Blue Pea Tea

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Blue Pea Tea

You know how it is when one day you’ve never heard of a certain thing and the next it is absolutely everywhere… suddenly it seems I cannot get away from blue pea tea.

Sometimes also known as butterfly pea, the blue pea is actually a flower, which is dried to be used not just in tea but also as a natural colouring for food. It is traditionally used to colour cakes in Peranakan cuisine, where its mild flavour is virtually undetectable.

Apparently, though, the blue pea flower contains antioxidants which are really beneficial for your skin, hair, eyesight and memory, so it is suddenly becoming popular.

In the space of a week I have been able to try it as a cold brew at a local street party, with rainbow additions at the Ramadan market, and served at an elegant Thai-style afternoon tea in Bangkok.

There’s nothing special about the flavour, but the colour is spectacular, and I am told that adding a splash of lemon juice to perk it up will turn it a delightful green.

If it really is so good for you, I shall choose this again if the opportunity arises.

In the meantime, the answer to that question you are dying to ask is no, it doesn’t…


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Lavender Tea

Would it have been unreasonable to hope this tea was actually lavender in colour?

Probably… although I was a bit disappointed to discover there was very little by way of lavender in the smell and taste, either.

The flower fields of Hokkaido in summer are as gorgeous and famous as those in Holland, with lavender in particular a major crop. Farm Tomita at Naka Furano is one of the biggest producers, and over the years have managed to turn their flowers into a range of fascinating products ranging from bath salts to candy and flavoured sodas.

It’s a while since I visited the actual farm, but they have a handy outlet at Sapporo’s New Chitose airport, where I snapped up a few new things to try. As tea goes, this is perfectly refreshing, but nothing out of the ordinary – you have to focus hard to detect a glimmer of lavender flavour. But it makes for an interesting souvenir and (especially since Hokkaido was knee deep in snow at the time) brings back happy memories of summer.


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Sweetcorn Tea

Another Hokkaido speciality, from the Tsuchikura company which is based in Sapporo, this corn tea looked like a suitably unusual item both to snap up as a souvenir and also mail easily to daughters who were not lucky enough to be out in the wilds of Japan.

A bit of background research revealed that corn tea is thought to have all manner of health-giving properties, from weight loss to blood sugar stabilisation. It is even said to be a powerful diuretic, so that no more than one cup a day is recommended… None of these things appeared to be mentioned on the back of the packet, however.

Having been appalled by the sweetcorn ice cream which is very popular up here, I was expecting the worst with this, but ended up being pleasantly surprised. The tea had a nice roasted smell and the sweetness of corn, whilst still retaining a distinctly ‘tea’ flavour. It reminded me very much of other (non green) Japanese teas like barley and roasted rice, which I enjoy once in a while.

I won’t be buying more any time soon, even if I do go back to Hokkaido, but this was fun to try.


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Dwaejigamja Tea Filters

Category : Food

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Dwaejigamja looks like it might be sunroot or earth apple, alternative names for Jerusalem artichoke, which is sweeter than you would expect from a tuber. In Korea it is a very popular vegetable which crops up in salads, as a pickle, and here – as tea.

None of which I knew at the time, I was just fascinated by the packaging. Each bag contains 6 mini filters packed with dried dwaejigamja, attached to the sort of screw caps you find on the large size of mineral water bottles.

The idea is you replace the original cap with one of these, leave it to infuse, then enjoy your special tea. I did try to find instructions in English online, without any success, so had to leave the bottle (upside down, to encourage infusion) until it looked like it might be ready to drink.

Jerusalem artichoke, incidentally, is supposed to be good for you because it has lots of antioxidants which fight free radicals, and is packed with minerals and electrolytes such as potassium, iron and copper. On the other hand, consuming too much can also apparently lead to digestive problems.

I did not drink enough of this to experience any untoward effects, as the flavour – whilst not unpleasant – was not quite nice enough to warrant finishing the glass. It reminded me a little of Japanese mugi-cha, which I have to be in the right mood for. Never mind, it was fun to try out and perhaps some of my Christmas visitors might like to give it a go.

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Yak Milk Tea

Category : Food

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Rumour has is that yak milk is slightly pink in colour, but having seen a great deal of it recently, including yak milk cheese, butter and yoghurt, I have to say I did not find this to be the case. But pink or not, yak milk is certainly distinctive, with a sweet-sour taste (and smell) that is unmistakeable.

Along with yak meat, this is a staple part of the Tibetan diet, especially out in the countryside where little else is available. The cheese is dried into hard cubes to preserve it, the butter is stirred into tea for its all-important calorie content, and it is a precious offering to the monasteries where it is used as lamp oil or moulded into intricate decorations.

How to bring this home to share the flavour with family and friends? There is yak milk candy, available in ‘chocolate’ buttons or made into tooth-destroyingly hard ‘cookies’. And there is tea.

If you order tea in a Tibetan tea house, it is likely to come with salt stirred in, but you can also buy sachets of 3-in-1, that is with powdered milk and sugar ready mixed with the tea. You just add boiling water and stir…

I take tea black, so anything with milk and sugar is really not my thing, but having choked down any number of cups out of politeness whilst travelling across Tibet, I did make an effort to appreciate this. But it comes out as a pale beige colour, reminding me of Horlicks, which is enough to put anyone off in the first place. I confess I was not able to drink this, but as I know someone who likes 3-in-1 very much, the rest of the box has gone to a very good home.

