afternoon tea · days out · food · reviews · tea

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

Today’s tea review is of Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, located in Lower Goat Lane. Fortunately the locale is more attractive than the name suggests, featuring an array of boutique shops and a distinct lack of udders and goaty genitalia…

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

First impressions…

As we approached Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, the first thing that struck me was the old fashioned, apothecary style display in the big glass windows of the shop. But instead of displaying weird and wonderful pills and potions, it displays jar after jar of exotic teas. So far, so exciting… And as you step through the door, the oldey-worldy impression continues.

There’s not a theme, exactly, but if there was it would be something like Colonial Kitsch; Biddy’s is described on its website as a ‘vintage tearoom’, but you can forget the images of dainty pink lace and bunting that the phrase ‘vintage’ tends to conjure up. If other vintage tearooms tend to be designed with Miss Marple in mind, this is a tearoom for Sherlock Holmes or Phileas Fogg. The sofas are big, shiny brown leather affairs, and the walls and cabinets are stocked with curios and the occasional deer skull (although in fairness, the antlers are decked in fairy lights, presumably as a sop to any Miss Marple types passing through).

The enormous main counter is stacked with a huge variety of cakes, brownies, muffins and more to match the array of teas on offer. It’s hugely appetising and easily enough to lure even non-tea lovers into the shop…

Around the World in 80 Teas (…ish)

Once you’re seated, it’s time to pick your tea… Which is easier said than done, as Biddy’s tea menu includes over fifty different loose leaf teas. Most excitingly of all, they also promote tea “mixology” (i.e. blending different teas together) and while their menu gives a few different ‘house’ blend suggestions, they also let customers create their own blends off the cuff. Pretty cool and a bit of a unique selling point for the shop.

As well as tea, Biddy’s in Norwich offers an impressive variety of coffees, floats, milkshakes and FreakShakes (which I believe are like milkshakes but with more calories). We didn’t try any of them, because it was my birthday and that means TEA.

My husband and I actually were both originally going to go for the same tea, a black cherry tea. As it would clearly be ridiculous to both order the same tea from a menu of over 50 options – and did I mention it was my birthday? – my husband kindly swapped and ordered black almond tea instead. Both were fragrant, delicious and served in enormous metal teapots which ensured neither of us ran out of tea or needed a hot water top up.

A Cake Of Identity

And now: the cakes. As it was my birthday (did I mention it was my birthday?) the plan was always to have a piece of cake with our tea. Biddy’s Tea Room had a good selection of gluten-free cakes, which made my husband very happy; he settled on a gluten free chocolate brownie and I went for carrot cake. They also had a number of vegan cakes, so it felt like they catered well to special dietary requirements.

We realised our error when the cakes arrived, however, because they were straight up enormous. I tried to take pictures to show them to scale, but in fact it just looks like the teapot is small rather than showing how big the cake slices are. You’ll just have to take my word for it… You could easily build a structurally sound cottage for a wicked witch, using Biddy’s cake slices as bricks.

The cakes were delectable, and the buttercream that came with the carrot cake, complete with a salted caramel drizzle, was a particular triumph. I hate wasting food though, and there was just no way I could eat all that cake myself. I would happily have paid the same amount for a smaller slice or been forewarned to share a slice with my husband.

Biddy’s Tea Room Review: Conclusions

In fairness, cake sizing is a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. We spent a very contented hour or so lounging on the comfy sofas in Biddy’s, sipping tea, munching cake, and trying to work out what exactly was going on in some of the stranger Victorian-era artworks on the wall (I’m pretty sure the artist had never seen a hippo, for one thing). The staff were friendly without being overbearing, the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy, and there’s a surprising amount of space inside meaning you actually stand a good chance of getting a table.

If you love great loose leaf tea – or you’re in the habit of eating two slices of cake in one sitting – I can thoroughly recommend you check out Biddy’s next time you’re in Norwich. You can also find them online, with tea and cakes available to order from their website. Or, if you love a themed afternoon tea venue, why not head to my review of the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizards Exploratorim…?

cocktails · food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Damson Gin – Foraging Recipe

It’s autumn here in the UK, and that means it’s the perfect time for foraging the hedgerows for lovely berries and fruit. Last year I shared my recipe for delicious hawthorn gin – but at the same time, I also actually made a batch of damson gin. And I’ve never shared the recipe! So it’s time to right that wrong – just in time for this year’s foraging season – and I present: how to make damson gin…

How To Make Damson Gin Recipe

Foraging for damsons and sloes (and bullace, oh my!)

I’ve called this recipe “damson gin”, but it serves just as well for sloe gin as well. It can be tricky to tell damsons and sloes apart from one another – not least because they can actually cross-breed, so the fruit you pick might actually be a slamson (or a doe!). Or… just to add to the confusion, it might even be a bullace, which is another type of wild plum, commonly found in the UK, that’s somewhere in-between a sloe and a damson – and is also apparently known as a ‘wintercrack plum’ – a name so good that it rather begs the question of why anyone ever calls it a bullace in the first place…

Anyway, if you’re foraging for wild plums to make gin out of, it can be tricky to tell these three fruits apart – the best resource I’ve found to help is this video which shows the fruits and plants in question. Foraging purists might be angry with me though, when I say that it really doesn’t matter which one you end up picking, or whether you call your end product damson gin, sloe gin or bullace gin! The main difference will be the amount of sugar you use, because sloes are quite sour whereas damsons are quite sweet, and bullaces are somewhere in between. Just add sugar to taste and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually pretty sure that the fruit I used when I made this recipe last year were bullaces, although at the time I mis-indentified them as damsons. I’m still calling it damson gin though, because no-one’s ever heard of a bullace and guests just give you funny looks if you offer them a glass of bullace gin…

What is damson gin?

