Ever since I was a little girl terrorizing the Caribbean I have loved tea parties. For my 16th birthday my mom offered to throw me a High Tea. I made all my friends dress up, my mom pulled out her grandmother’s china, and I received a replica of a 12th century sword. It was an awesome birthday.
Aside from the sword, and the dress, one of the best things that still remains from that party is a scone recipe my mom found for the occasion. She has no idea where she found it from so it remains labeled as “Oci’s 16th B-day Scones” in her recipe box. Over the years we’ve made these scones for tons of different occasions and the recipe has moved throughout our family’s social circles. Just last week a family friend of ours made scones using the base recipe but using a whole wheat flour mix and added dried cherries. The result was amazing.
Oci’s 16th B-Day Scones:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 2/3 cups heavy cream
- Mix together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
- Stir in the heavy cream a little at a time (so it won’t become sticky)
- Divide the dough into 2 disks and cut into 8ths. (I usually roll the dough out slightly with a little flour and cut into disks)
- Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 325 F for 20-30 minutes.
My favorite way to consume these scones are with raspberry jam and homemade whipped cream (or just jam) or a homemade lemon curd. A friend found me a “Tangerine-Lemon Curd” recipe online back in January when I scored two boxes of Meyer Lemons from Costco. With Meyer lemons you can just do all lemons instead of lemon and tangerine. Here’s a link to the original recipe:
Funny enough, my brother just had his 16th birthday party and the same scones were served during the tea portion of the charity gala we did for him.
After I finished college I spent a semester realizing that my dream of getting my PhD in philosophy was about 20-30 years too late and also that I wasn’t French. I also fulfilled some deep seeded desires to try and continue my architectual career by discovering I’m pretty darned good at physics. At the end of the Semester of the Great Ethical Failure of 2009 (apparently cupcakes is not a good metaphor to use on a ten page ethics final and that actually bringing cupcakes to class does NOT boost one’s ethical capacity or grades) I fled the country for two months.
My mom does a lot of contract work in China and used to go regularly to oversee projects, etc. and since my physics teacher said I could easily skip the first month of the class and still be ahead and I wouldn’t be starting my next attempt at Big Girl School until March I went with her to Chengdu where I had a brief stint as her translator and also as a volunteer in an Irish pub/bookstore/library/charity. China has a very old tea culture that I think more people need to adopt (even if they don’t drink tea).
On a previous trip to Beijing in 2008, my brother and I befriended a teapot artist named Wendy Wu (many Chinese who are studying English or have contact with foreigners tend to choose western names for themselves) from whom we both bought tea sets that summer. I also bought a pot from Shanghai when I took the train down there later that summer. Wendy and her younger sister taught us the art of the Chinese tea ceremony over a series of visits and they, along with a cousin, took my family out to eat huoguo (hot pot) for dinner in a tiny alley nearby after our bonding over dozens of tiny cups of various teas. It was the middle of the summer and it was hot and gross but even still the tea felt refreshing.
When I was in Chengdu with my mom it was the middle of winter so having hot tea was more than just a pick me up in the afternoons. Chengdu has a much milder winter climate than Beijing but the tea culture there is much more present with the office staff often taking an hour or two tea break after lunch along the river or in small tea houses near our office and temporary home. In the winter, many people carrying around these double lined glass thermoses in which they put some tea leaves (usually green tea) and simply refill with hot water throughout the day.
For those of you who haven’t had proper green tea, a quick note: Green tea is actually a lot stronger in flavor than one might imagine. The first pouring or two of green tea can be incredibly bitter. Also, Chinese teas aren’t usually meant to be drunk with any sort of sweetener. I prefer the 4th pouring and after of green tea because that’s when you can really enjoy the hot water and the more subtle tastes of the tea rather than that face scrunching bitterness that really isn’t too pleasant. For many Chinese teas one is usually not meant to drink the first pouring of the tea.
The following are some GastroPorn Films about Chinese tea ceremonies I think are fairly accurate to what I know and also look cool.
After the ancient tea culture of mainland China my mum took to to another tea institution by taking me for afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong when we stopped there on the way home for the Chinese New Year celebration. It was a bit of a time and space warp to walk through the galleries beneath the hotel and sitting in a massive hall dripping with the British opulence in the Orient after trying to navigate the Chengdu bus system and having to find our main meal of the day later that night in an alley behind our hotel. We got so lost trying to find our hotel late one night it was lucky most people in Hong Kong know some English or Mandarin and were able to help us out with some directions.
[You can click on the photo to see more information about Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula]
When we returned from that trip I wanted very much to try and find better places in the DC area that I could go to and enjoy both kinds of tea culture. While I have yet to actually try any of the weekend high teas in the area (I simply cannot bring myself to spend that sort of money for something I can do so easily at home unless there’s a really good reason/incentive), I have found two places that are very worth mentioning: Teaism and Ching Ching Cha. [You can click on the logos to go to their websites]
In my “For the Love of Chocolate!” post I mentioned Teaism as a good place to go for a light meal before shamelessly gorging oneself on a 5-course dessert at Co Co. Sala. I usually go to the Penn Quarter location because it’s the closest location to the various Shakespeare theaters in the area as well as the Mall (the one with museums). Also, with the Penn Quarter being so close to Capitol Hill and all those government buildings, there have been more than a few “C-SPAN Star Sightings” in this location.
I have yet to meet anything on Teaisms’ menu that I really didn’t like. I take out of town visitors here for a quick meal in between visiting museums and I also go just to sit an enjoy a cup of the famous Teaism Chai or a Jasmine Creme Brulee. I’m not actually a fan of creme brulee but this one I like. As it also happens, I have a really good recipe for creme brulee tarts that I used to make a lot because my mum (and non-coincidentally one of my favorite people/crushes at the time) loves creme brulee. Teaism also has British Tea tray but I’ve never actually tried it. I’ll have to do that next time I’m down there.
Another thing I love about Teaism is their tea shop, which is right next door. I’ve bought several loose leaf teas from there as well as tea bags (as in bags to put your loose leaf tea in).
Ching Ching Cha is not only my number one tea place in DC but it also happens to be the third stop on my famous “Napping Tour of DC”. The tour starts in the Building Museum before it fills up with parents and small kids, continues into the Kogod Courtyard of the Portrait Gallery, takes an extended break at Ching Ching Cha, and ends up at the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Depending on the time of the year (and tourist saturation of the area) I will also include some of the art galleries but these tend to be seasonal locations based on when the least amount of people might be in the galleries.
The last time I took a friend on the Tour was right after Christmas and it was seriously cold. We curled up on some of the super comfy pillows and watched “Modern Family” while sipping on teas and nibbling on a bowl (or four) of snow peas and Mongolian dumplings. Ching Ching Cha is also an excellent place to get away from the heat and crowds in the summer.