The OC Night Market

The OC Night Market has been on my list of things to do in Orange County for the longest time. This modern food fair is inspired by Asian eats of all kinds, from sushi burritos to pork belly gua bao. Best of all, it’s a place where munching, nibbling, and sipping are entirely acceptable and in fact, celebrated!There are several perks to taking part in an Asian food fair and free Pocky is one of them. Upon entering the market, we were greeted by a cheery red Pocky truck, with a costumed lady handing out boxes of Pejoy, otherwise known as inside out Pocky. After trying them, I’m officially convinced that regular Pocky are superior to this new invention, but nonetheless I am always thankful for handouts.
There are two main drinks to refresh with when at the OC Night Market…the first is Japanese beer and the other is tea. Many of the teas at the market are served Taiwanese style, infused with modern additions like tapioca boba and fruit jellies. These certainly aren’t your $30 per ounce variety of teas, but they are satisfying, perfectly portable, and best of all…tasty!Here’s a view of some black tea leaves post-steeping, used for making Hong Kong Milk Tea. This Chinese twist on a British classic is one of my favorites, a balanced blend that’s bold and creamy. I tried to make small talk with the tea guy at this booth hoping to find out exactly what kind of tea leaves they used, but he was super secretive about it and refused to budge. I’m guessing a mix of Ceylon, Assam, or English Breakfast. Any ideas?Food on a stick is popular at the OC Night Market. But unlike the deep-fried corn dogs and twinkies you find at your local state fair, Asian food on a stick tends to be low-carb. Korean beef, Thai spiced chicken, lobster balls…a skewered snack in one hand and a cup of chilled tea in the other and you’re set.Here was my first tea choice of the day, Watermelon Green Tea, made from fresh watermelon juice and jasmine green tea. Only mildly sweet, this cooling refresher is easy to make at home and ideal for sipping on as the days longer and hotter. And speaking of hotter, how cute is this dim sum inspired tank top? In addition to all the fair food, you can expect many craft and art vendors at the OC Night Market. I can’t say that I would be comfortable sporting this tank around, but I can certainly appreciate the person who could.
In addition to all the regular booth vendors, you’ll also find several food trucks a the OC Night Market. It’s always great to know you can hunt down your favorite food finds long after the fair is over. Buddha Bing and Tokyo Doggie Style are a few of the food trucks that caught my eye. Non-dairy boba milk tea? Leave it to the food trucks to think of everything!
If you plan on making it to one of the future night markets, it’s a good idea to get there early. Just as the sun starts setting, you can expect seriously long lines. One of the longest lines we came across was for takoyaki, pancake-like balls made from a wheat-based batter with pieces of octopus mixed in. Takoyaki are delicious when served with hot green teas, especially savory ones like genmaicha.
Our last stop of the evening was for twice cooked pork belly buns. What set these buns apart from your everyday Chinese buns is that they are deep-fried after being steamed, and hence twice cooked. The filling inside the buns was much like char siu pork filling, except less reddish in color and also less sweet. I suppose the less sweet filling was to accommodate for condensed milk, drizzled atop the hot buns just before serving (yes, you read that right!).
If you’re a foodie coming through SoCal at the right time, you should definitely check out the OC Night Market in Costa Mesa or it’s sister food fair, the 626 Night Market in Arcadia. These food fairs typically run 2-3 times a year, and the venues continue to grow in size as they grow in popularity. Come thirsty, hungry, and with an open mind and I’m sure you’ll find some tea foods that you never even knew existed!

London Tea Club & A Giveaway!

Each April, my hubby and I celebrate our anniversary twice. We celebrate on April 1st to mark the day we met on a blind date (April Fools’ Day!) and again on April 25 for the day we tied the knot. I enjoyed these red roses as a surprise from my sweet hubby earlier this month, and along with some gorgeous teas from London Tea Club, we toasted to another rich and eventful year together. I’m always looking for elegant and effortless ways to enjoy tea, so I was really thrilled to learn that London Tea Club recently expanded to include memberships in Europe, Canada, and even the US! As I’m sure many tea lovers would agree, our friends over in London know how to do tea the right way. What I love most about London Tea Club is that they take all the fuss out of creating a luxurious tea time experience. Open your mailbox, boil some water, sit back and relax…it’s just as easy as that.
Each month, London Tea Club sends you 3 tubes of tea to cater to your personal tea tastes. Don’t like herbal tea? Just let them know (they’ll ask you before your first delivery)! Over time and as your tastes change, the package will continue to be customized to suit you. The month’s mailer will include detailed brewing instructions, tea filters, and my favorite…suggestions on how to pair each tea with food!
If you’re looking for a beautiful gift for Mother’s Day, birthdays, or anniversaries, a one-time or recurring subscription to London Tea Club is an ideal present for any tea lover. Use coupon code “thirstyfortea” at checkout for £5 off your first delivery!

Their current tea offerings include Coffee Rooibos, Big Red Robe, Taiping Monkey King, Charles Dickens (a black tea blend of Assam, Keemun, & Lapsang Souchong), Sikkim Black Tea, Lemongrass Mint, Pomelo Oolong, and White Darjeeling. I know which 3 I’d love to see in my mailbox…which flavors are you curious to try?

***Congratulations to Ula, winner of this month’s tea sampler from London Tea Club!***


Enter to win a gorgeous box of teas from London Tea Club by following three easy steps!