Damson gin (or sloe gin, or bullace gin…) is really a liqueur, which is made by adding wild plums and sugar to a high-strength alcohol base and allowing it to macerate over time. You can easily make it at home with shop-bought booze, as it doesn’t require distillation. If you actually used the damson fruit itself to ferment and distill into an alcoholic spirit, you would have slivovitz, a popular drink in Central and Eastern Europe, and one which could also be referred to as damson gin or damson brandy!

Despite the name, damson gin isn’t necessarily made by adding fruit and sugar to gin. Lots of people prefer using vodka as the base for this liqueur, because vodka is basically unflavoured gin (or to look at it another way… gin is flavoured vodka!). So by using vodka, you’re starting with a neutral alcohol base that isn’t going to mess with the flavour you get out of your damsons or other fruit. If desired, you can also add juniper berries to your vodka base during the maceration process – as juniper berries are traditionally the botanical flavour which makes gin, gin!

Ingredients for damson gin

To make your damson gin, you will need the following basic ingredients:

  • Damsons (or sloes or bullaces… or other plum type fruit of your choice!)
  • Sugar (roughly half the weight of sugar as you have of fruit – but you can make it more or less sugary depending on your preference. The higher the sugar content, the more syrupy and liqueur-esque your finished gin will be – a lot of recipes suggest you should use the same weight of sugar as of fruit, which I find way too sweet! Remember, you can always add more sugar at a later date if needed…).
  • Cheap supermarket vodka (or gin)
  • Patience (it’s an easy recipe… but not a quick one!)

You can add other flavours such as juniper berries, or create an autumnal spice flavour with the addition of things like cinammon and other winter spices. Some recipes also use honey in place of some of the sugar, for a more rounded flavour. The bottom line is: feel free to experiment!

The recipe

1. First, wash your damsons/sloes/bullaces and remove any leaves/twigs/small unexpected insects etc. You have two choices at this stage: EITHER you stab your fruit all over with a pin to break the skin, OR you freeze the fruit at least overnight, which has the same effect.

2. Next, pop your fruit in a sterilised jar or bottle, sprinkling your sugar between layers of fruit. Finally, top up with your alcohol of choice.

3. And…. Now we wait. Leave the fruit in the alcohol for at least one month or up to three months. Give the bottle a little shake every day, and ideally store it away from direct sunlight. You should see your gin or vodka changing colour to a gorgeous red hue.

4. When you’re ready, strain the fruit out of the gin. A lot of recipes suggest straining through a muslin cloth placed over a colander, but if you want a really beautifully clear damson gin, I recommend straining through a coffee filter paper instead. At this point you can also do a little taste test and see if you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance of your gin – if not, then add more sugar before returning your gin to a freshly sterilised bottle or jar.

5. You’ll want to keep the gin for at least another couple of months before drinking, and then – voila… Your damson gin is ready to serve. See below for some tips on how to drink damson gin, including ideas for damson gin cocktails!

What else can I do with leftover fruit?

If your foraging leaves you with more damsons (or sloes, or bullace!) than you can use in gin-making, there are lots of other lovely recipes you can try with wild plums. The fruit will keep in the freezer, if you don’t have time to cook and make gin all at once! Damson jam is always a popular recipe, and you can of course make sloe jam and bullace jam as well. But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try this recipe for bullace cheese (not an actual cheese – a set jelly like quince jelly or membrillo, for eating with cheese and crackers) or this one for bullace and pear chutney?

More About Damson Gin

How to drink damson gin

Now you’ve made your damson gin, how should you serve it? Well, there are plenty of options. You can drink your damson plum gin neat, as a liqueur (although I recommend serving it in small glasses!). If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, you can add tonic water for a luxurious damson gin and tonic, or add it to champagne or prosecco to create a damson gin fizz – a bit like a kir royale, with the damsons adding a lovely jammy flavour. I’ve even seen this drink called a damson gin royale (with added edible gold sparkles if you really want to go overboard!).

If you’re into your cocktails, there are plenty of damson gin cocktail recipes out there. I like this recipe for a ‘Damson in Distress‘ cocktail (let’s be honest – it’s a great name!) – 50ml damson gin, 15ml amaretto, 10ml lemon juice, and a slice of lemon to garnish. This damson and vanilla fizz cocktail also sounds amazing, albeit a little more complicated to make, and this damson and cranberry collins sounds perfect for Christmas.

But guess what? Damson gin isn’t even just for drinking… check out this recipe by Nigel Slater for duck breasts with damson gin, which is actually making my mouth water as I write this!

