For the love of Theo! Hailing from the tree, Theobroma cacao, chocolate is known as the food of the gods. (Theo=”god”; Broma= “food) Derived from the plant’s latin nomenclature, theobromine is the chief bitter alkaloid in chocolate as well as tea leaves and the kola nut.
These physiological effects of theobromine among others related to flavanoids in chocolate led it to be praised for it medicinal benefits. Actually, there was a time when doctors would prescribe chocolate to their patients. If only that were still the case, I think the doctor’s office would be a much happier place.
Were you to open a chocolate company, it, therefore, makes perfect sense to name it “Theo“. It opened in 2006. Located in a funky and fitting neighborhood in Seattle, WA, Theo is the first certified organic, fair-trade bean to bar factory in North America with a mission to change the world through chocolate.
On their website, they state, “We are all connected. We touch one another’s lives in incredible ways. And we are responsible to and for one another. From the cacao farmer in the Congo, to the truck driver in Seattle, to the chocolate lover in Philadelphia, there is a thread that runs through us all. Theo believes in celebrating those connections, in strengthening them and in finding inspiration within them—inspiration to change the world. We know that every action has a result. That the choices we make here in Seattle, Washington touch lives across the planet in real and lasting ways. That knowledge, and that responsibility, is what drives us to do things differently, to help make the world a better place.
We’ve been fortunate that Theo’s founding vision – a spirit of innovation and excellence, a desire to create positive change and throughout it all, a commitment to transparency – resonates deeply with our customers. As we share our story, we’re finding that more and more people are taking an interest in our mission to make the world a better place by bringing out the best of the cocoa bean. Our promise to our customers is that Theo’s growth will never come at the expense of our values. We think about every choice we make, every action we take and how it will impact our interconnected world.”
Joe Whinney, the founder of Theo, is involved in every step of the process from bean to bar ensuring that this chocolate is being produced in the most socially-consious and sustainable means. What does bean to bar mean? The Theo way is described best here. Regardless, what matters greatly to Joe is that everyone involved in the Theo chocolate making steps from the farmers to those hand mixing the treats in Seattle is treated with dignity.
After hearing more about the company from our tour guide, we had the chance to taste five of Theo‘s chocolate bars.
Pure 70% Chocolate: Tasting notes include fruity, roasted, bitter
This is a blended bean bar using beans from the Congo, Peru, and Panama
70% Chocolate with Dried Raspberries: Tasting notes include citrus fruity, tart, bitter
70% Chocolate with Salt Almonds: Tasting notes include fruity, nutty, caramel essence
70% Chocolate with Toasted Coconut: Tasting notes include creamy, roasted, nutty, fruity
The coconut is toasted in house
45% Milk Chocolate Coffee and Cream: Tasting notes include roasted, nutty, creamy
This is a single origin bar from Congo
After the tasting, the tour is taken through the factory. The actualy factory, not some pretend factory. It’s a completely transparent operation at Theo. Really though, do you want to read anymore about this chocolate? I think the pictures do it better justice. How about we make you drool?
Is your mouth watering yet? As Sam, a favorite soulful voice of mine sings about Cupid and Valentine’s Day sneaks up on us all reach for a gift from the gods, a Theo chocolate treat. This is a chocolate that does not gender discriminate. Women and men alike can get behind theo.
Of course, buy some chocolate in addition to a beautiful bouquet of flowers purchased from your local flower shop. Living in the Lehigh Valley? Try Michael Thomas Floral Design. (Disclaimer: It’s my amazing dad’s flower shop).
Six months passed from when I began this blog post. I sit here shaking my head in disbelief. How did I go that long without writing, yet had so many topics to cover? I let this passion slip and that is as hard to swallow as scalding tea.
Last week, I was in the audience of Creative Mornings Baltimore, which is now one of my favorite regular events in this city. Actually, you should check and see if there is a Creative Mornings chapter in your city. These thought-provoking conversations happen worldwide. A quick shout out to the welcoming folks at Impact Hub Baltimore for hosting the January event in their new space.
The latest speaker was Elissa Blount Moorhead and she was dynamite. I strongly encourage you to watch her conversation. Ms. Moorhead is evoking social change through writing, filmmaking, and language in all forms. She kicked my ass for the better, reigniting a fire underneath me to begin writing again.
There I was, sitting and listening to this grounded woman discuss the power of verbal and non-verbal language and the nuances which lie within. During her conversation, she brought up Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and her confidence in being herself despite cultural demands of what a lead female musician should be. Catch the interview on one of my favorite podcasts, Fresh Air.
My mind was wheeling…Creative Mornings–>Elissa Blount Moorhead–>Writing–>Language–>Brittany Howard–>Newport Folk Festival (NFF) 2012.
Here’s something to know. My brother, Nate, is an insane improv actor. He’s in three groups, maybe more, including Team Lopez. No, he’s not a blue furry monster. He’s one of the guys behind the blue furry monster. Nate taught me this improv trick which helps to transform an audience suggestion into a related, yet altered idea on which to do a skit.
There was my improv moment of the day. That was the path to how Creative Mornings Baltimore led me back to this post about NFF 2015. Yet it’s not the whole story. See, I wasn’t at NFF 2012. Nate and his friend Matt were there, though. They were poured on the entire weekend and still soaking wet from the rain raved about this musically amazing weekend that I was not allowed to miss the following year.
For these guys, The Alabama Shakes were one of the transformative bands of the weekend. Transformative in the sense of elevating NFF from simply being a good festival to an unmissable experience. An expanded group of us has ventured to Connecticut every summer since. We’ll once again be returning to NFF 2016 in July and they are now starting to announce the acts, folk yeah! All of these interweaving pathways are truly serendipitous.
