History of Tea

Taking Tea: Minding Your Manners

Tea Manners and etiquette

I find I am constantly asked about the etiquette of taking afternoon tea. Many visitors to the UK have a perception it is a meal to be taken along with a dose of ‘best behaviour’ – that we should sit up straight, dress elegantly and exude an air of refinement. There’s a sense of being on display to the world and our behaviour is being judged. But all we are doing is having a cup of tea and a cake, there’s nothing fancy about it, is there? Actually, there is. To understand the custom, we need to go back a few centuries…

Tea Drinking Takes Off

In a very brief précis, tea drinking became all the rage in Great Britain in the early 18th century. It was a time of change, when the Industrial Revolution was taking off – a period that spanned more than 150 years.

Tea had an increasingly important role to play in the lives of the emerging wealthy urban ‘middling’ classes. Up until this time, wealth was mainly derived from and held in the hands of the small elite of (predominantly aristocratic) landowners. With the business boom of the 17th and 18th centuries – along with new scientific advances and access to coal fuelling industrial expansion – the distribution of wealth shifted to the rapidly growing cities. A ‘nouveau riche’ urban middling class began to emerge who emulated the fashions of the monied landed gentry and aristocracy.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

This newly rich group desired opportunities to behave in public in a polite, genteel manner and drinking tea became a wonderful way to demonstrate this. Mothers would train their daughters in the art of the tea ceremony. We may laugh now, especially when we think of the present day teabag being dunked in a mug, but this social custom was steeped in importance. The customs around drinking tea provided a means to show the were good enough to mix with old money whilst also elevating themselves above the ranks from which they had come. Think of it like the modern day equivalent of having the latest iPhone 6 – there is that element of ‘being in the know’.

Take a look at Hogarth’s ‘The Harlot’s Progress’ series of paintings from 1735 (pictured below). Despite the subject, Moll, falling into moral ruin as she sells her body, she is still drinking tea to maintain an air of genteelness. The tea paraphernalia decreases in quality as her circumstances decline, but it shows how tea – despite its expense at the time – was such an easy way to demonstrate polite elegance, whoever you were. All you needed were china cups and a pinch of tea.

Harlot's Progress
Harlot’s Progress – picture 1
Harlot's progress - picture 2
Harlot’s Progress – Picture 2
Harlot's progress
Notice the fine china crashing to the floor, the first steps to ruin.
Harlot progress
Harlot’s progress – picture 3
Harlot's progress
Still maintaining appearances, tea is served on a simple table.
harlots progress
Harlot’s Progress – picture 4
Harlot's progress
Harlot’s progress – Picture 5
Harlot's progress
The crude stool has been kicked over and the tea paraphernalia smashed.
Harlot's progress
Harlot’s progress – Picture 6

Shall I Be Mother?

I think taking tea still has an air of gentility or genteelness about it, which has been passed down through the ages, from the early Georgians, to the popularity of serving afternoon tea in the late 19th century – another period of social change and a growing middle classes.

Etiquette still has a role to play today. If I were visiting someone in their home for tea, for example, I’d happily help myself to food on the table. I would never dream of pouring tea from my host’s teapot, though. It could be seen as a mark of disrespect. Similarly, when out for tea in an hotel or cafe, we often use the expression “Shall I be Mother?” One person takes on the ceremony of pouring the tea.

I recently saw ‘Charles III’ in London’s West End and I cringed a little when he said, “Shall I be Mother?” to a visiting minister. There was no need to say it, he was already the host, but maybe that is just me – I am picky when it comes to taking tea and minding your manners!

You can learn more about tea customs, tea tasting and afternoon tea at one of my workshops or demonstrations. If you would like to join me for the special event at the Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe on 26 April – then use the code SCONES to get a 15% discount because you are one of my readers.

Special Tea Tasting Masterclass at the Swan at Shakespeare's Globe

Tea Tasting Tour of the V& A

Reviews Tea Time Bakes

Up On a Mountain Top in The Lake District I Contemplate: What Makes Tea Special?

