Farm update: January 14

We’re striding into 2019 full of vigor, purpose and excitement. We’ve erased and rewritten our Quiet Farm project whiteboard – it has three columns, Now, Soon and Later – and although we’re totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks, we’re looking forward to an incredible year. First on the list is to finish our home renovations, then to build out our commercial kitchen so we have an amazing space ready for classes and workshops and events. Over the course of the year we’ll continue to share everything we’re up to here on Quiet Farm, and we’re so glad to have you along for the journey!

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Late last year I made my first batch of fire cider, a legendary homeopathic folk remedy popularized by the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar. Recipes vary, of course, but most include raw onion, garlic, horseradish, ginger, lemon, chiles, apple cider vinegar and honey for sweetening. I also included lots of turmeric, a powerful anti-inflammatory, plus extra citrus for the vitamin C boost. I usually take a shot each morning and follow it with lots of water; this brew is intense and can definitely upset sensitive tummies! But I believe firmly in supporting our immune systems with good food and potions like this and ideally not getting sick at all. (Oh, and wash your hands with hot, soapy water. All the time. Regular handwashing is the single most powerful weapon we have against colds and flu.)

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Essen und Trinken in Berlin

Oh, have we mentioned once or maybe twice that we love food tours? In every city we visit, if there’s a food tour on offer, we’re on it – and Berlin was no exception. Thanks to Margot at Secret Food Tours for introducing us to Berlin’s classic street food!

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Chicken shawarma in Turkish flatbread.

Our first stop was a classic shawarma joint; for those of you who didn’t grow up in Europe – or in a city with a strong Middle Eastern influence – shawarma is grilled meat on a spit, slowly roasted and shaved for serving in wraps and sandwiches. Shawarma can be chicken, goat, lamb or beef; ours was brightly seasoned chicken, thinly sliced and served in fresh Turkish flatbread with crunchy lettuce and a tangy, garlicky yogurt sauce. (Want to try your hand at home? Start here.)

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This is our kind of bar.

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It’s 10:00AM in Berlin. It’s freezing. Let’s have a beer. A dark beer.

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Flammkuchen is a great reason to come to Germany.

Our next stop was a cozy, dark neighborhood bar that specialized in flammkuchen, also known as tarte flambée or Alsatian pizza. This was truly one of the best things we ate in Berlin; it’s a crisp crust topped with crème fraîche, smoked bacon, thinly sliced onions and chives. It sounds just okay, but it’s actually spectacular. We ordered a second one.

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The FAQ Series: Sugar, Part Three

We promise that this is our last post on sugar (for now). As you’ll remember, in this three-part series we’ve already talked about sugars you have at home and sugars used by the food processing industry. Now, let’s discuss how the sugar industry has worked so hard to convince us all that sugar is not only benign, but actually good for you!

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Before we get into the sugar industry, we’d like to clarify exactly what we mean by added sugars. An added sugar is any quantity or type of sugar that doesn’t naturally occur in a specific food. A perfect example of this is applesauce: in its simplest form, applesauce is made by cooking apples until they’re soft, then mashing or puréeing them. Lots of ingredients can be added to applesauce, including spices like cinnamon and acidifiers such as citric acid to preserve color. Fresh apples contain plenty of natural sugar; primarily fructose, but also sucrose and glucose in small proportions.

Most store-bought applesauce, however, includes added sugars, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, honey or any of the other sweeteners we’ve mentioned. So if that applesauce label were adhering to the now-abandoned revised nutrition labeling laws, it would have to list both the naturally occurring sugar in the apples, plus all of the sugar added by the manufacturer. Hopefully this clarifies the concept of added sugars – it doesn’t occur naturally in the food or drink.

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Both the apple and the soda contain sugar, but all of the apple’s sugar occurs naturally. All of the soda’s sugar is added.

The sugar conspiracy is one of the most significant health-related stories to appear in the news recently. Essentially, the claim is this: fifty years ago, the sugar industry funded studies on the potential correlation between sugar and heart disease. When preliminary studies did appear to confirm this link, the studies were shut down, and research findings were concealed. The Sugar Research Foundation also reportedly paid Harvard scientists to obscure the link between sugar consumption and heart disease, pushing them to blame saturated fats instead.

And that, friends, is one reason why we’ve spent decades being told not to eat bacon, eggs, butter, cheese or burgers – because they cause heart disease. While excessive consumption of the low-quality saturated fats found in most American diets definitely isn’t a healthy choice, the point is that sugar should also shoulder a lot of the blame. And we now consume a lot more sugar than we do saturated fat, and our heart disease rates are still rising.

