Tea of the Week: Sakura Blossom Tea

Japan is brimming with cherry blossoms this time of year. Just this past week, my great friend Danielle from This Picture Book Life got a glimpse of the blooming beauties, up close and personal, on her visit to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Me, jealous? You got that right!Every spring, Japan’s meteorological agency tracks the blooming of cherry blossoms across Japan. This geographical mapping helps for people to plan for hanami, otherwise known as picnicking under cherry blossom trees…sounds splendid, doesn’t it? My only hope (at least for this year) is to sit back with a cup of sakura tea in my living room…because darn it, if I can’t enjoy springtime in Japan then at least springtime in Japan can come to me!Brewing sakura tea or sakura-yu is an exquisite experience. The pickled blossoms unravel into delicate, feathery, tutu-like blooms upon being hit with hot water. The diaphanous petals give way to a salty, floral sip that’s certainly not your everyday herbal brew. If you’ve ever had sakura tea before and found it too salty, do what my tea blogger friend Nicole from Tea for Me Please suggests and keep a spoon and bowl of the saltier first steep (used to rinse the blossoms) around. You’ll be able to easily adjust the strength of the tea to your liking.

Tasting Notes for Sakura Cherry Blossom Tea:

BREWING TIPS:  Have 2 teacups ready. In one cup, steep 1 large or 2 smaller blossoms in 160 degrees F water for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, use a spoon to transfer the steeped blossoms to a new cup. Leave the cup containing the first steep aside. Fill the second cup with hot water, then enjoy this tea. Spoon more of the stronger, saltier first steep into the second steep to your taste preference.
THE TEA:  Expect the blossoms to be hot pink or bright mauve in appearance, with brown stems. They’ll be completely covered in salt, so it’s a good idea to shake some of the excess salt off before steeping.
THE SCENT:  Preserved in tons of salt and plum vinegar, the blossoms smell sweet and pungent as you would expect from something that’s been pickled.
THE STEEP:  A faint, pinkish-yellow brew that’s lightly floral and slightly salty. Subtle on the palette and best enjoyed hot to bring out the mild flavors. Expect the blossoms to lighten in color as they steep.
GET IT:  At well-stocked Japanese markets or on Amazon.com.
FOOD PAIRING:  I love to enjoy sakura tea with traditional red bean based Asian treats like steamed buns or mochi. The mild saltiness of the brew is a nice contrast to the sweet, heavier taste of adzuki bean. For a savory change, enjoy these with decorative Matcha Sushi Balls. The blossoms can also be used to decorate and cook with as long as you give them a quick rinse to remove the excess salt and then dry them with paper towels. If you end up eating the blossoms their sour flavor will be that much more pronounced.

Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs

A few days ago, outside my living room window, I noticed a bird tucking in and out of the crevice between the misaligned wooden fence panels surrounding our house. The bird seemed busy at work–occupied. Amidst its constant activity, it managed to shoot me an occasional glare, so as to say back off lady, or you’ll regret it! It wasn’t until I saw the same bird again two days later that I realized what it was up to. Just in time to mark the beginning of spring, my feathery friend was building a nest.

I get it, birdie. There’s a lot of work that goes into nest-making. As I learned a few days ago making these Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs, making a sturdy nest is a labor of love…an art form, really. My tea nests are made from maple syrup marshmallows covered in tea leaves. Although they look like you’ve just spotted them in a thick woodland forest, they serve an entirely different purpose. They’re designed to be an all-in-one tea brew, sweetener, and treat.
This project for Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs was inspired by 2 things: my sister and some very beautiful tea. On last week’s Tea of the Week post, I featured Bellocq Tea Atelier’s No. 22 National Parks Dept. This nature-inspired blend of Darjeeling and Assam has bright green cedar tips and twiggy kukicha (twig tea) thrown in. It’s so perfectly organic and rustic that I still can’t get over how delicious it is.

As an Easter gift (and because she’s a cool gal with great taste), my sister Melissa sent me some dark chocolate blue robin candy eggs from a fantastically elegant candy shop in Beverly Hills called Sugarfina. These delightful candies and a tin of gorgeous tea married to make this whimsical confectionary DIY. Here, a small blob of marshmallow holds about 2 teaspoons of loose tea together, just the right amount for small teapot brew. Although you can use any marshmallow recipe to make these, I like to use a maple syrup base because it enhances the natural, mild sweetness of my steep. You can even make the marshmallows separately to snack on.

More than anything, these tea marshmallows are ornamental, so don’t expect a lot of sweetness when they dissolve in your brew. Use any twig or flower based tea to make these Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs–a mix with colorful visual interest is ideal. Above all, just remember to enjoy the candy eggs before dropping the nests into the hot water. Happy springtime brewing my friends!Bird’s Nest Tea Bombs

Makes 12 small tea nests. Each nest makes 2 cups of tea.


