Tea, lovely tea: Reviews of ESP Emporium flavored teas

I’ve never been much of a fan of flavored teas, I like black tea enough as it is.  I’ll make an exception for Earl Grey, but that’s about it.   I didn’t even begin tasting flavored teas until we started going, more or less regularly, to the Golden Tea Garden in Hayward.  The owner is a huge flavored tea aficionado, and her menu of teas reaches into the dozens, if not hundreds.  Every time she gives you a taste of something new and features special flavors.  I still always order black tea, but the girls and whoever else comes with me freely explore the flavors.

Last week, as I was considering Christmas presents for the kids, I remembered how much Mika loves caramel tea and decided to buy her some. Browsing through Amazon.com, I was amazed to find out just how expensive caramel tea was!  Fortunately, I eventually came about ESP Emporium teas.  ESP Emporium is an online tea specialty store selling all sorts of exotic, flavored and regular teas, as well as tea making/drinking equipment.  Basically, they seem like a competitor to Teavana.  Fortunately, they price the items they sell through Amazon.com much more reasonably.   More importantly, they have some amazing, if very fleeting, sales on items – I’m not sure if they are overstock or lower quality (the photos of what I got do not always match the ones on ESP’s website) -, but the prices are definitely attractive.  I now make it a point to add in whatever ESP Emporium is on sale at a good price whenever I’m making a qualifying Amazon purchase.

ESP Emporium sells teas either in canisters or in bags.  If you buy them at Amazon.com, it’s very clear which you are buying.  It’s much less clear on their website – I assume they all come in bags, but don’t really know.  They both seal very well, but the canisters are difficult to open – so if you have arthritis, you may want to order the bags instead. That said, I prefer them in canisters.

Also, please note the brewing time for each tea on the bag/container.  Rooibos and fruit teas require longer times than regular black teas.

I’ve been using my Keurig machine to brew the tea, as it’s very easy.  You can usually get at least 3 10-oz mugs of brewed tea from each filled canister.  But fill the canister, otherwise you’ll end up with a very weak tea.

Also to note, I only recently realized that Chinese tea comes from China (duh!).  I mean, I knew it, but Chinese tea has been such a commodity for centuries that it did not occur to me that it might suffer from the same problems of soil contamination that every other food from China does.  Unfortunately, studies show that it does.  It contains high level of lead, though fortunately the lead stay with the leaf and doesn’t make it into the tea itself.  Still, I think I’ll be cautious and stop buying Chinese tea in the future. I’m also going to be noting where teas are made, whenever I can find the information.

These are the teas I’ve tried:

Fruit Teas

IMG_20150301_130632

Goldrush Bergamot/Lemon

Goldrush Bergamot Lemon Premium White Green Tea Blend has green & white tea, white rose buds (I didn’t get any in the photo, but they’re there), yogurt granules and natural bergaot and lemon flavors.  This is a pretty weakly flavored tea, not too citrusy, but enjoyable with quite a bit of sugar.

Piña Colada (my photo)

Piña Colada tea

Pina Colada Rooibos Tea Blend is a mixture of Rooibos tea with pineapple cubes, coconut shreds and flavoring.

I also really liked this light, fruity tea.  It didn’t remind me of piña colada as much as it did of candy in general.  But it was light, and easy to drink. Again, I felt it needed sugar and did best without milk.

Sir Stuart tea

Sir Stuart tea

Sir Stuart is a blend of black and green teas with “ginger pieces, fennel, cardamom seed, flavoring, rose petals, cornflower blossoms”.

This is a really nice tea.  It is very balanced, with a grown up orangy flavor, a little bitter and a little bit spicy at time.  I always drink my teas with sugar, and I felt this one really needed it for the full flavor to burst through.   This is often my to-go tea when I don’t know what else to drink.

Chocolate Teas

Chocolate/Cream/ Truffles Black Tea Blend

Chocolate/Cream/ Truffles Black Tea Blend

Chocolate/Cream/ Truffles Black Tea Blend is a mixture of black tea with “broken cocoa bits, coconut shreds, chocolate chips” and “flavoring”.