Lak District Hike with Mountain Hikes

I recently went on a hiking week-end in the beautiful Lake District with my hosts Kevin and Yen Yau from Mountain Hikes. Even in the outdoors and in the basic of environments I was reminded of the specialness of “hosting” that comes with serving tea – in any location.Group mountain hike, Lake District

“Shall I be mother?” Kevin said as he surveyed the assorted small teapots in which he had brewed tea in the Youth Hostel kitchen. Tired and happy, eight of us were sitting in the pool room of the Keswick YHA after our first day’s hiking in the Lake District. Kevin’s partner Yen had placed a pile of beautifully light, scones, she had freshly baked the night before. All of us dived into the clotted cream and home made jam as Kevin then poured out mugs of tea for us.tea and cake

The tea parties at the end of each of our walks provided such a warm and welcoming highlight to each day that the functional furnishings of the Youth Hostel around us just disappeared. It was the display of care and love in the preparation of the food and the brewing of our tea that I still hold in my mind as I write.

Tea party at Youth Hostel, Lake Dsitrict

Kevin had taken on the role of the host having brewed and poured the tea. I find it intriguing to realise that even with the most basic of tea parties there was a tug from the past that dates back three hundred years.

In the early 18th century tea drinking was embraced by a burgeoning, newly rich urban 18th Century Tea Party‘middling’ class to demonstrate their skills of politeness and ‘genteelness’. They were copying the recent fashion embraced by the very small elite strata of society whose wealth had been derived from land ownership. What better way to show off knowledge of polite behaviour and good taste than for the lady of the house to orchestrate her own tea making ceremony, laying out her delicate tea equipage? I am sure that without realising it you have seen contemporary paintings and prints in which you see a family ensemble taking tea. These pictures are akin to Instagram or Facebook posts of today telling the world that the recorded group is sophisticated and fashionable. In these paintings it is the lady of the house who is demonstrating her skill and technique in making the tea and it would have been disrespectful to have tried to usurp her position and pour from her tea pot.

Kevin was taking on this role in a public place i.e. by suggesting that he play ‘mother’ he would take on the position of authority at our tea table. This used to happen when women started going out for tea in the 20th century: if two friends were to meet one of them would take on the role of pouring the tea and thus in charge of requesting more hot water, fresh pot, etc. This saying has possibly died out now as most hotels and cafes usually serve individual pots of tea and we each take ownership of that to pour out. Food is fine to help yourself but with the serving of tea you wait to be offered.

What makes tea special?

It is the sitting down together, conversing and enjoying a refreshing cup along with the secret ingredients of care and love. Kevin and Yen Yau provided this in spades and I urge you to join them next year on one of the hiking weekends in the Lake District. Yen might even give you her secret scone recipe!

Tea Party on the balcony

I would highly recommend looking at Kevin and Yen’s website > Mountin Hikes. They provide guided walks in the Lake District as well as hiking and yoga breaks.  You can follow them on Twitter at @Mountain_hikes or on Facebook at Lakes Mountain Hikes.

Reviews

My Review of the “High Spirits Afternoon Tea” at The Paramount, Centrepoint, London

Update to this post 3 Feb 2015: The Paramount Bar and Restaurant has since closed their doors (as part of a larger redevelopment plans for Centre Point).

high spirits afternoon tea review by caroline hope

It fascinates me how Afternoon Tea is moving further and further from the original idea of serving food that would complement that perfect cup of tea sometime after noon. The High Spirits Afternoon Tea served at the Paramount has quite a different energy to any images of a languid Victorian meal that its title seems to conjure up.

Afternoon tea is described thus in the 1893 edition of Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management which was the era in which I would suggest that this meal reached its apogee (there is no mention of the meal in the first edition of 1861).

This is the opening chapter on Teas from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Ward Lock, 1893:
“Under the head of “Teas” how many different meals are served? We say “meals”, perhaps, incorrectly, for the afternoon cup of tea (in many fashionable houses the only tea served) can scarcely come under this head: but independent of this, we have wedding teas, high teas, “at home” teas, ordinary family teas, and in some old fashioned places, whose inhabitants have not moved with times, still a quiet tea where people are invited to partake of such nice things as hot buttered toast, tea cakes, new laid eggs, and home-made preserves and cake. A pleasant meal, that is only the precursor of a good supper, of which we shall speak later on.”