Where can I buy damson gin?

Maybe it’s too much effort to make your own damson gin – or maybe you made a batch and then smashed through it more quickly than you were expecting! Either way, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of places to buy damson gin ready-made. English Heritage even sell an own-brand damson gin, as do the Oxton Liqueur Company (who also sell a sloe gin, in case you want to properly compare the two flavours) – and, for completeness, Pinkster’s Hedgepig gin brand sell a bullace and quince gin, with 50p from every sale going to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. So you really can buy all three kinds of gin, and test which is your favourite.

damson gin cocktail – damson jam – damson gin to buy – damson gin liqueur – sloe gin fizz (history) – sloe gin and tonic – damson plum gin –

afternoon tea · food · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wizard Exploratorium, London Soho

Continuing on with my love of all things tea-related, today’s blog post is a review of the Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea, currently available at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium in Soho, London. I visited this tearoom in June as part of a mini hen party for one of my best friends, Cherry, after we had to rearrange her main hen do to take place after her actual wedding (thanks, coronavirus!). So happy hen, Cherry!

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea

Harry Potter and the Unaffiliated Afternoon Tea

Right, first things first: this is a Wizard’s Afternoon Tea and definitely not a Harry Potter Afternoon Tea. If you’re looking for Harry Potter themed tea and confectionary, you better look elsewhere, friend – the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium is very clear that it is “broadly inspired by fantasy and science-fiction and is a place for fans of magic. It is not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling or otherwise connected with Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It is also not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Rivers of London, The Magicians, Dune, The Name of the Wind, Star Wars, or otherwise connected with any one specific text or series.” Phew. It seems the folks at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium are understandably keen to avoid being the subject of a Bat-Bogey Hex from J.K. Rowling’s magical team of lawyers.

Our table (just a little bit crowded)

Now, onto the actual review…

A Magical Setting

When you step into the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium, the first thing you’re likely to notice in the downstairs shop area is the full-size unicorn’s head mounted on the wall, which dispenses (vomits?) a colourful punch drink – with a little encouragement from a real magic wand, of course. You’ll be led up a narrow staircase that’s more than a little reminiscent of some of the quirkier shops in Diagon Alley, to a teeny tiny room draped in flowers and buzzing to the sounds of a jaunty selection of folk tunes, where there’s just about enough space for three parties to sit down to tea at separate tables.

Your potion chest

Unfortunately, I do have to note at this point that this currently is definitely not an accessible experience. The tiny, very old-fashioned building in Soho features a steep and winding staircase. There is no wheelchair access and if you struggle with steep stairs or claustrophobia, I wouldn’t recommend it either. They do cater for different dietary requirements and allergies, although as my husband wasn’t with us, I didn’t try any of the gluten-free options (sorry).

Interactive Tea Brewing

Your table is crowned by an enormous multi-tiered cake stand, topped with a glowing dragon’s egg a la Game of Thrones. Your friendly out of work actor waiter wizard will show you how to use a glowing magical wand to unlock a chest full of potion ingredients, and then it’s time to get creative and brew your own tea. This was actually my favourite part of the whole experience, and something that really sets it aside from other quirky afternoon teas on offer around London – the opportunity to pick and mix ingredients, add them to a teabag and brew up your own unique tea blend. The dried ingredients on offer are pretty diverse, including nettle tea, hibiscus, rose petals, camomile, and plenty more – and there are also a set of flavourings that can be added to the finished product, including honey and rose water. When you require hot water – sorry, I mean ‘magical elixir’ – you just wave your wand to summon a helpful waiter (very nearly as convenient as a simple aguamenti spell), and enormous Time Turners (a.k.a. hourglasses) are available so you can measure exactly how long your tea is brewing.

Our first attempt at blending tea

Using a magical QR code (okay, it’s not that magical) you can access a range of suggested blends that can be made with the ingredients. We made three different teas in total from our tea chest – the first one being a total wash out because I added far too much black tea and the result tasted exactly like a completely normal cup of breakfast tea. Oops.

Oddly, probably the best blend was the final one, which we created by adding all the ingredients we hadn’t yet used into a teabag and seeing what happened. The resulting infusion of peppermint, lemon and ginger, nettle and camomile was actually surprisingly good.

Crushing rose petals in a pestle and mortar

As well as creating your own blends with the magical tea chest, there is a second interactive wizarding tea experience on offer as part of the standard Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea; a series of three teas which start out a rather startling blue and then change colour before your eyes as you add the final ingredients – and wave your magic wand, of course. If you’re prepared to pay extra, you can also add a bottle of prosecco or a cocktail to your experience (and yes – we did get the prosecco, of course!).

Getting The Magical Munchies

And so – onto the food. We started with a round of sandwiches (or rather, sand-witches, as they’re referred to in the menu) which were certainly tasty and generously proportioned, but didn’t seem to come with any particularly magical gimmick. I can’t help but think that some slightly more unusual flavours or even shapes for the sandwiches would be a bit more in keeping with the theme – and with the level of effort put in to the rest of the menu.

