Why Is There No Real Clotted Cream in the US?

We all know my obsession with authentic, legitimate clotted cream. It’s well documented on the blog! But usually it shows up in the form of me lamenting during a review about some tea house or another’s makeshift clotted cream just not cutting it compared to the British stuff. Sorry if you get sick of those little cry tests.

But it’s a sad, sad, sad fact that the US is lacking true clotted cream.

Am I saying that clotted cream literally does not exist in the United States? No, obviously. I have found some grocery stores that sell Devonshire or Clotted Cream in their dairy sections and know of a few tea houses that import their clotted cream from England in order to be authentic. There are also millions of recipes that claim to make clotted cream, findable with a simple Google search. Yes, many of these recipes mimic the glory of clotted cream–some even come close to matching it–but there is one simple difference that is extremely difficult to overcome here and without overcoming it you cannot make authentic clotted cream. (If you are looking to make Devonshire cream, there are two.)

You have to use unpasteurized milk. Most technically it’s unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk, but for sake of easy argument let’s call it unpasteurized.

Pasteurizing milk heats it to kill off bacteria and other disease causing microbes. Pasteurizing milk became a federal requirement in 1924, aka The Year Clotted Cream Died. I’m not going to go into the long explanation and history of the Raw Milk Debate, so if you’re curious, there are lots of great articles on the Interwebs. Pasteurizing and homogenizing milk changes the structure of the fat globules, which sound disgusting but are the most amazing thing ever because they form clotted cream.

Now over the last five years, many states are legalizing the sale of raw milk again (thank you advances in medical science) so true clotted cream can make a comeback! Unfortunately most tearooms still use a version of glorified whipped cream and call it clotted. Restaurants are not allowed to use unpasteurized milk for “health and safety reasons” so I guess it isn’t really their fault. But still…

So there you have it: the reason clotted cream at tearooms is not real clotted cream has all to do with Federal regulations prohibiting the use of raw milk, false advertising, and if you are looking for Devonshire cream the lack of cows from Devon living in the United States.

Makes you wish we hadn’t declared independence, hmm?

A tearoom review and more scone recipes are coming soon! Plus some fun new featured recipes and topics, so stay tuned and sign up for email notifications so you don’t miss anything!

Tea Cakes vs. Coffee Cakes

Now that we know what teacake is, can we figure out coffee cake? As in what makes the two so different? Now don’t give me the rote answer of you serve teacake with tea and coffee cake with coffee.  We don’t like simple here, we have to go deep! So begins the battle of coffee cake versus teacake!


#1 Coffee cake is one kind fits all.

As we learned last week, a teacake can actually be one of three or four different foodstuffs: a cookie, a spice or sponge cake, a yeast bread, or a soda bread. But a coffee cake is always a cake. Sure it might have a crumble topping or a cinnamon swirl (drooling yet?) or added flavorings but it is always in cake form.


#2 Shape matters.

Even when a teacake is a cake, it usually is in a circular shape unless it was baked as a loaf cake. Coffee cakes come in squares, rectangles, bundts, circles, basically whatever shape pan the baker had available.


#3 Coffee has coffee but tea has no tea.

Coffee cakes can also get their name from being made with coffee, but teacakes aren’t made with tea (though you can make a teacake that is tea flavored, it is not a common thing).  Coffee isn’t in the batter of every coffee cake, however it is common enough that it might be worth asking the baker if they use coffee in their recipe. I know I’ve made a coffee cake with coffee granules in the cocoa cinnamon streusel.


#4 One is served at Starbucks and other coffee/tea shops. One is served at tearooms and teahouses.

Guess which is which? Coffee cakes are more likely to be sold in local or chain coffee shops, the kind you swing by for that convenient breakfast. I order tea at Starbucks (their Earl Grey is surprisingly good) but even if they serve tea I have never seen a teacake at a coffee shop. Now on the flip side, I have only ever seen any of the forms of teacakes at tearooms and teahouses. I’ve never seen a coffee cake at one of those, so maybe the makers of teacakes and coffeecakes agreed to keep some distance between them.