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Cheese Oat Milk Tea

Category : Food

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I am not sure what possessed me to buy this, except possibly that I had turned down the chance to try skewers of assorted fried bugs at lunchtime (I was in Chengdu) and felt I was letting down the Julietours side. Possibly those crispy scorpions would have been a better idea…

For a start, this is supposed to be the sort of thing you buy in a convenience store and consume on the spot using the hot water provided, but when I tried it at home later I needed a knife to get into the tub and extract the contents.

The cup turned out to contain a packet of powder, a sachet of condensed milk and a tub of damp oat grains. It all smelled awful and tasted bizarre, sort of sweet, cheesy and dusty all at once. If I can mix things up here, it tasted like the smell of milk which has boiled over.

I have no doubt that this is a popular and comforting high calorie meal substitute in China when the weather turns cold, but nothing would convince me to try it again.

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Omija (5 flavour) Tea

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This is something very Korean, a special tea which is a unique blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy. I first tried it in a traditional tea house in the Bukchon district of old wooden houses in Seoul. It came in a cup the size of a soup bowl, alongside a plate of some unusual but tasty cookies.

Once you get over the initial surprise of having all these flavours explode onto your taste buds at once, it is very nice indeed, quite apart from being supposedly good for headaches, hangovers and general malaise.

So when I saw this version in a store later, I had to snap it up, although I must confess that the interesting presentation was as big a draw as the flavour.

Koreans are good at ‘liquid teas’, which usually come in a jar and look more like runny jam with citrus peel than actual tea until you add water. This one was liquid with a lemon slice and some berries floating inside the pouch. All the instructions were in Korean but there were helpful pictures, a line marking how much water to add – either hot or cold, plus a handy straw.

There’s a ziplock style seal at the top of each pouch, but since this was already sticky on the outside I would not have liked to put it in my bag for consumption later. That aside, the tea itself was just as delicious as the proper version I’d had before. I hope I can find this again in one of the Korean groceries in Singapore.


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The World’s Most Expensive Tea?

Category : Food

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Singapore has no end of expatriate ‘ladies who lunch’, and therefore no end of fancy cafes and tea rooms happy to entertain them whilst lightening their wallets. Once in a while, as a special treat, I like to dip my toe into their rarefied waters…

This week I was astonished by the menu at TWG, a very upmarket local chain whose menu of tasting notes was as thick as September Vogue. Don’t expect immediate service here, because they need to give you at least 20 minutes to flip through the choices on offer.

There are literally hundreds of different blends, sourced from around the world, served in a myriad different ways, which makes deciding what to pick a problem. I’d suggest you start by looking at the prices…

Amongst such delights as Tea Mocktails (which include such items as sparkling white wine with pink flamingo tea), and Tea Milkshake (choose between tea ice cream or tea sorbet with that), are the likes of Weekend in Singapore tea, (embellished with tart red fruits, a fragrant hint of anise and notes of sweet caramel, ‘a tribute to the garden city’), and Singapore Surprise tea, (a twist on the café’s signature dessert of crème brulée with strawberries on a tea infused crust).

Most of those are a fairly reasonable – under the circumstances – S$16 or thereabouts.

But look more closely at the menu. You can also have a pot of Yellow Gold tea buds, each bud ‘lavished’ in 24 carat gold to give a metallic and floral aftertaste. According to the menu, this one was a favourite of Chinese Emperors, who, as this costs S$105 a pot, were presumably the only ones who could afford it.

The most expensive, however, is the Imperial Gyokuro tea, from the tea plantations of Asahiro. Apparently only 3 kilos of this tea exist in the world and it has never before been available outside Japan. It is grown under hand woven rice mats which somehow help the bright green leaves absorb precious minerals and concentrate its sweet flavour. A snip, at just under S$230 a pot.

And no, of course I didn’t! An S$11 pot of Kathmandu Hill blend was nice enough for me…


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Collagen Tea (and low-cal cupcakes)

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This little café was quite a find, with its Japanese ambiance and colourful treats to eat. We particularly liked the collagen tea, which has a bright turquoise layer of collagen jelly on the bottom, through which you drink your tea. OK, it is slightly odd, but in a country where tea regularly comes full of sago pearls and fruit ‘boba’ bubbles, it isn’t too much of a challenge.

The low calorie cupcakes were a bonus. Lady A Cupcakes actually offers nothing to eat but cupcakes, on the grounds that it if focuses on one thing, it will do a better job.

So the cake is light, either Madagascar vanilla or Belgian chocolate, sitting on a base of caramelised cookie for an interesting difference in texture. The low calorie frosting does not overwhelm the cake, unlike other brands I could mention, and is less sugary so you can actually taste the flavour.

As the menu says: ‘I am baked for the ladies, so I am always less sweet, has lower calories and I look really pretty too~ I know these are important to you.’

Our cupcake and collagen tea sets cost just S$4.90, which made this a tasty and very affordable treat.


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Dessert Tea

Category : Food

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This one is for everyone who ever enjoyed an ice cream float as a child, or who likes those lattes and mochas with a scoop which a few ‘gourmet’ coffee shops  offer.

Essentially, it is iced tea with ice cream on the top, and at Arteastiq in Singapore, there’s a whole section on the menu devoted to the various combinations.  For S$12 you can get such delights as the Lady Yang, which is oolong tea with lychee ice cream, or The Last Eunuch, which has pear (there’s a joke in there somewhere..)

It is all served most elegantly, with the tea in a glass pot ready to pour over the ice cream in its separate, ice cube filled, glass. There are even complimentary cookies on the side.

I am not crazy for iced tea, which I usually find way too sweet, so was glad a friend decided to order this and let me have a taste. It really wasn’t my thing, so I won’t be ordering it for myself any time soon, but it was clearly a hit with the local crowd so I expect to see it popping up all over the place shortly.


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