I got a bag of this one and the smell when you open it is unbelievable.  The chocolate and coconut really come through and work well together, so that the end product is really neither.  It’s very tasty though, but I do thing it needs both milk and sugar for the true flavors to shine – otherwise I found the tea sort of weak.

Chocolate Sun

Chocolate Sun

Chocolate Sun

This is a Sencha green tea from China and includes cocoa peel, orange peel, cocoa pieces and other flavoring.

I made this in my Keurig and I found it to be very weak.  Of course, the Keurig doesn’t give it the 2-3 minutes seeping time this tea needs, but yet it does well with other teas that require longer seeping times.  I will try it again using a tea kettle and report back.

Caramel Teas

Caramel tea (my photo)

Caramel tea

Caramel Black Tea Blend is black tea with caramel pieces and flavoring.  It retails for $11.50 for 100g. I paid $3.

I originally came across ESP Emporium while looking for caramel tea, so I was very disappointed at how weak this tea is, both in terms of caramel flavor and flavor altogether. This was the case both through a regular brew and in the Keurig.

Maple Taffy

 Maple Taffy Black Blend

This black tea has cinnamon pieces, dehydrated maple syrup, cinnamon rods, popcorn, white cornflower blossoms and flavoring.

I have to confess that I just loved that this tea came with popcorn.  I don’t know if it added anything to the flavor, but just how cool is it to make popcorn tea?  The tea, meanwhile was very good.  It had a nice old-fashion caramel flavor and was definitely better than the caramel tea.

Flower Teas

teagarden

Flower Garden Fruit Tea Blend

Flower Garden Fruit Tea Blend is a mixture of pieces of dried sour apples and pears,  pink rosebuds,  freeze-dried strawberry and raspberry pieces, blackberry leaves, cornflower blossoms, marigold blossoms, rose petals, Roman chamomile and flavoring.

This tea is just beautiful, pretty much just a combination of flower bulbs. And it tastes like flowers too. If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s mostly like a rose hip tea.  Definitely needs sugar to bring up the flavors, though.

Rooibos Teas

Also see Piña Colada tea above

Creamsicle Tea

Creamsicle Tea

Creamsicle Rooibos Tea has rooibos tea, flavoring, orange peel and freeze-dried yogurt pieces.  I guess I was expecting this to taste like an orange creamsicle, but it tasted like a very good, very balanced cup of tea with milk.  It was really nice, and definitely something to keep in the pantry for when you want just a classic tea with milk, but have no milk around.

Tiramisu/Mascarpone Rooibos Tea

Tiramisu/Mascarpone Rooibos Tea

Tiramisu/Mascarpone Rooibos Tea adds chocolate chips, brittle pieces, caramel pieces, freeze-dried yogurt pieces, roasted coffee beans, Roman chamomile and flavoring to the rooibos tea.

I’m not sure I can see all those ingredients in the tea, and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t actually taste like either Tiramisu or Mascarpone or a combination of either.  It lacks the sour element of both, other than perhaps as an aftertaste.  While I can’t quite describe the flavor of this tea – beyond being a well balanced rooibos – it is very pleasant, with or without milk.

 Ginger/Pepper/Orange tea

Ginger/Pepper/Orange tea

Ginger/Pepper/Orange Rooibos Tea has almond slivers pistachios, orange peels, coriander, pink peppercorns and flavoring added to the rooibos tea.

This is pretty much a generic rooibos tea.  It’s good if you like rooibos tea, which I do, but I think the added ingredients substract from each other rather than add, and what you are left with is pretty generic.

 

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Best Banana Bread recipe

They weren’t kidding when they said this was the best banana bread recipe. It’s absolutely delicious, specially right out of the oven.  Though I couldn’t tell you how it’d be cold as none of it survived to that stage.

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F

Grease a loaf pan

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a medium-size bowl. Set aside

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Add the eggs and the bananas and mix well.  Add the sifted flour and mix well.  Add the vanilla extract and mix again until combined.  Pour into the prepared loaf pan and cook for 1 hour. Test with a fork to make sure it’s dry inside.