#5 Teacakes are world travelers.

Teacakes—in any of the forms we learned about—are seen in the UK, North America, Latin America, India, Australia, Sweden…basically they are well traveled and well known. Coffee cake seems to be a purely American baked good, only really seen outside the US in American style bakeries that happen to have made their way abroad.


Believe it or not, I’m not going to give an answer to which is better than the other, because I love both coffee cakes and teacakes of all sorts. But I definitely don’t believe that you can only have coffee cake when drinking coffee and teacakes when you are drinking tea. You can have anything when you’re drinking tea. Why should we neglect the poor yet delicious coffee cake?

Tea Cakes

A couple of the tea houses I’ve reviewed serve a slice of tea cake with their scone course, and it got me thinking (as so many things do) about what exactly is a tea cake. Since it’s a cake and a lot of the mini desserts served at tearooms are little cakes, why is it served in the scone course and not the dessert course? Burning questions!

Well I did some digging. Turns out the answer is as simple as you’d think!


Are they cakes?

Tea cake as a cake (no it's not the scone or the muffin)

Tea cake as a cake (no it’s not the scone or the muffin)

In some parts of the world, yes. When a tea cake is literally a small slice of cake (typical of Australian, North America, and India), it is usually a pound, heavy sponge, or spice cake.  Only a single layer, these tea cakes are not frosted, but instead are topped with a dusting of powdered sugar or a light glaze. The spice cake is more common in North America, while the heavy sponge variety is found in Australia or India. When a tea cake is basically a pound cake, it’s just a tearoom’s variation on the slightly more traditional cake served. Tea cakes—when they are cakes—can also contain fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, or apricots.


Are they bread?

In some parts of the world, yes. A tea cake is more akin to a bread when served in the United Kingdom. A small, sweet, yeast-based bun often containing dried fruit, a tea cake is typically split, toasted, and buttered to be served with tea. The most famous tea cake is served in Bath, England and is known as a Sally Lunn. Top it with cinnamon butter and be prepared to die from deliciousness overdose.

Bread-like tea cakes are also served in Sweden where they are a sweetened wheat soda bread served with butter and jam.


Are they cookies?

Tea cakes as a cookie (photo credit foodsofourlives.com)

Tea cakes as a cookie (photo credit foodsofourlives.com)

In some parts of the world, yes.  Cookie tea cakes are dense cookies made with sugar, butter, eggs, flour, milk, and additional flavorings.  Common flavors are nut-based like almond or hazelnut.  They are very dense and crumbly, and can be quite messy as they are usually coated in a layer of powdered sugar.  When they first crumbed into the world, they were an accompaniment to bitter teas; the sugar both in the cookie and the coating were meant to balance the astringency from black tea.

Now a cookie tea cake by any other name is still a cookie tea cake, but they are also commonly known as Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes/cookies, polvornes, or butterballs.


Hmmm…with all these different answers for “what is a tea cake” I may have to do a recipe series for you so you can try them all!

What Is Pu-erh?

a pu-erh brick

a pu-erh brick

Tea aficionados have been talking about pu-erh more and more lately. It goes by many names, much like a rose, such as the diet tea or the anti-aging tea. Great, right? Drink a certain kind of tea and you’ll not only stay thin but you’ll stay young forever. Could this tea be the elixir of the fountain of youth?! Let’s examine, shall we?


Processing Pu-Erh

Pu-erh is grown in the Yunnan province of China. The tea leaves are piled, dampened, and turned to ensure even fermentation (a lovely and appetizing article compared this process to composting). After about six months to a year, the tea is considered ripened and then dried, weighed, and steamed to prepare it for pressing.

The pressing and aging are the two signature processing elements in pu-erh. The tea is pressed into a brick and aged much like whiskey or Scotch. After years of aging, it is finally ready to enter the market and your teacup.