Our second tea blend ended up unexpectedly blood red

The scones are a nod to elven lembas from Lord of the Rings, and come wrapped and tied neatly in banana leaf. They were perfectly tasty, but again it would have been fun to see the scones shaped and scored to look a little bit more like lembas and less like a scone that’s been randomly plopped into some foliage. Also worth noting: Cherry had to ask for extra clotted cream because the amount provided for three of us was wayyyy too small. This is a common issue with afternoon teas and offending tearooms should be ashamed – seriously, how much additional cost are you really incurring by adding an extra tablespoon of cream to your offering?

The other sweet treats ranged from fairly standard afternoon tea fare (raspberry mousse cake, macarons), to the more interactive (chocolate brownies with syringes of raspberry or chocolate sauce), to the downright quirky (freeze-dried salt water taffy in mystery flavours, freeze-dried skittles). Okay, so the quirky options leaned heavily towards the freeze-dried end of the afternoon tea spectrum, but they were actually surprisingly delicious and definitely felt like the kind of experience you wouldn’t get elsewhere. My only criticism is that the freeze-dried sweets didn’t seem to be available in the gift shop downstairs, which frankly felt like the company is missing a trick – I certainly would have bought some more of the taffy on my way out.

Freeze-dried taffy

Wizard’s Afternoon Tea: Overall Impressions

I would definitely recommend the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea experience. It’s all great fun and certainly much more interactive and engaging than the average afternoon tea where you just sit and slurp your way through pre-prepared drinks – perfect for a small hen party or group of friends, or great fun with kids (and yes, a Little Wizard’s Afternoon Tea is on offer). At £35 each (or £19 for under-11s), it’s not a cheap experience – but equally, afternoon tea at a nice hotel in central can easily set you back that much or far more, while being much less fun. The campy wizarding vibe is just right, the staff are fully committed to the experience, and most importantly – the tea and cake is pretty magical too.

food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Elderberry Cordial – Foraging Recipe

Last year, while I was on maternity leave, I really enjoyed going foraging in the late summer and autumn, and making some fun new recipes. I thought I should share this recipe for elderberry cordial, which I made around this time last year, and which proved a real hit in our household over the winter! It’s just the right time of year to start foraging for lovely ripe elderberries in the UK, and with this super-easy recipe, you can turn them into a delicious elderberry cordial which is a perfect soothing winter drink for colds and flu season.

How To Make Elderberry Cordial – Recipe

First, catch your elderberries

Elderberries are freaking everywhere at this time of year! You may even discover that they grow in your own garden. Wherever you live in the UK, you’re likely to have an elder tree not far away, and each tree is usually laden with loads of lovely black berries in season. Check out this great guide on foraging for elderberries, which will help you identify the berries if you’re not confident you can correctly identify them. Then go out and pick your berries!

I pick elderberries by the bunch, and then use a fork to push the berries off the stems and into a bowl. You only want the ripe berries – the black ones. Alternatively, you can freeze the berries, which makes them easier to remove. It’s important to get rid of all the big stems because they are poisonous. Then, rinse the berries in water.

Get your ingredients together

You’ll need the following ingredients and kitchen tools to make your elderberry cordial!

  • 500g elderberries
  • 500ml water
  • 350g sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • Cinammon stick

And on the kitchen equipment front…

  • Saucepan
  • Spoon
  • Muslin cloth
  • Colander
  • Jug or large bowl
  • Bottle for storage (sterilised)

Get cooking

1. In a saucepan, add your elderberries, water, cinnamon stick and the rind of the lemon (save the juice for later!). Simmer over a low heat for half an hour.

2. Now comes the fun part! Line the colander with the muslin cloth, and place it over your jug or bowl. Pour the contents of the saucepan into the muslin – carefully because the juice will stain (and it’s hot). Squash down the berries with a spoon to get as much juice as possible out of them.

3. You’re not finished yet with your muslin! Roll the top of the muslin together (see picture, below) and continue squeezing to wring every last drop of juice out of your elderberries.

Make sure you don’t do this until the berries are cool enough to touch, and you may want to wear gloves because it does get messy!

4. Pour the strained elderberry juice back into the saucepan and add the sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

5. Heat over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened slightly. As a rough guide, it should be thick enough to briefly coat the back of a metal spoon. At this point you can also check the flavour (carefully – it’s hot!) and add more sugar if you want.

6. Pour your cordial into a sterilised bottle (here’s a quick guide to sterilising bottles) and seal. Let it cool, then store in the fridge.

How to serve elderberry cordial

You can serve elderberry cordial in so many different ways! The basic recipe is to serve it diluted in water, about one part cordial to six parts water. I recommend making a hot elderberry cordial for colds, sore throats, and whatever else ails you!

If you feel like getting a bit more fancy, you can make elderberry fizz cocktails by adding the cordial to prosecco or champagne. Or you could spice up a gin and tonic with a dash of elderberry.

Elderberry Cordial Facts

What does elderberry cordial taste like?

Okay, if you’ve never tasted it before, then to be honest it’s hard to know whether it’s worth bothering making it at all! I have loved having this in the fridge over the winter, I think it’s delicious and definitely worth the effort. First things first, though: elderberry cordial tastes nothing like elderflower cordial. They’re completely different flavours.

