New Series on Our Tasty Travels: Tea Tuesday

Prior to moving to Taiwan in 2009, the idea of drinking tea with a meal didn’t excite me very much. I’d enjoy the occasional cup at the local Chinese or dim sum joint in the States, but that was as far as it went. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like tea per se, I just didn’t like hot beverages with meals, other than coffee with breakfast.

Ironically, I quickly grew out of that mindset in Taipei as many restaurants, especially hole-in-the-wall spots, only offered tea or plain water. I immediately realized that traditional Chinese teas were nothing like the horrible Lipton yellow tea bags mom used to make iced tea from (sorry Mom).

Tea drawer

One of my current tea drawers (and even some Lipton still in there!)

Tea Drawer

My other tea drawer with some of my favorite Chinese teas and other unique finds

Since that point, I couldn’t get enough tea. I’d order it everywhere, I’d buy it anywhere, and I’d drink it all day. I think my love affair with tea was superseding my obsession with wine. And with that, I took the time to start learning more about the different types and qualities of tea, justifying why it was ok to spend $50 or more on a high-end award-winning option. From that point forward, anywhere I travel, I look not only for local wines and coffee, but now tea as well.

Although I am no longer living in Asia and focusing on Chinese teas, I am continuing to learn more about all teas’ properties, benefits, and the important cultural aspects that often come into play.

Herbal teas from Latvia

My new thing — herbal teas from Latvia!

We’d like to introduce a new series on Our Tasty Travels called Tea Tuesday. I want to start sharing some of these awesome finds we’ve encountered in our travels and hopefully ignite some passion for tea in others.

And to kick Tea Tuesday off, here’ s our first post on a very unique find: Grapefruit Chili Pepper Green and White Tea — found in a Netherlands grocery store of all places!

Tea Tuesday: Grapefruit Chili Pepper Green and White Tea

Whenever I am traveling or just making a visit to a local market, I am on the hunt for unique varieties and flavors of tea. Everything from the mundane to the downright funky sounding, and this one definitely falls under the category of “funky”. Grapefruit Chili Pepper Green and White Tea.

Grapefruit and Chili Pepper? Really?

Grapefruit Chili Pepper

Grapefruit Chili Pepper Tea…wasn’t sold at first

Surprisingly, it’s good.

Really good!

I was rather surprised when I tried it because in my head, the idea of grapefruit and chili pepper in a tea was not exciting me. Although I have tried salsa with grapefruit and even salad dressing, just something about those flavors combined in my morning tea made me want to crawl back in bed.

The grapefruit is not overpowering and the chili pepper adds just the perfect touch of spice on the finish. When I did a web search to see where I could buy this online, I wasn’t coming up with any options. Sorry, but unless you are visiting The Netherlands and stop by one of the Albert Heijn grocery stores, you are likely out of luck.

Grapefruit and Chili Peppers

Wondering on why the combination of flavors and types of tea? My guess is because all of these are naturally strong antioxidants, they help with weight loss, and the flavors do work well together. Grapefruit is also said to balance out blood sugar levels and help prevent metabolic syndrome. Chili peppers are said to speed up metabolism and aid in weight loss.

The Grapefruit Chili Pepper Tea includes a combination of green and white teas

The Grapefruit Chili Pepper Tea includes a combination of green and white teas

Green and White Teas

There is endless documentation on the wonders of green tea — from helping with fat burning to increasing mental alertness. It is believed to play a role in the prevention of various cancers and aid in the treatment of many stomach disorders. Some people even use the leaves directly on the skin to soothe a sunburn!

White tea is one of the best out there but you don’t hear about it very often unless you are “into tea”. It’s the least processed and has a host of health benefits including cancer prevention, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and some believe it even makes your skin healthier. White tea also is said to be a natural killer of bacteria and viruses and its small dose of fluoride might help keep your teeth and gums healthier.

triangle tea bags

Triangle tea bags are better for a nicer and more flavorful tea

Triangle Tea Bags

Although this tea is ridiculously cheap (1,35 euros), it utilizes triangular tea bags. You might be thinking, ” so what?” Typically, higher end tea companies are switching to the triangle bags that are made out of nylon and they are sewn shut rather than stapled or chemically heat-sealed.

The benefits of the triangle shape allow the leaves to swell and infuse additional flavor, while helping reduce breakage or “tea dust”.

Have you tried grapefruit chili pepper tea before? Tips on where else to find this interesting flavor? 

Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno at Taipei 101

Last November, Taipei 101 became home to a new restaurant by renowned five Michelin-starred Chef Yannick Alleno. His new venture in Taipei, S.T.A.Y. (Simple Table Yannick Alleno), is the third namesake location following the opening of Beijing and Beirut in 2011.