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All dried fruit contains natural sugar, but processors add a lot, too. Buy unsweetened dried fruit (this means no Craisins!).

Humans instinctively love the taste of sweet things; sweetness implies carbohydrates, which are quickly converted to energy in our bodies. Now, however, our satiety point is ever higher: as food manufacturers use more and more sugar (or artificial sweeteners), we need more and more in order to stay satisfied and for things to taste sweet. In short, we’re hooked. Sugar has repeatedly been shown to have addictive qualities; one controversial study demonstrated that rats preferred sugar to cocaine.

Not only does eating sugar give you a quick hit of dopamine, causing you to crave it more frequently, but it also ages your skin prematurely, causes inflammation that may increase joint pain, builds up in your liver (causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and thickens your artery walls, leading to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. And obviously, we know it rots our teeth. But because sugar kills so slowly, it’s taken us decades to acknowledge its risks. Sound familiar? Indeed, this is the tale of Big Tobacco, with a different villain. (Fun fact: cigarettes contain a lot of sugar. It dramatically increases their inhalability and therefore their addictiveness. This is true.)

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Notice the percentages? If it’s only 27% juice, the rest is most likely corn syrup, water, colorings and flavorings. And even if it’s 100% juice, it’s still sugar.

While our entire standard American diet (cheap meat! low-fat dairy! refined starches! hold the vegetables!) is to blame for the astronomical rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in the U.S., sugar is a big part of this – and by far, we consume the vast majority of sugar in sweetened beverages. Coca-Cola has spent millions funding studies shifting blame for obesity away from sugary drinks and onto “lifestyle choices,” and we’ve long been told that “fruit juice is part of a healthy diet” – remember every breakfast commercial with its tall, frosty glass of Florida orange juice? But soda and fruit juice are still simply liquid sugar, and we’ve been convinced that drinking our calories doesn’t count. This is proving immeasurably detrimental to our health.

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They all contain sugar. But they also contain fiber.

Drinking juice, or soda, or sweetened coffees or teas, or energy drinks, is basically a great way to mainline sugar, with no health benefits whatsoever. Eating whole fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, offers your body accessible sugar – with the immensely important addition of fiber. Fiber is key, because it acts like those traffic lights allowing timed access to busy highways: it slows the sugar down in your body, giving you more time to absorb it. This is precisely why a soda gives you a sugar rush and then a crash, but a roasted sweet potato allows for sustained energy. The standard American diet is shockingly low in quality fiber, and this deficiency seriously affects our overall health; increasing rates of various GI diseases, including Crohn’s, IBS and colon cancer, prove this. For optimum health, you have to control the way your body absorbs sugar, and the fiber in whole foods does just that.

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Salted peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie, anyone?

Let me be clear: I am in no way advocating a 100% sugar-free diet. First, it’s virtually impossible to achieve, and second, it takes a lot of the joy out of eating, which should be one of our greatest pleasures. I obviously bake frequently, and I use real sugar when I bake. But I want people to know when they’re eating sugar. When you drink your calories, or when you eat yogurt that doesn’t taste that sweet, or when you drown your industrial burger in high-fructose corn syrup, you’re consuming a ton of sugar, but you’re not getting the true enjoyment out of sweets. I want people to eat delicious, satisfying, well-made desserts, but I also want people to appreciate those for what they are: occasional treats. Hidden sugar simply does not need to be part of every single food, beverage, condiment and snack we consume, but our processed food industry has convinced us otherwise.

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So after all this lecturing, how can you reduce sugar in your own diet? It’s actually pretty simple.

  • Eat whole foods, including unlimited fresh fruit and vegetables. Eat whole grains and quality fats, like good butter and olive oil.
  • Work on your own sugar satiety point. If you regularly sweeten your coffee or tea, start by using a little less. Then a little less, then a little less again. Do this gradually. Eventually, you’ll reset your own taste buds.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Despite what the label says, there is no health benefit, and you’ll end up eating more because drinks don’t satisfy the way actual food does. Black coffee, unsweetened green, black or herbal tea or sparkling water with lemon will do just fine; stay away from fancy juice bars. And soda is poison. End of story.
  • Read every single ingredient label. Learn the names of all the industrial sugars. Then avoid them. Even better, save yourself lots of reading time by purchasing foods without ingredient labels, like fresh produce and bulk grains.
  • And above all else, cook or make it yourself. When you prepare food from scratch, you control exactly what’s in it, and you know that you don’t need six teaspoons of sugar in your morning yogurt, or eight teaspoons of sugar in your coffee.