The Paramount (restaurant and bar) provides a sophisticated, very urban meal that has overtones of the world of James Bond. Each morsel of food is infused with alcohol. That, along with the sugar, provides such a giddy rush of energy, that neither I, nor my guest, Samantha Pearce, were brave enough to dive into a cocktail for which the Paramount is famous for serving, and feebly opted for a virgin Mohito each.high spirits afternoon tea paramount, tea tray

The cocktail theme runs through the presentation of the food. Rather than serving conventional cakes and pastries, the focus was on presenting, each deliciously concocted alcohol laced dessert in unusual miniature cocktail glasses and jars. See the wonderful Amaretto Sour and Porn Star Martini

The sandwich shapes were almost created to mirror the high rise buildings that we viewed from our window side table – 385ft above the London streets.

Everything was snappy, smart and exciting and very much in keeping with the character and feel of the bar.

Possibly, the least discernible part of the meal was the tea itself. The strong boozy flavours permeating the food and the Virgin Mohitos rather overwhelmed the senses. The tea is supplied by Blends for Friends. Samantha had a Classic Black and I had the Altitude Afternoon. Both were good on the initial tasting but needed to be drunk quickly before going slightly bitter. However that is a minor quibble as we were both offered fresh pots of tea on request.

I urge you to go for the sheer joy of being so high above London and enjoying a really unusual take on this meal. Whether Mrs Beeton would approve is quite another matter!high spirits afternoon tea, view from paramount restaurant

For more information or to book a “High Spirits Tea at the Paramount” – call them directly on 0207 420 2900. NOW CLOSED

The address is: Paramount Restaurant and Bar, Centrepoint, 101 – 103 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1DD. The tea is served between 2.30pm – 4.30pm. At the time of writing the cost is £28 per person, or with a cocktail…£42 per person.

History of Tea Reviews

Masterpiece London 2014 | Art, Antiques, Design – My Review

Masterpiece London

My lovely friend, Charlotte Howard, invited me to join her to see Masterpiece 2014, a rather amazing and professionally presented exhibition of Art, Antiques and Design that took place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It had that quiet opulence of soft beige carpets; our feet sank into it as we walked around.

There were some really stunning pieces on display and I felt a surge of thrilled excitement on seeing some fabulous chinoiserie pieces, just because it is so much in my mind with my newly devised History of Tea Tour at the Victoria & Albert Museum. (Find out more about the personalised tours here.)

I was really taken with some mirrors (or girandoles) and two delicate chinoiserie cabinets on thePagoda Girandoles Apter Fredericks stand and so enjoy seeing this influence from China – the mysterious and exotic country from which tea originated. It was not just tea that captured the imagination of the rich Europeans in the 17th and 18th century that resulted in this delicate liquor becoming Great Britain’s national drink. It was the overall sheer exoticism of items arriving from the land known as Cathay that really intrigued and stuck in our imagination.

Why should this be? I feel it is partly down to ‘less is more.’

During the 14th and 15th centuries, China had closed its borders to the barbarians of Europe with only a few travellers such as Marco Polo returning with information. No-one could check if these returning stories were true; so those about the great beauty and infinite luxuries of this far off land were greatly embellished and even fabricated. Perhaps this excerpt from Chinoiserie, The Vision of Cathay, by Hugh Honour aptly describes it?

“Cathay is, or rather was, a continent of immeasurable extent lying just beyond the eastern confines of the known world. Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable topographers. They alone can give an adequate impression of the beauty of the landscape with its craggy snow-capped mountain ranges and its verdant plains sprinkled with cities of dreaming pagodas and intersected by meandering rivers whose limpid waters bear whole fleets of delicately wrought junks, all-a flutter with bedraggoned pennants and laden with precious cargoes of jade, porcelain, samite, silk, green ginger, and delicately scented teas.”

“Besides their banks the palm and weeping willow flourish amidst phoenix-tail bamboos and a proliferation of exotic flora. Giant flowers abound here: chrysanthemums which tower above the men who tend them, paeonies which dwarf the birds nesting in their branches, and convolvulus whose blossoms serve as hats, as parasols, and even, on occasion, as the roofs of huts. Indeed the natural landscape is so beautiful that when laying out their gardens, the cathaians could desire no more than to reproduce it on a miniature scale, with paths serpenting round hillocks of artificial rock-work, sinuous rills, and forests of tiny gnarled trees.”