Adapted from a recipe at Food.com

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Limeade Recipe

This recipe is for “Brazilian lemonade”, but it tastes just like the lemonade I used to drink in Egypt over two decades ago.  It’s delicious and refreshing, but it does require a blender and a strainer.  The original recipe asks for 1/2 cup of sugar, but I felt it was a little too sweet. Next time I’ll make it with 1/3 cup.

 

  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. condensed milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 ice cubes + more for serving

Wash the limes, cut and discard both ends, and then cut them into 8 segments each.  Put limes, sugar, condensed milk, water and 3 ice cubes in a blender.  Blend until the ice has disintegrated.  Strain and serve over ice.

Adapted from Jumala’s recipe at AllRecipes.com

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Fast & Delicious Bread Machine White Bread

This was a very easy and very quick recipe.  The taste is outstanding.  The bread is not as firm as others, but it’s yummy, specially hot.  And it doesn’t require special ingredients!

  • 9 oz hot water
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
 Put all ingredients in the bread machine basket in the order above.  Use the express baking setting.
From Woodsy Girl’s recipe at Just a Pinch recipes

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Gabonese & Greek Menus Up

No, I have not forgotten my international food project, though I always progress much slower than I want to.  I’ve cooked dishes from a 133 cuisines so far, and I’m still only a little into the “G”.  Still, I have now finished two more “G” cuisines.

My Gabonese menu features recipe for fish in peanut sauce, chicken in palmnut sauce and a great recipe for baked bananas.

My Greek entry has recipes for pastitsio, chicken, beef stew and a custard pie.

One of the reasons for my slow advance in the Gs is that even as I go ahead with this project, I discover cuisines I have ignored from earlier in the alphabet.  A few months ago, I bought a great cookbook, Copeland Mark’s Sephardic Cooking, at a library sale and now I have a plethora of cuisines from the Jewish diaspora to explore.  I may skip those that are too close to the host cuisine for notice, but some of these Jewish cuisines do represent the merging of multiple traditions and they merit a real exploration.  I’m currently working on dishes from the Baghdadi Jewish community in Calcutta and the Bene Israel in Bombay.

 

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Exotic Drinks Review: Verka Mango Lassi, Coco Passion Fruit Drink &

lassiMy last visit to Santos Spice market ended with us buying several “exotic” drinks to try.  My oldest daughter loves trying new things, and while these weren’t cheap, they turned out to be very good.

My daughter loves mango lassis, and Verka Mango Lassi is pretty good.  It actually tasted more like a mango yogurt drink, though it doesn’t have any yogurt. The ingredients are milk, mango pure, sugar, cream and water. It comes in a 1 pint bottle.  It’s made in the USA.

passionfruitMika was excited t try Coco Passion Fruit Drink because she’d never had passion fruit or passion fruit juice before.  The drink, actually bottled in Thailand, is made of water, sugar, passion fruit juice, citric acid, artificial flavor, and gellam gum – so it’s not as pure as the lassi.  Still, it was very tasty.  Indeed, it tasted very much like guava juice, though it was thicker than the guava  juice we usually get.

lychee1We’ve never had lychee juice before, and T.A.S. Lychee Drink was sort of a revelation. It has the same flavor profile as guava juice but it’s sweeter, if you can imagine that, with a subtle floral/rose-like flavor.  We liked it, though I personally would have preferred it being less sweet.  Mika thought it was refreshing. I’m thinking that I should explore lychees more.  It seems like a sophisticated fruit that could enhance a multi-course menu.   The drink comes in a 10.5 oz can and it’s also made in Thailand. The ingredients are water, lychee juice, sugar and citric acid.

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Foster Farm Recall Throws Light on Private Brands that Use Their Chickens

foster-farmsFoster Farms is the most ubiquitous brand of fresh(ish?) chicken in California. Go to a supermarket and your chicken choices tend to be Foster Farms, the store’s brand or some organic chicken brand you don’t know much about.  As it turns out, many of those privately branded chickens also come from Foster Farms. This came to light this week when Foster Farms issued a recall for chicken that had been found to have salmonella.  That chicken was sold in March, so it’s unlikely anyone has any left in their freezers.