Will you take a few minutes with me and reminisce about last summer? Where were you? What was your favorite trip? Your favorite bite? Your favorite sip? Daydream with me back to those summer days…
…We are officially in the dog days of summer. In Baltimore, it is reaching 100F regularly. Let’s not even begin discussing the humidity factor. You never want to get a curly-haired girl started on the frustrations of humidity. With these hot temperatures, you may find yourself reaching for a chilled caffeinated beverage instead of the typical steaming cup. On which side of the question do you fall…iced tea or cold brew coffee?
Iced tea is an old favorite while cold brew is the new kid on the block. Back in March (remember the crisp, cold winter weather of March?) at the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival, I had the pleasure of meeting the enthusiastic teams of The Subtle Tea Company and Wandering Bear Coffee Co. and sampling their top notch products. These quality new companies are redefining the meaning of iced tea and cold brew coffee, respectively.
First, I met the Kyle Chandler and The Subtle Tea Company crew. Kyle’s passion for his craft was evident. After handing me a few bottles to sample of the original plum flavor in addition to the raspberry tea, Kyle was generous enough to answer* several questions about his iced tea.
BF: What was the motivation behind starting The Subtle Tea Company?
KC: A bunch of my friends on Long Island are in the craft beer world. I work and attend craft beer festivals often. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love craft beer, but I would be at these events feeling that after a few big abv beers I needed something to drink to rehydrate or just take a break from beer. As a kid, my mom, Myrna (real name Carolyn), would make sun tea during the summer and it was my favorite things to drink on a hot day. So I thought,”Iced tea is brewed. craft beer is brewed. Why can’t I get a crafted brewed iced tea?” It was that simply, I wanted a better tea than I could find in stores. So, I made one.
BF: From where is the tea sourced?
KC: Since tea is not grown on Long Island and it was important for me and the brand that we sourced locally, I was very lucky to find SerendipiTea in Manhasset, NY. They import hundreds of teas from all over world. Subtle Tea’s base black tea comes from India.
BF: Why did you choose plum as the original flavor?
KC: We like to be different. I like to call it the flagship. It was important to me that the flavor stand out. Everyone has a Lemon or a Peach flavor. No one has Plum. Plum is one of my favorite fruits, so I might be a little biased and simply did it because I like it.
BF: What are the benefits of making the iced tea in small batches?
KC: At first, the small batches were all I was able to fit in the kettles, but quickly realized that we were able to make different flavors more easily and could ensure a higher quality and freshness of each of the teas.
BF: What is The Subtle Tea Company’s proudest moment so far?
KC: Since we have only been selling since December 2014, we have milestones every day. Getting into the first store, having a dozen accounts, doing an event where someone tells me that they love the Plum Tea and get it every time they go to Hoptron (one of our best accounts), the first time someone got in touch with us to buy cases, a request for info for a blog post focusing on us. It’s only going to get cooler and I’m proud to have a good team of friends and my folks helping to see The Subtle Tea Company’s full potential.
BF: What do you for envision the company in the coming year?
KC: A lot of work and growth. Throughout the summer, I see us picking up a lot of accounts, and learning how to run a growing business. I’m sure we will need to upgrade some of the equipment we are currently using, but that’s the stuff I love, building things that make stuff.
BF: What’s your favorite way to enjoy the iced tea (paint a picture for us)?
KC: I love accomplishing projects; if it’s building a chicken coop, trenching power to the barn or building a fence, taking a step back to admire my work the an iced cold Subtle Tea, and see the progress. That’s a good day.
BF: What other information would you like to share with our readers?
KC: The Subtle Tea Company cares about what you put in your body as much as we care about what we put in our tea. We will always be an all organic product with no preservatives or processed ingredients. When enjoying a Subtle Tea we believe you should taste tea first, then fruit, then a little sweetness on the back end. We use four ingredients; water, tea, dried fruit of the flavor that it is and organic cane sugar, that’s it. And that’s all it’ll ever be.
Do you have a party coming up and need a lightly-sweetened, refreshing, brewed beverage to quench your guests’ thirst? I have spectacular news for you. Subtle Tea does not only come in bottles. It is also available to the public in growlers and kegs. Keep them in mind for your next gathering!
We come then to cold brew coffee. Yes, it’s different from iced coffee. Here’s Matt Bachman of Wandering Bear Coffee Co. to explain more about the cold brew system and his company.
BF: What are the benefits of using a cold brew system?
MB: Cold brew is simply a better iced coffee. It’s interesting. Turns out that many of the acids and oils released when brewing hot coffee are not meant to be cooled down. They go rancid, making the drink taste bitter and a bit stale. Cold brewing does not release all of these… so you’re left with a slightly different drink (chemically speaking), and one that is bold, but very smooth (not as bitter or acidic).
BF: There’s a belief that New York bagels are truly the best because of New York City’s quality tap water. How do you think that belief applies to WanderingBear cold brew?
MB: Water matters a lot for coffee. The relative hardness or softness will impact extraction; and other minerals will affect flavor. We’ve only ever brewed with NYC water… so I’m afraid I don’t have much base for comparison. I’d like to think that the water here helps our coffee taste as good as it does.
BF: What makes the coffee “seriously” caffeinated?
MB: We use A LOT of coffee to make our cold brew. Cold brewing as a process actually extracts less of the caffeine from the bean (compared to hot brewing). HOWEVER, we use a significant amount of coffee (relative to water). Over a pound of coffee is used to brew each of our boxes.
BF: Where did you get the idea for the packaging in airtight bags within a cardboard box?