“The fauna is no less extraordinary. Huge and fiery dragons lurk in every mountain cave; gaudy birds with rainbow-hued plumage swoop over the plains; butterflies the size of puffins hover round the pendant blooms of Wisteria sinensis; and diaphanous-tailed goldfish play amidst the water-lilies and chrysolite rocks of stream and pond.”

Can you imagine the excitement as more and more items flowed from this continent ‘lying just beyond the confines of the known world’?

Nothing previously known could compare with the exoticism of hand painted wallpapers, lacquered and gilded furniture, woven silks, carpets, chintzes, delicate porcelain and of course the highly prized tea.

In time many of these luxury goods were to be manufactured throughout Europe as our native Painted Jug Vasecraftsmen emulated the skills and styles of the Orient, creating the mythological and idealised vision of this remote culture. Sometimes it was difficult to tell which pieces were originally Chinese or European.

It gives me a little thrill each time I see any oblique references to tea drinking. From visiting a modern day art and antiques exhibition such as Masterpiece, walking past the stunning de Gournay showroom in Old Church Street, Chelsea and then burrowing around in the British Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum, everywhere there are strands of information interwoven with tea.

I would love to welcome you on one of my personally guided “History of Tea Tours” of the V & A. This tour is perfect for those who want to explore the history of tea drinking from its origins in China and East India to the height of its popularity in Georgian Britain, where it touched the English interior and forever shaped British culture.

The Tour includes not only the guided tour hosted by myself, but also a donation to the museum; printed tour notes; and of course tea and cake when we finish. Prepare to share two and a half hours with me on this tour. Reserve a place for yourself at only £42 per person >> click here.

Reviews Tea Time Bakes

Tea Time – A Themed Celebration of The Royal Chelsea Flower Show

Caroline at the Intercontinental Westminster

What a wonderful afternoon I had with Hilary Newstead at the Intercontinental Westminster Hotel. I had been invited to review their Edible Garden afternoon tea, which was created to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show.

Despite the fact that I spend innumerable hours teaching classes around English tea time (including cake or scone baking; tasting fine teas or looking at the history of English tea drinking), it is quite rare  for me to go “out to tea”. It was a real treat to review the Edible Garden Afternoon Tea at the Intercontinental , enjoy free flowing Laurent Perrier champagne and indulge in a glorious feast of exquisite garden-themed patisserie creations.

I took so many pictures – the food was just a feast for the eyes with the glass cloche centrepiece, under which our cakes nestled in a bed of dark (and edible) soil.

Lifting the glass cloche displaying the edible garden
Lifting the glass cloche displaying the edible garden

The Gorgeous Teatime Treats

How did the food taste?

The Pea and Basil Tart
The Pea and Basil Tart

Fresh, delicious and as it should be! When I got down to tasting each little treat as it was presented, they were divine. The biggest winners for me were the miniature Chelsea Bun and the Garden Pea and Basil Tart. I normally avoid currents and dried fruits  but this Chelsea Bun had been created by someone who understood what they were doing. There was almost more fruit than bun dough; the spicey, citrusy, moist fruit enveloped my tongue.  Likewise the pea and basil tart; the burst of fresh baby peas exploding in my mouth.

 

The quality of the tea:

More delicious treats
More delicious treats

We drank some exceptionally good teas that were supplied by Jing Teas. I had a Second flush Darjeeling that had nectar-like qualities and Hilary had a superlative Japanese Green Sencha, about which she was very excited as she had not tried before.

The Hotel, the service and the presentation:

The hotel excelled in all the areas that mattered:  superbly attentive waiters and bar staff who were knowledgeable and not at all officious; spotless and beautifully presented silverware and porcelain, comfortable chairs into which  we could just sink whilst indulging ourselves.

The only negative I have, and this is more one of a personal dismay, is to question why it is necessary to go to such lengths to design cakes to no longer look like food. This is not to doubt the skills of the pastry chefs – their technical virtuosity was par excellence – but why is it is necessary?  Nowadays afternoon tea seem to be a competition about who can ‘design’ the most ‘clever’ feast for the eyes.

I am with Sir Henry Cole on his theory of good design. He states that good design takes into account the intrinsic quality of the material being used.  For example a woven piece of fabric into which a flower motif has been woven displays the virtuosity of the woven fabric whereas a flower design that is printed onto a fabric will not display the quality of the weave – the printed pattern is what is seen and nothing more.

