Last May, along with members of the FoodTrients team, my husband Rupert and I traveled to Yantai, China for the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards to receive the ‘Best in the World’ award for Innovation for my most recent cookbook, The Age Beautifully Cookbook: Easy and Exotic Longevity Secrets from around the World. Inspired by the Olympic Games and their global spirit, the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were founded in 1995 by Edouard Cointreau. Every year they honor the best food and wine books, printed or digital, as well as food television shows. This year books from 211 countries competed in this prestigious awards competition, which is free and open to all languages. To be among so many other cooking experts and authors was a rare honor and a unique experience!
During our travels in China for the awards and related festivities in late May, it was my husband’s birthday. When we arrived in Beijing at the Shangri-La Hotel, I arranged for a tea complete with petite fours and finger sandwiches to celebrate. This was my first introduction to one of China’s most treasured teas, pu-erh (poo-air) tea, which is a very special fermented brew that provides a wealth of health benefits.
Pu-erh tea is grown in the Yunnan province in southwest China. Different varieties of teas are made by different processes: Green tea is made from un-fermented leaves; oolong tea is partially fermented; and black tea is fully fermented.
Pu-erh tea is the only type of tea that is truly fermented, rather than oxidized. True fermentation occurs when microbial activity breaks down compounds in the leaf. This process gives Pu-erh it’s earthy flavor. The fermentation occurs over time, so these teas are aged for many years before they are ready to drink. In fact, as the teas age, they develop richer and more complex flavor notes. They also increase in value. As the tea ages, the leaves and the enzymes within are allowed to metabolize the carbohydrates and amino acids. The result is a tea that contains a high level of polyphenols that are known for their antioxidant activity.
Antioxidants help cells deal with stress, facilitate repair and speed up metabolism. Pu-erh tea is also consumed in China to aid digestion. It is often served after heavy meals and it’s reputed to cure hangovers. Some swear by it as a diet aid, but I don’t know if pu-erh tea makes you lose weight. Rather, it’s a satisfying beverage to sip and enjoy as part of a healthful diet.
High-quality, aged (sometimes 20 years or more!) pu-erh tea traditionally comes in compressed cakes, but it’s also sold as loose-leaf tea. To brew this tea, first break off or scoop about a teaspoon of leaves for each four-ounce cup. Rinse the tea in a strainer—this helps clean any dust off leaves that have been aged for a long time and opens them up for optimal steeping. Place the rinsed leaves in a warmed teapot, pour in just-boiled water and steep for just a minute or two. The tea will be dark, full-bodied and have a slightly earthy aroma and taste—somewhat like mushrooms. If your tea tastes muddy or moldy, throw it away, because it is not of good quality.
When I returned home from China, I couldn’t wait to find good quality pu-erh tea and share it with friends, but I wasn’t sure where to look. Then I discovered the Red Blossom Tea Company in San Francisco. For over 30 years, they have cultivated relationships with farmers and craftsmen in China and Taiwan to import the best sustainable tea they can find. Not only did I fall in love with their teas, but I was so impressed with their artisanal products, I bought a variety of gifts there for my friends.
Personally, I really enjoy pu-erh tea with desserts, like we had in Beijing. It’s a satisfying alternative to coffee, and it’s also good by itself. I also created a Pu-erh Tea Noodle dish that is a bit of a variation on my Green Tea Noodles with Edamame. Here are some recipes for you that each have their own age-defying FoodTrients as well. Pu-erh tea is the perfect accompaniment to these rich, luscious desserts, and it’s delicious in the noodle dish, too.
If you want to eat these noodles cold, rinse them in cold water after draining and use cold edamame instead of hot. Hot or cold, add my Tangy Ginger Dressing. It will keep the noodles from sticking and add extra flavor. Ginger gives this dressing its incredible flavor as well as amazing anti-inflammatory benefits and pain-reducing effects. It also relaxes muscles, increases circulation, and aids digestion. You can add cooked chicken or other vegetables, too, if you like.
2 cups brewed pu-erh tea
3 oz. brown soba noodles
1 recipe Tangy Ginger Dressing (recipe below)
1/2 cup shelled cooked edamame (soybeans)
2 Tbs. chopped scallions
Black or white sesame seeds as garnish
Bring the green tea to a boil in a small stockpot.
Add the soba noodles and cook for 3–4 minutes or according to package directions.
Some noodles require more time. Be careful not to overcook the noodles so that the
tea does not become bitter. Drain.
In a large bowl, toss the noodles with Tangy Ginger Dressing. Add the edamame and
To serve, divide between two bowls and garnish with sesame seeds.
YIELD about 1/4 cup
1 Tbs. grated gingerroot
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. mirin (seasoned rice wine)
1 Tbs. sesame oil
Dash of ground pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid and shake until well blended.
These tarts have a hint of lime. The buttery Brazil nuts are full of selenium and protein, as well as Omega-3s, which help to keep your skin elastic and hydrated. Make small, individual tarts for your tea tray.
2 9-in. whole-wheat pie crusts
1 can (12 oz.) fat-free evaporated milk
2 Tbs. tapioca flour diluted in 4 Tbs. water
2 beaten large eggs
2 Tbs. coconut butter
2 Tbs. lime juice (about 1 lime)
1 tsp. lime zest
1/2 cup organic sugar or xylitol
1 cup toasted and finely chopped Brazil nuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line four 5-inch tart shells with the pie crusts. Poke the crusts with a fork and bake until just beginning to brown, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. In a bowl, combine the evaporated milk, diluted tapioca flour, and the eggs. Whisk together until smooth.
4. Cook the tapioca mixture in a double boiler over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thick, about 20-25 minutes.
5. Add the coconut butter, lime juice and zest, and sugar substitute and continue cooking and stirring for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the nuts.
6. Pour the mixture into the precooked tart pans and bake at 350 degrees until firm and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
You won’t believe these brownie bites are completely raw and fruit-based! Dates blended with walnuts and cocoa powder create a rich, chocolate morsel perfect for a special treat. These raw coconut brownie bites are simple to make and full of FoodTrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Yields approx. 24 one-inch pieces
2 cups medjool dates, pits removed
2 cups raw walnut pieces
¾ cup pure cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt, finely ground
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Place pitted dates, walnuts, cocoa powder and salt in a food processor and pulse until moist, crumb-like dough has formed. Add water in small amounts until mixture sticks together easily, one Tablespoon at a time scraping down sides as needed. Pour coconut flakes into a shallow bowl and roll small 1 inch balls of brownie dough until they are covered with coconut. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes and serve cold.