1. Leave a comment on this post.

2. Follow London Tea Club on Facebook.

3. Follow London Tea Club on Instagram (@londonteaclub).

*** Participants must be at least 18 years old and live anywhere in North America (US, Canada) or Europe (including the UK). The giveaway contest ends May 2nd, 2015 and the winner will be announced on May 9th…good luck!!

2014 Gifts for Tea Lovers

Nine days and counting! Just a few days ago, I spent hours online trying to buy Christmas gifts for my friends and family (the non-tea loving ones). At this point, I can only hope that I chose some gifts that won’t end up at the back of the broom closet come New Year’s.

Luckily, tea lovers are easy to shop for. The art of buying tea-themed gifts is to choose something unique, a bit different from the usual. If you are shopping for the tea lover in your life, look no further. I’m sure at least one of these tea goodies will bring a smile to their face.

ChaHoney Monthly Tea Subscription

My friend Elizabeth launched her company ChaHoney this year, with a vision to share her passion for discovering new teas. If you’ve ever purchased a tea that you didn’t like (and never drank again), you know how important it is to sample a tea before committing. Nobody wants boxes of less-than-pleasing tea taking up room in their tea cabinet.

A ChaHoney subscription is effortless and genius: each month, 4 featured tea samples will arrive at your doorstep. Curious? You can even try out a one-time sampler pack for starters. The code THIRSTY10TEA will give you 10% off any of the subscriptions through December 25th. Support small business, taste a world of teas, and discover the ones you love most through ChaHoney!

Kami Wood Cups

I don’t want these teacups, I need them. These wooden Japanese teacups are hand crafted in Hokkaido. They are made with gorgeous castor aralia wood, which has a grain similar to unfinished birch wood. There couldn’t be a better way to enjoy a cup of grassy Japanese sencha.

Smartea Tea Set

I like to describe this teapot as the BMW of teapots. It’s functional and sleek at the same time, the image of a modern tea drinker’s teapot. I love that you can insert a tea light in the base so that your tea stays warm from first sip to last.

Fresh’s Black Tea Face Mask

My sister introduced me to this stuff several years ago when she said I was starting to get wrinkles (thank you, Melissa!). Now that I look back, I suppose it was kind of her because I love this black tea mask and haven’t found a better antioxidant mask since. The best way to describe its texture is velvety. When the weather is cold and dry, I leave it on my face for anywhere from 10 minutes up to an hour for a deeply hydrating effect.

Tea Leaf Reading Kit

Are there any Harry Potter fans out there? I know there are. If you are one of them, the word tessomancy may sound familiar. Term refers to the art of reading tea leaves (Professor Trelawney reads Harry Potter’s tea cup during Divination lessons), and this whimsical little kit brings that idea to life.

Numi’s Artisan’s Tea Blending Kit

Last month when I visited Adagio Teas in Chicago I was so impressed to find a tea blending station. Tea blenders take years to perfect their craft, but if you’ve ever been curious this kit is a great place to start. Blend, taste, and blend again…perhaps you have a knack for tea blending too!

Zoku Ice Cream Maker

Have you ever thought of making your own tea flavored ice creams at home? Problem is, the process is often way to fussy with those large, awkward ice cream makers. Place this ice cream bowl straight into the freezer. When it’s chilled you can make smaller batches of fresh ice cream within moments. Matcha frozen yogurt? No problem. Creamy gelato made with your favorite Earl Grey? Coming right up!

Pantone Universe Mugs

If you are familiar with Pantone, you know that they serve as a color atlas for designers. They make a variety of fine bone china mugs in their signature colors, and these babies are ideal for a distinctively colorful tea time. Their color of the year is Marsala, a spicy, pomegranate shade of red that’s Christmas-like and cheery.

Valerie Confection’s Matcha and Rose Petal Petit Fours

Based out of Los Angeles, there’s no better way to describe this confectionary’s petit fours than to say that they are perfect. Not too big, not to small, not too sweet…just perfect. They have several petit four flavors, from champagne to mint, but the rose petal variety is my favorite.

Trader Joe’s Tea Sampler

When it comes to snacking and tasty eating, Trader Joe’s almost never fails. I came across this box of internationally sourced loose teas last week, and was delighted when I opened the package to reveal this eclectic collection of 10 tea-filled vials. Forget the chocolates and give tea this year. No calories, more flavor, and for $12.99 a tea gift doesn’t get better than this.

Kombucha Revolution

This book takes some of the mystery out of making Kombucha, that effervescent fermented tea that’s prized for its flavor and health benefits. The book is written by Stephen Lee, a co-founder of both Tazo and Stash Brand Teas. I have the book myself and can’t wait to try the Long Kombucha Iced Tea and BambuCha recipes soon…don’t they sound delish?

Tea Cup Stool

If this were easier for me to buy in the US, I would have my feet propped up on one in my living room right now. If you live the UK you are lucky, because apparently these are readily available there and delivery is free! I’ve decided that my life isn’t complete until I get one of these…need one now.

Magnetic Tea Chalkboard

Some gifts just can’t be purchased, so if you’re crafty this might be just the project for you. This board is great for featuring colorful teas or for anyone in need of some simple organization. The board is highly customizable to suit a selective tea drinker, and can be reused in so many ways long after the tea is drunk!

Apple Tea Cake

Tea and novels go hand in hand, and children’s books are certainly no exception. Today, I’m co-hosting this post with my good friend Danielle Davis from This Picture Book Life, a brilliant blog about children books, both classic and modern.