Preparing Pu-Erh for Drinking

It is possible to buy pu-erh in a loose leaf form (most tearooms that offer pu-erh have loose leaf pu-erh for ease of brewing), but if yours is still in its brick, simply flake off or cut off pieces of the cake in a vertical direction. Technically pu-erh should be brewed at 95°F for 30 seconds for a first brewing and reaching up to 10 minutes for a subsequent brewing, but I’ve brewed mine at 205° for two minutes and it has been perfect.

I treat it much like a black tea. The pu-erh I’ve been drinking is flavored with caramel and vanilla and is strong but decadent with a splash of milk and sugar.


Health Benefits

There hasn’t been any studies done in humans yet, but scientific studies with animals have shown a decrease in body weight following consistent pu-erh consumption. Liver health improved and cholesterol lowered. Overall body fat composition lowered as well, which is why pu-erh is called the slimming tea. The Chinese believe that pu-erh can also help cure a hangover by invigorating the spleen. I think we all need invigorated spleens so we should all drink pu-erh.

And the Water Was Hot, Hot, Hot

The process of brewing tea seems so simple: boil water, pour over tea, steep, pour out and enjoy. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is so much more than that! There is practically an art form to brewing the perfect cup of tea, and everyone has his or her own methods. We’ve been over some of them like teabags or loose leaf, steep and strain or steep and remove, milk first or last, milk at all…so let’s go one step further and talk about water.

Tea kettle with boiling water; steam against a black background.

You can’t have tea without water. Try it; I dare you (okay before you fire back at me I am excluding milk teas from this dare). Water is essential to tea! Tea is basically flavored water after all. Delicious, soothing, varied, and even healthier water but water nonetheless.

However water can also ruin your tea. Yes, by steeping your chosen tea in a water bath of uncoordinatedly high temperatures, you can essentially burn the tea leaves and be left with a bitter cup of tea that you won’t discard because that would just be tragic but you certainly won’t enjoy to its fullest. It may even result in your not liking tea, which would be even more tragic than you pouring tea down the drain!


So let’s quickly go over the proper water temperature and brewing time for each type of tea. Sounds good?

Black Tea: Because black tea is so robust and is the most oxidized of the teas, you can actually brew this one in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Try not to pass 5 minutes or you will be past the bitter point of return (I’m a little punny while writing this, my sincere apologies).

Oolong Tea: Brew between 185-205°F for about 5 minutes. Basically allow the water to boil and then cool for 30ish seconds before brewing.

Green Tea: As we move further down the oxidized ladder, the teas should be brewed at lower temperatures. Green tea is optimal at 150°F for only 2-3 minutes. Green tea becomes bitter very quickly so keep an eye on it!

White Tea: Oddly, this tea can be brewed a little warmer than green tea at 180°F for about 4-6 minutes. Why odd? White tea is a gentler tea than green tea so you’d expect to coddle it a bit more, but there needs to be an exception to every rule I suppose.

Rooibos: Note that I didn’t label it rooibos tea because technically it’s a tisane and we are all about technicality today! This South African tea can handle it’s stuff; feel free to brew it with boiling water for longer than 5 minutes. It probably won’t get bitter.

Herbals and Tisanes: The rest of the not-teas can be brewed at boiling water for 5 minutes as well, but as there are no hard and fast rules about tisanes, feel free to experiment to your taste.


Now you know, now there are no excuses, and now you are going to completely disregard these guidelines because who wants to use a thermometer when preparing a kettle?

Tea in Other Languages

royal-baby-cambridge-2British baby fever has hit! Quick, grab your thermometer, your fuzzy sweaters and woolen socks, and let’s sweat this fever out of our bodies before Kate Middleton gets pregnant with baby #2.

With what seems like the whole world utterly obsessed with the British Royal Family right now, I have a hunch that afternoon tea parties will have a brief flaring of popularity. After all, everything British is fashionable for the next few minutes and what is more British than afternoon tea?

