Friday, July 07, 2006

...io e té

Tea and I had a love affair; it was glorious while it lasted but I didn't know to appreciate her more. Like most affairs, we parted ways. For many years I was married to coffee, not just any coffee but Illy. She was beautiful; she still is but now that I am older and wiser (ahem!) I yearn for the delicate and subtle nature of tea, her elegance, her scent...I know I have to find her again.

It is not an easy task; I am so far away, in the land of cortado (literally means "cut"; coffee "cut" with a little milk). She is elusive; maybe she hasn't forgiven my desertion? I thought I would try anyway.

I decided if I want the relationship to work this time, I cannot go down the Twinning's route; I am in Buenos Aires afterall. I tried the local brands like Green Hills, Richmond and Taragüi. I had little luck; Green Hills was alright until I came across a whole box with a strange aftertaste. Richmond was underwhelming so I settled on the mass market choice, Taragüi. I had separately found some flores de rosa mosqueta (rosehip flowers) so I mixed the two to get some depth, reminiscence of the one I love. Meanwhile, my search for her continued...

Then I found Heredia, an organic tea that comes in different forms, Yerba Mate, Menta, Negro, etc. Her packaging tempted me, so I went with her. But pretty as she was, still just a shadow of the one I was dreaming of.

I became a person consumed with one thought – I needed to find my lost love, but where and how? I gushed about her to anyone polite enough not to stop me. Then I found a few others who were also looking for theirs, we formed a search party, a support group.

Then one day, tired and lost, I wondered aimlessly in Recoleta. Something caught my eye: an understated shop with a library green awning and wood panelling stood quietly on a street which I had walked pass often. She was there patiently waiting for my approach. I was a little shy but quickly crossed the road to get a closer look. She was exactly the way I had imagined her to be after all these years – more mature; just as elegant as I remembered, no, more so, there is a refinement about the new her. I was ecstatic but I wasn't ready to be reacquainted all of a sudden so I made a mental note to go back.

Yesterday afternoon, Chez Pauline was still there, demurely waiting for me. I sat down, looked at the pristine menu de té and knew immediately that my search had ended; all the blends were uniquely hers unlike the imitations which serve upmarket tea bags or blends from Tealosophy. After much deliberation, I chose a Japanese green tea blended with citrus.

My pot of tea came with a mini madeleine but I ordered a pear and frangipane tart anyway. In this city of dulce de leche and Italian meringue which resembles shaving foam, it was the first time I found frangipane (mixture of ground almond and butter), I simply couldn't resist. The tea just glided like nectar and the citrus note was mellow. The tart was a perfect match with my liquid gold. I looked up, almost misty-eyed, to find that smoking was prohibited so as to not interfere with her scent. My love was not only renewed but invigorated – it is rare to find anywhere in Buenos Aires without a chain smoker blowing smoke rings in your face.

To celebrate my renewed love affair, I am going to make a batch of tea biscuits. I once came across some rather elegant Earl Grey biscuits in Tokyo; it was love at first bite. My version is more robust with visible ground tea leaves; no, I'm not going to hide my feelings for tea anymore.

1 cups plain flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
120g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest

Whisk together flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

Put butter, sugar, and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; slowly mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper; shape into logs. Roll in parchment to 3cm in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow log and force out air, like rolling sushi. Freeze the logs for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 180C. Cut logs into 4-5mm thick slices, makes about 50 biscuits. Space 2cm apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake until edges turn golden, 10-15 minutes. Let them cool on sheets, then on wire racks.

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