Thanks for following our sugar series! If you’d like to read more about the processed food industry and the sugar conspiracy, I’d highly recommend these two books: Food Politics, by Marion Nestle (or anything else by her) and The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes. And let us know what else you’d like to learn more about, and we’ll get on the case!

Manger et boire à Paris

Of course we went on a food tour while in Paris. How could we not? This is the city where I learned to cook (and drink), and there are far too many delicious choices to navigate on your own. Many thanks to Jennifer from Paris by Mouth, who escorted us through the Saint-Germain neighborhood with grace, hospitality and true passion for food and wine.

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Our first stop: the esteemed Poilâne bakery, the most famous boulanger in the world. Poilâne is operated by Apollonia Poilâne, who took over the company when her parents died in an accident in 2002. She was eighteen, and she ran the company from her dorm room at Harvard until her graduation, four years later. Interviewed during that time, she said, “The one or two hours you spend procrastinating, I spend working. It’s nothing demanding at all.” Words of wisdom, indeed.

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Cookbook Club: Full Moon Suppers

It will come as precisely no surprise to any of you that I have what some might consider an excessive cookbook collection. I try to keep it pared down – honestly, I do – but then every October the local library has their annual book sale where you get to fill shopping bags for $6 each and I just lose any ability I might once have had to act like a rational adult. It’s true. And no one will ever, ever help us move.

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Not long ago, this cookbook crossed my path, and it is pure and simple and lovely. As a professional chef, I know that most cookbooks are used by home cooks, and therefore I am infuriated (not too strong a word) by gorgeous, glossy, overproduced cookbooks with fabulous photos where the recipes don’t actually work. Home cooks, especially those just starting out, don’t need perfect photos of airbrushed superstars (or blog stars) happily munching on avocado toast. What they need are clear, easy to-understand recipes that have been tested many times, in many kitchens (preferably home kitchens), with variable equipment. And possibly not all of the correct ingredients.

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The last of the season’s stone fruit. 

Annemarie Ahearn has been cooking and farming on her family’s property overlooking Penobscot Bay, Maine, since 2009. As she says,

“I had not moved to Maine on a whim. My plan was to open a cooking school for home cooks and teach people how to grow a kitchen garden. The mission of the school aligned with my personal ambition, which was to fundamentally change my daily routine. City life, while rich with professional opportunity, did not feed my soul in the way that I was hoping a more rural life would. And what better place to experience nature than on a farm, nestled between the mountains and the sea? So many skills that my grandmothers and generations prior to theirs possessed I did not know the first thing about. Chopping wood for warmth, putting up preserves for winter, catching a fish for dinner and raising laying hens for eggs were all efforts that I wanted to experience firsthand.”

The book is broken into twelve menus, appropriately themed to the twelve months of the year. Her recipes are simple, seasonal and easy to follow, and every single one pays homage to the land above all else. I can’t get the quality of Maine lobster that she has, nor fresh periwinkles, but there are plenty of recipes here that could easily be made across the country, depending on the season. We haven’t been to Salt Water Farm (yet), but we feel a definite kinship between the cooking and farming life Annemarie has forged for herself on Maine’s rocky, windswept coast and the cooking and farming life we want to build at Quiet Farm, wherever that may be.

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Please ripen before first frost hits…

I’ll be completely honest and say that I’m a little late on this post, but truly that’s only because I was (im)patiently waiting for our tomatoes to ripen so I could make a glorious summer salad. Salt Water Farm has a short growing season too; they treasure their warm-weather peaches, tomatoes and corn just as we do at nearly six thousand feet in the Rocky Mountains. You work with what you have.

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Cocktail hour is my favorite hour!

Each of the twelve menus in Full Moon Suppers starts with a paired beverage. N and I really only partake of gin-and-tonics in summer; they seem to suit the weather so well. I’ve seen a couple of recipes this summer encouraging the use of lovage in a simple syrup to add to G&Ts or sparkling water; since I have an abundance of lovage that I leave for the bees every year, I thought I might as well use it. The syrup is truly simple: combine two cups water, two cups sugar and bring to a boil. Add eight cups roughly chopped lovage, remove from heat and allow to cool completely while lovage steeps. Strain into a clean quart jar and store in refrigerator. It’s herby, grassy and deeply refreshing, whether in a cocktail or sparkling water. I’m surprised by how much I like it.