When Danielle asked me to recreate a recipe showcasing Julie Paschkis’ charming book, Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love, I jumped at the opportunity. With all the beautiful apples available at the market this fall, I knew that I could easily create a cake to celebrate the book’s whimsical imagery and endearing theme of expressing love through cooking.In the book, a boy makes a girl an apple cake to get her to stop reading and notice him. She’s the apple of his eye. He takes 1 green apple, 2 red apples, and some other yummy spices and ingredients to create a beautiful cake for his sweetie.

Success! The cake is enticing enough to catch her attention. At the end of story, they share the cake together, a heart full of love between them.

Staying true to the book, I used 1 green apple (Granny Smith) and 2 sweet ones (Honeycrisp) in this Apple Tea Cake recipe. The sour apple is mixed into the cake batter while the 2 sweet apples are cubed, dusted generously with cinnamon sugar, and scattered over the top of the cake to create a rustic topping.

My personal ingredient addition not included in the original recipe of the book is buttermilk. The baked apples meld together with the buttermilk based batter to create an almost custard-like texture to the cake–moist, tender, and deliciously creamy!

Brimming with apple goodness, this is a scrumptious cake that’s simple enough to make any day of the week. I’m not sure what the exact difference is between a coffee cake and a tea cake, but in my opinion a tea cake is lighter both in texture and in flavor so that it enhances a tea instead of overwhelming it.

Adagio Tea’s Candy Apple Tea goes perfectly with this Apple Tea Cake. It’s maple-like sweetness highlights the golden baked apple chunks and adds a touch of caramelized richness to each bite. The blend is good on its own, but great with this cake.

Tea, cake, and an adorably sweet love story like Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love? Now that’s a trio worth exploring.

A sincere thank you to Danielle Davis of This Picture Book Life for the opportunity! Please hop on over to her site to check out some of the beautiful illustrations from Julie Paschkis’ book.

Apple Tea Cake

Makes 1-8″ cake.


{Cake Base}

4 Tbsp butter, softened

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ cubes

{Apple Topping}

2 Tbsp butter, melted

2 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 Honeycrisp, Gala, or Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ cubes

sifted powdered sugar for serving (optional)


8″ baking pan (I used a spring form for easy removal), sprayed with non-stick spray

large mixing bowl

medium mixing bowl

rubber spatula

peeler and paring knife

small heart-shaped cookie cutter (optional)


1.)  Make the Cake Base. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the 1 cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In a large bowl, cream the 4 Tbsp of butter and 1/3 cup of sugar. Add in the egg and vanilla and mix them in. Gradually add the flour mix into the butter mixture until barely incorporated. Gently mix the Granny Smith apple chunks into the batter, then pour the batter into the baking pan. Use the back of the rubber spatula to smooth and even out the batter. Set aside.

2.)  Make the Apple Topping. Place the Honeycrisp apple chunks into the medium bowl. Pour the remaining 2 Tbsp of melted butter over the apples, then dust with the cinnamon and sugar. Toss the apples so that all the spice, sugar, and butter is evenly distributed. Topple apples over the cake batter evenly, then lightly press them in so that they adhere to the top surface of the cake.

3.)  Finish the Cake. Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly golden, the apples look slightly dry, and a toothpick comes out clean. Wait for the cake to cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the baking pan. Dust the top of the cake with sifted powdered sugar just before serving. For an optional decorative touch, top the cake with red apple heart cut-outs. Enjoy!

apple cake cutouts

Tips for Making Asian Dumplings

At Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz this past weekend, I met one of my culinary idols, Andrea Nguyen. If you aren’t familiar, Andrea is the author of several Vietnamese cookbooks, including Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Asian Dumplings (my favorite), and her most recent release, The Banh Mi Handbook.

I’m always trying to improve my dumpling making skills because I consider dumplings to be quintessential Asian tea food. Dumplings are to Asian tea culture what finger sandwiches are to English tea culture. Elegant, flavorful, and beautifully presented, they make any culinary tea experience unforgettable and exquisite.

Earlier this year, I posted a recipe for Ha Gao, those translucent little shrimp dumplings that you find at dim sum houses. Interested in learning how to make Ha Gao the authentic way, with real fatback, (my Ha Gao are a slimed down version of the real deal) I parked myself at the Ha Gao table with Uwe, who ended up being my cooking partner for the day. I also wanted to see if I could try at improving my pleating skills, since I always end up skipping over this intricate part of dumpling making.

Andrea Nguyen Dumpling ClassUwe (who’s actually from Germany!) was in charge of all the chopping and seasonings for the Ha Gao filling while I landed with the task of shelling and deveining way too many shrimp. It took awhile, but I think we did a pretty decent job following the instructions to form a textured yet homogenous filling.

When you get the chance to see Andrea Nguyen in action, it starts to make perfect sense why she’s been nominated for a countless number of culinary awards, including the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. She’s exceptionally clear and detailed with her instruction. Here, you see her standing with her back to the classroom so that we can see how to wrap dumplings from the dumpling wrapper’s vantage point (i.e. meaning the person wrapping the dumpling).

Below you can check out a few of the artful dumplings that Andrea wrapped. When students in the class remarked how perfect her dumplings turned out, she warmly responded: “Do you know how many times I’ve done this!?” I love that someone as successful as she is can be so humble and down-to-earth.

