here in the US, and it did not resonate with most. Its not that it wasn’t a good idea – it was and still is a great idea – but only a few short years ago the conversation about tea was vastly different than it is today.

Back then, tea drinking had not yet reached the widespread popularity that it has now, and education about premium tea from traditional places of origin was still in its infancy. Spreading the word about the different classes of tea (green, white, yellow, oolong, black and Pu-erh) was challenging for those of us in the tea business as black tea was the most commonly drunk tea at that time, and the only tea that many people were familiar with.

Fortunately, my book sold well and is still in print –yea!- but I have come to realize that the subject of cooking with tea ( and my book ) was ahead of its time. For Green Tea I developed original recipes in these categories: hot and iced green teas, smoothies, green tea cocktails, savory dishes and sweet endings, and often when I would describe to someone back then what my book was about they would look at me as if I had holes in my head.

In fact, even in Taiwan, where I gave a presentation at an annual tea meeting to a room full of tea growers on the idea of cooking with tea, and where there are dishes that utilize oolong tea in the preparation, many there looked at me as if I had holes in my head, too.

But today, just five years later, the idea of cooking with tea, or using tea as a culinary ingredient, has caught on. Not like wildfire, but with enough traction to be included in various tea conversations and for others to pursue the topic.

Cynthia Gold, the Tea Sommelier at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, has co-authored a book with Lise Stern titled: Culinary Tea: More Than 150 Recipes Steeped in Tradition from Around the World ( Running Press, 2010). This delightful book explores the concept in depth, and provides much guidance for those looking to experiment with all classes of tea in their cooking.

Some restaurants, too, feature tea as an ingredient in various savory dishes and cocktails. Green tea in particular is showing up pretty regularly in sweets and desserts. But I fear such desserts will suffer from over-exposure and incompetent hands, and become culinary outcasts in the same vein as tiramisu, molten chocolate cake, and anything kiwi.

I am reprinting (with permission of my publisher) one of my favorite cocktail recipes from Green Tea: 50 Hot Drinks, Cool Quenchers and Sweet and Savory Treats.

Tropical Sky
( serves 2 )

  • 12 ice cubes
  • 3 ounces chilled green tea
  • 1 cup chilled pomegranate juice
  • 3 ounces gin
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto
  • Maraschino cherries, lemon wedges and orange wedges for garnish

1. Put 4 ice cubes, the green tea, pomegranate juice, gin, and amaretto into a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 1 minute.

2. Divide the remaining 8 ice cubes between 2 old-fashioned glasses. Make a skewer for each glass by threading 1 cherry, 1 lemon wedge, and 1 orange wedge onto a decorative cocktail pick. Strain the cocktail into the glasses and drape a fruit skewer across the top of each glass. Serve immediately.

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Treasures of the Qianlong Emperor

Students of Chinese art, culture, history and lovers of magnificent, exquisitely rendered objects should be aware of  a very impressive but fleeting exhibition currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a day lingering over this glorious exhibition ( and some of the rest of the museum as well ) and highly recommend it to anyone able to make the trip to Salem.

The exhibition is The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City and it is a first-hand look at “ninety objects of ceremony and leisure” – furnishings, screens and panels, murals, jades and cloisonne and other priceless possessions – that once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1796).

In advance of his retirement, the emperor commissioned the construction of a private compound and garden within the Forbidden City, complete with reception halls, study rooms and shrines for his personal enjoyment and relaxation.

The Qianlong Emperor was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world in his day, and he outfit his private rooms with objects made from the most precious materials by the best skilled artists and craftsmen. It is these personal objects of the Qianlong Emperor that are on exhibit at the PEM.  (I  hoped to see some imperial teawares, and found signage that suggested a tea bowl was meant to be included in one of the exhibits, there was no tea bowl to be seen. When I asked about this, I was told that the tea bowl never left China).

According to a press release from the PEM, the Qianlong Emperor was “a connoisseur, scholar and devout Buddhist. He created a luxurious garden compound to serve throughout his retirement as a secluded place of contemplation, repose and entertainment.”