So no matter in what country you find yourself partaking of afternoon tea, here is how to at least pronounce your favorite beverage in their native languages:

  • Afrikaans: tee
  • Albanian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Arabic: chai or shai
  • Armenian: te
  • Azerbaijani: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Basque: tea
  • Belarusian: harbatu
  • Bengali/Bangla: cha
  • Bulgarian: chai
  • Catalan: té
  • Chinese (Cantonese): cha
  • Chinese (Mandarin): cha (second tone / pronounced with the “a” in a rising tone)
  • Croatian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Czech: caj (pronounced cha-i)
  • Danish: te
  • Dutch: thee
  • English: tea
  • Esperanto: teo
  • Filipino/Tagalog: tsaa
  • Finnish: tee
  • French: le thé (masculine)
  • Galician: té
  • Georgian: chai
  • German: der Tee (masculine; the “T” is capitalized because all German nouns are capitalized)
  • Greek: tsai
  • Haitian Creole: té
  • Hebrew: teh
  • Hindichai
  • Hungarian: tea (plural: teak)
  • Irish: tae
  • Italian: te (pronounced teh)
  • Icelandic: te
  • Indonesian: teh
  • Japanese: o-cha (o- is used as a prefix meaning “honorable” and -cha is used to mean “tea” in various tea names, such as matchasencha and hojicha)
  • Korean: cha

  • Latvian: teja (pronounced tay-ya)
  • Lithuanian: arbata
  • Luxembourgish: Téi (like in German, all nouns are capitalized in Luxembourish)
  • Macedonian: chaj (pronounced chai)
  • Malay: teh
  • Maltese: te
  • Norwegian: te
  • Persian: chay (pronounced chai in most areas)
  • Polish: herbata
  • Portuguese: cha (pronounced shah with a Brazilian accent)
  • Romanian: ceai
  • Russian: chai
  • Serbian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Sinhalese (Sri Lanka): thé (The word for teapot is actually a Dutch loanword. It is theepot.)
  • Slovak: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Slovenian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Somali: shaah
  • Spanish: el té (masculine; pronounced tay)
  • Swahili: chai (pronounced cha-i)
  • Swedish: te
  • Taiwanese: de (boba naicha refers to Taiwan’s popular “tapioca pearl tea”)
  • Tamil (Sri Lanka): tea
  • Thai: chah (chah yen refers to Thai iced tea)
  • Tibetan: cha or ja
  • Turkish: cay (pronounced chai)
  • Ukrainian: chaj (pronounced chay)
  • Urdu: chai
  • (North) Vietnamese: che
  • (South) Vietnamese: tra (sometimes pronounced cha or ja)
  • Wolof: achai (pronounced uh-chuy)
  • Welsh: te
  • Yiddish: tey
  • Zulu: itiye

So drink up me hearties, yo ho, no matter where in the world Carmen Sandiego is!

Let’s blame that close out on sleep deprivation shall we?

Another Story of Milk: Does Order Matter?

Turns out the debate over the order of doing adding things to afternoon tea doesn’t stop at clotted cream, jam, and scones; the proper sequence for pouring milk into a teacup is also hotly contested. It may be a relaxing pastime, but who said afternoon tea didn’t have its complexities?


Nice Tea Has Milk First

Photo Credit www.antiques.com

Photo Credit www.antiques.com

We already know that milk made its emergence into the tea world partly to temper the hot water so porcelain cups didn’t shatter. The Milk-In-First camp believes that adding tea to milk instead of the other way around makes for a better mixing of the fluids. Also adding cold tea to hot water can caramelize the fat in milk and possibly alter the flavor of the brew. Of course bringing the milk to room temperature or heating it up may fix that. It’s a lot like tempering your eggs before making a custard.


Second the Best

Photo Credit Mark Harris www.mostphotos.com

Photo Credit Mark Harris www.mostphotos.com

Tea originated as a beverage for the genteel, so it is only natural that there be considered a “proper” way to add milk to this drink. Etiquette supports adding milk to the tea as it allows better control of the color and strength of the cup. The Victorian upper circle tea parties involved the hostess or servants handing filled teacups to guests who were then directed to help themselves to milk, cream, or sugar to their taste.

Also, by adding the milk to the tea, you have the opportunity to try the drink first to determine if it even needs any milk. There is nothing worse than wasting or ruining a perfectly delightful cuppa.