MB: Coffee is a lot like wine in its sensitivity to air and light. We wanted to bring the convenience of a multi-serving package into consumer homes and offices… but we needed a way to keep the coffee fresh. So we borrowed a page out of the wine industry’s playbook… cold brew in a box (like boxed wine). It just made so much sense. And no one was doing it.
BF: What is wanderingBear‘s proudest moment so far?
MB: Launching on FreshDirect.com was a big milestone for us.
BF: What do you for envision the company in the coming year?
MB: Lots more cold brew coffee! Our goal is to bring cafe-style iced coffee into as many homes and offices as possible. We’re focused on the New York market for the time being.
BF: What’s your favorite way to enjoy WanderingBear cold brew?
MB: I (Matt) love it over ice with a dash of half and half. Ben likes it black over ice.
BF: What other information would you like to share with our readers?
MB: We’re having an absolute blast building this young brand. The support and interest from folks like you is what keeps us going. We’ve been launching this business while grad students, so it’s been a nights and weekend type of effort so far. But with graduation approaching, and with such great support from our customers, we’re ready to make this our full-time job. And we could not be more excited about it. Great things to come in 2015!
If hearing Matt describe his cold brew doesn’t make you want a cup, I’m not sure what will. Maybe, a personal story.
This weekend, we put Wandering Bear to the ultimate test. From Baltimore, I ordered a box of Wandering Bear cold brew to be delivered via FreshDirect to my brother’s place in NYC. We stop there to gather the rest of the gang on the way up to NFF.
Groggy and tired, hit the road from Queens around 5am heading to Newport, CT to arrive in time for the Friday festivities to begin. There was a desperate need for caffeine.
Brewce the Wandering Bear came along for the adventure. We were reliant on his caffeine and refreshing cool nature. He was our best travel buddy, never letting us down as our energy began to drag later in the afternoon and throughout the weekend. I could easily imagine him joining me in the future on camping trips, road trips, and outdoor summer brunches. Where would you take Brewce?
Now, that we’ve come to the end, what’s your answer? Would you choose iced tea or cold brew? My opinion, there are 24 hours in a day. That’s plenty of time for both.
Thank you, friends. Thank you for venturing back with me to the warm, sunny days of summer amidst the drab, chilly winter days. You may not be ready to switch to iced tea or cold brew yet. Perhaps, you still need the warmth of your choice beverage to defrost your bones. Those spring days are not far now. Soon you’ll be in the mood for a cold one, tea or coffee, I mean. Remember where to look, The Subtle Tea Company and Wandering Bear Coffee Co., if for no other reason than they are good, good people who swayed me through language in a simple, genuine conversation.
Brewed Forces has been anything but…well…brewing lately. It’s unbelievable how much time passed since the last post. Life took me on unexpected twists and turns leaving writing in the dust.
On Friday, I found myself sitting in on Creative Mornings Baltimore at Single Carrot Theater. These gatherings are quickly becoming my favorite events in Baltimore. Cara Ober, creator of BmoreArt, provided challenging thoughts on the concept of “work”. Following the combination of this stimulating discussion and an interesting conversation with a new friend, David, I was motivated to steep some new ideas.
Friday, I also landed an exciting, new position which will free up time to write weekly or more! So get ready, because I have a ton of experiences to share with you. Sarah brought me chocolate from Thailand. Laura gifted me coffee from Vietnam. Jonathan took me on a tour of an amazing Seattle chocolate company. Wandering Bear Co. cold brew accompanied us to Newport Folk Festival. These are only a handful of stories I have to tell you.
Tomorrow, I fly to Iceland with Laura and three of our friends to visit another friend who is living there. There’s no doubt the trip will be highlighted on Brewed Forces as I hear Iceland has a unique take on coffee. I’ll be back stateside November 30th. Come December, Brewed Forces will be brewing again on a weekly basis.
Since I know you all will be waiting in anticipation until then, allow this picture of an adorable corgi puppy to hold you over. Say hello to Milo, the newest addition the family. He’s made me an aunt for the first time! His favorite things include his dragging around his giant stuffed snake, giving puppy kisses, wiggling his butt, and snuggling by your feet. If that doesn’t warm your heart, then try a cup of tea.
The EmporiYum: Meet. Eat. Shop. Brewed Forces did all three suggested actions while tasting and sipping its way through the former H&S Bakery Distribution Center in Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood. It was the perfect venue with its spacious and industrial features. The crowd never felt like a crowd. With over 75 vendors to tantalize your taste buds, The EmporiYum highlighted local artisans from Maryland, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania while expanding its reach to the Northeast and Midwest.
The range of offerings was incredible! Yet, keeping in line with Brewed Forces, I will suppress my “foodie” tendencies and focus on those people elevating chocolate, tea, and coffee products. Stroll with me as I relive yesterday’s food coma-inducing journey through The EmporiYum.
With VIP ticket in palm and “Yum” and “Drink” adorning my right hand and wrist in a vibrant red stamp, I stepped into a warehouse of vivid colors, charming people, and enticing aromas around 10:00am. The VIP ticket is worth the extra couple bucks receiving a bag full of treats and coupons easily covering the difference in ticket price. Moreover, there were very few lines allowing for conversation with the vendors if you’re into those perks.
A few steps away was Fatty Sundays, a family-propelled, Brooklyn-based company selling the joy of chocolate in the form of salty pretzels dipped in delicious chocolate and embellished with edible decor. In my opinion, this is the original salty-sweet treat. Then again, that is coming from a Pennsylvanian girl where pretzels reign as ruler over the snack kingdom. Growing up we always had pretzels with our ice cream, so I easily understood the concept behind Fatty Sundays. They also offer gluten free, chocolate-covered pretzels for those needing this option. The next time you need a lively favor for guests at a birthday party, wedding, baby shower, or simply for your own enjoyment, rely on Fatty Sundays.
