Friday, 5 July 2013

Love Your Farmer : Teafarm

What is about to become one of the loveliest teas I have ever had.
Tea has been a part of my life since I was a child.  My father used to drink Twinings Earl Grey with a little sugar and a slice of lemon.  Sometimes he would make me a cup also with milk and sugar, I loved it.  When I became a mother, tea took on a whole new meaning.  The jolt of landing on the self-sacrificing path of motherhood started to take its toll on me early on in my journey.  So I began a daily practice of drinking tea.  I call it a practice because I didn't simply sit in the car waiting for a cup of tea to reach me through a drive-thru window.  I carved out a piece of time, every day around 3 pm to sit down at my kitchen table with a lovely cup of good tea, a small sweet and a little something to read.  It hasn’t always been easy to make this happen for myself, I do have two children after all.  However, a practice is just that, something you do everyday to improve your life, if even just a little.  This time of tea for me has become a solace, a time to slow down and a small daily gift to myself.

A longstanding part of my practice of tea has come from Teafarm, a local farm here in the Cowichan Valley producing and creating their original blends of amazing black, green, white and herbal teas from all over the world, including from their own farm.  As part of my Love Your Farmer series, I wanted to explore what Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann have created and where the tea that I love so much comes from.

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to spend a sunny afternoon with Victor (Margit was very busy getting ready for the week) in their tea house.  He gifted me with a Moroccan tea service that to me, epitomized The Way of Tea.  It is a slow process of bringing the water to just the right temperature, then cleansing the gunpowder green tea in the pot with the first pour of the water.  It is then swirled about in the pot and poured out into the "truth" cup.  This is one of three beautiful glass tea cups that shows the recipient that the tea has been cleansed and is ready to be prepared.  Next in goes gorgeous fresh organic mint, hot water and sugar. Once it has steeped, it is poured out into a glass and then back into the pot again to fully oxygenate the tea.  This beautiful process feels like such a gift.  Victor shared with me that he believes that "tea is love" and I fully agree.

Victor preparing my Moroccan tea service.
What followed for the next two hours was a conversation as rich as the tea itself.  One of things I love so much about tea is that it can be such a wonderful way to foster connections with others. When someone makes you a pot of tea, it is not only an expression of love; it is a reason to slow down.  You cannot rush a cup of tea, it needs to steep, be poured and prepared and sipped slowly.  In the time it takes to let this moment unfold, so often does good conversation.  Have you ever noticed just how powerful tea can be?  It can calm a broken heart, be an olive branch between two people, act as an extension of love and care, cool a hot temper and invigorate the soul for the hours ahead. When my father who is now 84 years old would come down with any sort of illness, he would, and still does, make himself his Earl Grey tea with lemon, it is his longstanding cure-all.  He nearly believes it is magical, and perhaps it is.

Gorgeous Calendula that is added to the Mysteaque tea.
Victor and Margit have created a beautiful space on their property devoted to their love of tea.  Along with organic lavender, calendula, mint and other herbs and flowers that are growing abundantly, they have a small parcel devoted to tea plants.  Tea typically grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world.  Having tea plants growing here in the Cowichan Valley is a fascinating experiment and could potentially change how we experience local tea.  These little tea plants have survived three winters so far, which is nothing short of a small miracle.  While they won't be ready for harvest for a few more years I think it is remarkable that Victor and Margit are growing them.  We all know what tea looks like out of a tin or a tea bag, but it is fascinating to see the actual plant growing, to be able to see where our tea really comes from.  Did you know that all types of tea, such as white, green, and black tea, come from the same plant species (Camellia sinensis)?  It is the oxidizing process, sometimes accomplished by pan frying, that brings out the various shades and flavours of tea. Similar to growing grapes for wine production, the flavour and unique characteristics of the plant are shaped by the variations in soil type, humidity, and even altitude in which it is grown.