Here I am, eating, while others are still hard at work cooking away. When the hot dumplings started getting dished out, everyone honed in on them like a pack of ravenous wolves. Seriously, you can’t blame us…I mean just look at them! You can tell from the photo below this one that I wasn’t the only greedy person in the class that day…what can I say–a freshly cooked dumpling just has that kind of effect on people!
At the end of the 4-hour class, the results were simply gorgeous. Even now, looking at all these artistic, flavorful little pockets of goodness fills me with pure joy. Steamed, pan-fried, baked…I think we pretty much covered them all!

Andrea Nguyen’s cookbook, Asian Dumplings, is truly a masterpiece. If you are looking to learn more about shaping, pleating, filling, and cooking these delicacies, you simply must check the book out! Filled with helpful diagrams and beautiful food photos, it’s a comprehensive dumpling encyclopedia of sorts.

Even better yet, if you end up wanting to ask Andrea a question in person you can sign up for her classes at Love Apple Farms in Santa Cruz. You’ll leave class with a head full of knowledge and a tummy full of delicious dumplings…in my book, it really can’t get any better than that!

***Tips for Making Asian Dumplings***

Now here’s a list of tips I’ve gathered not only from my dumpling class this past weekend, but also from my trials and errors in dumpling making over last few years. Practice makes perfect, but at the end of the day, it’s good to know that any wonky looking dumplings will taste just as great as the ones that look pretty. That being said, here are a few ideas on how to make your dumplings look as good as they taste.

Dumpling Tip #1:  Store-Bought First.

There is nothing wrong with using store-bought wrappers. Store-bought wrappers are an excellent way to perfect your pleating and folding skills until you graduate to making homemade dumpling wrappers. They are also time-effiecient and work great with a variety of fillings and cooking methods.

Dumpling Tip #2:  Dry it Good.

Just like you do with a salad, take your veggies for a spin in a salad spinner before adding them into a dumpling filling. Ideally, your filling should be moist but definitely not runny. Runny fillings are a headache to control, especially when spooning them onto the prepared dumpling skins. Excess moisture can make it difficult to seal the dumplings tightly.

Dumpling Tip #3:  Chop it Fine.

Many vegetables have the tendency to be bulky and rigid, so you want to take the time to cut them finely. This will prevent them from poking or tearing through the soft dumpling skins. Veggies like napa cabbage should be chopped, salted, drained, and dried before adding them to a filling. This wilting process will help the cabbage soften and meld well with other soft ingredients like chopped mushrooms, tofu, or ground meat. You don’t have to salt thin veggies like chives because they aren’t very bulky, especially when you’ve taken the time to chop them into a fine mince.

Dumpling Tip #4:  Get the Right Tools.

An Asian-style rolling-pin is essential for making homemade dumpling wrappers. Unlike Western-style rolling pins, Asian rolling pins are lighter, thinner, and easier to maneuver. If you are really serious about dumpling making, you’ll also want to get a tortilla press. This heavy press helps to apply even pressure to the dumpling skins so that you get though prepping all the wrappers faster. A tortilla press is especially valuable for making translucent dough wrappers, like the ones used for making Ha Gao Shrimp Dumplings.

Dumpling Tip #5:  Tacky not Sticky.

After adding all the ingredients together for your dough, the dough should be slightly tacky without actually sticking to your finger. If the dough is too sticky, then add some more flour, and if it’s too dry add a bit more water. The dough should feel just like a finished bread dough would–soft, supple, and slightly clinging to the touch.

Dumpling Tip #6:  Rest the Dough.

Generally, resting the wrapper dough for about 10-20 minutes before cutting, shaping, and filling them is a good idea. Especially with gluten-based flours, the resting process helps to make the rolling process simpler and faster.

Dumpling Tip #7:  Make a Log.

The best way to create equally sized dumplings is to first roll the dough into a log. The length of the log doesn’t matter, you just want an easy way to visualize a half portion of the dough. Use a sharp knife to cut each half portion of dough into half again until you get all the dough pieces to be the same as the size of a cherry tomato.

Dumpling Tip #8:  Zip Top Bags are Your Friends.

These convenient bags serve a variety of functions. First, they provide a place to park your just-made dough so that the gluten can rest a bit before you start to divide and shape the dough. They also serve as a slightly humid place to keep your dough balls before shaping them so that they don’t dry out. And if you end up using a tortilla press to make your dumplings, you can cut off all the edges of one bag to create a smooth surface for lining your press.

Dumpling Tip #9:  Oval Beats Circle.

It’s easiest to tell people to shape dough rounds into a circle, but the truth is, a circle made very slightly oblong (into an oval) is much easier to stuff then a plain circle. An oval shaped dumpling wrapper is easier to fold over, especially when you are trying to fill each dumpling with as much of the yummy filling as you possibly can.

Dumpling Tip #10:  A Soft Belly is a Good Thing.

This tip comes straight from the dumpling queen, Andrea. A slightly pouchy center (middle 1 1/2″ of a 3 1/2″ wrapper) on a dumpling skin assures that the dumpling has a sturdy structure even after it’s been filled. This is especially true for wheat based dumplings where the dough has some elasticity to it. When you don’t have a slightly puffy center to a dumpling skin, you run the risk of the filling popping through the skin as you fold it, which will result in a less flavorful and less pretty pouch. You can see here that I’ve lightly floured around the section of the wrapper that should be left slightly thicker. Looks kind of like a fried egg doesn’t it?