2 tsp gelatin

2 Tbsp water

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

12 small egg candies

1/2 cup twiggy loose leaf tea (I used Bellocq’s National Parks Dept.)


large mixing bowl

medium pot

wooden spoon

candy thermometer

hand-held mixer with whisk attachment

lightly oiled rubber spatula

large piping bag with 1/2″ round piping tip (or just cut tip)

mini muffin tin


1.)  In a large heat proof mixing bowl, bloom the gelatin in the water. Set aside.

2.)  Place the maple syrup and cream of tartar in a medium pot, mix with the wooden spoon, then place on low-medium heat until the mixture hits 250 degrees F. Use the candy thermometer and be careful to watch the mixture so that the syrup doesn’t boil over.

3.)  Meanwhile, place 1 rounded tsp of loose leaf tea in each of 12 mini muffin pan cavities.

4.)  When the maple syrup comes up to temperature, take it off the heat then gradually pour it into the bloomed gelatin. Use a hand-held mixer to whip the mixture until you get stiff peaks. Use an oiled spatula to transfer the marshmallow fluff to a large piping bag with a 1/2″ open tip for piping.

5.)  Pipe small dollops of marshmallow fluff into each tea-filled mini muffin pan cavity. Attach a candy egg in the middle of each dollop, then top the marshmallows with extra loose leaf tea to create finished nests. Each nest is enough to brew 1 small teapot of tea (2 cup capacity). Simply eat the egg candy, then throw the nest into hot water to brew.

Tea of the Week: Bellocq’s No. 22 National Parks Dept.

Here’s a blend for all you rugged wilderness lovers out there. Now that spring has officially arrived and nature is coming back to life, it’s time for an invigorating cup inspired by everything we love about the new season. Bellocq’s National Parks Dept is an earthy, organic blend of botanicals and blooms. As you drink this tea you can literally sense branches and twigs crushing under your steps. As an avid Martha Stewart fan, I learned about Bellocq Tea Atelier many subscriptions ago. This company hails from Brooklyn where the founders of this tea company met while working at Martha Stewart Living Omimedia. Bellocq has an exquisite collection of mostly organic, handcrafted, single-estate teas. Their teas can be on the pricey side, but if you pick a blend like National Parks Dept., the tea is worth every penny.
National Parks Dept. is like a tranquil walk through the woods without the threat of mosquito bites, dehydration, and getting lost. What’s most remarkable about the blend are the added cedar tips, still bright green and aromatic, as if they’ve just been snipped off of a sappy fir tree. Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Great Smokey Mountains…turn that tea kettle on and you’ll be there!Tasting Notes for Bellocq Tea Atelier’s No. 22 National Parks Dept.:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew at 200 degrees F for 5-6 minutes.
THE TEA:  This rustic, organic blend is a mix of twigs, leaves, and blooms. What seems like a random scoop of nature’s shrubbery is actually 2nd Flush Darjeeling, Assam, twig tea, juniper berries, wild blue cornflowers, and cedar fir tips.
THE SCENT:  Like a hike through the woods on a sunny day. The scent of pine and cedar is pleasantly strong here. If you love the smell of freshly cut Christmas trees during the holidays then you will love this blend.
THE STEEP:  A handsome, coppery brown steep. Full-bodied yet mellow. You can definitely taste the twig tea (Kukicha) here. It takes the edge off of the stronger Darjeeling and Assam teas, and gives the blend a rich, rounded, slightly sweet finish. If you enjoy your black teas with sweetener, I would suggest a touch wild honey or maple syrup.
GET IT:  At One Kings Lane or at the exquisite Bellocq Tea Atelier site.
FOOD PAIRING:  This tea is ideal for a spring brunch or with breakfast favorites like pancakes, waffles, or french toast. Also great with Fragrant Orange English SconesMaple Brick Toast, or Blueberry English Muffins. For a savoy change, enjoy the tea with Beef Bourguignon Pastries or Turkey Tarragon Tea Sandwiches.

Birdie Teacup Biscuits

The birds in my neighborhood are at their most bountiful this time of year.  Fat little finches, pointy-beaked hummingbirds, and even skinny-legged walking birds are all around the trees and grounds where I live, busy tending to their nests and chirping away.  On our daily walks, my cocker spaniel Fred gets a huge ego boost from terrorizing each and every bird that he spots.  It’s in his spaniel genetics to hunt and retrieve fowl, which is good for his metabolism but bad for my arm.  At the end of the day, Fred is the sweetest of souls–actually being capable of intimidating another living creature brings him the ultimate satisfaction.

