It was the combination of sugar and caffeinated tea that gave the working poor of the 19th Century England they’re afternoon boost. Add to that some simple food, and it fortified those who had a more physically demanding occupation than anyone should today.
Afternoon tea was not always as dull as necessity dictated. On the other side of town, Afternoon Tea was served to the aristocracy in a manner that defined elegant decadence. The selection of foods to serve with tea has improved over the years, and so has the tea.
Today more and more people are drinking loose-leaf tea for the rich, clean flavours and intricate nuances it offers. Like wine, tea offers a multifaceted complexity and flavours that change with time, although you won’t find them in a tea bag.
For brewing the best loose-leaf tea, place about two and a half teaspoons of tea in an infuser. Place it in an empty teapot and pour hot water over it (175F, never boiling). Let the tea steep for two to three minutes depending on your liking. Any longer and it may be bitter and tannic. Now remove the infuser and save it for your next pot of tea.
You can steep the same tea leaves up to four or five times, which makes loose-leaf tea not so expensive after all. Just make sure the infuser has enough room for the tea leaves to swim and swell as they brew. The flavour of tea changes with infusions, the first pot will be slightly different from the second (which is the best in my opinion) and third, and so on.
At Taylor’s Tea Room in Dundas, they offer more than 40 different blended and varietal loose-leaf teas from white to green and loads of black. When you order tea, it not only comes with a mini lesson on steeping your loose-leaf tea, but it also comes with food pairing suggestions.
Chef and owner Brayden Ehrlich pairs fruity tea with desserts, black tea with savoury food, floral tea with light foods, and spicy tea with heartier foods. To narrow the categories down further, Ehrlich will then ask you your preferences and questions about your personality so he can select a tea you’re sure to enjoy.
On the menu at Taylor’s are lots of classic English dishes such as his famous fish (lightly beer battered Ontario pickerel) and chips (triple cooked) that he pairs with Earl Grey tea. “It’s a classic pairing,” explains Ehrlich, “the lemon and the umami of the fish, (the) acidity of the red cabbage coleslaw and sweet pickle tartar (made by Ehrlich) really add to the full bodiness and full floral flavours of the Earl Grey.”
It’s not just scones and fancy tea sandwiches that go with tea, “it’s all foods”, says Ehrlich who also serves traditional accompaniments to tea such as buttermilk strawberry scones (in season), cucumber and butter sandwiches and mini desserts; all traditional foods that stack nicely on the three-tiered English tea plate that is offered at Taylor’s Sunday High Tea. Oh yes, Ehrlich recommends a pot of Bella Coola with that, a blend of different herbals, flowers, dried fruits and white tea.
Try pairing your favourite loose-leaf tea with foods you wouldn’t normally think of, such as Earl Grey with dark chocolate or blue cheese, Ceylon with a French lemon tart, or English Breakfast with a tea-glazed pork roast. For a counterpoint, try a fruity tea with smoked salmon or a spicy chai with a rich pate. “It’s not England yet, but Canadians are beginning to play with different teas like never before,” laughs Ehrlich.
By Lynn Ogryzlo
Serendipity Tea House, Burlington
Golden Coast Tea Club, Oakville
Taylor’s Tea Room, Dundas
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to Look Local Magazine. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.