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The next food adventure: Tea

by: Barb Randall, 
Stash Tea holds a tea tasting weekly to familiarize patrons and staff members with new teas the company offers.

I recently rediscovered one of life's truly simple pleasures: Tea drinking.

I drink tea often, but it's been awhile since I've enjoyed the social niceties that go along with sipping a cup of tea. I was reminded of how refreshing tea is to your body and soul.

'Coffee you can pick up and drink on the fly,' said Nancy Meador, my friend and neighbor. 'But tea is something you sit down to drink; it's a social thing.'

That is so true.

Meador, who works at Stash Tea's retail store in Tigard, had invited me to attend a tea tasting. Tom Lisicki, president and CEO of the company was introducing some new green teas from China, Sri Lanka and South Africa. I eagerly accepted the invitation.

Stash Teas have been around since 1972. Lisicki joined the company in 1985, and has traveled the world, visiting tea plantations in search of the finest teas.

'Stash Tea has always sold natural teas. Even their flavored teas are 100 percent natural,' he said.

Participating in the tasting were Stash employees and a few interested shoppers. Those of us new to the experience were instructed to pour a teaspoonful of tea into our tasting spoon and slurp the tea from our spoon to add air, which would allow us to inhale the aroma as well as taste the tea.

Tom led us through the tasting of six teas including:

n Jing Shan tea from China

n Indulgashinna Garden Estate's Green and Blue Nettle teas from Sri Lanka. Indulgashinna Garden Estate was one of the first estates to go organic and create biodynamic teas, which Tom classified as high-end designer teas.

n Organic Rooibos (pronounced royboss) from South Africa, which translates to 'red bush.' This flavorful red tea is actually a legume and contains no caffeine; it is very soothing to the stomach.

n Chinese Lantern and Amaranth and Jasmine teas were as visually beautiful as they were fragrant and flavorful. These blooming teas were steeped in clear glass bowls so we could see the flower bloom from inside the tightly compressed tea leaves as they unfolded during steeping. This striking presentation would add that 'wow' factor to any table.

Store manager Reb Ryan said green teas need gentle treatment.

'Green tea requires low temperatures and low brewing time. Use about one teaspoon of loose tea leaves for a large cup of water and allow it to brew for three to four minutes,' she advised.

The Stash Tea Company sends its teas around the world via their mail order department, headquartered right behind the retail store in Tigard. The retail store boasts well over 200 loose-leaf blends and an extremely knowledgable staff to help you make selections. The store hosts tastings each Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. (the tasting March 11 will begin at 2 p.m.) and Ryan is happy to arrange private tastings for groups as well.

'The flavor of tea is influenced by many factors, learning about it can be a lot like learning about other specialty foods, like wines,' said Meador.

Friends, teas could be our next food adventure. I sampled six teas, and came home with several more to enjoy. Each tea had its own unique taste, all were wonderful. There is much to consider when sampling teas.

Ryan claims to have drunk tea in her baby bottles and has fond memories of sitting down after school to tea with her mother to recount the day's events.

An accomplished gourmand, she loves food almost as much as she loves tea. As I ogled the hundreds of canisters in the store, Ryan would open a canister, take a deep whiff and share some lore about that particular tea's origin. One tea with a particularly distinct aroma was the Lapsang Souchong.

Ryan told me the Lapsang tea, from the Fujian Province of China, is smoked over pine boughs. The tea leaves are usually withered over pine, then pan-fired, rolled and oxidized before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine.

The tea has a very strong smoky flavor and she usually drinks it with a little agave nectar added. Just sniffing the dry tea leaves reminds her of campfires on the rocks of a dry riverbed near her childhood home in upstate New York.

Ah, but the tea is the perfect addition to her Ribald Meat Soak, in which she marinates beefsteak before grilling it on the barbecue. Try it soon!

Bon Appetit! Enjoy something new!

Reb Ryan's Ribald Meat Soak

Makes enough to marinate three pounds of beefsteak

4-8 medium cloves of garlic

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp ginger powder

1 tsp sage

½ tsp red pepper

½ tsp marjoram

½ tsp oregano

¼ tsp white pepper

¼ tsp Pick-a- Pepper sauce (or the equivalent of a Jamaican pepper sauce)

½ cup sweet red wine (Manischewitz concord grape, Wild Vines blackberry merlot)

¼ cup real naple syrup

3 Tablespoons of Stash Lapsang Souchong tea leaves.

Warm the wine in a sauce pan with the tea in it, making sure it steeps for at least 15 minutes.

While that is warming, cut up your garlic cloves and insert several into slits made in the meat.

You can add the rest of the ingredients two ways:

Leave the tea leaves in the wine and add all the ingredients (except the syrup) to the wine as it starts to steam (stir often for about 3-4 minutes) OR you can strain out the tea leaves and add your ingredients to the tea steeped wine.

This finished, now add the syrup to cool down the marinade. Once it has cooled sufficiently, pour it over the steak. (One mustn't put hot marinade on steak. This may start to cook a portion of the meat.)

The most important step: The meat must marinate a minimum of 4 hours prior to cooking, but its best if left over night. Turn the steaks at least 4 times to make sure each side is coated.

This is good for up to three pounds of steak and is also good on turkey legs or fish. (Less marinade time for fish; 1-2 hours)

From Reb Ryan, Stash Tea Company.

The retail store address is 7250 S.W. Durham Road, Bldg. J in Tigard. The phone number is 503-603-9905.

For more information about Lapsang tea go to http://shopstashtea.com/193023.html and to learn more about Stash Tea Company visit their Web site at www.stashtea.com .

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at brandall@lakeoswego

review.com.