On the topic of ice cream, from Fatty Sundays, I continued down the path to find a bold tricycle cart in red and white filled with Little Baby’s Ice Cream. It’s no secret how much I love ice cream. These guys based in Philadelphia, PA were scooping samples of three flavors. Without hesitation, I had to taste the Earl Grey Siracha ice cream.
Yes, siracha has become a fad of sorts in America’s food world, but I want to publicly claim my use of siracha prior to the past couple years. Still, I am glad to see this “awesome-sauce” (#1 Christa-ism) finally get the recognition it deserves.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, this ice cream was seriously dangerous in the best way possible. The floral undertone lent by the bergamot from the Earl Grey tea balanced the subtle heat of the siracha. Neither overpowered the other, which is not an easy task to accomplish with such recognizable flavors. This ice cream also offers up vegan varieties. Little Baby’s is looking to expand on the East coast. Baltimore, we may see these tricycles adorning our streets soon. I just hope they have good shocks on those trikes considering all the potholes in our city roads.
Moving right along, with not enough hands for all the samples, I came across Running Byrd Tea Company from Washington DC offering five varieties of iced tea each one as refreshing as the next. The flavors range in sweetness, never becoming too sweet. While Lemongrass White Peach offers fruity and floral notes, Indian Masala Chai Tea ends with a pleasing peppery finish. The tea comes in pint-sized mason jars or 3 gallon party containers. Hosting a summer barbeque this year? Consider having Running Byrd there to quench your guests’ thirst.
Rounding the corner, I found myself at Charm School Chocolate, a local Baltimore vendor specializing in non-dairy, vegan chocolate. Don’t scrunch your noise. Obviously, with my aforementioned love for ice cream, I am not vegan. Still, there is no reason to be skeptical of these chocolates. They transform fair trade and organic ingredients into decadent white chocolate, coconut milk chocolate, and dark chocolate bars. Also, the staff enjoys wearing bow ties, a bonus in my book. The bars can be ordered online or found in numerous specialty stores across the nation.
From Baltimore to another Philly-founded company, I zoomed over to Soom. Poor pun. Sorry. Anyway, Soom is a fantastic women-owned business creating high-quality sesame products including a chocolate sesame spread, similar yet superior to other chocolate spreads which will remain unnamed here. It contains only sesame, cocoa, and powdered sugar. Soom products are especially amazing for people with nuts allergies in search of alternatives made in a peanut-free facility. What else do I love about Soom? They offer a range of recipes encouraging consumers to be creative with their smooth sesame line.
By this time, my morning pot of black tea was wearing thin and I needed more pep in my step if I were to conquer The EmporiYum. Vigilante Coffee Company was nearby as a saving grace. Interested in knowing from where the coffee you’re sipping originates? The team at Vigilante can tell you. They receive coffee beans in their natural green state and scrupulously create exquisite roasts in their facilities in Hyattsville, MD. The coffee is sold at select locations in Washington, DC. Roasted whole beans can also be purchased on their website.
And what pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee? An interesting book, of course. Thanks to The Ivy Bookshop, a beloved Baltimore small business, I was able to browse a few new cookbooks. If you’re in Baltimore and have yet to visit The Ivy Bookshop, move it to the top of your to-do list. They are open every day of the week. Yes, even on the weekends! It’s time to grab some great summer reads and the experts at this store can find the perfect fit for your fixation. Peruse their events as there is bound to be one of interest. I’m guessing I didn’t win the aromatic rosemary plant they were raffling, but they won a continued place in my heart. (too sentimental?)
By this time, I was running high on caffeine, while the juice in my phone battery was at 2%. Yikes! But I’m scrappy, although I prefer the word “resourceful”. I followed the electric cords, found the juice boxes, plugged in, and was anchored near the DJ station. As my phone was charging, I was vigorously posting to Instagram and Tweeting away. Oh…and I was dancing. There was music. Why wouldn’t I be dancing? Those who know me, understand that this just happens and that I have to physically restrain myself in order to not dance when there is music. Apparently, I was not as sly as I conceived in my mind.
A stranger approached me from behind mistaking me for his friend. No worries, Will. A lot of people believe I look familiar. It was meant to be though, because Will from City Dining Cards was my second saving grace of the day handing me his portable charger to use freeing me from my tethered ways. Will was a friendly, trusting friend in a time of need. So, a special shoutout to him!
Yet, what are these City Dining Cards? There are pretty awesome. The company originated in Buffalo, NY and is spanning major cities across the nation. I learned about them last summer and found they make great gifts for those near and far. Fifty cards come in a dining or drink deck. The dining deck gives you $10 off a bill of $30 or more at local restaurants. The drink decks are buy-one, get-one offers for favorite local bars. These decks build customer loyalty, support local businesses, and the company is keen on giving 5% of sales to local non-profit organizations. I’m sold.
From there, I came across Manny and Camp from Drizly, an app which allows you to order beer, wine, or liquor and have it delivered to your home. No need to change out of your sweats. Although, don’t try to pull a fast one on Drizly. They do check ID.
I hear you. This seems to have nothing to do with coffee, tea, or chocolate. You’re right. I’d like to make the argument that beer, wine, and liquor can all pair well with coffee, tea, or chocolate and therein lies the connection. See if Drizly is already in your city, download their app, and use it this weekend! Or why wait until the weekend? Let me know first though, so I can get some credit.
Go figure, next to Drizly was Green Hat Distilled Gin, made at New Columbia Distillers, the first DC distillery since prohibition. It was some damn fine gin made in small batches in a copper pot still. It can be found in the DC/Baltimore metro area. Again, how is this connected to Brewed Forces? Through the innovated minds of Salazon Chocolate Co.