Perhaps this is what I found difficult with this meal – I was being asked to admire the cleverness of the pastry chef in creating clever little concoctions such as a chocolate flower pot, a garden wall or edible earth. However  the delights we feasted on were neither particular to the season during which we were eating it, nor could we see the qualities of the cake or pastry shining through the designed piece.

But this is one of my little bees that buzz around in my bonnet and a minor quibble.  I shall definitely return. Thank you Intercontinental Westminster, for a truly exceptional and wonderful afternoon.

Ingredients

My Essential Store Cupboard Secrets for Successful Afternoon Tea Baking

This may sound silly to say – but I can’t stress the importance of preparation. As with most work – transfer your skills from what you know in your day to day to your baking and you may find some remarkable results.

People who just seem to knock up a cake or some scones at the last minute have one secret weapon that may not be immediately apparent. They are utterly confident in their understanding of what they are doing by:

  • knowing how their ingredients will work together.
  • understanding the process of  each action, whether beating, folding etc.
  • being aware of what they have in their store cupboard.

In other words…they are ‘prepared’. Their preparation may have come about through years of practise so it becomes second nature. Part of that “secret confidence” is likely to be the result of what they use and what they keep as the staple items in their cupboards.

I’m going to share with you what my Top 10 staple food items are that I keep on hand. If you bake regularly or want to – it’s going to become more and more important to keep good quality ingredients in your store cupboard and fridge.

A peek of what is in my store cupboard
A proper visual peek of what is in my store cupboard!

Here’s a peek into my cupboard and fridge:

  1. Flour: Marriage’s organic plain and self raising flours and Sharpham Park organic wholemeal spelt flour. If you use supermarket ‘value’ flours you will be amazed at what a difference such a small switch can make. Whatever goes in will have an impact on what comes out. (Read my blog post on flour choices here.)
  2. Lemon Juice: a bottle of concentrated lemon juice to add as necessary.
  3. Very mature cheddar cheese: I find M & S is good on cheeses (always full fat cheese: I feel that anything that is half fat must have been ‘engineered’ in some way).
  4. A selection of nuts and seeds to throw into scones to make them more interesting. At the moment I am in a sunflower seed and walnut phase.
  5. Barts dried herbs and spices – throw out those that have been opened and sat on the shelf for years. The optimum time to use them is three weeks, yes weeks, after opening to get the fullest flavour.
  6. Good quality vanilla extract or paste – Little Pod is my favourite. I am too lazy to always scrape the seeds out of a vanilla pod so I use the paste that has the seeds in it.
  7. Instant espresso coffee powder (Nestlé). A teaspoon of the dry powder is brilliant for flavouring macaron shells or I use it to create a concentrated paste for flavouring sponge cakes, buttercream icing and mocha ganache.
  8. Frozen chopped onions – not strictly for baking! I just find them useful as a base flavour for soups, especially if I have a lot of vegetables that are looking a bit sad and need to be transformed rather than thrown out. Then I might serve with wholemeal spelt flour and (dried) rosemary scones.
  9. Dark chocolate – at least 70% cocoa solids – I always snap up anything that is on offer in the supermarket. Very good for the soul in whatever form and if I suddenly have a late evening desire to make some ganache to have with some fruit I even make it with hot water rather than cream.
  10. Oats – but I am already nudging towards 11 items because I need to include golden syrup as well – to make my ginger and oat biscuits to take hiking.

These are my must-have items and I am sure  you must have some of your own? What are they?  What do you always make sure never runs out in your fridge or cupboard and why? I would love to know so please do share with me in the comments below…

History of Tea

The British Tea Time – A Tradition of Manners, Etiquette and “Polite” Society

Caroline Hope's Tea Time

There is a strong worldwide perception that tea is an English drink. According to the UK Tea Council – as a nation we drink approximately 165 million cups of tea every day, coming in just behind the Irish Republic. Why has tea become so embedded in British culture when it is really an oriental drink? Have we got so used to it being part of our lives here that we no longer ‘see’ tea for what it is – the growing camellia sinensis plant that has well over a 1,000 different varieties around the world. (Sinensis really means ‘of China or of Chinese origin)

Over 96 % of tea consumed in the UK is sold in tea bags. Supermarket shelves are packed with assorted tea bag brands. The terms to describe them include ‘lively’ and ‘calming’, and our expectation is that they will taste the same every single time we drink them. And yet the flavour and characteristics of origin teas (teas that come from a particular area, eg Assam) are influenced by the soil in which they are grown, the height above sea level and the climatic conditions, very much in the same way as wine. Once you have tried a delicate first or second flush Darjeeling your palate will be longing for more.