Dumpling Tip #11:  Just South of the Equator

The best location to place your filling is just south of the center, not actually in the center. Placing the filling slightly off-center will help you to easily create a half-moon. Folding one half onto the other is that much easier when one half of the wrapper doesn’t have filling on it.

Dumpling Tip #12:  Don’t Over-Stuff!

The best item to use when filling a dumpling is a rounded spoon measure. This assures that you are filling the skins with the same amount of filling so that the dumplings cook and look uniform. If you are new to wrapping dumplings, always err towards filling them with less filling, not more. Dumplings that are pierced or overfilled could burst while cooking, which means some of their delicious flavor will be lost.

Dumpling Tip #13:  Work in the Air.

This is another tip that I learned from Andrea over the weekend. After you’ve rolled and prepped your dumpling skin to be filling-ready, it no longer needs to be parked on the work surface. Use your non-dominant hand to hold a finished dumpling skin after it has been rolled/prepped properly. Then, use your dominant hand to seal, shape, and pleat the dumplings.

Dumpling Tip #14:  Start Simple.

Half-moon shaped dumplings are the easiest to make and are the starting point for many fancier looking dumplings. If you are short on time, or if you simply don’t want to mess around with pleating, then just leave your dumplings as half-moons. If you are steaming them, lie them flat on one side. If you are pan frying them, prop them up so that their bottoms make more contact with the frying pan for maximum browning.Dumpling Tip #15:  Cook it hot.

Whether you boil, steam, or pan-fry your dumplings, make sure that the cooking source has reached full heat before cooking your dumplings in it. If you are boiling, look for bubbles. If you are steaming, look for a wisp. And if you are pan-frying, look for a shimmer to run across the oil. In all three of these methods, high heat is valuable in keeping an ideal al dente (not mushy) texture to the dumplings.

If this post has you thinking of punching out some yummy dumplings soon, please check out a few of my dumpling and dim sum posts! Siu Mai, Ha Gao, Potstickers, Gyoza…there is seriously nothing more delicious than a hot and fresh little dumpling!

Groupie that I am, I was the first one to arrive in class and pretty much the last one to leave. My persistence paid off though, as I got a picture with the dumpling goddess herself…love Andrea Nguyen!

World Tea Expo 2014

Each year, the World Tea Expo features the newest and best in the ever evolving and colorful world of tea.  This year’s expo was held at the Long Beach Convention Center.  If you weren’t able to make it out to the expo this year, here’s a quick glimpse into some of the festivities!

The two main attractions at the conference are the educational sessions and the exhibitors. You can see from the set of classes listed above that the expo covers many different aspects of tea drinking, from manufacturing and sourcing to health effects, pairings, and recipes.
Here are a few of the new teas and tea related products that I discovered at the conference.  Spicely Organic’s Sweet Tumeric Kick Tea Blend was a unique and unexpected find.  This blend is thick, spicy, and sweet, and brews to the most brilliant shade of orange.  It blends equally well with water as it does with milk.  As it’s taste reminds me of the flavors you get in Indian cuisine, I think some fresh, chewy Naan Bread would go perfectly with this brew.  If your are tired of Lipton tea bags, and are looking for a tea that’s caffeine-free and one-of-a-kind, this may be the tea you’ve been looking for!

Another unique product from Spicely Organics are their organic tea-infused chocolates. Flavors like chai, hibiscus, and jasmine and are equally great for snacking on or baking with.

As you can probably tell from my Easter and Christmas Stroopwafel posts, I’m quite the enthusiast when it comes to these classically thin caramel cookies.  Rip van Wafels makes stroops in two different flavors, traditional caramel and a less common cocoa version.  I like that their cookies are individually wrapped for portion control and for freshness.  It’s also nice that the cookies are made from all natural ingredients.

Since I just came back from Hawaii a few weeks ago, I was super thrilled to come across Mama-Kii Brand Tea.  Mamaki is a type of Hawaiian herbal tea that I had the pleasure of tasting for the very first time during my recent visit to the islands.  In Hawaii, I tried some the tea in syrup form, over a tropical coconut panna cotta, but wasn’t able to find any to take home…not a problem anymore!  Apparently, Native Hawaiians have drunk mamaki for generations, particularly for its calming effects.

I met Toffler Niemuth, the owner and creator of Belight Tea (the tea in the lower right corner in the picture above) while attending one of the educational sessions at the expo.  Toffler’s unique Pu-Erh based blend is designed to support weight control and energy balance throughout the day–perfect for those days when you want to make your tea-time calorie free! Her blend won the Buyer’s Choice Award for Best Blended Tea, and also won 3rd place in the North American Tea Championship’s Blended Pu-Erh Category.  It’s traditional to see Pu-Erh sold in bricks, but Toffler’s special blend is packed into easy-to-use tea bags.

