Tea with Tastemakers Podcast: Episode 2

tea with tastemakers tea podcast

Do you have a car ride ahead of you for a certain holiday of thankfulness this week? To sweeten the miles, our newest episode of Teatime with Tastemakers tea podcast is up! And, good news—we are in the process of getting the podcast up on the iTunes store. Stay tuned for that update.

Expo West 2015

But, first, I felt it fitting to invite you to a conversation with another local tea maker, this time we ventured past San Rafael, California and our first podcast episode with Silk Road Teas to Novato, California and a tea company where each employee is designated as a minister.

Rose and Cabernet Iced Teas

When I think of Republic of Tea, my mind jets through the flavor rolodex of taste memories to the Bazaar Café in San Francisco. It’s not a flavor from their line of Grateful Dead teas or even from the newer line of Downton Abbey teas that comes to mind.

Chardonnay Tea

Instead, Blackberry Sage black tea, Ginger Peach black tea or Wild Blueberry black tea bloom into focus. (Do you sense a trend? Republic of Tea boasts 300 teas / blends.)

Rose Tea

At the 2014 San Francisco Tea Festival, I chatted with one of their ministers of trade about working in the tea industry. Another time, I sat next to the minister of innovation  who has overseen product development for many years–her sources of inspiration on new flavors fascinated.

Chardonnay Tea

Their new releases of teas and tea lines remind me of fashion collections (which might make sense given they were originally started in 1992 by former Banana Republic co-founders, Mel and Patricia Ziegler {along with Bill Rosenzweig}, though the Rubin family has been at the helm of ROT since 1994, under the leadership of Ron Rubin until recently in May when son, Todd succeeded him).

Sonoma Tea Tasting

Earlier this year at the San Francisco Fancy Food show and then at the Natural Products Expo West show, I had a chance to visit their booth and see their flavor innovation at work. Their expansive line of flavors has included recently Matchia or Chia Chai which are both fun to say and to sip / chew.

Hot Mulled Tea

This spring, they introduced a Sonoma Tea line… made of spent wine grape skins that really surprised me with the clever approach and collaboration with wine country company, WholeVine. I had a chance to try the sangria teas at their Expo West booth in Anaheim and then later received an invitation from them to attend a luncheon to taste the teas in action, paired with cuisine concocted by the chef at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco which was a fun way to experience the tea flavors in context.

Sonoma Teas_anneliesz

A vegetable-centric amuse bouche came out as another server poured Chardonnay iced tea. Salad with a citrusy yogurt smear paired with Rose Tea. Seared duck breast was served with Cabernet tea. And a decadent chocolate dessert introduced the hot mulled Zin tea.

Sonoma Teas

After the luncheon, I caught a few minutes with Kristina Richens, the minister of englightenment to talk a bit about Republic of Tea, the Sonoma teas, and their philosophy on cooking with tea.

Tune in below:

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

When you think of maple syrup does your mind first conjure up a stack of pancakes and a warm amber-colored drizzle pooling around the edges of the plate below the tipped spoon? If there is any ingredient that can usher in a taste of fall and winter, it might just be maple. The sweet caramel notes remind me of tearing into beaver tail brioche doughnuts slick with hot maple glaze during a Quebecois Christmas. More recently in Vermont, I saw firsthand how this beloved ingredient makes its way onto menus (like the irresistible pairing of Vermont cream and Vermont maple in Maple Walnut Ice Cream) or on store shelves, in everything from jars of “maple crunch” clusters to a bag of sriracha maple cashews that both passed the carry-on permissible souvenir test.

Maple Walnut Ice Cream

I’ve been thinking about maple more often than usual because of Katie Webster’s first cookbook, Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup. Several months ago a mutual friend introduced us and I agreed to assist her during a 48 hour turn-around trip from Vermont to San Francisco. When she offered to send me her cookbook to explore more, I happily accepted.

Maple Cookbook

On Katie’s blog, Healthy Seasonal Recipes, she shares recipes rooted in the seasons with a healthy perspective. She shot all of the photos in her cookbook. As a former food stylist for Eating Well Magazine, she knows how to take stunning photos that give healthy food gorgeous appeal.

