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Last month, I waxed poetry about my love for iced lattes of the coffee persuasion. In that post, I mentioned that my other loves (green smoothies and iced tea lattes) were stories for other days. One of these days has arrived.
Iced coffee may be one of my loves but my heart truly belongs to tea, iced or otherwise. You can say that this self-realization was also a result of living in New York, during my days as a cooking school student, prep cook, and dorm room resident.
New York is actually quite a wonderful place to discover self-realizations – whether it be about things you abhor or things you love – such as:
- people – abhor commuters who delay trains, love bosom friends who help you grow as a person
- places – abhor department stores and clubs that play techno music, love street markets and second-hand bookstores
- activities – abhor solo commutes at 2am and toilet cleaning, love hosting tea parties and attempts at sketching
- talents – abhor my stove-cleaning obsession when on a date, love my ability to grow an herb garden by my dorm window sill
- clothing – abhor popped collars and Crocs, love gray hoodies, brogues, and unfortunately, Crocs
- food – abhor American bread and realistic fake meat, love avocados and chocolate with crystallized ginger
- and of course, beverages – abhor light beer and bottled water, love white sangria and tea
When did my love for tea and tea parties begin? Let’s see… If you’re from the tropics and find yourself in the middle of a New York winter, you’d fall in love with tea, too. I think it was a combination of struggling to keep warm through an insane winter, finding (cheap!) activities to do with friends outside our tiny dorm rooms, and discovering what good quality tea really is like that made a tea (party) believer out of me.
Now pre-New York, I appreciated tea just fine. I used to drink Lipton green tea like the Rapture was coming (by the way, Happy Rapture day, everybody!) and now, unfortunately (or fortunately) you won’t find me near that stuff. Sorry, I guess I became a tea elitist. Oh and trivia: Lipton is owned by Unilever which tests on animals except for their tea. Gosh, the world we live in these days! …
But I digress. In the student apartment building I lived in, I became known as the tea queen. I started the ritual of hosting daily tea parties which I hear, without me, go on to this day. Maybe it was the Filipino in me – I just loved having people over at my 2 sq m room to have a cup of tea and talk about anything and everything. As the attendees at these tea parties grew, so did my tea collection and appreciation of loose tea (which answers the question – What started first? The tea party or the love for tea?). I actually set up a tea-making station in my room. At one point I had maybe 7 people in my tiny (2 sq m!) room drinking tea and we were so comfortably packed, we didn’t want to move to the nearby lounge (like a living room with couches).
But we did hold tea parties in said lounge and boy, were they splendid affairs. A tea party that started after dinner (with ideally a 30-minute time cap ’cause “there was work the next day”) would last ’til past midnight. Tea parties were hosted to watch the latest True Blood episode, view movies from Sweeney Todd to The Bounty Hunter (the movie that never should have been made), and honestly, to talk about our hopes, dreams, fears, and boy troubles. Tea parties were ways for me and my friends to freeze time, catch up on our lives and reinforce our bosom friendships. And on my birthday last year, not only did I host a vegan feast in the lounge, I had a tea-making station with 15 varieties of tea (black, green, rooibos, mate, infusions) . Hard core, I am.
And in case you think I’m an 80-year old woman hiding in a 26-year old’s body, there was a cocktail station, too.
If 71 Irving was the shop that triggered my love for iced coffee lattes, there was Argo Tea for my iced tea latte love.
Argo is the mother of all teashops and a place I will forever hold dear to my heart. There was a branch very close to my school and first workplace that I frequented at least twice a week to inhale their amazing tea drinks. Argo had a menu of drinks that could rival any coffeeshop’s: mojitea (mint tea + limeade), chocolate mint (black tea + hot chocolate + mint syrup), and tea squeeze (hibiscus tea + lemonade), among others.
My absolute most favorite Argo drink? Bubble tea. Now before you cry foul – bubble tea is everywhere and isn’t exactly the most sophisticated of drinks – hear me out. While most bubble tea places use “sago” or tapioca pearls for their bubbles, Argo uses nata de coco. YES! Mutant coconut! And it works. And it’s amazing.
I couldn’t get enough of Argo’s bubble tea. I just needed their iced tea latte and those little bits of nata de coco in my system. It was a drug and I was an addict. And the wonderful thing was that you could order the bubble tea and not get bored with the drink. Argo’s bubble tea was basically composed of tea, milk, flavored syrup, nata de coco, and ice. Just 5 simple ingredients of which 3 had different varieties, resulting in hundreds of different combinations. With soymilk as my milk of choice, I have tried green tea + coconut syrup, chai tea + chocolate syrup, black tea + chocolate syrup + ginger puree (one of my favorites) and one of the greatest combinations known to man: earl grey vanilla tea + coconut syrup.
Now post-New York and back in Manila, what’s a girl to do without Argo to feed her iced tea latte addiction? It was actually quite an expensive addiction at $4.50-ish a pop, including the soymilk tax. And I had at least two a week. Most bubble tea places in the metro use casein-based, artificially colored, artificially flavored powders mixed with water as their “tea” base. Starbucks actually has a green tea latte that utilizes matcha powder – really really good. But just as I love (I seem to love using that word a lot) making DIY iced coffee lattes, I LOVE LOVE LOVE making DIY iced tea lattes. Like nobody’s business.
And this is how I close this loooong ode to tea. Today was an amazingly scorching day. According to Yahoo, it was 35 C (95 F) but with humidity, 41 C (106 F). Yipee, apocalyptic times indeed! While iced coffee can cool you down just fine, iced tea does a pretty stand-up job. Iced tea latte – even better.
All you need to reach tea latte Nirvana are 5 ingredients: tea leaves (loose or in bags), hot water, sweetener, ice, and milk. Play with the tea and get a hundred different flavors. I highly recommend shopping for loose tea leaves – these are far more superior than bagged tea. Bagged tea will do in a pinch, as what I used in today’s iced tea latte (earl grey).
The Philippines is, unfortunately, not a tea drinking country and purveyors of loose tea are few and far between. I believe there was a loose tea shop in Mercato Centrale a few months ago when I used to peddle my vegan brunch food – not sure if they’re still around. You can get standard loose tea in Chinatown. Not so sure about flavored loose tea.
Iced earl grey tea latte
Makes 1 serving (12 oz. is a good amount)
2 earl grey tea bags (or 2-3 tsp loose tea leaves)
muscovado sugar or coconut sugar
3-4 ice cubes
cold soymilk or non-dairy milk alternative
- Place the tea bags in a cup and fill with hot water – about 1/3 through. Let steep for 5 minutes (2-3 minutes if using green tea).
- Mix in the muscovado sugar. I used 3 heaping teaspoonfuls of sugar – it seems like a lot but it came out perfectly.
- Throw in the ice cubes and pour in cold soymilk.
As with using loose tea leaves, I highly recommend using a natural sweetener like muscovado or coconut sugar. These lend a great brown hue to the tea and are far gentler to your digestion than white sugar. Lower in the glycemic index, less processed, more minerals.
If you opt to use white sugar, be warned that your tea latte will look quite anemic.