I would say elderberry cordial tastes like a slightly more herbal/medicinal Ribena. If you’ve never had Ribena? Then I don’t know how to describe it. But it’s really warming and lovely on a sore throat, or if you have a head cold.

Is elderberry cordial good for you?

Is elderberry cordial good for you? Well, it’s a traditional remedy for colds and coughs. Elderberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants – you can even buy elderberry supplements that promise to boost your immune system.

But is there any actual evidence that elderberry cordial is good for colds and flu? Well, a few small-scale studies have shown that people taking elderberry products experienced a reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to placebo. But they’re only small studies and the effects of elderberry have not been tested against pharmaceuticals. So it’s probably best to just enjoy the yummy soothing nature of a glass of hot elderberry cordial when you have a cold or flu, but don’t assume it’s an actual treatment.

Can you buy elderberry cordial?

The lazy option is clearly to buy elderberry cordial – but unlike elderflower cordial, which is popular and widely available, elderberry cordial is a bit trickier to get hold of. There are products available, often labelled as elderberry syrup or elderberry liquid. But the ones I’ve found are super expensive! We’re talking £9.99 for 100ml. Considering you can make four times that at home for the price of half a bag of sugar, it did seem a little pricey.

Other foraging recipes

If you’ve enjoyed this foraging recipe, or you’re looking for something a little more boozy, why not check out my recipe for hawthorn berry gin?

health · mental health · tea

Tea For Mental Health And Wellbeing

It’s no secret that I love tea. I have a regular tea review feature on my instagram page, and occasionally tea reviews make their way onto this blog as well. I probably drink too many cups of tea a day, and that only escalated while I was on maternity leave – probably partly due to a need for caffeine thanks to being up all night with Little Man, and partly as a reaction to being forced onto the decaff stuff while I was pregnant. I’ve always found tea drinking to be soothing, and I have a range of different teas at home. But can drinking tea actually be good for your mental health?

tea for mental health and wellbeing beneficial a look at the science behind tea drinking and mindfulness

Tea For Mental Health

In the UK, at least, we tend to brew up a cuppa as an automatic response to any stressful situation. It’s a stereotype that’s also kind of true – we drink 50 billion cups of tea a year, and one in ten of us drinks six or more cups per day. That’s a lot of tea. So is all that tea working to help us deal with stress – or are we just drinking for the flavour?

What does the science say?

Before we look at the science around tea and mental health, we need to first consider: what is tea? Technically, “tea” is a beverage prepared using the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant – this includes teas such as black tea, green tea, and matcha. If your tea isn’t made from camellia sinensis leaves, then it’s really a herbal tea a.k.a. a tisane or infusion. Different types of tea will have different chemical properties, making that their effect on mental health will not be directly comparable. So in looking at research on tea and mental health, we first have to understand what “tea” the researchers were actually using for their work…

Studies on the effects of drinking tea on mental health

Researchers have found that drinking camellia sinensis tea lowers the stress hormone cortisol. And that’s not all: drinking half a cup of green tea a day also seems to lower the risk of depression and dementia – one study in Korea found that people who habitually drank green tea were 21% less likely to develop depression over their lifetime, compared to non-drinkers. That is a protective effect equivalent to undertaking 2.5 hours of exercise a week – not bad for a cuppa you can enjoy while sat on your sofa.

Similarly, studies in Japan and China also found green tea drinking to be associated with a lower risk of depression. And it’s not just green tea – other studies have shown that camomile tea (a herbal tea or tisane) may also have an antidepressent effect.

The small print

However, it should be noted that, while there is evidence that regularly drinking some teas can help improve mood in healthy populations, there’s not yet any evidence that it can help people who are already suffering from mental illness. And, of course, the studies discussed above only look at two types of tea – green tea and camomile – out of the huge variety of different teas and tisanes that you can buy. So it’s a little premature to reach a conclusion about the benefits of tea drinking…

Additionally, the studies that have been done don’t necessarily tell us where this protective effect is coming from. Is there a chemical (or chemicals) in tea which reduces our risk of depression – or could it actually be more complicated than that?

Tea Drinking and Mindfulness

Some researchers have suggested that some of the physical and mental health benefits from tea could actually be related to the act of preparing tea, rather than the ingredients within the drink itself.

Tea preparation as a form of mindfulness

The rituals of making and drinking tea can act as a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, to your body, your sensations and what’s happening around you. It is recommended by the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a recognised way to treat depression. You can read more about mindfulness here. Preparing and drinking tea can act as a form of mindfulness, because it involves taking time out of your day, stopping whatever you’re doing to focus on preparing your tea, engaging your body in making the tea and enjoying the smells and flavours that go with it.

Tea preparation rituals around the world

In fact, all around the globe, many cultures have developed formal practices around the making and drinking of tea, which reflect this meditative and ritualistic aspect to tea preparation.

