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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.

Question!

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?

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?

Review: Ye Olde Kings Head

Hidden behind the pub is a tearoom

Hidden behind the pub is a tearoom

I always knew about this British pub on a main street in Santa Monica. When I was moving to England, my mom and I ate there a few times to get me used to British cuisine (ironically while I was in England I rarely ate at pubs so it was all for nothing) and I always popped in to the attached shop to survey the British groceries and trinkets. But it was only recently that I discovered that this pub also had a tearoom, and was housing a secret that nearly made me weep for joy.

 

First Impressions and Service

Afternoon tea menu

Afternoon tea menu

The tearoom is hidden behind the main restaurant and the attached pub/bar. I imagine that it would be quite amusing to be enjoying afternoon tea during a rugby match or other high stakes sport, since your teatime would be punctuated with drunken brawls. As for service, maybe it was the day of the week (a weekday) or maybe they just brought British restaurant service to the States (notoriously slow), but it took a very long time to receive anything. We were sitting there for 10 minutes before our tea order was taken, then after ordering it took another 20 minutes or more for the stand to arrive. The waitress was nice and checked up on us a few times, but we definitely felt neglected. The rest of the restaurant wasn’t busy either so there really was no reason to abandon their two tea girls.

 

Décor

IMG_0493Think the quintessential British pub with white tablecloths. The walls are dark wood paneling surrounding red paint, and each little section has a portrait of a famous British king—including my favorite Henry VIII so the décor gained major points with me. Everything is wonderfully authentically British.

I am a Henry VIII fanatic!

I am a Henry VIII fanatic!

The china all matches and was imported from Stoke-on-Trent. The food came with a little Union Jack stuck in the middle. The whole place is small, slightly dark, and very old-fashioned feeling, so basically like a true British pub outfitted into a tearoom. I couldn’t tell you how cramped you would feel or how loud it would be if the place were full; we were the only customers the entire afternoon.

 

Tea Selection

The tea selection is not extensive, only five teas and really only four since the fifth is a decaf version of one of the others. They are pretty much exactly what you would get if you ordered tea in a general British restaurant and not somewhere that specialized in tea: English Breakfast, Decaf English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Green Tea.

China from Stoke-on-Trent

China from Stoke-on-Trent

Most people in England drink one of these four, so it isn’t surprising that Ye Olde Kings Head wouldn’t specialize in an extensive tea menu. But in truth, you are coming here for the British ambiance and experience and not a high quality tea. All the teas are brewed loose leaf, but the tea leaves are left in the pot so the tea gets bitter.

Pour over a strainer

Pour over a strainer

You pour it into your cup over a strainer to catch any extra leaves. Thankfully hot water was brought midway through so the tea was warmed back up and lightened to slightly remove the bitterness. We both went with Earl Grey, and can really say nothing other than it was a standard expected Earl Grey. I really don’t think any Earl Grey is going to seem special after Buckingham Palace Garden Party.

 

Food

We shared the Afternoon Tea for Two service, which is basically a high tea as it comes with meats and quiche in addition to the typical sandwiches, scones, and desserts. All of their afternoon tea options that have sandwiches also have the sausage and quiche, so unless you order simple cream tea, be ready for a heartier meal than normal.

Sandwiches

Savory Course

Savory Course

Unfortunately for me, most of the sandwiches contained mayonnaise so I ended up not being able to eat them. The British obsession with adding mayonnaise to everything was a struggle while I was living there, but it also seems to be a trauma I blocked out of my memory as I definitely was not prepared to taste mayonnaise with my salmon. And all the sandwiches were triple decker, supplying more surface area for mayonnaise.

The egg salad with watercress on white bread and the salmon and cucumber both had mayo and the mayo was a very prevalent, overwhelming taste. You can try those and let me know how you like them. Enjoy mine as well.

The turkey, cream cheese, and cranberry on white bread was the first sandwich out of most tea rooms where the meat was so pureed or so thin that you couldn’t taste it. Here you are able to identify the meat as turkey because there is a real slice!

The final sandwich was an herbed cream cheese (possibly thyme?) and walnuts on wheat bread. It was pretty bland like most of the other sandwiches and savory offerings.