In conjunction with S.T.A.Y., Chef Alleno designed a more casual outlet to showcase traditional Parisian style tea time, along with signature French pastries. In January 2012, Sweet Tea soft-opened on the 4th floor of Taipei 101, just steps away from S.T.A.Y.

Back in March, Chef Alleno visited Taipei to coordinate a gala dinner and celebrate the official grand opening of Sweet Tea with a presentation for local media. I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Alleno at the gala dinner the night before so I was looking forward to the press event and learning more about his latest creation.

Chef Alleno has a background as a pastry chef so the creations at Sweet Tea were quite intricate and extremely elegant. The concept of Sweet Tea is very feminine on purpose and definitely caters to Taipei’s more upscale female population.

The open-air tearoom sits in the middle of the most scenic area of Taipei 101’s mall, flanked by luxury stores and one “leg” of Taipei 101 itself. The theming and attention to detail certainly blend with its location, in the more ritzy XinYi area of Taipei.

Yannick’s vision for Sweet Tea was to have pastries treated as luxury items and, therefore, presented as artful creations. They are showcased as “luxury jewels” in elegant crystal boxes, all of which seemed to be a big hit with the female members of the local press.

Elegant pastry creations available at Sweet Tea http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Elegant pastry creations available at Sweet Tea

Many pastries at Sweet Tea come in fancy jewel-like boxes http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Many pastries at Sweet Tea come in fancy jewel-like boxes

The colors at Sweet Tea also lean to the feminine side, as bright pops of blue, yellow, pink, and green, are found on everything from glasses to the boxes and bags. The feminine design is not nauseating to the point where a man would be uncomfortable enjoying tea and a decadent French pastry as well.

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101 http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101 http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea at Taipei 101

One of the benefits of attending a press event is the ability to try the food you are writing about, and, of course, there was an abundant supply of pastries for us to enjoy.  They had created tiny versions of several signature pastries, which was perfect.

While we only sampled a small portion of what is available at Sweet Tea, I am confident when I say that probably anything you order is going to be amazing. All pastries are made fresh daily and include classics like croissants, macarons, and Madeleines.

Samples set up for media presentation at Sweet Tea http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Samples set up for media presentation at Sweet Tea

Here’s a look at some of what we sampled:

Vanilla Mille-Feuille

This classic French pastry is very popular, but it’s not one that I’ve typically been drawn to. Most times, I find it too sweet and rich for my taste.

Gasp! I know….how could I not like it right?  Well, I’m the girl who scrapes off ¾ of the buttercream frosting on cakes if that tells you anything.

I was surprised to see Yannick’s take on the traditional classic pastry – rather than the expected square, his is round. The cake layer is quite crisp with sweet caramelization on the top.  The filling is one I would never scrape off of anything – a rich Tahitian vanilla – one of my absolute favorite flavors.

Mini Vanilla Mille-Feuille from Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Mini Vanilla Mille-Feuille

Full size Vanilla Mille- Feuille at Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Full size Vanilla Mille- Feuille

St. Honore

This is named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, Saint Honore. Typically, this pastry has puffed pastry, small cream puffs, caramelized sugar, and finished with whipped cream that utilizes a special St. Honore piping tip.

Mini St. Honore pastry at Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Mini St. Honore pastry

Full size St. Honore pastry at Sweet tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Full size St. Honore pastry

Chocolate Croissant

Yannick had come by to talk to me early in the event and told me I needed to definitely try the chocolate croissant as it’s one of his personal favorites and a signature item at Sweet Tea. He calls it “Choc Alleno” and it is pretty much a chocolategasm. The croissant itself is flaky and rich, while the chocolate is decadent without being overpowering.  Not surprisingly, Yannick insists on using only the best French chocolate for this pastry.

Yannick's signature chocolate croissant http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Yannick’s signature chocolate croissant

Yannick's Signature Chocolate Croissant http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Another shot of the chocolate croissant

Macarons and Madeleines

Two other French classics were on hand for us to sample. I’ve become a bit of a macaron addict the past several years as new chocolatiers and pastry shops open in Taipei – many of them renowned artisans from Paris and Japan. Macarons are either hit or miss – they either seem to be perfect or a disaster, never really in between.  I’ve probably sampled macarons from 10 or more shops over the past six to eight months and these were definitely among my top two. The meringue on the macaron was so delicate and light, while the filling was not overpowering or sickeningly sweet ganache.

The Madeleines were divine and next to Robuchon’s, the best I’ve had.