Even if you’ve visited my blog just this once, with a few more clicks you’ll soon notice that I am obsessed with matcha (yay for Matcha Mondays!).  Imagine my delight when I saw Ito-En’s new line matcha LOVE products that are already available in stores.  Ito-En is usually known for their easy-to-drink, on-the-go bottled teas.  I actually purchased these 2 cans of matcha above at Gelson’s in Orange County the day after the conference ended (no hand-outs for these at the expo).  I found the taste of the matcha LOVE shot to be quite delicious, but wasn’t as impressed with the color of the tea.  Nevertheless, since it’s generally drunk strait out of the can, matcha LOVE makes a great pick-me-up if you are out and about and need a convenient matcha fix.
Along with their canned matcha drinks, Ito-En has also introduced a few powdered matcha options this year, including classic, koicha (thick and strong), organic, and usucha (weak and thin) grades.  These matcha powders are more for drinking than they are for eating or cooking with.  I ‘m looking forward to buying a tin of the koicha to try the next time I spot some.
I featured Aiya’s Cooking Grade Matcha in my recipe for Matcha Chocolate Chips on this week’s Matcha Monday piece.  Take it from a person who cooks with matcha on a daily basis…it’s great stuff!  The cooking matcha is perfect for making ice cream, shakes, and other creamy treats like my Overnight Vanilla Matcha Oatmeal.  I’m glad to have found a cooking matcha that isn’t only tasty and beautiful but also set at a decent price point.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the mistress of the Korean Tea Cermony, Yoon Hee Kim of Hancha Tea, a Certified Tea Master and Founding Director of the Korean Tea Culture Foundation, looking so artful and lovely in her Korean tea gown.  Every year, the expo celebrates tea cultures from all around the world, which is what I love most about attending.

The World Tea Expo will be taking place in the Northeast US next year, so stay tuned!  Rumor has it that the conference is now going to be held just once a year, instead of having separate West Coast and East Coast conferences.  Converging West and East Coasts into one expo seems like a very good idea, as it will inevitably mean that there will be that many more unique teas to taste and discover.  If you are an avid tea-lover, perhaps I’ll see you at the conference next year!

Nourishing Matcha Face Mask

Fresh back from sun-drenching in Hawaii last week, not only am I thirsty for tea but my skin is too!

On none other than Earth Day, my hubby Jeff and I decided that we wanted to explore Kauai’s western Na Pali Coast, where the highlight is Honopu Valley, also known as Cathedral Beach. As Honopu Valley can only be accessed by boat or helicopter, we thought: “No brainer!  We’ll take a boat!”

About 30 minutes into the boat ride, our catamaran was swarmed by a cluster of dolphins.  At this point, I was still feeling really good.  I was so preoccupied with enjoying the dolphin spectacle that I hadn’t noticed that my husband’s face was starting to turn green.

It was just when we were edging into the gorgeous Cathedrals of Na Pali that I realized that my husband was seriously no bueno.  As breathtaking as the scenes were, Jeff ended up having a sea-sickness episode of epic proportions.  My husband is generally considered to be mild mannered and reserved, but on that day the poor guy was seriously one hot mess!

Soon after witnessing his AM breakfast reappear, I too fell ill and succumbed to the ocean’s churning.  My nausea wasn’t as epic as my husbands, but it was bad enough that the crewmen asked me to stay towards the tail end of the boat in case of any more mishaps.  I managed to snap these two photos of the Cathedrals while in the pits of my stomach flipping.  If you are going to be ill, it might as well be for this, right?

Right after taking these photos, we headed back towards our home port.  As you can see, at this point the sun was just breaking through the thick clouds.  As the sun’s rays came bearing down on us, I realized that giving my skin some serious TLC was going to be at the top of my to-do list upon returning home.

This Nourishing Matcha Mask is made from 3 simple, natural ingredients:  aloe, chorella, and matcha powder.  With both green tea powder and chorella algae, the mask combines the effects of two very powerful antioxidant ingredients–exactly what you need if you’ve had a bit too much sun!  The matcha powder has a gentle cooling and anti-inflammatory effect while the chorella is detoxifying and nutrient-rich.

I was first introduced to chorella when I was given a sample of chorella matcha.  Chorella matcha is a matcha powder used for cooking and baking.  As it has a deep, dark shade of green, chorella is added to matcha powder for an extra boost of color and vibrance.

This algae by itself is better known for its antioxidant effects, where it is either consumed or lathered on skin.  You can find chorella in the vitamin and supplement section of well-stocked grocery stores like Whole Foods.

And speaking of matcha and Whole Foods, for this mask I ended up using a matcha powder that I found at a Whole Foods in Kailua, a small city on the eastern side Oahu.  The Best of the Best by The Honolulu Advertiser label attracted me to this local brand of matcha.  After I smear it on my face, I can’t wait to taste it!  It’s always nice when a tea can double up on its duties!

The base for my skin mask is pure aloe, plucked from the small aloe plant that I purchased from Lowe’s last month.  After killing off several house plants and one very pretty orchid, I decided that drought tolerant succulents were the way to go.

Hopefully my aloe plant will grow faster in these warm months, since I need to rip off one of its fleshy leaves every time I give my skin this treatment.  If you also use fresh aloe, squeeze out the gel though the ripped side of the leaf.  It will be clumpy and goopy, but you can use your fingers to mash up any large bits.  And while I’m talking about tea and skin, I wanted to show you one of the goodies I picked up in Hawaii last week!  These tea blends are from Tea Forte’s Skin Smart line of teas.

These individually wrapped loose leaf samples are antioxidant amplifier teas…just another way to protect and nourish your skin from the inside out.  After my Na Pali excursion, I need all the help I can get.  My favorite of the bunch is the Honey Yuzu green tea blend–it’s smooth and buttery with a hint fragrant citrus.