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I know that I said previously that once you finally have ripe tomatoes, you should only anoint them with olive oil and salt. But really, you should also find some amazing local sweet corn (I froze all my excess from this event) and some fresh cucumbers and you should make this salad. It has a simple vinaigrette made with lemon and mustard and honey and red wine vinegar, and honestly, it tastes like summer in a bowl. This is not a salad you’d make any other time of the year – only when the ingredients are at their absolute very best. And that window of opportunity is very swiftly closing.

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And then there’s the peach cake, although in my world it’s a peach and nectarine cake, plus I added almonds to complement the almond flour and for extra crunch. Oh, and I just served it with mascarpone rather than sweetened whipped cream. (It’s exceedingly difficult for me to follow recipes exactly.) But this one is worth the time and effort, and even though it takes forever to bake, you’ll be rewarded. The butter creates a gorgeous, rich crust, but the interior is as soft as a dream. And this would work beautifully with home-canned peaches, too, should you be so inclined, so you can make it more than two months of the year.

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Peach Almond Cake with Mascarpone

Chef’s Notes: As mentioned above, I included 1/2 cup slivered almonds in the batter; incorporate these with the dry ingredients in the first step. I used a combination of ripe peaches and nectarines, and I served the cake with just a dollop of this plus additional sliced fresh peaches and nectarines on the side. No additional alterations are needed to bake this cake in the Denver area, although above 7,000 feet you may wish to make adjustments. This cake counts as breakfast, in case you’re wondering.

For The Cake

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • ½ tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 9 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 heaping cup sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup cream
  • 4 large, pitted peaches, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter

For The Cream

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup mascarpone
  • confectioner’s sugar for dusting
  

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper. Butter and flour the sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, almond flour, salt and baking powder. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the butter and sugar. Incorporate the eggs one at a time, whipping well. Whip in the vanilla extract. Mix in a third of the dry ingredients, then a third of the cream. Continue alternating the dry ingredients and cream in thirds, scraping the sides of the bowl in between additions.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Spread the peach slices on top and press them into the dough. Brush with melted butter. Bake for 1 hour, or until the cake has set and turned golden on top. The cake is done when you insert a toothpick into the center and it comes out clean. Allow to cool on a rack; serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Using your stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Fold in mascarpone.

Serve slices of cake on individual plates with a generous spoonful of cream and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top.

(All recipes reprinted with permission from Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm by Annemarie Ahearn and published by Roost Books, but the photographs are N’s!)

Comer y beber en Madrid

Dear friends, it should come as no surprise by now that eating (comer) and drinking (beber) are two of our favorite travel activities. We are quick to search out food and market tours wherever we go, and Madrid was no exception. Many thanks to Jorge at Secret Food Tours for taking us on a gastronomic adventure through his city!

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Madrid’s Plaza Major, a perfect example of Spain’s café culture.

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The Spanish verb tapear translates literally as “to eat small portions” – and of course from that we get tapas.  

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Chalkboard menus (and fresh baguettes) dot the city.

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Chorizo and sangria. What more do you need, really?

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The city of Madrid issues plaques like the one above to stores and restaurants of historical significance in the city; this one dates from 1837. Many of these places pay rent that is far below market rates to keep their businesses open, because Madrid’s government has decided that they don’t wish to have the center of town filled with Starbucks, McDonald’s and tacky tourist stores able to pay inflated prices. Smart decisions like this help cities maintain their cultural character instead of becoming homogenized corporate copies.

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Slicing jamón by hand.

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Legs are hung for months or years to cure properly.

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Spain is justifiably famous for its jamón, which comes in different grades. Jamón ibérico, or Iberian ham, can only be made in Spain and Portugal from pigs that are at least 50% Iberian. The very best is called jamón ibérico de bellota, which comes from pigs allowed to forage in the wild for acorns, giving the flesh a sweet taste and silky texture. Jamón ibérico de bellota is so valuable that individual pigs often have armed bodyguards, since the entire pig can be worth as much as $4,000. Traditionally, it’s always shaved very thinly by hand and served as tapas with tiny breadsticks, above.

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Notice how the leg is stamped? Since they’re so valuable, it’s important that they can be traced to prevent forgeries and theft.

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Calamari sandwiches are another classic snack in Madrid.