Nancy Berlinger, curator of Chinese art at the PEM, is quoted as saying ” the treasures are from a part of the forbidden City that’s so different from the rest of the Forbidden City. These objects were made for a context that’s about being contemplative. It’s not about being big, official, national, a victorious ruler or emperor. It’s about being a scholar, and Confucian and a Buddhist.”

The majority of buildings in the Forbidden City ( some 179 acres houses 980 buildings ) have been shuttered since the last emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924 and have never been opened to or visited since by the public. The Qianlong Gardens ( also known as the Tranquility and Longevity Palace Garden ) is now part of a decade-long, multi-million dollar conservation initiative being undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and the Palace Museum in Bejing.

So, what better thing to do with such valuable objects than to pack them up and send them ’on the road’ and out of harms way, so to speak. Which is exactly why the treasures are making a tour of the USA before returning to their rightful place in the renovated buildings in the Qianlong Garden. (Just thinking about how these objects are moved, packed, insured and coddled before, during and after shipment is a process that I would love to see documented on film).

Not only is it a thrill to see workmanship such as this on the highest level of achievement, but I felt a tremendous amount of  awe viewing these masterpieces because they have never before been seen by ‘the general public’. 

In fact, except for a handful of Asian art experts, conservation workers, government officials and museum staff,  visitors in the USA who view these objects at the three chosen museums will be seeing these treasures for the first time, even before they have been  exhibited in China.

The decision to bring the story of the restoration of the Forbidden City and the Qianlong Emperor’s treasures to the American people first was made by the Chinese government and the Palace Museum in the spirit of cultural awareness, education and cooperation among  museums.

These objects will travel only to three museums in the USA ( PEM in Salem, the Met in NYC and the Milwaukee Art Museum ) before returning to China.

In recent years the PEM has also received much praise for one of their permanent exhibits – the Chinese house known as Yin Yu Tang. This is a wealthy merchants house in the Chinese vernacular style built in the early 1800′s in the rural village of Huang Cun in Anhui Province.

After nearly 200 years of continuous family living, the house was no longer lived in by any of the original family members. It was dis-assembled, brought to Salem, and carefully re-constructed on the museum grounds. One visits the old house, which is furnished as it might have been when people lived there, and an audio tour allows the voices of family members to escort visitors thru the rooms with stories and bits of family history.

There is nothing like this authentic Chinese house anywhere in the USA, and the juxtaposition of the simple life of the family who occupied Yin Tu Tang and the sublime treasures from the private quarters of the Qianlong Emperor makes a striking study in contrasts of individual status, living environments and material possessions.

The mission of a world-class museum is to expose visitors to a kalaidescope of wonders about culture, tradition, the history of people, places, wildlife and things on earth. The PEM should be applauded for the exemplary work that they have put into bringing these diverse and compelling aspects of China to its visitors.

The PEM website is worth a visit, also – there is much to see and learn. Visitors to the museum can also purchase advance tickets for viewing these two exhibits online.

The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City’, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, September 14- January 9 2011.  www.pem.org

The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook is Published !

Today is the day….our book is officially released for sale in bookstore and on online book vendors. We are so appreciative of the care and tendering that our publisher, Ten Speed Press, lavishes on our books. They really ‘get’ the importance of tea and are fully behind our efforts to spread tea knowledge with readers and tea enthusiasts. Autographed copies are available directly from us, either from our website or in the store. Enjoy !

Look for Our New Tea Book in 2010

We are thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of our new tea book: The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to the World’s Best Teas.  Our new book is a companion book to our tea ‘bible’ The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide, and it is also being published by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook is small in size but mighty in content. It covers topics that we left untouched in our previous book ( such as steeping, storage and aging tea ) and each compliments the other quite nicely information-wise.

Look for The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook to arrive in bookstores towards the end of March. Many bookstores are stocking fewer titles than they did in the past – if you wish to support your local bookstore, please be sure to let them know that you are interested in purchasing a copy.  At a modest price of $16.95, we hope that our book will be on every bookstore’s  ‘must have’  list for spring.

We hope that all of our tea customers, fans and readers had a wonderful Christmas filled with delicious new tea and stunning teawares.  We have many unique and special teas to introduce in the New Year, and look forward to presenting them to you.

Best wishes for a safe and Happy New Year !