Keep this Nourishing Matcha Face Mask recipe in mind this year as summer is coming around the corner!  And if you love tea, tea foods, and the beautiful islands of Hawaii, stay tuned for more of my Hawaiian tea explorations in the next few days!

Nourishing Matcha Face Mask

Makes 1 face application. 


1/4 tsp matcha powder

1/4 tsp chorella powder

1 Tbsp aloe vera, fresh or bottled


Mix ingredients together in a small bowl and apply with fingers to a just-washed and towel-dried face.  Leave on face for 5-10 minutes avoiding the eye area, then rinse off with cool water.  For best results, apply moisturizer right after drying face with towel.

Searching for Tea in the French Quarter

So when my hubby, Jeff, told me that he was heading out to New Orleans for a work conference last month, he asked me if I wanted to come along.  I wasn’t sure if I was in.  When it came to New Orleans, there were a few images that came to mind…mysterious voodoo, shimmering Mardi Gras beads (and the flashers wearing them), spooky cemeteries, and of course, some very catastrophic hurricanes.  I knew I would be roaming around alone while Jeff was in sessions, so I didn’t know if I was up to it.  Sure enough, it was the thought of hot beignets from Cafe Du Monde that settled it… I was on my way to the Big Easy!

Definitely worth a trip out to New Orleans!

Upon arriving, what I immediately learned about New Orleans is that it’s a coffee-centric town.  I guess I should have figured that out when I was thinking about those beignets from Cafe Du Monde.

The tea-obsessed food junkie that I am, I started looking elsewhere for my kicks (after a cup of café au lait).  Window shopping while strolling over to the French Market landed me at The Kitchen Witch in the heart of the French Quarter…what unexpected and eclectic find!

You’ll never find another bookstore like Kitchen Witches

The Kitchen Witch is a curious little bookstore that specializes in vintage cookbooks only…no regular books or novels here, only cookbooks!  Having over 200 cookbooks myself, I was in heaven when stepped though the doors.  Well, if you call heaven a dark little shop with chili lights hanging on the walls, old copper pots strewn about, and thousands of rare and out-of-print books, then yes…heaven!

Different printings of Julia Child’s masterpiece

I’ve been waiting to score a copy Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the longest time, but for some reason I hadn’t yet.  It became yet another title added to my wish list on Amazon.  So, upon stepping into Kitchen Witches, I knew it was fate when a 1961 copy of Julia Child’s cookbook was beckoning me to grab it just off of the shop’s front door. Within minutes it had decidedly become my newest and oldest cookbook.

Another book I came across in Kitchen Witches was The Afternoon Tea Book by Michael Smith.  The book is a collection of classic English Afternoon Tea recipes with a bit of tea culture and tea classification thrown in.  An informative and intruguing read if colored pictures aren’t a must for you.

Don’t worry about the book piles…they ship!

After treasure hunting at The Kitchen Witch, I made my way over to the New Orleans School of Cooking to learn how to make…you guessed it…pecan pralines!  One of those recipes that I don’t think I’ll ever make at home but still wanted to learn about.

Nothing like a fresh pecan praline

Finally, some tea at the New Orleans School of Cooking!  Large pitchers of amber-clear tea could be found at all the tasting tables.  I bet you’re guessing the tea was sweetened? Surprisingly, it wasn’t!

According to the chef instructor, sweetened tea is a Southern specialty, but since New Orleans has more of a Creole vibe, the tea in New Orleans is more commonly served without sugar.  I think this makes a lot of sense…there isn’t a better drink to wash down a sugary-sweet praline with than a crisp, refreshing glass of unsweetened iced tea.  The contrast is what makes the pairing perfect.

Unsweetened iced tea at The New Orleans School of Cooking

Luzianne Tea, perfect for making amber-clear Southern iced tea

If you do like a good sweet tea though, Luzianne Tea is supposed to be quintessential iced tea blend in the South.  This is actually one of the only tea companies located in Louisiana.  I stumbled upon some at where else but a convenience store in town, so I had to buy a box to take back home, just to taste it for myself.  For a relatively inexpensive blend, the taste of this steeped tea is quite lovely and well-rounded.  The color of the brewed tea is a brilliant, clear red, begging for some lemon slices and ice cubes to make it complete.

Real voodoo verses…

…Fun voodoo…I think I prefer the latter!!

If you’ve never been to New Orleans and are a person who appreciates good food and warm people I can tell you that you it’s a place that you absolutely must visit.  There’s no room for scaredy cats or the super conventional here though.  Go to New Orleans with an open mind and appreciation of the different and the city will leave you thoroughly intrigued.  Looking for tea, I found a city rich in history, unexpected treasures, and delicious bites (don’t forget those beignets!)…all I hoping for and so much more!

Unexpected treasures in The Big Easy

And a quick update on my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The book has been on lock down for most of the time since I’ve returned from New Orleans.  It’s officially become my most treasured cookbook, placed in a clear plastic zip bag where I only take it out long enough for me to study a recipe, then back into the ziplock bag it goes.

One recipe I did open it up for was Beef Bourginon.  I ended up making some Beef Bourginon Pastries that are perfect with a hot cup of Luzianne Tea on a chilly winter day like today…if you are a Julia Child fan you’ll love them!

Holiday Gifts for Tea-Lovers

Only 7 days left, but there’s still time!  Here are a few of my selections for those who love tea…enjoy!