The sausage was made with beef and pork and surrounded in a pastry. As it was beef, I opted against trying it, but Mom did and said it was okay but needed some mustard. And American mustard at that because I’m warning you now, British mustard has a lot of horseradish in it. Definitely will clear your sinuses before you expect it. The quiche had a strong pepper flavor in the pastry; you can actually see the pepper flakes. The eggs inside are bland and don’t hold up to the overly hearty pastry. Unfortunately, their sandwich and savory course here falls into the stereotypical bland British food.

Scones

Scones!!!!

Scones!!!!

Here is the moment you have all been waiting for with bated breath; the scones almost made me cry. These were AUTHENTIC British scones, from texture, to taste, to toppings, to size. They were tender and only slightly crumbly. The predominant flavor is the butter not the sugar as in so many American scones. The mix-ins were golden raisins and sultanas! Literally I was brought back to my happy days in England, when my mom would visit me and we would have cream tea throughout the country in every town we visited.

And then there was the clotted cream.

CLOTTED CREAM!!! This stuff is the real deal.

CLOTTED CREAM!!! This stuff is the real deal.

Real, authentic, magically creamy clotted cream from Devon, England. I can’t even begin to describe to you the taste and mouthfeel experience of a bite of scone with true clotted cream and strawberry jam. Transcendent may be adequate? Heavenly? Pure? Comforting? Every positive adjective you can possibly think of can describe some aspect of this singular bite.  Who cares about the bland sandwiches? Who cares about the overbrewed tea? Everything melts away with this scone.

Desserts

2 eclairs, a chocolate petit four, and a vanilla petit four

2 eclairs, a chocolate petit four, and a vanilla petit four

Only two desserts per person are served (which is totally okay considering for the first time ever Mom and I each ate an entire scone instead of sharing one and bringing leftovers). The chocolate éclair was surprisingly good. The choux was nice and chewy and the vanilla cream light and sweet. The chocolate glaze and powdered sugar were not overpowering either. It was a solid éclair and in the correct portion size (here’s looking at you The Andersens).

A cream ball?

A cream ball?

The petit four was a simple sponge cake with a ball of cream on top of it covered in a sugar frosting. The cake was dense and the cream was pointless and the frosting was pure sugar. The chocolate one was mildly better, but in general the petit fours should go the same way as the sandwiches.

 

Extras

Ye Olde Kings Head ShopAttached to the entire restaurant building is a British store and bakery that sells anything British. Everything is imported from the UK and almost, almost, feels like walking into a mini Tesco, but more based in knickknacks and candy bars. The bakery sells their scones—we now have 11 in our freezer—and other British baked goods such as Eccles cakes, flapjacks, and tiffins. If you’ve been to England, the bakery case is like a peek into memory lane. They also sell clotted cream, real clotted cream, so stock up while you’re here! There is also an adorable selection of British teacups and teapots that are really difficult to resist.

 

Beauties

Beauties

The tea service is by far not the best as a whole, but I will be returning here for one reason alone: the scones. Don’t waste your money on the full shebang of high tea at Ye Olde Kings Head. Come for the scones, stay for the scones, and leave with scones and clotted cream in your bag as well as your belly.

 

Visit Ye Olde Kings Head at 116 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA, 90401. (310) 451-1402. Cost per person for afternoon tea: $17.98.

 

Recipe: Strawberry Vanilla Scones

My favorite fruit is strawberries, but this comes with a problem. When strawberries are bad, they are terrible, tart, and tasteless. Luckily, the strawberries sold at my local farmer’s market are the best strawberries you will ever taste. Gaviotas they are called by the farmers at Harry’s Berries, but they should be called Perfection. These are the most incredible strawberries I have ever tasted.

So naturally, I had to turn them into scones. Only logical progression, right?

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Gaviotas are incredibly sweet on their own and have a very strong flavor, so I felt that my usual scone recipe would have a too marked taste itself to meld with the strawberries. The two would be battling for supremacy, not enhancing each other’s deliciousness. Instead, I chose to mellow the scone’s flavor using a mascarpone cheese base and adding vanilla bean paste for supporting the Gaviotas.