Located in Elderberg, MD, it is the first salted chocolate company. They handcrafted a 70% dark chocolate bar sprinkled with Green Hat Gin-infused turbinado sugar accentuated by a light pinch of sea salt. The floral notes of the gin are evident yet subtle. The juniper is never overwhelming true to the essence of Green Hat Distilled Gin. Salazon’s products are available online and possibly in retail locations near you. Buy a bar, place on your tongue salt-side down, allow it to slowly melt, and take a deep breath. You’ll sense the lingering pleasure.
After that experience, I was in need of another drink. Thanks goodness I turned around to see Bittermilk, a cocktail mixer business hailing from Charleston, S.C. This new company has tiny roots that are growing deep in the cocktail world. It is sold in a few stores I frequent and I have been a fan since my initial siting of the No. 2. Bittermilk takes the intimidation out of crafting cocktails allowing you to simply mix with alcohol, shake or stir to your heart’s content, lean back in your favorite rocker, and drink in the evening. Well, that’s the sense I had when I was sampling the six available flavors. Each one is terrifically unique blending ingredients which may seem to contradict each other.
I could not resist purchasing No. 6, Oaxacan Old Fashioned, mainly so I had a reason to write of my love for Bittermilk. The No. 6 mixer contains cocoa nibs, cinchona bark, dried chiles, organic raisins, lemon peel, and a couple additional key ingredients reminiscing mole (mo-lay). Mix one part No. 6 to four parts Mezcal and you will have yourself one helluva good night.
While on the topic of cocoa, I stumbled next upon Pure Chocolate by Jinji, a family business based in Baltimore. I had a lovely conversation with Jinji’s aunt, a beautiful woman with the warmest smile. Pure Chocolate by Jinji embraces the power of raw cacao. This means it is never heated above 118 degrees F when creating her signature line of bark, novelty desserts, or liquid dark chocolate. You can taste the passion poured into her rare, raw confections.
The day was winding down. I returned the portable charger to Will. I bet you were all hanging on the edge of your seats just waiting to hear if I walked away with it! Or not. One of my last edible stops was Hex Ferments, a relatively new company in Baltimore focusing on fermented goods from kombucha to kimchi. Reminding you of my PA roots, we natives have a soft spot for sauerkraut and hex signs. Plus, I was already a fan of Hex Ferments before The EmporiYum. They are authentic. The kombucha tea is light and crisp with the perfect tinge of fizzle. Your microbiome will be singing its praises!
Did that just get too nerdy? Too bad. Since my heydays as a meek undergraduate in biology, the gut has been my favorite system to study. My deep affection for the gut only grew throughout my Master’s education in nutrition and my practice as a dietitian. The gut is amazing and your microbiome is practically an underappreciated organ, so treat it well! Yeah, that’s one super-sciency article tagged there. If you want me to do a whole post on the microbiome, tell me. I will and it will be killer.
Back to Hex Ferments. I walked away with a jar of kimchi and a big smile on my face.
There were countless scrumptious offerings by artisan entrepreneurs and local restaurants which due to lack of time, space, and the beginnings of carpel tunnel I am unable to mention here. It’s possible a handful will show up in our “Spotlight Series” in the coming months. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to visit The EmporiYum’s website and browse the extensive list of marketplace vendors. Give them some love. Then, keep an eye out for the DC dates this fall! Mark your calendars because I want to see you there.
A few years ago, I was introduced to Nunu Chocolates, a small business started by Justine and Andy Laird in Brooklyn, NY. When Nate and I visited our cousin in San Francisco, we wanted to bring a hostess gift from the East Coast. The Beer Box was an ideal choice. Completely portable, positively delicious, and passionately handmade. Since then, I picked up Nunu Chocolates at a store here or there, but never made it to their flagship site until now.
Walking into the simple store front, the chocolate aroma awakens your senses. The friendly staff is filled with knowledge excited to answer questions about any products. Peak around the counter corner and you can marvel at the care taken to create every piece of chocolate.
I splurged. What other choice did I have? Two decadent hot chocolates. I mean, my friend and I needed a treat for the ride back to Baltimore. A small box of Hokey Pokey. And the reason I really made the side trip, a Booze Box. I saw Nunu Chocolate’s post it recently on Instagram and decided I needed to get it to share with my friends!
To make the Cozy Hot Chocolate, a small amount of boiling water is whisked with rich chocolate shavings until it is melted. Steamed milk is then combined with the melted chocolate culminating in a cup of divinity which seems sinful. Drinking a mugful was one last nod to the harsh winter I’m anxious to leave behind. At least it ended on a sweet note.
Speaking of sweet, that is exactly what is found when biting into a crunchy, yet airy piece of Hokey Pokey. The irregularly shaped chocolates are a reminder of tangrams from days past. Hey! Go back and click on that tangrams link. You’re welcome for your day’s distraction from work.
This fun candy is not to be confused with the ubiquitously embarrassing dance many of us were forced to do on roller skates at elementary school birthday parties. Having a piece of Hokey Pokey will surely be a more positive experience for kids and adults alike.
The Booze Box was purposely saved to enjoy in a moment of celebration, which I did with two lucky friends last week. We split each ganache-filled gem three ways, allowing the chocolate to melt slowly while discovering a few descriptors to share with you in order of tasting.
Each chocolate was unique in style and presentation. There is a flavor to satisfy all taste buds. Purchase a box the next time you are searching for a different gift to bring the host of a dinner party. Then again, why wait? You deserve a box for yourself. Follow this link to highlight your week with a Booze Box. You can thank Nunu Chocolates and me later. I definitely agree with Justine and Andy when they say, “…the world is a better place when chocolate is involved.”