These Birdie Teacup Biscuits are inspired by the beautiful birds Fred and I have come across this spring.  Back during Christmas time, I saw the most adorable recipe for mini gingerbread houses perched on the rim of a mug.  While it’s more common to find decorated cookies on the rim of teacups, I thought that decorating some savory crackers in a spring theme might be a welcome change.  Here, I use a simple large leaf cookie cutter to create the birds.  The technique of cutting open a wide slit in the cookie to allow for it to hang on the edge of a teacup can be used with a more intricate bird cookie (from a more elaborate bird-shaped cookie cutter), or any other cookie shape for that matter.

These biscuits basically taste like homemade Cheez-Its that are thicker and just a bit softer. They are reminiscent of the cheddar crackers and cheese straws commonly enjoyed during a Southern-Style tea time, with a hot cup of well-rounded black tea or minted iced sweet tea.

When the biscuits bake up, they become slightly puffed and golden, giving them an uneven and rustic finish.  These biscuits are the savory version of a good decorating sugar cookie recipe–they are able to keep a cut shape extremely well and don’t warp after having been baked off.  I’ve made these biscuits in two variations here–a traditional yellow cheddar version and also a white cheddar version flecked with yummy dried herbs throughout.

I’ve debated with my sister and husband as to whether these crackers look more like birds or more like fish.  They both suggested that my creatures were somewhere in between the two, although I think the fish association is probably because everyone is always thinking about those packages of little goldfish crackers.  If you are into fish more than fowl, just forgo adding the pumpkin seed beak and you’ll end up with one large orange guppy about to plunge into a bowl of hot tea.  And if you like the original bird look, feel free to play around decorating with the nuts and seeds.  You could even add layers of sliced almonds to create a ruffled look to the birds.

Serve these Birdie Teacup Biscuits with a strong, flavorful black tea as a zesty and whimsical little springtime snack.  Luckily, this is one kind of bird that my feisty boy Fred won’t be able to chase away!

Birdie Teacup Biscuits

Makes 24 biscuits.


1 cup flour

6 oz. sharp cheddar

2 oz. grated parmesan

3/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature

1 Tbsp water

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup whole almonds, cut into halves with a sharp knife

1 Tbsp black sesame seeds

bench flour

{Yellow Cheddar Variation}

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 cayenne

{White Cheddar Variation}

1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed into bits

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried parsley


food processor, fitted with steel blade

grater(s) for cheeses

plastic wrap

work surface


large leaf-shaped cookie cutter

cookie spatula

paring knife

thin drinking straw


large baking sheet fitted with parchment or silpat

cooling rack


1.)  Place flour, shredded cheddar, grated parmesan, and salt in a food processor and pulse until you get even, sandy looking mixture.

Now add the spices from the {Yellow Cheddar Variation} or the herbs from the {White Cheddar Variation}.

Add in the butter and pulse several times.

With the food processor running, add the water to the dough in a thin stream until the sandy mixture clumps into a ball.

Remove the dough from the food processor, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

2.)  After 30 minutes, scatter some bench flour on a large work surface.  Place the dough on the bench flour and scatter it with a bit more of the bench flour.  Roll the dough out until it is an even 1/4″ in thickness.  Lightly flour the cookie cutter and cut out 12 Birdie Biscuits.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3.)  Use paring knife to cut out a small opening on the lower side of each birdie.  Find a spot around the center of the cracker, where the weight will be balanced once it’s placed on the teacup.  Use a thin straw to guide how wide you should make the opening.  The opening should be 1/4″.  Use the open end of the straw to finish off cutting a smooth rounded edge inside the small opening.  Transfer the cut cracker dough pieces onto a large parchment lined baking sheet, about 1″ apart from one another.

4.)  Insert a pumpkin seed into front tip of each Birdie Biscuit to create a beak.  To create wings, shove an almond half or 3 pumpkin seeds into the middle of the biscuit.  Sink the almond or seeds into the dough so that they will stick to the cracker after it has been baked off.  Create an eye for the bird by carefully placing one black sesame seed on the biscuit using a toothpick to push the sesame seed into the dough slightly.

5.)  Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes or until lightly puffed and browned.  When done baking, place on large rack to cool completely.  Place cooled biscuits on the edges of teacups filled with tea for a fun and festive accent.

*** Tip for Hanging Birdie Biscuits:  If the biscuit and teacup seem to slip up against one another too much, use a small dab of corn syrup on the inside and outside of the area on the teacup where the biscuit is being placed.  This will help to create some tackiness so the biscuits don’t slip around the teacup’s edge.