Mascarpone is a mild Italian cream cheese reminiscent of butter or British clotted cream (that wonderful spread that improves almost any scone); using it as the binding agent and fat source in the dough made for a wonderfully creamy and delicate scone. The scone’s interior will literally melt in your mouth as the essence of the strawberries permeates every bite.

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Strawberries–or at least this variety–are an interesting fruit to bake with. Most berries seem to become almost more tart and brightened once heated, but these strawberries seemed to mellow. Maybe it was the mascarpone and vanilla’s influences, but these strawberry scones were not strawberry-candy-esque, but rather the summer British dessert of Strawberries and Cream turned into a scone.

These are perfect for a sophisticated, feminine occasion like a baby shower tea party. Do not top with anything other than the thinnest layer of clotted cream. The scones are moist enough to not need a topping, and an additional flavor will overwhelm the soft strawberries.

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Strawberry Vanilla Scones

Ingredients

  • 200 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 50 g ultrafine baking sugar
  • 1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste or 1 scraped vanilla bean
  • 200 g mascarpone
  • 1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 220°C or 450°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and mix until well blended. Toss in strawberries until they are well dispersed.
Work in the vanilla paste and mascarpone until the dough has formed even sized clumps. Sprinkle water over dough and knead until clumps come together. This is an extremely wet dough.
Place on a heavily floured work surface and pat down to desired thickness (1 cm). Cut out scones with a cutter (5 cm) dipped in more flour and place on baking sheet. Knead scraps back together and repeat until the majority of the dough has been used. In between kneading rounds, replenish the work surface’s flour coating.
Bake for 7-9 minutes until lightly browned on top. These will rise only a little bit.
Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Savor.

The Levels of Tea Service

Afternoon tea has become the catch-all term for any type of tea service. Linguists will say that technically afternoon tea is just any cup of tea you drink after 12:00 pm, but where’s the fun in that stuffy answer?

When you visit a tearoom, there are usually three “levels” of tea service available. The tea drink itself is always a feature; the levels refer to the nibbles served alongside your hot beverage. You can order a cream tea, an afternoon tea, or a high tea. Each one has a different amount and style of sweets or savories, and for authenticity, make sure you know what to expect when you order which one of the three.

Cream Tea

This is considered the lowest tier (no pun intended) of tea service, consisting only of scones, cream, and jam or other spreads…hence the name “cream tea”.  It’s the perfect little repast from the hustle and bustle of the work day. A cream tea is substantial enough to curb your midday hunger, but not so filling that you’ll spoil your dinner.

Cream tea service at Blenheim Palace, Oxford, England

Cream tea service at Blenheim Palace, Oxford, England

One of my favorite things to do while I lived in England was to visit a tearoom in every city, town, or village I visited and partake in a cream tea.

Afternoon Tea

Ah, the umbrella term Americans use to describe all three levels of tea service. Afternoon tea–the true, traditional afternoon tea service–consists of finger sandwiches or light savories, scones and cream/jam/curd/etc, and small treats or cakes. This is the service that most American tearooms and hotels offer to guests. Because there is just a higher quantity of food and there is the finger sandwich course, afternoon tea can replace a full meal (I usually schedule mine as a late lunch) or tide you over until a really late dinner.

Afternoon tea at the Cavendish London Hotel

Afternoon tea at the Cavendish London Hotel

A typical variation of afternoon tea is the celebration or champagne tea. It’s exactly what it sounds like: afternoon tea served with a glass of champagne in addition to your tea beverage. A great excuse to drink before 5:00 pm!

High Tea

High tea is definitely a full meal. Traditionally served at the end of a working class day, high tea has more substantial food such as meat pies, vegetables, quiche, and heavy baked goods possible in addition to the scone and dessert courses. But nowadays high tea is more of a multi-course afternoon tea with the addition of heavier foods rather than the family meal it used to be. What used to be exclusive to the working class of Britain has been taken over and changed into a more elite social gathering. High tea was not meant to be a dainty, china plated affair; it was the meal served to replenish after a long hard day of manual labor.

High tea service

High tea service

So whatever your level of hunger, sophistication, or craving for sweets, there is a tea meal service for you. Just make sure you order the right service for your appetite’s size!

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