Over the past 10 to 15 years there has been a resurgence of interest in high quality origin and blended teas. At the same time going out for tea as a special occasion has become increasingly fashionable. Even now both tea drinking and the meal taken in the afternoon, have a whisper of formal manners and good behaviour that has passed down the generations.

In the 18th century tea drinking was a way to demonstrate ‘genteelness’ within the growing urban ‘middling’ classes, whose new wealth was derived from the industrial revolution that changed the face of Great Britain. Your skills in serving and taking tea showed that you knew how to behave in polite society, whilst the quality of your tea paraphernalia demonstrated your wealth. Think of all those family portraits in art galleries of a family drinking tea – an immediate indicator of how fashionable and rich they were.

Make sure when you next go out to tea you have your photograph taken as you preside over a tea table piled high with delicate food and a delicious cup of tea – tell the world you know and participate in  the magic of the English style tea party!

I am running an “Introduction to Popular English Teas” course through CityLit this year. If you would like to find out more have a look at their website, or drop me an email on caroline@carolinehope.co.uk. The CityLIt website will be able to let you know if there is still availability.

Tools and Equipment

Make Friends With Your Oven | How to Get The Most Out of Your Oven

Caroline's oven

One of the most common complaints I get in my baking classes is students saying how dreadful their oven is to use. Do any of these sound familiar to you:

  •  one area of the oven being hotter than another,
  •  each time you bake your outcomes are different ( maybe undercooked one time or overcooked the next, i.e. a lack of consistency)

I liken these comments to people moaning about how beastly their boyfriend is or a disappointment in their latest girlfriend’s behaviour. Perhaps the problem is that they are not being handled correctly or there is an unrealistic expectation of how they will behave?

For best results (both human and oven-related) it might help to understand your oven’s (and lover’s) little foibles – don’t apportion blame for characteristics that are inherent in its/his/her performance. Why not work with their best features and get great results?

How often do you use your oven?

Most of us only use our ovens for an hour or two maybe every two or three days. We  preheat the oven and, once the thermostat light goes out – think it is up to temperature. It is, but probably only in one area where the thermometer is positioned. It does not take into account that the shelves and certain patches in the oven walls have not evened out.  You may need to allow a longer time for preheating to get a really even ambience in your oven. (In Winter I find it is worse because the metal is generally colder). I now always bake a tray of biscuits or macarons before a class to get my oven really loosened up for consistent results in the class, i.e. always cooking at the optimum temperature.

In simple terms the oven sides are made of metal that expand and contract as they heat and cool with the particles in the metal shifting their positions. (This also applies to baking tins but I shall save that for another blog.) Most commercial bakeries use their ovens every day for eight to ten hours. As a result the metal ‘tempers’ very evenly as the particles have memory and expand quickly and easily to even out the temperature (I liken it to going to the gym regularly – your muscles remember the exercises more easily than when going once a month).   Constant heating equals consistent baking results. I find the lower the quality of the oven the more pronounced  the problem.

Do you understand the principles of how your oven works?

Different types of oven will all perform in slightly different ways. These are the most commonly found:

Conventional electric ovenThese are less usual these days but often, if you have a double oven with a large oven and a small half size oven, the smaller oven is a conventional electric oven.  The heat in this type of oven is produced by elements either in the sides of the oven or the top and bottom of the oven. This (slowly) heats the air in the oven up to the required temperature. It can use a lot of electricity. The oven will be hottest at the top.

Conventional gas ovenThe oven is heated by the gas flames at the bottom back of the oven and again the air is hottest at the top. The gas oven heats more quickly than the electric one.

Fan assisted oven   These operate as described above with a fan at the back that circulates the air around the oven. This provides a more even heat distribution.

Fan oven (as opposed to fan assisted) – these make up the majority of ovens now sold in the UK. The air is drawn out of the oven through the fan at the back over a heated element and injected back into the oven at different levels. This saves energy because you are only heating a small element  over which the air is heated as opposed to heating up static air in the whole oven cavity and heats up far more quickly. Under perfect conditions the temperature for a fan oven would be adjusted down by about 10% compared to something being cooked in a conventional electric oven.