Katie was flying out from Vermont to San Francisco to demonstrate a few maple recipes at a librarians conference. When we initially discussed recipes to demo, she teased out the recipe for Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs commenting how this recipe wooed anyone who made it. We ended up going with two other recipes,  but the chicken stayed in the back of my mind, bookmarked.

Maple Ginger Chicken

Writing a first cookbook includes its own ebb and flow. There are long solitary stretches where the cook works to perfect the recipe in their kitchen. Then, in come the reinforcements in the form of recipe testers, editor, and friends for support. I’ve had my fair share of helpers, so I was excited to help another first-time author as she thrust her book out into the world for the first time.  I prepped all the ingredients and packed parts of my kitchen to haul over to the Moscone Center for her cooking demo at the librarians convention. She showed the group how to make her Maple Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies (p. 134) and Maple Sour Cherry Shirley Temples (p. 52) as several of us distributed samples for attendees to taste.

The maple walnut chocolate chunk cookies can be made with dark or white chocolate chips, but take it from an avid dark chocolate fan, I heartily suggest eschewing the dark and going for white. The test batch below shows dark chocolate. The white chocolate didn’t last quite so long… White chocolate brings out the caramel accents from the maple sugar in the cookies that bake up crisp around the edges and moist in the middles. Katie’s maple sour cherry Shirley Temples were a revelation. I had made a test batch when I first received the recipe and this drink has been modified for adult palates, balancing the sweetness of the maple syrup with sour cherries and a bit of almond extract. This drink made a believer out of me and escalated my curiosity to try Katie’s other maple-laced recipes.

Maple Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

The book categorizes the recipes by type, making it easy to hunt down drink recipes, breakfasts, main courses, and desserts. I began marking pages as soon as the book arrived that I’m planning to make this fall like Easy Maple Turkey Breakfast Sausage (p. 22) and the Overnight Whole Grain French Toast Bake with Dried Apricots and Chèvre (p. 30) that I’m eyeing for Christmas.

I learned that every winter Katie and her family tap trees in their yard and then process the sap through backyard sugaring that includes a 500-pound evaporator parked in their driveway. Katie takes the reader into understanding the differences between grades of syrup and even offers substitution tips for swapping in maple syrup in place of other sweeteners. Growing up in Texas and then living in California, it’s all too easy to look at a bottle of maple syrup and not see the connection to the land, especially when considering the cost. This ingredient is big business in Vermont and Northern America with direct links back to family-owned businesses. In reading Maple, I began to appreciate so much more than just the flavor. And that brings us back to chicken.

These chicken thighs marinate overnight for a comforting main course that fills the house with the aroma of fall. I totally understood Katie’s promptings this summer that this chicken would woo and win over anyone who tried it. It really is a bit of a ringer recipe. I adapted it ever so slightly with a few substitutions. We use kosher salt in our house, so instead of using 3/4 teaspoon iodized table salt as indicated in the recipe, I swapped in 1 teaspoon kosher salt. The recipe called for bone-in chicken thighs, but I ended up using skinless, boneless chicken thighs because that’s what I could find at my local market. She gives the suggestion to use pears or apples, but we decided to keep the apple love fest going strong to pair with the apple cider and apple cider vinegar. I made a pot of polenta and steamed some carrots to serve alongside. In the end I’m thinking all this dish really needs is a cold evening outside with the oven heating up our home and the smell of ginger, apples, maple, and poultry permeating every nook and warming us up.

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

Maple Ginger Chicken Thighs

(adapted ever so slightly) Reprinted with permission from Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Maple Syrup by Katie Webster, published by Quirk Books.

Makes 8 servings

1 shallot, finely sliced

3/4 cup apple cider

1/2 cup dark pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon finely grated, peeled, fresh ginger

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus four sprigs, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 bone-in (or boneless, skinless) chicken thighs

3 medium pears or apples, peeled, cored and quartered


In a medium bowl, whisk shallot, cider, syrup, ginger, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper. Place chicken in a large resealable bag. Pour marinade into bag, seal it, and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning once or twice to agitate marinade and coat all pieces.