Last week, Brewed Forces sent Shannon, the vibrant founder of Because UR Priceless, a few questions to answer. She graciously obliged. Read below to learn more about the inspiration for her tea blends, her favorite blend, how she enjoys tea most, and the exciting new changes happening with the company!
What inspired you to begin blending teas and add them to your natural beauty products line?
When I began making natural body care products I did quite a bit of research on natural ingredients, especially herbs. I was fascinated not only with the external application possibilities (i.e. calendula has wonderful skin soothing/repairing aspects), but I was also intrigued by the concept of herbs and their internal uses as well (i.e. fennel is a wonderful stomach soother). On another front, I have long enjoyed a good cup of tea, but I was disappointed in how many teas were either one dimensional in their flavor or contained so many artificial flavorings that it was in no way healthy for you. Between my enjoyment of tea, my (then) new found love of herbs, and the fact that I’m always up for a good challenge creating my own tea blends seemed to be a ‘natural’ progression. (pun completely intentional, lol)
How do you develop the flavor profiles for your tea blends?
Great question! Sometimes I will come up with the name of a tea first and then set about making a blend to go with that name. For example, I recently came up with the idea of calling a tea blend “Second Date.” Something a little more serious than a first date, but still fun and lighthearted. I started to think of all the things that go with a second date…flowers, minty fresh breath, maybe a little chocolate. I am currently working to fit all of those concepts into something that translates into a fantastic cup of tea. Other times, I will start out trying to create one thing and end up, by happy accident, with something completely different. While working to create “Second Date” I actually ended up with a brand new, totally different sort of blend I ended up naming “Monday Morning.” (I hope to have both of these new tea blends available for purchase sometime this spring.)
I am also a huge fan of pursuing different tea ingredient labels. Sometimes it is easy to get stuck in the rut of combining the same herbs over and over again. Reviewing other tea combinations is sometimes a way to get my creativity sparking again. I am not really interested in another tea blend’s complete list of ingredients (where’s the originality in that?), but rather what herbs they have combined that I had not previously considered combining. Two particular tea blends – Chamomile Spice and Creamy Autumn Chai – are good examples of that concept. I enjoy a good cup of chai tea, but I was really looking for something without caffeine. I ran across a tea blend that used rooibos (pronounced roy-bus) instead of black tea and I was intrigued by the possibility of using something other than black tea as a base for a chai tea blend. While their use of rooibos as a base was fascinating, I did not enjoy the huge taste of black pepper that their blend left in my mouth. Was it possible to create a blend that used an herbal base, but that wasn’t overwhelmed by the strong spices contained in a chai tea? Off to the tea lab I went (aka my kitchen)! So far I have used a chamomile base (Chamomile Spice) and a rooibos base (Creamy Autumn Chai). I am currently thinking of other herbs I want to try as well (Chocolate Chai anyone???).
Where do you source the ingredients for your tea blends?
When I first started creating tea blends most of the ingredients came from my own garden. My husband and I are big into dehydrating so it was easy for me to grow and dry my own herbs. This worked fine when I was just using my tea blends for personal enjoyment, or for the occasional times someone would ask me to make some tea for them to give as gifts, but shortly after opening my online shop I realized that I would never be able to grow and dry enough to keep up with the demand. Now my herbs are purchased in bulk from several different companies that provide organically certified herbs. It is also very important to me that the ingredients I use have been sustainably harvested and, for applicable ingredients, certified Fair Trade as well.
What is your favorite blend?
That’s easy…Sweet Cinnamon Maté (pronounced mah-tay)! Without a doubt, this has been my hands down favorite since I created the blend. Sweet Cinnamon Maté is a little sweet and a little spicy, but also contains the refreshing crispness of yerba maté. I think people may sometimes overlook this blend because “cinnamon” is the primary word in the name and not a lot of people enjoy a mouthful of cinnamon (I know I don’t). The cinnamon in this blend, however, is tempered to a gentle heat by the soft, subtle chocolatey notes of the cacao nibs. Mmmmmm….Now that I’ve kicked my taste buds into high gear, I think I’ll have to go make a cup…BRB, lol.
What is your favorite way to enjoy a cup of tea?
In the winter months I like to sit on my couch and look out over the bird feeder while I sip my cup of tea. When the weather is warm, I enjoy sipping tea while sitting on our front porch or in the middle of our flower gardens. I try to sit and drink tea rather than drinking it on the run because I find that sitting still long enough to drink a cup of tea forces me to take those super important, necessary moments to be still and helps me put my seemingly ever-racing thoughts back into order.
What other information would you want to share with our readers?
Big things are in the works at Because UR Priceless! I am super stoked to share with you that I have been working with a graphic designer to streamline and update the look of my tea line packaging. I am crazy excited about the new look and I am hoping to have it ready for launch sometime in May. In other news, I have been busy at work in the tea lab working on new tea blends. I have a little over a half dozen new blends currently being reviewed by my 9-person tea tasting review panel. (Remember “Monday Morning?” It’s one of those blends.) I would love to coordinate their release with the launch of my new packaging in May.
All that exciting news aside, however, I want to encourage your readers to regularly set aside a few moments to relax and recharge (hopefully while enjoying a great cup of tea). Sip tea, be happy, and stay awesome!
If you want to learn more about Because UR Priceless, visit the company’s about page on Etsy.
