Now that summer is here and those delicious summer fruits are in season, it’s time to stock up on homemade jam for the tea party pantry! San Jose’s history as “The Valley of Heart’s Delight” is no longer visible in the orchards that once covered the Santa Clara Valley, but plenty of local people still have fruit trees in their front and back yards, full of ripe fruit this time of year. Wild plums and berries can also be found along the banks of rivers, creeks and streams in the Santa Cruz mountains and local foothills, if you know where to look. For those that don’t have edible landscaping at home, and even for those that do, the local farmers’ markets are a wonderful source of fresh, ripe fruit for tea-table jams and preserves. What better treat to serve your tea guests, give as gifts, or enjoy by yourself than homemade jam? It’s not as hard as it seems. Plus, once you’ve washed the fruit, you can freeze it in freezer bags, and make jam or pie with it later in the year (or when the weather has cooled down a bit).
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San Jose’s residents enthusiastically celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays, and everyone is thinking about affordable, thoughtful gift ideas. Of course, tea makes a wonderful gift in and of itself, but did you know that tea can be used to make many things that can be given as gifts? Here are 10 inexpensive, fairly easy ideas for tea gifts that your friends and family would love to receive:
- A tea sampler: small sample packages of black, green, oolong, pu-erh or white tea. Kombucha, yerba mate and bubble tea — while they don’t contain actual tea — are also available in packaged form, and can be included in the sampler if desired.
- Tea-flavored salt: grind green or black tea with sea salt (and/or herbs) and package in a small decorative jar. Perfect for adding to meat rubs and savory seasoning blends.
- Tea-flavored sugar: grind green or black tea with white or raw sugar, food-safe dried flowers, spices or citrus zest, and package in a decorative jar for adding to a cup of tea or sprinkling on top of fruit or oatmeal.
- Tea potpourri: blend loose-leaf tea with dried orange peel, dried rosebuds, lavendar and spices. Add a scented oil of your choice and package in a decorative basket or bag. You can even use old tea leaves that you don’t want to drink, since they will absorb the scent of the other ingredients and bulk up the potpourri! Bulk herbs and spices can be found in many Asian (especially East Indian) grocery stores or at various shops in the Bay Area.
- Tea-flavored shortbread: use a few tablespoons of ground tea leaves in place of a few tablespoons of flour in your favorite recipe. Japanese matcha is already powdered, so it is easy to use in baked goods.
- Tea jellies: infuse tea and/or herbs in water, add sugar to make a syrup, and add pectin to make a jelly following your favorite recipe. You can add fruit juice as well, and make a delicious spread for toast, or ingredient for a glaze for a holiday meat dish.
- Tea and fruit compotes: infuse tea in water, strain out the tea leaves, and use the brewed tea to cook dried or fresh fruits until soft. Add sugar to thicken, and seal the syrupy, soft compote in jars. Compotes can be poured over pancakes or waffles, eaten with whipped cream, or drizzled on top of oatmeal or cake.
- A “tea party in a basket”: get a decorative gift basket from Michael’s or other craft store, line it with tissue paper and fill it with a teacup or mug, a small teapot, some tea, and a jar of lemon curd or other small tea party pantry items.
- Some “tub tea” bags: fill a few coffee filters or tea filter bags with tea leaves, herbs and Epsom salts, and tie the bag closed with a ribbon. Package in a basket with a scented candle, some nice lotion, a CD of music, and other things for a luxurious hot bath.
- Tea and chocolates: pair some loose-leaf tea with high-end chocolates (and maybe a small bottle of champagne) for a decadent gift.
Of course, you can also give your loved ones the gift of your time by taking them to tea. Local tea shops like Satori Tea Bar and Lisa’s Tea Treasures, as well as Thyme for Tea in Niles, and the Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont, feature holiday-themed afternoon tea menus. Satori Tea Bar and Lisa’s Tea Treasures also offer gift certificates! If you’re the crafty type, you can use tea to dye fabric or paper, to use in a scrap-booking, quilting, or other fiber art gift. You still have time to make some small gifts because there are three days left before Christmas!
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach
For more information:
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
“Chinese oolong tea in San Jose”
“What are the different kinds of green tea available in San Jose?”
“Tea 101: what is pu-erh tea?”
“Bubble tea: one of San Jose’s most popular drinks”
“Kombucha: what is it, and should you drink it?”
“What is yerba mate and where can I get it in San Jose?”
“Good salt – beyond the round blue canister”
“BBQ Tea Spice Rub”
“Homemade scented and flavored sugars can enhance the taste of gourmet tea”
“Potpourri recipes from SF Herb Co.”
“Earl Grey Tea Shortbread”
“Jen’s Matcha Shortbread”
“Japanese tea from San Jose’s Japantown”
“What should I keep in the pantry for tea parties?”
“Apricot Oolong Compote: an easy tea recipe”
“Favorite tea-time recipe from Gourmet magazine: Meyer lemon curd”
“Making Bath Salts”
“Chocolate and tea: the perfect match?”
“Are tea-drinkers automatically ‘teatotallers’?”
“New fall 2011 tea flavors at San Jose’s Satori Tea Bar”
“Review: Lisa’s Tea Treasures – Campbell location”
“Tea and San Jose’s Christmas in the Park”
“Gift ideas for the San Jose tea-lover”
“Birthday gift ideas for the San Jose tea lover”
“5 gifts you can make with tea”