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove chicken from marinade and arrange pieces, skin side up, in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Tuck pears and thyme sprigs among chicken pieces. Pour marinade over top. Bake, basting occasionally, about 1 hour, until chicken is cooked through and starting to pull from the bone. Serve chicken and pears with sauce spooned over top.


Salad for Endless Summer


Salad for Endless Summer

Everything inside of me wants to braise– to uncover a pot and release the steam of beer-scented lamb into the small confines of the kitchen. My red Dutch oven peers out from its file cabinet perch, forlorn. The sourdough starter that brings joy to the bread eaters in my family and among friends sits on the top shelf of the refrigerator, its fermentation retarded until its bi-weekly feeding time. Sandwich boards tout the flavors of fall even as the thermometer tells me otherwise.

We live in Oakland. We live in endless summer. In fact, I’ve taken to calling our fair city “endless summer” anytime the occasion arises, which I can assure you is as frequent as forgoing cups of hot tea for cooling quenchers of iced. For years, I lived in a patch of fog that finagled the idea of grey skies into my daily experience. Yet, even when I visit the bookseller friend in that former San Francisco neighborhood whose fondness for the East Bay encouraged me to embrace our move, she tells me the patch of fog in our old neighborhood has hung up a sign that it’s on holiday.

During the summer, no-bake recipes flitter through feeds on twitter, eat up the thread on pinterest, and woo home cooks with the idea that dinner can be a winner without the assistance of the oven. Zucchini noodles may just have transitioned this summer from fringe food to mainstream main dish. When it comes to kitchen gadgetry, bypass one of those contraptions that cranks out zoodles for the humble box cheese grater or reach for your food processor.

A simple lunch salad for endless summer comes together with a can, a squash, a squeeze, and a sprinkling of almonds. It takes a nod from summer appetizers of prosciutto wrapped figs pairing them with creamy garbanzos. As dinner, it comes together in 10 minutes and satisfies the urge for healthy food that’s fast. It is a safeguard against evenings of easy take-out and my response to the days of drought that keep summer forestalling fall. Soon enough, the pumpkins will get hacked into roastable chunks. The half moons of delicata will sizzle from brushed-on olive oil. Raw squash will give way for roasted. And, the glow of oven coils will replace the long days of our overworked brightest star.

Salad for Endless Summer

A Salad for Endless Summer

Feel free to omit the prosciutto for a vegetarian version of the salad—the garbanzos star in this salad that can easily be doubled and is best served right away. 

Makes 2 servings

3 zucchini, grated (3 cups)

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

3 slices prosciutto, rolled and chopped

9 dried figs, chopped (1/3 cup)

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 crushed red pepper flakes

Stir together the zucchini, garbanzos, prosciutto, figs, green onion, almonds, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes.

In a word

Adrenaline courses through me. Even as I tried to shut my eyes for a whole 20 minutes, my mind transported me back to Oaktown Spice Shop and the cooking with tea workshop that I led there tonight. We are on the cusp of my favorite holiday—not the one all wrapped in ghoulish attire, but the one resplendent in gratitude. I am swimming in gratitude right now. It’s keeping my eyes open when they should be shut. Tonight, I met a chocolate maker, a teacher for special ed. students, a podcaster, and oodles of others who shared a kind remark and assisted with panache during the demos. One man told me he can’t remember when he’d had this much fun on a Tuesday night. Another one told me he had found the workshop through the podcast (that’s only a week and a half old!). One woman bought a book for her tea cart-owner mom and had me inscribe it as a gift, eager to share the easy and fun ideas with her. Another woman told me she learned a lot. A man asked me if I had ever wanted to be a teacher. You can’t go to sleep quickly after these kinds of encounters.

seattle center

Let’s rewind to last year: my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I was laid off two weeks after her surgery in a round of routine dismissals with no hard feelings attached. Her surgeon told us they had gotten all the cancer. My agent told me my book had found the right home. I followed in my Dad’s footsteps and forged out on my own starting a fledgling company and sailing this ship on in the afterglow of his life. If you had asked me a year ago where I would be, the answer would not have been the one blinking at me in the darkness of a Tuesday night. I’m teaching (sporadically), writing (sporadically), and doing something creative as work everyday for companies I believe in. The second time I visited India, I remembered something a friend had said on my first visit, “Take good notes. You can only visit India for the first time once.” This season will happen only once in quite this way and I am trying to take good notes of it that they might birth the possible inside of you too. Our time is finite.