On Sunday, I reserved an afternoon for myself, recharged after a tireless week, and fully indulged in things I love: music, books, and tea. A birthday gift from my dear friend, Laura, arrived right in time. Opening it with excitement, I found a beautiful, little cardboard box wrapped with a green bow from Because UR Priceless. Inside, it was filled with colorful loose leaf tea* blends arranged in a rainbow. An instantaneous smile. I was reminded of Reading Rainbow, Rainbow Connection, Rainbow Brite (the original), Finian’s Rainbow! Okay, the last one’s definitely a stretch. Petula Clarke and Fred Astaire can’t even propel this show into my top 20 favorite musicals, but saying “Glocca Morra” is kind of fun. Give it a try. It sounds like an Irishman trying to say “guacamole”.
After sending a quick “Thanks” to Laura, I perused the flavors reading every little detail about each unique blend before deciding on which one to open first. Laura suggested to steep a cup of Elderberry Delight to start. The aroma was invigorating. The taste, refreshing. Three simple ingredients to find this balance: organic elderberry, organic orange peel, organic peppermint.
I adored this little box of teas prompting me to reach out to the owner of Because UR Priceless to better understand what inspires her tea blends. Shannon is an enthusiac, passionate entrepreneur living in Michigan. In the warm months, she enjoys sipping a cup of tea in her garden, the very garden where she began cultivating the herbs she used in her original tea blends. After opening her online store, Shannon recognized she would not be able to grow and dry enough product to keep up with the demand of sales. She developed relationships with a handful of companies offering organically certified herbs. The ingredients are also sustainably harvested and if applicable certified Fair Trade.
There are several exciting developments coming in the near future for Because UR Priceless including a new lines of teas and new branding! Shannon is incredibly excited about the launch sharing, “Big things are in the works at Because UR Priceless! I am super stoked to share with you that I have been working with a graphic designer to streamline and update the look of my tea line packaging. I am crazy excited about the new look and I am hoping to have it ready for launch sometime in May. In other news, I have been busy at work in the tea lab working on new tea blends. I have a little over a half dozen new blends currently being reviewed by my 9-person tea tasting review panel.”
You certainly cannot deny that Shannon is passionate about her business. These comments are only a glimpse into the online interview between Shannon and Brewed Forces. Click here to read more from Shannon. Something I learned Shannon and I have in common is the simple pleasure of enjoying a quality cup of tea while sitting on the sofa breathing in a quiet moment.
So, as I settled deep into the couch corner, cozy under a blanket, with Elderberry Delight in hand, I caught up on the most recent episode of the radio talk show that never fails to make me laugh, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!with special guest, the extraordinary Trombone Shorty. It was a Tiny Desk Concert in 2011 that first introduced me to this funky New Orleans soul. It didn’t take much more than that snippet to make me a fan. About a year later, Trombone Shorty introduced David Dye to a Crescent City Second Line parade on my favorite music radio show, World Cafe. It was almost as if I was kicking up my heels right there next to them. I wished I was anyway. Then, as luck would have it, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were at the first Newport Folk Festival I ventured to in 2013 (and I’m psyched to return for my 3rd NFF this year!). The lively band tore up the Fort Stage with high energy grooves encouraging the crowd to dance the afternoon away. Pure joy. I dare you to try and sit still when listening these brass masters. Impossible!
Reminiscing on that Tiny Desk Concert, led me to catching up on a more recent series. What better to feed the soul than some more soul music? Travel with me from the streets of Treme with Trombone Shorty to the clubs of Oakland with the recent winner of the Tiny Desk Concert Contest, Fantastic Negrito. His comical, yet honest lyrics and his smooth, yet raw voice are captivating. Hey, Fantastic Negrito! If you ever read this article, consider this my request for you to come and perform on the East Coast. How about you check him out yourself?
Elderberry Delight tickled my taste buds so much that I decided to have another cup as I reached for my afternoon read, Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut. Sifting through the bookshelves at home in Pennsylvania, I found a first edition hardcover. Kurt and I have had a pretty solid literary relationship to date. This story practically leaped into my hands.
Since grade school, I had an unusual attraction to the Galápagos Islands. I wrote one of my first reports on these sacred grounds of Darwin. Perhaps, that decision was to foreshadow my later life choice to study biology. I’ve always wanted to explore the archipelago and its abundant wildlife.
Maybe not so much after reading this novel. You’d understand if you read the book. The main story is set during 1986, yet it’s actually a one million year flashback. This original NY Times articles reviews the science fiction piece rather eloquently and may help you figure out if you’ll pick up Vonnegut’s 11th book. If you give it a go, let me know if you still want to join me when I venture to the Galápagos Islands. It will happen someday.
One last cup of tea. As the sun was setting over Inner Harbor, I opted for Florida Sunrise. Aptly named, it was vibrant and delicate like, well… a Florida sunrise. The tea had a light citrus taste, which was balanced by the subtle flavoring of rose hips and the earthiness of green rooibos.
It was fitting choice as I closed my eyes and reflected on the joyful memories of a friend recently departed including muggy adventures in the Florida marshes. Joni Mitchell’s 1974 album Court and Spark was spinning. She was one of my friend’s favorite artists and ranks high on my personal list.
To this day, Joni Mitchell is full of beauty, poise, and boldness. She is truly badass. Now, you might find yourself asking, “How is that possible? She’s is a folk artist.” Look no further than this brilliant article by Carl Swanson from New York Magazine.
After I read the article, it was evident that Joni and I could easily spend our days together painting, dancing, digging on Taylor Swift, and exploring our roots. She’d also feel very at home with Trombone Shorty and Fantastic Negrito. We’d bond over our preference for longhand writing and she could school me with her experience on taking risks despite critics. Don’t you see the wisdom pouring out of her gorgeous locks? For a single afternoon, I’d welcome inhaling the secondhand smoke of her endless American Spirits. Unfortunately, that’s all fantasy. Realistically, I suppose I’ll have to settle for buying her remastered 4-disc album Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced. Tomorrow, I begin the choreography.