No Milk Is the Best Milk

IMG_3725Now most of this debate centers around black tea. It is an understood rule of tea aficionados that you do NOT add milk to green, oolong, or white tea. Pu-erh is close to black tea so that is acceptable. Why? Because it ruins the delicate taste of the leaves and added flavorings. Black tea is the strongest type of tea and can withstand the flavor dilution of milk. Tisanes are also a big no-no when it comes to adding milk. As most tisanes have fruit in their mix, the milk can actually curdle if poured into a too tart tisane. Curdled milk is just gross.


Science Says

Science is no help here. Half the scientists point to the possibility of caramelized milk fat ruining the flavor of the tea as reason for milk first; the other half of the scientists cite the laws of thermal gradients supporting milk in last.


The verdict? Just like the arguments over clotted cream first or jam first and whether or not to even add milk at all, The Great Milk Order Debate will have to be determined by your own personal preferences!


What is your milk-order preference? I pour my milk in second because I can have the most control over the strength of my tea, and I am a little bit of a control freak. But many of my British friends insist on milk first!

To Milk or Not To Milk?

The question of whether or not to add milk to your tea can get quite contentious. It seems a simple matter of taste and preference—if you like tea with milk add it and if not leave it out—but as with the proper order of clotted cream and jam topping a scone, the milk or no milk debaters believe it goes far beyond the taste buds.

History of Adding Milk

Painting by Alexander Rossi bestartpainting.com

Painting by Alexander Rossi bestartpainting.com

Milk tea or taking tea with a dairy product has a history that stretches back to the Asian origins of tea (apparently some Asian cultures used to add butter to tea), but milk tea is considered different than adding milk to tea.  When tea first came to Europe, it was sipped with no dairy additions. It wasn’t until the 17th century that adding milk to tea was first being mentioned by upperclass tea drinkers.

Tea historians (what an awesome job) have given two reasons for milk’s emergence. The most common theory is that milk and cream were found to soften the bitter taste of black teas. The second theory has nothing to do with flavor or health, but rather with china. Porcelain (you thought I meant the country China! Made you double-take J) can crack when boiling water is poured into the bottom of a cup, so Madame de La Sabliére of France introduced pouring milk into the cup before the hot tea to prevent her fine porcelain from cracking or breaking during her literary salon meetings. Doing so also allowed the tea to be drunk more comfortably.

Adding Milk Subtracts Health Benefits

Photo Credit illakiyaa.wordpress.com

Photo Credit illakiyaa.wordpress.com

The anti-milk tea league points to scientific studies that suggest that milk takes away from the health benefits of drinking tea. A 2006 study by the Germans showed that adding milk to tea prevents its ability to protect one from heart disease. Black tea has been found to help heart functioning and long term artery health, but milk may bind with the catechin in tea and stop the benefits. The no-milkers also believe that adding milk to tea increases insulin activity (in lab rat studies) and degrades its antioxidant potential.

But adding milk to black tea is more common than adding milk to green tea, and green tea is the kind associated with more health benefits including higher levels of catechins and antioxidants.

No Harm, No Cow

IMG_0479Adding milk has shown some positive health benefits for those pro-dairy tea drinkers. The proteins in milk may line the stomach enough to help prevent some of the acids in tea from contributing to stomach ulcers. And we always need more calcium for healthy bones, hair, and nails! What good is a pinky out from a tea cup if it doesn’t look nice?

People who support adding milk to tea say that the decrease in health benefits are not all that significant or that it doesn’t do as much damage as some scientists would have us believe. For them, it comes down to a matter of taste. If black teas taste better with milk, why not indulge in a little splash? After all, teatime is all about allowing yourself the finer things in life.

I personally add milk to my teas that are not fruit flavored: Earl Grey (yes I know bergamot is a citrus), Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride at Christmas, chai, and some rooibos teas. But unless the flavoring in a fruit tea includes vanilla, I keep my milk jug to the side.


How do you take your tea and why? Is it all about the health benefits for you, or do you care more about taste than antioxidant levels?