Madelines at Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Madeleines

Sweet Tea Macarons http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea Macarons

Sweet Tea Macarons http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Sweet Tea Macarons

Chef Demo – Sweet’dwich

During the event, Chef Alleno drew the biggest crowd when he demonstrated how to make one of his best signature items, the Sweet’dwich.  Every photographer ran up to capture this while one of the local journalists served as his assistant.  The Sweet’dwich is inspired by traditional salty sandwiches, but contains some beautiful sweet elements.  He uses brioche bread instead of a crispy puff and you can choose from three flavors: strawberry, praline chocolate, and Tropezien. Each one is quite different and Yannick uses a variety of flavors and textures to really create a unique culinary experience.

The strawberry is the most popular, which is a mix of pistachio flavor custard and fresh strawberries, topped with pistachio crackles and sugar powders.

Chef Yannick Alleno demonstrating his Sweet'dwich http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Yannick Alleno demonstrating his Sweet’dwich

Chef Alleno and Loic, the Pastry Chef at S.T.A.Y. and Sweet Tea http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Alleno and Loic, the Pastry Chef at S.T.A.Y. and Sweet Tea

What the Sweet Tea by Yannick Alleno sweet'dwich looks like completed - yum! http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

What the sweet’dwich looks like completed – yum!

 

Salty Sandwiches

While the main focus is on pastries, there are also a number of tea style salty sandwiches available.  Both at lunch and in the afternoon, there is a small menu of salads and sandwiches. We sampled several of the sandwiches, which were also nicely executed with soft bread and good flavor.

Salty Afternoon Tea sandwiches http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Salty Afternoon Tea sandwiches

About Chef Yannick Alleno

For those unfamiliar with Chef Alleno, he earned three Michelin stars for his work at Hotel Le Meurice in Paris in 2007.  He was elected “Best Chef of the Year” in 2008 byThe Chef Magazine.  In the same year, he developed his own company, “Group Yannick Alleno”, which has since been responsible for his ventures outside of Paris.  In addition, his mission is to help hoteliers and food professionals by offering his skills. He became involved in Le 1947 at “Cheval Blanc” in Courchevel, and after one season, it earned two Michelin stars.  Alleno also took over the F&B operations of “The Royal Mansour” in Marrakech with two “Grande Table” (French and Moroccan), andthe “One & Only The Palm” in Dubai.  In addition to his two S.T.A.Y. outlets in Beijing and Beirut, he also opened a Sweet Tea in Beirut as well.

L-R: Executive Chef Angelo Agliano from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Chef Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

L-R: Executive Chef Angelo Agliano from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Chef Yannick Alleno

Chef Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Yannick Alleno

Erin de Santiago of Our Tasty Travels with Benoit, the awesome Sommelier from L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Me with Benoit, my dear friend & awesome Sommelier from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Chef Angelo and Sommelier Benoit from l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Erin De Santiago from Our Tasty Travels, and Chef Yannick Alleno http://ourtastytravels.com/blog/sweet-tea-yannick-alleno-taipei-101/ #ourtastytravels #taipei

Chef Angelo, Sommelier Benoit, me, and Chef Yannick

While I attended this event as a member of the press and my afternoon was comped, all opinions and views expressed are my own.


Borneo Coffee – Yit Fho Rich Land Coffee from Tenom, Sabah in Malaysia

On our visit to Kota Kinabalu in July, one item we wanted to bring back with us was some local coffee.  Kota Kinabalu is located in Sabah, Borneo, the “Land Below The Wind”.  This region of Borneo is famous for it’s coffee, especially in regions such as Sepilok, Tawau and Tenom.   Tenom Coffee, or Kopi Tenom, is among the best produced in this region.

There are two main coffee plantations in Tenom, Fatt Choi and Yit Fho.  Both plantations roast their Robusta beans in the traditional method, by roasting them over a wood fire.  Both offer a variety of coffee products, such as whole beans and powders (ground coffee).  We picked up a couple types of beans in Kota Kinabalu, including these Rich Land Borneo Coffee Beans from Yit Fho.

Yit Fho Kopi Tenom

Yit Fho Rich Land Kopi Tenom

We’ve been slowly working through these beans, finally using up the last of them today.  The coffee is a little on the mild side, with some bitterness.  There is a nice, rich aroma when brewing is completed, but this usually dissipates after the first cup or two is poured.  I think the mild flavor may be due to my own typical fault of trying to be stingy and using too much water for the beans, resulting in diluted coffee.  Alas, I finally realized this only today, now that the beans are used up.

We do have another pack of beans from Borneo (Fatt Choi), as well as coffees from Vietnam, Bali and Tahiti to try.  Hopefully these turn out better than the one I just let get away.

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