Monday, 20 August 2012

Tea can be cool too

The recent surge in temperatures has got some people in London feeling sweaty, uncomfortable and trying to find ways to cool down.  Although we hate to admit it, it's not necessarily the weather for a boiling hot drink.  We've tweeted a few times recently about bubble tea and iced tea.  They're great ways to have a cool, refreshing drink at the same time as getting your daily dose of tea.

Bubble tea appeared a few years ago in London.  For a while, it was confined to specialised restaurants, principally in Chinatown.  Recently, however, bubble tea shops have been springing up, such as Chaboba in Camden, and Bubbleology which has several locations around the capital.  Bubble tea comes in various flavours, usually sweetened black or green teas with milk, or plain fruit teas.  All of them have balls of tapioca at the bottom, and come with a straw large enough to suck these up.  The first time you have it, it's a surprising novelty when you suck up some tapioca, and slightly disconcerting that there's something floating around at the bottom of your tea.  Once you get over that, though, you'll be able to decide if bubble tea is the drink for you.  It's a bit like marmite in the way that it splits people.  It's definitely worth a try, although if you don't like tapioca, you're probably not going to like this ("Bleurgh" - Mo).

Iced tea, by contrast, is well established but not very popular in the UK.   However, it's widely drunk throughout Europe, Asia and especially in the US, where it makes up roughly 85% of all tea consumed there.  It's usually heavily sweetened and flavoured, which may account for its lack of popularity in this country.  It's slowly growing in popularity though, and if you want to try some unsweetened good quality iced tea, pop into one of Yumchaa's shops where you can try a peach flavoured green tea, and a matcha mixed with mango puree.  You can also find a brand called Adagio Teas in some shops, who do unsweetened, unflavoured iced tea, that comes in Oolong and White tea among others, and is delicious.  You can also get home delivery if you shop on their website.

So whether you like it with bubbles in or over ice, you can beat the heat and keep drinking your favourite cuppa.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Clotted Cream

Adding the word 'clotted' to a foodstuff doesn't automatically make it sound tastier.  You probably wouldn't want to eat clotted ham for instance.  Clotted cream, however, has risen above its name and become known across the world, principally in combination with scones and jam.  .

The origins of clotted cream are a bit hazy.  It may have been introduced to Cornwall by Phoenician traders looking for tin, or it may have simply originated from farmers in the South West looking for a way to reduce the waste products from their milk.  Orignally known as Clouted Cream, there are mentions of it as far back as 1300, and in 1579 it gets into Spenser's The Shepeardes Calendar

                                     "Ne would she scorn the simple shepherd swain,
                                     For she would call him often heam,
                                     And give him curds and clouted cream."

Lucky old shepherd!

It is of course, best known as part of a cream tea.  Anyone unfamiliar with this concept, please take note, the cream goes on the scones, not in the tea (yes, it does happen).  It is also a main part of an afternoon tea. If someone tries to fob you off with whipped cream you should complain loudly.

Clotted cream isn't solely the preserve of scones and jam though (pun intended).  In the South West, it's used to make fudge, chocolates, toffee, rice pudding and ice cream.  You can go into an ice cream parlour and get some ice cream made with clotted cream, and have it topped off with some clotted cream fudge and a big dollop of clotted cream.  It also goes well with strawberries, crumble, Christmas pudding, treacle tart, cheesecake, pretty much any dessert really.  Rodda's, makers of clotted cream have some savoury suggestions for it too, such as adding a spoonful to risotto, or garlic mushrooms.  Although it's not the healthiest food, a 100g tub of Clotted cream has the same amount of calories as a 200g cheeseburger, so if you're  feeling a little peckish, why not just grab a spoon and dig in.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - Courthouse Doubletree by Hilton, Soho

Courthouse Doubletree by Hilton - Afternoon tea £35 for two with a voucher, normally £35 each

We three Tealadies are never one to pass up a bargain, especially when it involves tea and cake, so you won't be surprised to learn that when a Living Social voucher for half-price afternoon tea came along we jumped at the opportunity.

As Living Social afficionados, (nowadays, isn't everyone?), we're aware that sometimes what is on the voucher isn't exactly what you get, so we took our purchase with a pinch of salt.

We arrived at the Courthouse Doubletree by Hilton, an interesting hotel in central London, which used to be Great Marlborough St. Magistrate's Court . Don't miss a visit to the bar to see where the cells were! The afternoon tea itself was in the Carnaby, a pleasant brasserie on the ground floor with interesting photos of famous people being brought for trial at the old courthouse.  We were led to a table for four as today we had Dave, an honorary Tealady and designated photographer, accompanying us.

On arrival we were presented with a glass of bubbly, which had been poured elsewhere and brought to the table. The voucher promised champagne but our considered opinion was that it was more likely prosecco. Don't misunderstand - we like prosecco - but felt a little peeved that we hadn't been given what was promised.

The teas on selection were a tad disappointing. Considering the menu boasted 'a wide selection', there were only nine in total, two of which were herbal and one decaffeinated.  After the 94 of Camellia, this seemed very meagre indeed.  All the teas on the menu were from the London Tea Company.  Caroline chose the White tea with Apricot and Elderflower, Mo had the English Breakfast and Charlotte had the Earl Grey.  The quality was a bit mixed, as the English Breakfast was excellent but the Earl Grey barely tasted of Bergamot, even with the two tea bags that had been put in the pot. We did get more hot water when we asked and would have been given refills of tea if necessary, so they certainly weren't skimping on their quantities which we definitely appreciated. Overall we gave them 18 out of 30.