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Did you know that the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world is in Madrid? It’s famous for suckling pig, which you can see in the dishes on the left.

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One of the oldest pastry shops in Madrid…

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…and their famous ponche segoviano, a layered pastry made with marzipan.

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France gets all the press, but Spain makes its fair share of incredible pastries.

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Jorge demonstrating how to pour Spanish cidre, made from apples grown in the north of Spain.

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Classic tapas: a Spanish omelette, or tortilla, made of eggs, potatoes and onions, served on fresh bread. Simple, filling and delicious.

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A perfect pair: manchego and cidre.

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I’ll be in the cellar if anyone needs me.

 

Tea party

After water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. It is produced in forty different countries in Asia, Africa and South America; China is the world’s largest tea grower, followed by India.

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The eastern Himalayan range as seen from Tiger Hill, Darjeeling.

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Recognize that famous red circle and blue bar logo?

India is particularly famous for its Darjeeling and Assam teas, from the regions of the same names. We visited Darjeeling, which sits at close to 7,000 feet and was a famous “hill station” during the colonial era.

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Tea plantation, Darjeeling.

In Darjeeling, tea is grown on steep slopes like these. Pickers – always women – harvest tea leaves into bamboo baskets they carry on their heads or backs. The pickers are paid about $2 a day for a minimum of ten hours of work. Leaves are harvested no matter the weather; the flush refers to the season when the tea was harvested. We visited during first flush, which is the first time the plant is harvested after its winter dormancy and produces the most flavorful and sought-after tea.

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Camellia sinensis, or tea plant.

All true tea – white, green, oolong and black – comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, an evergreen shrub native to Asia. Herbal teas, like mint, chamomile or lemongrass, are technically tisanes and not teas since they contain no camellia sinensis. Once a tea bush is healthy and established, it can produce healthy leaves for about eighty years.

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On the street, chai is sold everywhere in tiny terra cotta cups for 10 rupees (about 15 cents). After drinking, the cups are smashed on the ground.

India is famous for its chai tea, which is black tea blended with fragrant spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, and served hot, milky and sweet. On the trains, chaiwallahs prowl the carriages selling drinks to passengers. Sometimes you even get little cookies, too!

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As with any agricultural crop, monitoring temperature and rainfall is paramount.

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After harvesting, the green tea leaves are “withered” to reduce moisture.

The difference in teas simply comes from how it’s processed. White tea is the most expensive and only comes from the very best tips of the plant. Green tea isn’t fermented, leaving it delicate and soft; both black and oolong teas are fermented, which gives them a stronger flavor. True tea will always contain at least a small amount of caffeine; the amount depends on how the tea was processed and fermented. Herbal “teas” will only contain caffeine if it’s been added in.

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The tea leaves are exceedingly delicate before they’re dried and rolled.

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Withered leaves are funneled into rolling machines.

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The rolling machines crush the dried leaves to start the oxidation process.

The Darjeeling region is famous for delicate black teas that are traditionally served without milk or sugar. Because these teas aren’t as strong or tannic as Assam teas, they can be enjoyed straight. Darjeeling isn’t actually that big and produces a relatively small amount of tea; it’s common to find tea labeled as “100% Darjeeling” when it’s simply lower-grade tea from elsewhere in India. As with places like Champagne or Stilton that also produce unique foods or drinks, the name itself is a valuable brand and one that’s often misappropriated.

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The tea is placed into drying machines to remove remaining moisture.

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Moving the dried tea.

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The dried tea is sifted and graded.

After the tea has been dried and sifted, it’s separated into grades of loose tea and “tea dust,” for bagged tea. Tea purists will always opt for loose tea; it is definitely of much higher quality than bagged tea. There is no arguing the convenience of tea bags, however.

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Finished tea in linen bags.

True tea aficionados will swear that you must use exact measurements when brewing tea, such as two grams of tea for eight ounces of water. Like cooking, however, I believe that what matters most is your own palate. Start with the professional guidelines and adjust from there to find out what you like best – I prefer my tea much stronger than most “experts” recommend, so that’s how I drink it. Ultimately, it’s your tea and you should drink it the way you like it.

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Loose tea ready for transport.

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Tea tasting.

Tea is without question one of the world’s healthiest beverages (when it’s not loaded with sugar, obviously!) and Americans are slowly starting to explore the range of delicious teas available. Interested in learning more about teas and how to taste properly? Try here, here or here!