What is the one thing you feel you must do that scares the crap out of you to attempt? Next, think about how the world might just become a better place from your feat. Then, go do it. Will a cooking with tea book change the world? In a word, no. But, will it brighten up the bookcases and kitchen countertops where it gets streaked and splotched with use? You bet. And, I’m grateful for the chance to just show up. I share about Steeped as a reminder that if I can do this, you can do the work set out for you. Be encouraged! Keep going!  And, thank you for showing up too.

Tea with Tastemakers Podcast

tea with tastemakers podcast

In college, I worked at the campus newspaper and moonlighted down the hall at the radio station, KPNI. It was there I learned the value of not popping my P’s or T’s and developed an appreciation for techno music from the station manager. My show lasted for an hour during which I would read PSA’s as breaks and attempted to ad-lib throughout the hour. I worked on fading in songs and how to select them by length and sonic resonance with the preceding song. When I look back on that time, it feels almost mythical. Our station team consisted of a spirited crew. We were a band of misfits and I loved every minute of my time in the studio—even the mandatory rotation shows each of us got assigned, playing songs from a limited selection of CDs. In the studio, I set aside my shyness of being in front of crowds, channeling my energy into the music and weaving songs together to tell a larger story. I considered the small space private and the microphone as a rhetorical question issued into the silence.

silk road teas

When Steeped began its locomotive journey out of me, into the kitchen, and onto the page, I knew that I wanted not just to include my story of how I got steeped, but those of friends and tastemakers in the tea world. A cup of oolong tea offered along with an engagement ring at a jewelry shop prompted my former bosses to completely shift direction from their current careers into one deeply steeped in tea. The tea world is full of people whose passion for the leaf transforms their lives. Those stories fascinate me and need to be told. They are the focus behind my new podcast.

silk road teas

You heard that right: I have been working behind the scenes to bring all the pieces together to create a podcast for tea lovers. Expect episodes highlighting conversations over tea with some of the people behind specialty tea companies who are informing and shaping the direction of tea in the U.S.

silk road teas

Living in the Bay area, there is a proliferation of specialty tea companies headquartered within close proximity of each other. Tell me in the comments if there is a tea company you would like to see featured. The first Tea with Tastemakers podcast episode is up!

silk road teas

Silk Road Teas offers exquisite rare artisan teas and has quite a storied past. Based in San Rafael, their focus on quality and reputation in the industry make Silk Road a sought after purveyor of teas. I sat down with president, Ned Heagerty to hear how he got steeped. He and his wife Catherine source and procure stunning teas that are starting to become more available in specialty markets as well as online. Tune in and join us for tea by clicking below to listen.

Back roads, blind tasting and staring into the black hole

When I was a kid, my mom occasionally toted me to blind taste tests where we would be paid for our opinions. I remember trying different unmarked hot dogs as a child and giving my opinion on which one tasted best. Even as a child, I was never short on opinions, though I was short. One evening the power in the building extinguished and I could hear a woman let out a blood-curdling cry of, my baby! When the lights went back on, the person behind the scream emerged as a sheepish mother and her seven-year old son red of embarrassment. Years later, my mom and I tell that story of sampling hot dogs punctuated with a blackout and bone-chilling scream and break out into laughter. While working at the tea company, I attended a professional tasting training where they had brought in an expert to teach us the roles of the different parts of our palates and how to better describe what we taste.

