Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tea Science and Professor Layton

For many players I know the most charming and memorable part of the Professor Layton games was the tea mini game. For those of you unfamiliar with the mini game, players would drag and drop ingredients from their organized little compartments and into the waiting white porcelain tea pot.  The eight ingredients, while having resemblances to Chinese medicinals, were on a whole fictitious. Never the less, the idea of balancing flavors through a blend of ingredients into a pleasing brew is one that resonates even in nerd culture. What follows is a beginner’s crash course to blending your own tea flavors.
Firstly, Americans often use the word ‘tea’ to describe any infusion and not just that of the Camellia sinensis (tea plant.) But there are two major differences I would like to discuss with you when it comes to infusing and that is the difference between a tisane and a decoction. A tisane is an infusion prepared by pouring heated water over ingredients and allowing them to steep, this is used for delicate ingredients and ones that have been powdered or otherwise processed to infuse quickly. A decoction is prepared by boiling your ingredients with the water, often done in a pot or steel kettle this is for larger woodier ingredients that take longer to release their flavors. Most commercially produced teas you may purchase are already blended with their ingredients processed at sizes allowing them to all infuse at the same time. This means that those hard, woodier spices such as cinnamon, cloves anise and others generally are included as powders. Regrettably powdered spices infuse fast because they have more surface area exposed, but this increased exposure also means the essential oils are more easily damaged by time, sun and heat. This gives your convenient tea bags a short shelf life. After six months or so you might as well be pouring water over sawdust and this is very convenient for the company that makes them as it results in you either drinking stale tea or throwing out boxes unused.
Insert Laurel’s tea set and with it a whole parade of teapot culture both elegant, practical and largely unknown to the American ‘bag and mug’ audience.  By using a device like a tea pot and putting your ingredients in to freely infuse you can easily recreate that Layton charm we all love. You will also need a nonreactive pot and lid large enough to hold a quart of water.
New to this and don’t have a tea pot? Your cooking pot and a strainer will work even if it’s not an elegant addition to your table. Being the wandering hobbit I am, I myself prefer the best of both worlds with a GSI steel camp kettle.
If you keep an ample and up to date spice cabinet (or know someone who does and will let you borrow their kitchen) you may use these recipes and put your powdered spice ingredients directly into your tea pot. Aren’t you civilized!
Constant Comment
3 Tbs Ceylon
3 tsp dried orange zest
1/8 tsp powdered cinnamon
½ tsp powdered clove
Chai
3 Tbs Assam
1 tsp cardamom powder
½ tsp ginger powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
Pinch of pepper & powdered fennel (or anise)
Hibiscus
¼ cup cut hibiscus flowers
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Large pinch of allspice and clove powders

For the rest of us who do life the hard way, a trip to your local import store is in order! There you may find large bags of whole spices and other alchemical looking ingredients at much more reasonable prices. I suggest you go with a friend and divide up the bags.
Before adding the spices to your stove top pot place them on the counter and give them a whack with the bottom of the pot. This breaks them up to infuse more evenly, doing this just before use insures the flavors stay fresh. Pour your water over your selected spices and heat on medium until a gentle boil is reached, turn down to low and simmer for ten minutes. Then turn off the heat and either add the tea to your cooking pot or pour this mixture into your waiting tea pot with the dry tea measured into it and allow to steep according to the tea used.

Constant Comment
Boil 13 cloves with half a cinnamon stick
Pour over 3 tablespoons of Ceylon and 3 teaspoons fresh orange zest
Chai
Boil 6 cloves, 2 whole cinnamon sticks, ¼ inch ginger, 10 green cardamom pods, ¼ whole fennel seeds and 5 pepper corns
Pour over scant ¼ cup Assam *please note this chai recipe is meant to be mixed 1:1 with hot milk and sweetened*
Hibiscus
Boil 5 allspice berries, 5 cloves and one cinnamon stick
Pour over ¼ cup crushed hibiscus flowers

Large quantities of single house (one source/preparation) teas can be purchased online or at said import store. Another reason to love making your decoction separate from your tea infusion is that you may use ANY type of tea you wish for your final product because you can cool your decoction to the correct brew temp for your base tea. Example, I like Chai with Assam but if that is too much caffeine use the cooled liquid and follow your brew instructions for your favorite green or caffeine free tea leaves. Not a tea drinker? Use the decoction to make your coffee or make it twice as strong with half as much water then add two cups of sugar to make a flavoring syrup for steamed milk drinks. The possibilities are endless!
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