This post is dedicated to C. Reese (September 29,1956-March 7, 2015)
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
*Note: It is true that these caffeine-free herbal “teas” are not technically tea. This clarification will be discussed in more detail in a later post. For now, you can hear more about the distinction from this Stuff You Should Know podcast. (Thanks Karen!) However, do not let this common misnomer overshadow the deliciousness of these brewed beverages, especially the quality blends mentioned above.
Brewed Forces will be sipping our way through the Coffee and Tea Festival NYC in Brooklyn today! We’ll be tweeting live from the floor (@brewed_forces) and snapping shots to share on Instagram (brewed_forces). Join in on the fun by following us! Then, keep an eye out for posts reviewing our amazing discoveries. The first coffee article will finally be written. Who will win the honor? Check back to find out!
Recently, I flew from snowy Baltimore to sunny Los Angeles with the intention to take full advantage of the warmer weather. My Casper-colored legs greeted daylight for the first time since last September. Number one on the agenda was catching up with Whitney, a good friend of mine who moved to LA a few short months ago. After a reuniting hug, it was time to seek out delicious food. With my birthday only days away, Whitney was psyched to treat me to ice cream… followed by lunch. Dessert first. It’s a good way to live.
For years now, I’ve been making my own ice cream for family and friends originally inspired by a Columbus, OH favorite, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (Coming soon to LA!). So wherever I travel, I make it a point to try the best ice cream in town. Some people think I need an ice cream intervention, but I believe I could never eat too much amazing ice cream. That is exactly what I found at Whitney’s new neighborhood parlor, Salt & Straw.
In 2011, cousins, Kim and Tyler, opened the first Salt & Straw in Portland with an emphasis on unique flavors, local ingredients, and building community. The quaint shop in the Larchmont neighborhood of LA is the company’s first scoop spot outside of Portland.
Whitney and I were allowed to try any flavors our hearts desired using vintage silver coffee spoons, another small detail adding to the charm of this ice cream shop. Each choice was as delightful as the next while we excitedy tasted our way down the menu.
In the end, I happily decided on the Chocolate Maya’s Fortunato #4 Sorbet for its distinctive richness. Yeah, I know– it’s not ice cream! Before you judge, understand it was absolutely divine. The knowledgeable staff at Salt & Straw explained that Fortunato #4 is Maya’s favored chocolate. Coming from Northern Peru, this type of chocolate is made from a variety of cacao trees once believed to be extinct. The floral notes of the chocolate were able to truly shine in a sorbet without being adulterated by cream and milk, ingredients necessary for an ice cream.
The collaboration between Salt & Straw and the four chocolatiers was certainly a success! It was definitey a challenge to decide which flavor to chose in the end. Honestly, I wanted a scoop of each variety, but that might be strong evidence of needing that aforementioned intervention. If I couldn’t get every flavor, I could bring home chocolate from the other artisans, right? I think it’s a valid compromise. I encourage you to check out each of these chocolate companies and show them some love!
To Whitney for my delicious birthday treat!
To Salt & Straw for giving permission to write a brief post about their sweet partnership with passionate chocolatiers.
To LA for being warm enough to enjoy ice cream while strolling the sunny streets of Larchmont.
To the Pacific Ocean for letting me dip my toes in your refreshing, salty seawater as I watched an amazingly vivid sunset.
It’s marital bliss. Long may the bridge between these two loves of mine stand.
I enjoy dessert as much as the next person. Yet, my palate has a greater natural affinity for salty, smoky, robust, umami flavors. So when I happened upon The Tea Room‘s Dark Chocolate Bar Infused with Lapsang Souchong, it felt like someone had created this combination specifically with me in mind.
Lapsang Souchong tea has its origins in the Wuyi mountains of China. It differs from other black teas in that it’s dried over a fire typically using pine wood lending it a natural smokiness. Breathe in the aroma of a freshly made pot and you’re transported into the dark woods kicking back with friends surrounding a glowing campfire. Enticing, right? Want to know how to steep the perfect cup of this smoky tea? Read what Liz Clayton recommends on one of my favorite sites: Serious Eats.
The blatant smokiness of Lapsang Souchang tea melding with a slight sweetness from 60% dark organic chocolate and just a pinch of Himalayan salt results in a bar worth savoring. It’s a beautiful balance on the tongue as you experience layers of distinct flavors.
Maybe, you’d prefer a more subtle pairing such as Milk Chocolate Bar Infused with Honeybush Caramel Tea. They’ve got it. What other unique fusions does The Tea Room create? There are 11 chocolate/tea fusions which can be purchased from their online store. The 1.8 ounce bars retail for $3.29 each, a rather reasonable price considering the raw products are organic and the bars are produced in small batches.
Here’s a little more information on this rising San Francisco Bay Area company. The Tea Room was started in 2003 by Heinz Rimann, a man with a passion for quality chocolate and a love for tea. Part of the company’s mission statement reads: “Using local, Napa, CA artisans to apply precise tea-infusion techniques, The Tea Room‘s chocolates harness a delicate balance of chocolate & tea to introduce completely unique flavors along with the health-enhancing properties embedded in the tea leaf and cacao bean.”
Obviously, Mr. Rimann and I are kindred spirits and I intend to tell him in person one day. For now, my closest connection appears to be the memories from when dragged Nate around San Fran’s Chinatown in search of bubble tea. That Chinatown is not to be confused with Chinatown, which was set in Southern California… but definitely a flick with enough smoke to stand up to the Dark Chocolate Bar Infused with Lapsang Souchong. Huh, now there’s a combination which could certainly make for one seductive ménage à trois.