In parts of East Asia, the ritual of making tea has been elevated into the tea ceremony, a ceremonial way of preparing and presenting tea – perhaps the most famous form of tea preparation ritual. In Morocco, mint tea is traditionally prepared for visitors to the home and three glasses are served, each representing a different aspect of life (check out my recipe for fresh mint tea here). Russia has its zavarka tradition; Argentina its mate culture; and of course here in the UK we have the traditional afternoon tea, where the cakes and sandwiches are arguably as important (or even more important?) than the tea itself. It’s interesting that so many different cultures across the world have all developed these distinct rituals around preparing and serving tea.

How to create your own tea ritual for mindfulness

The simple process of taking time out of your day to prepare and enjoy a cup of tea is really a ritual in itself. But if you’re specifically looking to practice mindfulness for your mental health, you can consider creating your own tea ritual for mindfulness and wellbeing. It can be easier to bring elements of mindfulness to an every day activity like making tea, compared to finding the time to meditate or undertake other more formal mindfulness rituals.

The key element of any mindfulness practice is to really pay attention to what you’re doing and the physical experience you’re undergoing. So as you’re preparing your tea, consider:

  • What sounds are you hearing? For instance – a boiling kettle, the clink of a teaspoon, the gurgling as you pour hot water into a cup.
  • What do you see? How does the liquid change colour as the hot water and/or milk is added to the cup?
  • What else can you sense? The warmth of the cup in your hands, the smell of the tea as it’s brewing, the taste of the tea when you start to drink.
  • How do you feel? As you sip your tea, can you take a few moments to consciously relax your body, take some deep breaths, and enjoy this time?

Top tips on creating your own tea drinking mindfulness ritual

If you’re looking for some more detailed guidance on how to create a mindfulness practice based around tea drinking, there are lots of great resources out there. I like this guide about how to be mindful with a cup of tea, and this guide to creating a slightly longer tea ritual, for when you have more time to spare.

Tea for Mental Health: A Summary

So, in summary – yes, tea drinking can indeed be good for your mental health. And frankly, that’s enough of an excuse to justify my next cuppa! But it’s not a magic cure that will leave you feeling better overnight… Things are rarely that simple. By incorporating mindfulness practice into the simple enjoyment of making a cup of tea, you may be able to take best advantage of the mental health benefits of drinking tea.

Your thoughts on tea and mental health

Do you practice mindfulness when drinking your morning cuppa? Do you feel that tea drinking has had mental health benefits for you? Or have you enjoyed experiencing tea culture around the globe? Please share your experiences in the comments, below!

afternoon tea · food · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Peacocks Tea Room, Ely

Any frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a bit of a fanatic for all things tea-based. As well as reviewing actual tea blends, I’ve decided to also start writing the odd review of tea rooms, cafes and afternoon teas. And to that end, I’m starting with this review of Peacocks Tea Room, Ely – a traditional, family-run tearoom that was named as Country Living magazine’s favourite tearoom, and as one of The Times newspaper’s Top 5 Places To Have Tea. But does it live up to the tea-based hype? Read on to find out…

Review: Peacock’s Tea Room, Ely

Commitment to Tea Roomery

Peacocks is seriously committed to the serious business of being a tea room. Sure, there are plenty of tea rooms out there that serve a nice scone and a cuppa – maybe even a selection of herbal teas on the side, for the more adventurous types that have perhaps once been to Asia and do yoga on the weekends. But Peacocks would sneer at those types of tea rooms, and probably make disparaging comments about them on the tea room equivalent of WhatsApp. For it has a menu of over 70 different kinds of tea, from black teas and oolongs to green teas, white teas, and the enigmatically-named ‘world teas’ – in fact, they claim on their website to be the only tearoom in the world which offers tea from every continent (except Antarctica – fair enough, it’s not known for its tea-friendly climate).

I’ve no idea how you would verify such a claim, but it’s safe to say – Peacocks take their tea seriously, and offer four different kinds of afternoon tea to boot (Devonshire Cream Tea; Chocolate Dream Cream Tea; Special Afternoon Tea; and Peacock’s Pink Perfection, in case you were wondering).

If you’re still in any doubt about their commitment to tea, just step into the toilet, which – like the rest of the building – is decorated with tea memorabilia up to and including a full tea set, and where even the soap and hand lotion is tea-themed (white tea and neroli… it smelled great, just don’t ask me what a neroli is). Now that’s what I call a tea room bathroom.

Yes, there really is a tea set in the toilet

Peacocks Tea & Cake: The Verdict

As a lover of all things scone-shaped (mostly scones, some small rocks), of course I had to try one of their homemade scones with clotted Cornish cream and jam (blackcurrant, I felt rebellious that day). And to accompany it? A pot of Peacocks’ Good Plain Tea. Boring? Yes. But if you’re having any other kind of tea with your scones and cream, then frankly – you’re doing it wrong. And I say that as a die-hard fan of all kinds of herbal teas and tisanes (and also of Die Hard the film, incidentally). It’s classic English breakfast tea or bust, and god help anyone I see slurping on Earl Grey while eating a scone. Yes, even Earl Grey.

Anyway.

The tea was fabulous, the scone was delicious – and there was an adequate amount of clotted cream served alongside it, which is not always a guarantee. When my pot of tea ran out, a smiley lady offered to top it up with hot water; always a win in my book.