The sandwiches were disappointing - only two, a smoked salmon with dill and beetroot horseradish cream,  and a mozzarella, tomato and basil. Whilst the taste was nice, the lack of quantity and choice left us wanting more. The bread too tasted and looked like standard sliced white and brown from the supermarket rather than anything more appetising. Strangely, the sandwiches also came with a "crispy lavash", a crispy finger of flatbread which features in Armenian and Persian cuisine. Silk, the restaurant at the hotel has an Asian fusion menu which is maybe why this was included in the afternoon tea but since the tea itself wasn't themed we all felt this was a little out of place. We gave them 9 out of 30.

The scones occupied a plate of their own and there was a plain and fruit scone each with generous amounts of jam and clotted cream (no matter which you decide to put on first!) They were a little too stodgy for our tastes though and weren't warm. Overall they scored a reasonable 18 1/2 out of 30, the quantity pulling up the score where the quality was letting it down.

 The cakes are where we really felt this afternoon tea was let down. On the face of it, there was a wide selection of miniature cakes, prettily displayed on the bottom layer of the cake stand. For each person there was a strawberry tart, shortbread, pound cake, a pistachio pastry (which contained no pastry), and a chocolate-dipped financier. However, all the offerings were similar in their relative plainness and starchiness. The shortbread was overdone, the pound cake dry, the financier dense and the pistachio cake bland. The strawberry tart came out on top for us but still it looked like something that had been bought in rather than made on site. Overall the cakes scored 17 out of 30, most of which is the quantity and selection of cakes skewing the result, in spite of the poor quality.

The atmosphere at the Carnaby was pleasant, and while we weren't rushed through our tea, we equally didn't feel inclined to linger, and were out in under 90 minutes. The service was inconsistent, from a very nice waiter who sadly seemed unclear as to what was going on, to a grumpy sour-faced waitress who was very difficult to hail.

As far as value for money goes, with the two-for-one offer we got, we thought it was okay though not great and we certainly would have felt hard done by if we had paid full price.

In conclusion: an interesting venue but the afternoon tea failed to live up to the surroundings.

Pros                                                                                                  Cons
Good Central London location                                    Poor selection of sandwiches
Interesting building                                                           Disappointing  cakes
Good amounts of tea and cake                                     Limited value for money


4 out of 10


Friday, 3 August 2012

Team #Jamfirst or Team #Creamfirst? That is the question.

So much potential...would you #Jamfirst or #Creamfirst?

Now we three Afternoon Tea Ladies have known each other a long time and have long since learned to agree to disagree on this issue. However that doesn’t stop us discussing it every time we meet up to enjoy tea and scones i.e. a lot.
I am a staunch member of Team #Jamfirst whereas the other two are traitorous proponents of Team #Creamfirst.

There has been dispute for centuries over whether the traditional cream tea belongs more rightly to Devon or to Cornwall. Now, Charlotte, a proud Cornish lass and myself, the daughter of a Devonian, are generally happy to accept an equal claim for both counties.
There is also no argument that the cream in question should be clotted cream. None of your whipped cream nonsense, let alone any kind of travesty from a can. Bleurgh.

However the Jam/Cream question is a thornier issue. According to that fount of all knowledge - The Internet - #Jamfirst is the Cornish tradition and #Creamfirst the Devonian. This causes us no little consternation as Charlotte is set firmly in Team #Creamfirst and I’m heading up Team #Jamfirst, so any patriotic county-related arguments we could have are scuppered right at the start.

Mo, with no ties to either county, has decided to come down in the middle, supporting my Devonian roots and siding with Charlotte's preference to come down on the side of Team #Creamfirst. Of course she may have genuine reasons behind her choice but I shall choose to ignore that misguided folly and believe that her choice is purely diplomatic.

So here, in short, are the arguments for both sides.

Team #Creamfirst argues that the clotted cream is acting as a butter substitute in the construction of the finished scone. With its butter-like spreading texture it creates a thick creamy base onto which a blob of jam can be spooned to round off the whole arrangement. They argue that this eliminates a dairy overload of butter and cream and finally that the aesthetics of this particular combo trumps any other.

A pretty set of arguments indeed. However they are, as I'm sure you will agree, completely wrong.

Those of us in Team #Jamfirst, (who are, as of the time of writing, winning the poll) know the truth.
Whether you go for a thin layer of butter first or spread the jam straight onto the warm surface of a freshly-cut scone, you’re onto a winner. The jam will spread beautifully in a way it simply cannot do on top of a layer of cream. The only way #Creamfirst works is to have a dollop of jam in the middle, when surely a thick even layer of jam is superior.

Lastly, cream, especially extra thick clotted cream, is meant to crown any dish, and with your jam evenly spread you can now top your scone with as much clotted cream as you can manage, in gorgeous gloopy mounds. It’s Team #Jamfirst all the way!

Despite our different scone preferences, the Afternoon Tea Ladies are off again this weekend to review another afternoon tea in Central London. Make sure to check Twitter @PMTeaLadies on Sunday for details!

Posted by Caroline