Do you view a recipe as a guide or gospel?

So many times I have heard people wail that they follow the recipe to the letter and still the result is undercooked/burnt etc. Do you realise that the temperatures provided  may not be correct for your oven?  The author is using another oven in another kitchen and you may need to adapt your recipes to suit. Oven manufacturers are allowed a margin of error (I think around 8%) of the stated temperature compared to the true temperature before an oven is regarded as faulty. A recipe may say 180°C  so a 5% leeway hotter would mean you need to cook at 190°C. The author’s oven might be cooking at 5% cooler than the stated temperature so actually cooking at about 170°C. A further complication is that often it does not specify the type of oven being used, e.g. the difference between conventional or fan oven.   You may find it helpful to buy an oven thermometer to focus on whether your oven cooks hotter or cooler than the stated temperature.

So…in summary…

It is important that you take ownership of the process, adapting recipes and oven temperature to suit your way of cooking in your kitchen. Perhaps also get into the  thought process of thinking cool heat, medium heat, medium hot, hot etc.  And of course the better quality the oven, the less unbalanced the results.

Be tender with your oven and it will reward you with great results (all under your guidance).  You don’t expect a new lover to behave in the same way as an earlier one; you can delight in pleasures new. Happy baking!

Ingredients

The Debate Between Quality Organic Flour vs Supermarket Branded Flour | My Flour Journey

I may have got into some ‘expensive’ habits when it comes to baking that I would now find hard Organic Flourto break. I am great believer in good value i.e. weighing up the cost vs. reward ratio and certainly now I apply this when using flour.

For years I would buy the cheapest flour thinking ‘flour is just flour.’ A leading supermarket own brand costs 75p for a 1.5kg bag whereas as one of the beautifully packaged bespoke milled organic brand might cost up to £4 for the same quantity. My initial thought used to be “No contest”. I was teaching after all and any increased costs took away from my bottom line.

Enter: a whole new world for me..Organic Flour

A few years ago I heard Mervin Austin of Mount Pleasant Windmill talking about his allergic reaction to flour that had manifested itself when he  previously working for a commercial bakery for many years. Having developed contact dermatitis on my hands I thought it worth trying out good organic flour; anything to alleviate the pain of the ‘burning’ on my hands.

One Sunday, as I was preparing for a class that day,  I realised I did not have enough flour and rushed to my local supermarket. Happy Eater flour was all they had in stock. The class commenced and everything fine. At the end we sat down for tea to taste everything made by the students.  I was shocked at the texture and taste of the scones this time compared to my normal results with organic flour (they were still good but once you have made something thousands of times you do become very become extremely sensitive to every change).

Since then I have practised with numerous different flours and have found the quality really does make a difference,  especially when making something very simple such as bread, plain sponges and scones

Test it for yourself:

Why not put some normal supermarket branded flour into one bowl and some superior organic flour in another (at the moment I am using Marriages flour). Place one hand in one bowl and the other hand in the second bowl. Rub the flour between your fingers. You will feel the feel the difference (I hope!) and it is that difference that comes through in your baking. The organic one is much more slippery and silky (this also applies to wholemeal and spelt) whereas the value brand  ‘catches’ on the skin. If you hold up the bowls to the daylight it is likely the value brand is whiter – it will have been bleached which covers up any chemicals and any coarseness.

Food intolerances could stem from the quality of the flour

I would also wonder if the all pervasive additives and chemicals in the cheaper impure, low grade flours in so much of our food, especially ready meals and volume baked bread, has led to a lot of problems that are labelled under gluten and wheat intolerance.  I feel it is the ingested chemicals and additives used in mainstream food  productions that  are the problem rather than the bread itself.  I was on a wheat free diet for three years and really did not feel that much better for it (although my general diet radically improved!). I now only buy artisan bread if I can; Cranks wholemeal or lots of goodies from my local baker, Paul Rhodes in Notting Hill. Occasionally I eat mainstream bread  but I notice the difference to my well being if my consumption increases from once a week or so.

Quality (and higher cost) wins for me – over lower quality cheaper options

For me the cost reward ratio has no contest – flour is a staple that underpins so much of our food – aren’t you worth it to use the best? The compliments also will come in thick and fast for the superior baking results! Please do comment below with your thoughts and experiences with flour – I’d be interested to hear from you.