Channelling my inner Miss Marple

The tea set itself was cute and oldy-worldy enough to almost trick me into thinking I was in a Miss Marple mystery (well, okay – there was no mystery, but I was reading an Agatha Christie at the time and the setting was perfect). The Peacocks tea room building is similarly old-fashioned, draped in beautiful purple wisteria at the time of my visit, with charming antique furniture and decor that transports you to another time – and cries out for an unsolved poisoning or locked-room murder mystery. Unfortunately, when the waitress next appeared at my table, it was not with the news that the police needed assistance in investigating the inexplicable death of the cook, but to check that everything was okay with my tea. Very boring – although I imagine the cook was relieved.

The service was great, chilled and friendly, and they were clearly on top of the coronavirus rules, with well-spaced tables, face masks and a polite reminder to check in at the venue when you arrived. I was perched in a comfortable window seat, with views of what looks like a beautiful garden seating area as well; unfortunately, given the weather, I didn’t get the chance to explore their outdoor area.

Disability Access & Special Requirements

I was pleased to note that the tearoom’s website does include a disability access statement, and notes that the majority of the tearoom’s ground floor is accessible for wheelchair users and mobility scooters, and there is a toilet equipped for wheelchair users, which is always worth noting. However, it’s worth noting that there is no on-site parking, although there is a free car park perhaps a five minute walk away.

I normally include review notes on gluten-free options, thanks to my charming and gluten-intolerant husband but he didn’t accompany me on this visit to Peacocks so – I can’t! I did however note that gluten-free scones and sandwiches were on offer, and the chocolate fudge brownies were also gluten-free. Hopefully we will visit again soon and I can update this review with some more information on the gluten-free options available.

The Flip Side

I visited Peacocks on a random, rainy Friday in May. I had the day off work, Little Man was in nursery and my husband was working, so I decided to treat myself – and I was reasonably confident of getting a table, for once. Because Peacocks tea room is (unsurprisingly) really popular – it’s not uncommon to see queues snaking out of the quaint little gate into their courtyard and out onto the main road.

No queue in sight

So my main critique of the tea room, in fact, is simply this: they don’t take bookings. It seems surprising for such a popular tea room that there’s no ability to book at least some of the tables in advance. It’s the kind of place that I would pick for a birthday celebration – but frankly it’s so popular that, in peak season, unless it’s hammering it down with rain it really doesn’t seem worth travelling to the tea room to see if they might have space. Prior to my Friday treat, I hadn’t been there in almost two years, just because it doesn’t even occur to me to bother making the trip. The ability to book – even if it’s only for one or two tables – would really make a difference, especially for those of us who need to plan ahead if we don’t want to be wrangling a feisty toddler while trying to sip Darjeeling.

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten Free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf Recipe

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been slightly obsessed with Warburton’s cinnamon fruit loaf. It’s a great breakfast treat when toasted up and dripping with hot melted butter. I’ve even introduced Little Man to it, and he loves it! But the trouble is, my lovely husband is gluten-intolerant, so he can’t enjoy it with us. So I set off to create my own recipe for a delicious gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf…

gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf recipe perfect for your morning toast

Gluten-free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf Recipe

Ingredients For Your Gluten Free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf:

You’ll want to gather the following ingredients for this yummy fruit loaf recipe:

  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 300g gluten free plain flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 egg
  • 75g warm (not hot) milk
  • 25g melted butter

You’ll also need a 2lb loaf tin, mixing bowls, and a tea towel or piece of fabric. Plus, you’ll need somewhere warm and out of the way where you can leave the dough to prove.

gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf recipe the sickly mama blog

Cinnamon Fruit Loaf: The Recipe

1. Start by adding the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice into a mixing bowl.

2. Start mixing in the egg, followed by the warm milk and butter. If you’re not using salted butter, add a pinch of salt at this stage. I recommend mixing it all together using a balloon whisk if you have one.

3. Once it’s smooth and combined, add in the mixed peel and sultanas (or other dried fruit of your choice!). For best results, you can pre-soak the dried fruit in about 50ml orange juice (or water with a tablespoon of sugar added) for about half an hour, but it’s not crucial. Then knead the fruit into the dough with your hands.

4. At this point I usually turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. But as we’re not working with gluten, and so there are no gluten strands to form through kneading, it’s not really a crucial step!

5. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave somewhere warmish to prove, until it’s doubled in size. If it’s cold, I like to put it in the microwave next to a mug of hot water, to create a nice warm proving environment. This should normally take about an hour, but if it’s cold it will take longer. In the meantime, grease your baking tin.

6. Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface and knead briefly, then form into the shape of your baking tin. Place the dough into the tin and cover it, and leave it to prove in the same place as before, for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (gas mark 4).

7. It’s time to bake! Pop your cinnamon fruit loaf into the oven for 20 minutes. Once it’s done, leave the bread to cool in the tin, and then simply tip it out! It’s delicious sliced and lightly toasted, with lashings of butter. Om nom nom.

Tips and tricks for the perfect loaf:

As it’s a gluten-free fruit bread, you will probably find that your gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf doesn’t brown up as much in the oven as you might expect, if you have experience of baking with regular flour. Don’t leave the loaf in longer to get it to brown up more, as this can result in a really dry and crumbly loaf! Instead, if you value a nice golden brown bread crust, I recommend brushing the top of the dough with whisked egg before you put it in the oven.