vermont - anneliesz

All of my previous tasting experiences served me well on a Tuesday morning in a wooden folding seat, a tray of capped plastic ramekins on my lap. In the brightly lit room, Jack Bishop began giving us instructions on how we would conduct the audience portion of the blind taste test before Chris Kimball emerged onto the set. The setting was inside the white house in Rupert, Vermont where Cook’s Country by America’s Test Kitchen is filmed. After two weeks of filming, this Tuesday was the final day of what I imagine must have been something like a professional boot camp. A work trip took me to the beautiful backdrop of back roads where the leaves were just beginning to crisp up with color, and into that studio audience folding chair. I had been to America’s Test Kitchen before and happily revisited it during my brief stint in Brookline before heading north.

vermont - anneliesz

On this day our task was simple: three kinds of corn chips – three kinds of salted butter – three kinds of Creole seasoning. A professional tasting panel had already tasted the samples waiting before us and our opinions would provide an extra set of data along with Chris Kimball’s blind taste test of the same samples, from which to determine the recommended brand. An assistant passed out our tasting sheets where we would mark our answers and rate taste, color, and texture. I eyed the corn chips like it might have been a noon-day showdown. The colors all differed and so white corn took on yellow corn took on blue. It was no contest really. Even without salsa, only one chip emerged as the victor with a rippled bubbly exterior, solid crunch, and corny flavor. On to the butter, this round definitely perplexed us more. Who eats butter out of hand? And yet some spread it on saltines and I tried to dip my knife into it for a more pure unadulterated tasting. This time two butters competed almost head-to-head, but one came out the winner with its creamy consistency, slight salt, and a sweetness that had almost floral notes in it. I’m pretty sure a few of us were imagining dabbing a pat of that butter on warm sourdough bread. Last up, the Creole seasoning ended up polarizing our group. And, Bishop pointed out that it might make sense depending on where people were coming from. I immediately determined my winner after a quick heat developed in my mouth from the seasoning sprinkled on white rice. If I closed my eyes, I could envision homemade gumbo or etoufee with this necessary ingredient. Results were tallied.

jack bishop cooks country

One of the cameramen came out and moved us in our row so the view from the camera was just right. Out came Chris Kimball onto the set as the director yelled, action! Bishop and Kimball began their repartee as Kimball tackled the corn chip first, tasting all three options and agreeing with the audience, as he did with the butter, and Creole seasoning. Watching the two of them naturally gab in front of the camera (all told, I think there were five in the room), I’m reminded of how much I admire anyone willing to be on television. Kimball let his comments roll without reserve as he crunched one chip, then another, then back to the first batch. You can tell he’s been doing this for a while—he worked the camera (and crowd, let it be known) fluidly and with panache.

shelved- props-cooks country

Being on camera isn’t something I aspire to do. Years ago, after a tradeshow elicited an opportunity for the tea company, I flew out to New York to tape a handful of videos on tea for a popular website. I had written the scripts—all verbiage and content I regularly shared at food festivals with visitors to our booth. I felt comfortable and confident with what I had written and practiced a few times in an empty conference room at the office, in front of a colleague, as well as in front of a mirror. I arrived the night before the taping so my body could acclimate to the time change and I could rest. My nails had been freshly lacquered. I sported a new choppy hairdo. My closet had been reduced to one acceptable dress. Manhattan on mute—muffled taxi cabs and street sounds kept me grounded.

shelved - cooks country set

Nothing could prepare me for what awaited. The camera trained on your face is a humbling prospect. It gives nothing to you—there are no eyes sparked with life that lift and smile, no eyebrows to crest up with surprise or furrow with skepticism. Instead you focus on a gaping glass eye that is all-seeing and unforgiving. I can’t tell you how many times I flubbed my words on that first video—words that I had written and essentially had to abandon in favor of keeping a steady rhythm and not pausing awkwardly searching for my next phrases. The director and content producer for the website were stellar—they kept me cool every time I grew flustered. By the end of the day, and after five videos, we had found our pace, and I had rediscovered my sense of humor. After that day of harrowing work, I felt no fear in front of the camera where I could ad-lib. Still, watching how Kimball and Bishop could nail their bits in one take or at most two—it was fascinating to watch how they would edit their remarks from one take to the next. I left the Cook’s Country house that day wiser for the corn chip, salted butter, and Creole seasoning, but wiser too from seeing people in their element getting their work done with grace.

cooks country vermont