No clever baking techniques – just the obvious point: whatever you put in you are likely to get out.  We sometimes forget that flour was a living organism and expect each packet to be identical. They aren’t. And I am spending money on flour, not diamonds so I think it really is a luxury you really can afford.

Remember to follow me on Twitter for other baking tips and tricks, and of course to learn more about the wonderful world of tea.

Brewing Tea Types of Teas

My 10 Top Tips For Making a Perfectly Delicious Cup of Tea

Nowadays we are so inundated with choice and, in looking recently at the food halls in John Lewis, I thought “How on earth can anyone tell, when faced by a bank of beautifully packaged cartons which teas were going to taste good or not?”  It almost feels a bit like looking at endless rows of wine.

But, for me the answer to this question has two easy parts:

The first – just keep buying and tasting different teas until you find those that you like – ideally you will trust the brand you like.

The second – is to brew your tea with care.  A cheap tea made properly will taste far better than a high quality tea made badly.

I don’t know about you, but I do not have the patience to use kettles with thermometers and Caroline pouring teagetting things ‘just so’. However there are certain key rules to follow that will definitely make a difference to how your cup will taste. I honestly believe (and have tested) that the following points do indeed make the difference. (And yes in my tea lab (i.e. kitchen) I have tested both black and green teas using boiling hard and soft water and off-the-boil hard and soft water.)

So, here are my tips for Black Teas:

TIP 1: The tea will taste best using freshly boiled water with a  pH balance of 7 or above.

The ph balance increases the harder the water (with a higher calcium and magnesium content). (The famous Mrs Beeton even recommends putting a pinch of bicarbonate of soda in with the boiling water – at first I thought this most odd but realise it would make the water more alkaline.)

TIP 2: Ensure that you only boil your water once.

If you repeatedly boil water that sits in the kettle, then cools and is then reboiled, you will lose the oxygen.

TIP 3: Make sure that your water does reach boiling point (100 °C) and then pour straight into your (ideally) warmed cup or tea pot.

If you heat your pot prior to pouring in the boiling water the leaves will brew at a higher temperature than in a cold pot.

TIP 4: Don’t use continuous hot water taps or large urns.

The water is usually just below boiling otherwise it would be bubbling away. If your water is not boiling the tea will taste flat and lifeless.

TIP 5: Use a good quality tea or a good quality tea bag– it does make a difference.

If you like a strong robust cup of tea try a high quality Assam that has the malty richness that can be diluted with milk if appropriate but lacks the harsh tannic that leaves a ‘rough’ taste in the mouth.

TIP 6: Brew your tea long enough for the flavour to infuse into the boiling water (read this with Tip 7.)

TIP 7: Understand the type of tea you are drinking

If you like a delicate fragrant tea you are probably not going to like a strong punchy Assam but itTea Types would be worth trying a Darjeeling or Keemun. Don’t try and brew the Assam for less time as a compensation for strength of flavour. You don’t water down red wine to create a white wine – you buy a different bottle. Tea is the same.

TIP 8: Remove the tea leaves after infusing for three to four minutes.

This will stop the tea from stewing or going bitter. With a tea bag it is easy to remove from a pot or mug. If using loose leaves I would recommend either a special tea pot where the leaves can be blocked off from the water, a disposable tea filter(a fill-your-own-tea bag), or a tea brewing basket that can be removed after brewing.

The extra tips I would give you for Green teas:

TIP 9:  Leave your kettle to sit for about 5 minutes after boiling so it can cool down.

Then pour over the leaves. This makes an enormous difference to the roundness of flavour in the mouth. Boiling water makes the green tea taste bitter.

TIP 10: If you can, use water with a lower pH balance (I used some bottled water with a level of 6.2) this water is slightly more acidic.

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If you are interested in learning more about tea, I offer tutored tea tastings on scheduled dates. I am teaching a specialist tea tasting course spanning four weeks at City Lit in Spring 2014 and some single module classes in Summer 2014. Alternatively, if you would like to chat to me about some one-to-one time for a private class for you or a group of friends – please feel free to call me on 020 3730 3788, email me at caroline@carolinehope.co.uk or Tweet me on @Caroline__Hope.