Tea of the Week: Mandala Tea’s Milk Oolong

What’s your favorite tea? Among all the packets, tins, and boxes of tea floating around in my stash, Mandala Tea’s Milk Oolong stands out as one of my favorites. The tea gets its name from its sweet, milky finish and is almost desert-like in taste. Just so you know, there isn’t a smidge of milk or cream in this tea, nor is there ever a reason to add any!It’s this brew’s balance between light and rich, pure and complex that makes it such an amazing sip. The tea is grown in altitudes between 1,600 and 3,200 feet above sea level where sunny days and cool nights help the leaves to develop such exceptional flavor. This milk oolong is a favorite of many tea enthusiasts and bloggers, yet another delicious selection from Mandala Teas. Tasting Notes for Mandala Tea’s Milk Oolong:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew at 190 degrees F for 20 seconds for the first few infusions, then for 10-20 additional seconds for later infusions. You should be able to get many steeps out of this tea. I like to take these leftover steeped leaves and place them in my ice water to extract every last trace of flavor from the them…yes, the tea is that great!
THE TEA:  Tightly rolled, dark green balls that unravel into large leaves as they steep.
THE SCENT:  Floral and fragrant, like tropical orchids, lilacs, or gardenias. This brew reminds me of my favorite place in the world, Hawaii. A whiff of this tea brewing is like getting a hit of sweet island air.
THE STEEP:  Brews to a pale, golden-yellow. Lightly sweet yet rich and buttery. Hints of coconut, cream, honey, and caramel that are distinct but subtle. To be clear, this milk oolong has nothing to do with milk tea or bubble (boba) milk tea. There are absolutely no sweeteners or dairy additives here.
GET IT:  At Mandala Tea’s site.
FOOD PAIRING:  This would be perfect with a tropical fruit salad with pineapple or mangos. Also lovely with light coconut milk-based desserts, like dairy-free panna cotta or Chinese coconut jello. For a savory change, serve this with spring rolls or sushi. Also great with white-fleshed fish like rock cod, tilapia, or mahi-mahi served Asian-style, with plenty of scallions and ginger.

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.

Ingredients:

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

Equipment:

food processor, fitted with steel blade

grater(s) for cheeses

plastic wrap

work surface

rolling-pin

large leaf-shaped cookie cutter

cookie spatula

paring knife

thin drinking straw

toothpick

large baking sheet fitted with parchment or silpat

cooling rack

Directions:

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.