The Tea Towel by Stewart Gardiner

Learn where your tea is from and how to brew it right.  Everything you should know about tea printed on one charming tea towel.  You can also find this at

High Tea Nail Polish Collection

Tea-themed nail polishes like “Tea with the Queen” and “Crumpet” from cosmetic company Butter London.  Grab some scones after your nails are dry and your afternoon tea is complete!

Float Tea Lantern

This is not your grandmother’s tea set.  Lit tea lights will illuminate your tea blend and keep it warm for hours.

Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson

From the days of the East India Company to our modern-day tea renaissance, British and American tea historians tell us how your perfect brew came to be.  You’ll never look at a cup of tea the same way.  Fresh off the press, you can still get your own signed copy!

Harney & Sons Tea Sampler Cube

Great as stocking stuffers!  Each cube has 18 different samples of Harney & Sons’ most popular teas.

Color Matching Tea Mug

Match your tea brew to just the right shade and you’ll be guaranteed a perfect cuppa tea every time.

Sorapot Teapot by Joey Roth

Gosh, I want one of these!  Modern, chic, and beautiful, this teapot will elevate any tea drinking experience.  And if you can’t afford it (like I can’t), at least watch the video clip of how it works…just breathtaking!

DIY Japanese Tea Tins

Personalize your tea tins with gorgeous, vibrant Japanese Chiyogami paper…I’ll show you how!

Melissa & Doug Sweet Treat Tower

For the kiddos who already love tea…this time, the treats really are too cute to eat!  This toy is tested and approved by 2-year-old niece Maddie!

Modern Manners:  Tools to Take You To the Top

Did you know that Liv Tyler’s grandma is a well-known etiquette expert?  Manners are timeless, and Liv Tyler and her grandmother Dorthea Johnson (founder of the Protocol School of Washington) team up to tell us why.

A Box of Tea Sweets

Ship off some beautiful Chocolate Tea Bark or Lemon Matcha Cake Bites to your friends instead of those humdrum Christmas cookies.

David’s Tea Sweet Indulgence Collection

Delicious flavors like Cream of Earl Grey and Blueberry Jam will satisfy any sweet tooth.  My favorite is the Glitter & Gold–a cinnamon flavored black tea with gold sugar balls in the blend…so decadent!

The Herbal Tea Crate

Test your green thumb.  Grow, pick, and drink your own caffeine-free teas at home!

Williams Sonoma Croissants

A classic, timeless tea pastry you can eat warm out of the oven on Christmas morning with your best tea.  As of today, they still have free shipping!

Flavor Infuser Water Bottle

Make a resolution to skip the soda next year…I did, you won’t regret it.  Make your own refreshing, on-the-go tea and tisanes with this handy and convenient bottle.

Japanese Tea & Wagashi, A Match Made in Little Tokyo

A few weeks ago I made my way over to the Japanese American Museum in Little Tokyo for the Los Angeles International Tea Festival.  In its third year, the festival showcases the best and most unique finds in LA’s ever-growing tea scene.  There were a host of vendors this year, including the Chado Tea Room, Ito En, and Harney and Sons.  The festival is a great place to learn about brewing tea, cooking with tea, tea and health, and even how tea is grown.  It’s also a great place to learn more about tea in the context of Asian and Japanese culture.  You can even watch Chanoyu in practicethe ritualistic and fascinating art of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Tea, modern in practice and steeped in Asian tradition

These gift shop finds at the Japanese American Museum make me happy

You can find these “Generational Teas” at the Japanese American Museum in LA.  Each tea blend honors a specific generation of Japanese Americans, from Issei (1st generation) to Gosei (5th generation)

On my way out of the tea festival, I decided to do a some shopping (and food-seeking) on 1st Street and walked straight over to Fugetsu-Do, a Japanese confectionary that specializes in wagashi.  This unassuming, quaint shop has stood the test of time.  In fact, it’s considered the oldest shop in LA’s Little Tokyo.

Wagashi are sweet, dense artful little Japanese cakes created specifically to be paired with Japanese green teas.  These creations are rarely served as desserts in Japan.  Instead, they are enjoyed as a light snack or refreshment or during a tea ceremony.  Literally translated, “wa” refers to “Japan” and “gashi” refers “sweets.”  Many wagashi reflect natural themes like birds, plants, and fruits, taking inspiration from classical poetry or art. These beautiful small cakes are typically made with ingredients like rice flour, agar-agar, or bean paste, and rarely contain dairy.

An unassuming storefront on 1st Street in Little Tokyo

Artfully crafted wagashi in many shapes and colors

Since 1903 this historic little shop has made all kinds of wagashi like mochi (japanese rice cake), manju (flour cakes with sweet red bean paste), and dango (little sweet rice ball dumplings).  Even after being sent to internment camps during WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the owners of this family owned business–the Kito Family–ventured back to Los Angeles to reestablish their business.

Fugetsu-Do is a must-go if you are ever passing through Little Tokyo.  Like a sip of tea, a bite of one of these beauties is like a step back in time.  The shop owner, Brian Kito, is always resisting the idea of renovating the store as he strives to preserve the shop’s historic charm and timeless Japanese style.  Christmas and New Year’s are busy times for Fugetsu-Do, so if you want to try some of their beautiful and unique treats, fall might be just the time to do that!

And if you want to make your own mochi at home, here is my recipe for Pumpkin Butter Mochi, a recipe that pays homage to the seasonal wagashi of autumn.