Beautiful little tea plants growing on a terraced garden

The tea house
In addition to the growing space, Teafarm includes a beautiful tea house.  This lovely little spot houses over 80 different varieties of tea along with Margit's beautiful pottery.  Here you can purchase your tea to enjoy at home or stay for a tea service with a sweet pairing, which I highly recommend (temptation caused a return visit last weekend with my daughter).  Margit shared with me how tea and ceramics have always gone hand in hand and because of this, having a pottery studio connected with the tea made perfect sense.  It is interesting how here in North America we have no problem drinking our tea out of paper or even worse Styrofoam cups but to me, that goes against everything that tea represents.  Drinking your tea slowly out of a ceramic or glass cup requires that we slow down.  The love that comes through the tea that was made for you is held by the love of the artist that went into making your cup.  Paper doesn't do that for you, nor will your tea taste the same.

Margit's lovely pottery, these are wonderful to drink tea
As my conversation with Victor continued on, I asked him "What brought you to tea?"  His response was "coffee is a way of doing, tea is a way of being." In a world that is ever pushing us to improve productivity, to move faster and more often, bringing so many to a state of constant stress, the idea of being part of something that encourages you to just be, is a haven in a sometimes crazy world. Tea connects us to nature though the elements that bring it to your cup and so to honour that, it should be the best quality you can afford.  Teafarm prides itself on selling organic, fairly traded teas of the highest quality that are not only beautiful to drink, they are also affordable.  They use only whole leaf teas, not the sweeping or fannings found in most inexpensive teas and there are no synthetic essences or flavourings.  What you are drinking is pure and whole.  As for my favourite tea, Earl Grey, they use only true oil of bergamot and you can absolutely taste it.
Margit's sculptures, beautiful lanterns.
Inside the tea house. I love the light in here.

My tea and sweet pairing. Iced Mysteaque with an Earl Grey Chocolate cake.  Tea can be
wonderful to cook with. 

Margit in her garden.

While you may think purchasing an artisan tea is going to cost a fortune, it actually doesn't.  At Teafarm you can purchase teas in tins, 250 gram bags as well as 500 gram bags (the more you buy, the more you save).  If you return your tin, you receive a 10% discount and if you venture to the Community Farm Store, you can also buy it in bulk.  My tea math may not be exact, but I worked out an 80 gram tin of Teafarm tea to be about 34 cents a cup. Considering that when I go to a cafĂ© to order a latte that costs me over $5.00, a tin of Teafarm Earl Grey is an amazing deal for an afternoon practice of quiet. Read here to find where you can purchase your tea.

Victor outside the tea house.  I love his passion for tea!
Tea need not belong only to expensive tea services at fancy hotels.  Tea belongs to all of us, the young and the old, the rich and the poor.  It crosses cultural boundaries and brings us all closer together when we share a pot.  If you haven't tried Teafarm tea, I highly encourage you experience it. It's a gift of time that we all deserve.  Thank you Victor and Margit for sharing the Way of Teafarm with me, it was such a wonderful experience.

Earl Grey Tea Cake
Adapted from the Wilton Yellow Cake Recipe

3 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2/3 cups butter
2 eggs
3 1/2 teaspoons Teafarm Earl Grey loose leaf tea
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups whole milk

Pour milk into small sauce pan and warm with loose tea.  Before it begins to boil, take it off the heat and let steep for 3-5 minutes.  Strain the tea leaves out with a sieve and keep the milk in a glass or a jar for later.

Preheat your oven to 350℉.  

Grease two round 9 inch cake pans and line with parchment. 

Sift flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a mixing bowl with beaters, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat for 1 minute.  

Next add the flour and milk mixture, alternating into thirds.  Once everything is in, beat for one minute longer.  

Pour into cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire racks.

Earl Grey Tea Frosting

1 1/3 cups unsalted butter-room temperature
3 1/2-4/12 cups icing sugar-sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 Tbsp milk
1- 1/2 tsp ground whole leaf Teafarm Earl Grey tea

Cream butter in a large bowl, with a wooden spoon works best for me.  Slowly add icing sugar, continually stirring to combine.  Add ground tea, vanilla and continue to beat.  Add milk as needed to thin the icing.  

This will make enough to ice a two layer cake.  Decorate with flowers and enjoy with a friend. 

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