Methods of Brewing Tea

Just like people develop a favorite tea, experienced tea drinkers develop a favorite way to brew their tea. Now you’re probably thinking, “Really? How different can it be? Tea leaves, boiling water, drink.”

Not quite.


Infuser Teapots

Infuser Teapot www.jenierteas.com

Infuser Teapot www.jenierteas.com

Some teapots are now sold with an infuser basket that submerges the tea leaves in the water and is then removed when the tea is fully brewed. The baskets are usually metal. A large infuser basket allows tea leaves to swell up from the water and move around, releasing all the flavor and color. And then as soon as the tea is brewed, bam! Remove the infuser and you have an entire pot of perfectly brewed tea.


Plunger Pots

Plunger Pot www.briscoes.co.nz

Plunger Pot www.briscoes.co.nz

Another type of pot has a plunger that separates the brewed tea leaves from the water once it is finished steeping. Think of it like a French press for tea instead of coffee. The most important thing with plunger pots is ensuring that the plunger fully separates the leaves from the water; any contact between the two and the tea will continue brewing towards bitterness.


Strainer Cups

Brewed loose leaf

Brewed loose leaf

Many tearooms brew their tea in this way: scoop tea leaves into a pot and add hot water (believe it or not the best temperature for brewing tea is not boiling). That’s all. When pouring the tea into a cup, a little strainer is placed on the rim of the cup to catch the leaves.

Tea Strainer

Tea Strainer

The tea does become bitter using this method since the leaves are left in the water, but places usually refill the hot water to try and make it less bitter. I don’t think it works, but this is a very traditional way to brew tea.


Tea Bags

Using a Tea Bag

Using a Tea Bag

Don’t get me started! Tea bags are obvious choices for individual cups of inferior tea 😉 To brew a large pot, use two or three tea bags instead of one and remove the bags like you would an infuser basket.


Individual Infusers

Single Infuser www.jenierteas.com

Single Infuser www.jenierteas.com

These little mesh or wire balls store enough tea to make single serving cups of tea quickly or larger pots of tea if you have more time. Just make sure that you do not scoop too much tea into the ball; the tea needs some room to expand and release its flavor. I’ve used one of these since my year in England and they are the perfect way to use loose leaf tea without needing to brew an entire pot.


As you drink more tea, you’ll develop a preference yourself for how you like your tea brewed. But the important thing is, never turn down a cup no matter how the brewer made it. We never waste tea here J

Which Comes First? The Jam or the Cream?

It’s a variation on the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? But of course, since it concerns scones and clotted cream and jam, it is a way more important question than that concerning poultry.

When topping a scone, do you layer cream and then jam, or jam and then cream? Does it truly matter? Which way is the traditional or correct way to top a scone?

Well, there is actual an old rivalry that is still raging today over the proper way to top a scone with clotted cream and jam (though everyone does agree that the jam should be a homemade strawberry for the most authentic delight). And the two epicenters are the same places that battle over their superiority in clotted cream.

The Cornish Way. Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

The Cornish Way.
Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

In Cornwall, they believe that the scone should be topped with the jam first followed by the clotted cream. Some cheeky reasons from the Cornish? “Because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs so they cover it up with jam” says one grandfather. Whether or not that’s true, the Cornish all agree that the jam goes on first and is then topped with a dollop of Rodda’s Cornish cream. If it isn’t Rodda’s, it’s not Cornish.

The Devonshire Way Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

The Devonshire Way
Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

Devon, on the other hand, tells the Cornish to stick with their pasties because the jam definitely goes on top of the cream. Otherwise, they insist, clotted cream will end up on your nose and they also compare it to bread. In their logic no one puts jam on top of bread and then butter on top of the jam, so why would one do that with cream and scones? Both sides make a fair point, but neither side is going to budge their position any time soon.

I personally follow the Devonshire way of cream and then jam, but I don’t pretend that this is some statement on authenticity or tradition. It’s more of habit and I think it looks prettier than anything else. What about you? Are you a Devonian or a Cornish person?

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