The private brands that are really Foster Farms chicken  (but often sold at lower prices) are:

  • FoodMaxx (parts)
  • Kroger (friers & parts)
  • Safeway Eating Right (boneless chicken breasts & thighs)
  • Safeway Farms (chicken parts)
  • Savemart (drumsticks & thighs)
  • Sunland
  • Val Best

 

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Acqua e Farina – Restaurant Review – Hayward

I walked past Acqua e Farina several times, on my way to and from my favorite tea house, The Golden Tea Garden,  before I noticed its existence.  From the outside, the restaurant looked simple and inviting, like an old world, hole-in-the-wall sort of place.   I put it on the back of my mind as a place to try some day, and from there I retrieved it last April, when I was looking for a place to celebrate my anniversary, with both my husband and children.  We had a great experience then, which I repeated last night with a group of friends.

As we discovered once we actually went into Acqua e Farina, this little restaurant occupies the space which was once the home of Rue de Main.  The dining room is a little strange, with several smallish eating areas.  The largest one is decorated with wall paintings of  Italian village storefronts, so you can easily pretend that you are eating al fresco in a piazza.  It’s quite nice.

The menu is filled with classic Italian and Italian-American dishes.  The pasta ones are nicely priced in the low-to-mid teens with meat and fish dishes in the high teens.  A porterhouse steak tops the price list at $30.

We started by sharing the prosciutto ($8) and the polenta ($7).  The prosciutto, which came wrapping thick slices of melon, was good, though this is not a favorite dish of mine.  The polenta, however, was outstanding.  The baked slices are served with mushrooms in a Madeira sauce that is just out of this world.  I’d had it in my previous visit, and it was just as good this time.  Don’t miss it.

For my main dish, I had the gnocchi della casa ($14), which came with a creamy tomato sauce.  The gnocchi just melted in my mouth, and the sauce was quite pleasant.  Like most of the entrees at Acqua e Farina, this wouldn’t win any culinary awards, but it was solid.  My previous visit I’d had the spinach ravioli in meat sauce ($14), and I had enjoyed them, but not as much as the gnocchi.  This time, my friend Katrina had the ravioli but in a pesto sauce, which she enjoyed very much.  At a previous visit, one of my daughters had the lasagne di carne ($14.5), which she also liked.  Again, no culinary awards, but good, simple Italian food.

Acqua e Farina may do even better with its non-pasta dishes.  Eddie found her salmone alla griglia, salmon grilled and served with a garlic, basil and fresh tomato white wine sauce ($19.5) to be the best salmon she’d had in a while. Parker, meanwhile, was very pleased with her melanzane del giorno ($12.5), eggplant in a tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella.  She found it a big heavy on the cheese for her taste, but thought it was very good.

The desserts may be Acqua e Farina’s weak point.  My ricotta cheesecake ($6) was light but unexciting, and while I didn’t try Eddie’s lemon sorbet ($4), I did notice she only ate half of her dish.  I can’t remember what I thought of the tartufo di cioccolato ($5.5), chocolate ice cream with hazelnuts, which I had in my first visit, which means it wasn’t particularly memorable.

Service was outstanding both times. The waiters were attentive and friendly, though this time they failed a bit in the replenishing drinks part.  The meal after tax and tip came to about $133.

In all, Acqua e Farina is a solid restaurant for when you want a nice night out at a moderate price.

Acqua e Farina
22622 Main Street
Hayward, CA
510.888.1568
http://acqua-e-farina.com/
Lunch: M-Sa 11 AM – 2:30 PM
Dinner: Su-Th 4-9 PM, F-Sa 4-10 PM

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Jasmine Thai Cuisine – Restaurant Review – Winnetka, CA

What is it with LA Thai restaurants? Why is it that seemingly every  strip-mall hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant serves spectacular cuisine, while many Thai restaurants in the Bay Area struggle to rise above mediocrity?  Whatever it is in the southern California area that inspires Thai cooks, it’s alive and kicking at Jasmine Thai Cuisine.  We went there for dinner last Saturday night (June 2014), and had a simply delicious meal.

Jasmine Thai is a 2-restaurant chain in the west San Fernando Valley.  We visited the Winnetka branch because it got better slightly better Yelp reviews.  The restaurant is cute and well decorated, but it can’t quite escape its strip-mall architecture.  Fortunately, the prices match the casual surroundings with most entrees priced at a downright cheap (at least by Bay Area standards) $8.

jasminesatay

We started by sharing an order of beef satay ($8).  The order came with six sticks, which was great as there were three of us.  The beef was very nicely marinated, and had a very strong flavor.  The peanut sauce was standard, which is nothing to complain about.  The dish was beautifully presented in a plate that came with a small iron heater of some kind with a pretty significant flame. I’m not sure if it was there just for decoration, but we did enjoy putting our meat in the flame.  I hadn’t seen this before, and enjoyed it. I know my girls would have loved it.

Cashew Nut Chicken

Cashew Nut Chicken

We followed this with the cashew nut chicken ($8), panang curry with beef ($8) and curry duck ($11).  The cashew nut chicken was fine, though perhaps not as interesting as one might have liked.  Kathy did like the sauce quite a bit, though.  The two curries, however, were outstanding.  the panang was perfect, flavorful, deep, complex, and yet very much a panang curry. The sliced beef had probably been sauteed separately and then added to it, so it wasn’t the star of the dish, but it was good enough. It was the sauce, however, what really shined.

Panang Beef

Panang Beef

The duck curry was similar, albeit a bit fruitier and sweeter, probably from the pineapple chunks it came with.  It was also delicious.  The duck, a hard meat to get right, was well cooked, not too fatty (but it’s duck), and went very well with the sauce.   Both curries are noted in the menu as being spicy.  We asked for them as mild as possible, and our tongues still burned a little bit.

Duck Curry

Duck Curry

The portions were all quite generous. We had leftover of both curries to bring home (which my husband got to enjoy fully).  Where they did skimp was in the rice ($1.50 per person).  We probably could have used more at the table and had none to take home. Next time, I’ll order an extra portion.

Both my dad and I had strawberry smoothies ($3.25) with our dinner, and they were OK. They basically tasted like strawberry daiquiris without the rum. I don’t think I’d order them again.

Despite how good the food was, there are a few minuses to Jasmine.  First, the menu doesn’t include some Thai favorites like pra ram chicken and massaman beef.  Second, they don’t serve alcohol – not even beers to wash down the spice.  Finally, the service could have been more attentive.  We were done for a while before anyone noticed we needed the bill.  The dinner for three came to close to $60 after tax and tip.

Jasmine Thai Cuisine
20156 Roscoe Blvd.
Winnetka, CA
(818) 718-7000
http://www.jasminethaicuisinegroup.com/
M-Su 11am – 10:30pm

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Academy Cafe @ the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco – Review

Last Spring break I took the girls to the California Academy of Sciences, using a couple of the free tickets the San Leandro library so helpfully provides for its members.  I hadn’t been to the Academy in years, since it was at its temporary space in downtown San Francisco.  At that time it had a small but actually pretty good cafe.  Alas, it’s now become much larger and the quality of food seems to have downgraded.

The Academy Cafe is basically a cafeteria with about four different stations. Make sure you identify on which are the items you want to avoid unnecessary time in line.  The prices are high, specially for drinks/deserts, but that’s to be expected.

My youngest daughter had the butter pasta. It was fine. The portion wasn’t too big for $7, but enough for a 9 yo.  My oldest daughter had the chicken & chips ($12).  She had to wait for the chicken, and then it was very, very dry.  I would not recommend this dish.  It was a generous portion, however.

I didn’t have lunch myself, but shared a very underwhelming bread pudding ($4, I think) with the girls.

They don’t have regular sodas, the Izze sodas they do have were good, but very expensive.

The Academy also has a full-fledged restaurant, the Moss Cafe. Prices are higher, in the high-teens/low twenties for entrees.

Academy Cafe
California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
http://themossroom.com/

 

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