More recipes for gluten-free treats!

If you’ve enjoyed this recipe and you’re on the hunt for more gluten-free treats, why not try my gluten-free pumpkin muffins recipe, or my absolute favourite cookie recipe – gluten free oatmeal raisin cookies!

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten-Free Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis De Nata) Recipe

A few years ago, my husband and I went on holiday to Lisbon in Portugal, and we fell in love with pasteis de nata, the amazing Portuguese custard tarts. Made with a buttery puff pastry and Portuguese custard, they are just delicious. When we got back home, we even found a bakery in our home town that specialised in making pasteis de nata – and we were so happy to be able to continue enjoying them.

But when my husband was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, they just became yet another yummy treat that he couldn’t have. Until now! Using shop-bought gluten free puff pastry, I have succeeded in making gluten-free pasteis de nata that are delicious and taste really authentic. Read on to find out how!

gluten free portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata recipe the sickly mama

Gluten-free Portuguese Custard Tarts Recipe

Ingredients for gluten-free Portuguese custard tarts:

To make these Portuguese custard tarts, you will need:

  • 1 packet pre-made gluten free puff pastry (you could use shortcrust, but puff pastry is more authentic)
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 80ml water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Lemon rind (a few pieces is fine, you don’t need the whole lemon!)
  • 2 egg yolks and one whole egg
  • 25g cornflour
  • 150ml milk
portuguese custard tarts with strawberries and tea the sickly mama blog

How to make your gluten-free pasteis de nata:

1. First prep that pastry! Unroll your puff pastry to remove the baking paper from the roll. Then re-roll it so you end up with a sausage of pastry (yep! I know it seems counter-intuitive, but this is most similar to how real pasteis de nata are made in Portugal). Cut the sausage into sections about 1cm – 1.5cm thick. You should end up with about 12 of these.

2. For each of the pastry pieces, turn them sideways, and place them between two pieces of baking paper. Then roll them out with a rolling pin until you end up with thin discs of pastry about the size of your cupcake tray holes. Pop them into the cupcake tray.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

4. Next, make your custard! Proper Portuguese custard is made with a sugar syrup infused with cinammon and lemon rind. To do this, heat the water, sugar, lemon rind and cinnamon stick in a pan. You want to dissolve the sugar into the water and get the mixture hot, but not boiling.

5. Meanwhile, whisk the cornflour into the eggs. Heat the milk until it is warm but not boiling, and slowly pour over the egg and flour mixture, whisking as you go. Add the vanilla essence.

6. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon rind from your sugar syrup (carefully!). Pour the sugar syrup slowly over your eggs, milk and flour mixture, whisking constantly to form a runny custard.

6. Pour the custard into your pastry cases until they’re about three quarters full (see picture below).

gluten free portuguese custard tarts ready for baking pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog

7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, until golden on top.

8. Cool on a wire cooling rack. While the tarts are cooling, you can optionally sprinkle them with a mix of sugar and ground cinnamon, to really bring out the flavour. And voila! Your tarts are ready.

fresh from the oven portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog cooling rack

Tips and tricks for your gluten free pasteis de nata:

The instructions at step 2 might sound like a peculiar way to treat puff pastry! But they’re actually a reasonably close approximation of the way that pastel de nata pastry cases are made in Portugal. So don’t worry that your pastry will be ruined!

These gluten-free Portuguese custard tarts are definitely best on the day they’re made. They’ll keep overnight in the fridge, but much longer and you risk the pastry becoming very sad and soggy, which no one wants. In my household though, they rarely last that long!

More gluten-free recipes…

Looking for more recipes for tasty gluten-free treats? Why not check out our recipes page, or try baking these delicious gluten free pumpkin muffins?

gluten free portuguese custard tarts with strawberries pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog tea
food · gluten free · reviews

Love, Corn Review – New Gluten-Free Snacks

I regularly blog about gluten free baking and share my favourite recipes. But today I’m sharing my review of a yummy new gluten-free snack I was kindly gifted to try out – Love, Corn – and including a code for 20% off your next order. Read on to find out more!

Two bags of Love,Corn gluten free snacks one is sea salt flavour and one is smoked barbecue flavour sitting on a wall with flowers

What is Love, Corn?

It’s a crunchy new savoury snack made from corn kernels – think roasted, un-popped popcorn. Not only are they gluten-free, but they’re also vegan, verified kosher, and non-genetically modified. There are four different Love, Corn flavours – sea salt, smoked barbecue, salt and vinegar, and habanero chilli – and the website says they’re a perfect swap for crisps, pretzels and crackers. But is that true? As a complete crisp addict, I was initially sceptical – and while I waited for my Love, Corn to arrive, I decided to find out more about the history of these new corn kernel snacks…

What’s the history of corn kernel snacks?

Roasted corn kernels are also sometimes known as corn nuts in the United States, as cancha in Peru or kikos in Spain. Although I’ve not come across this before as a snack in the UK, the corn kernel or corn nut apparently has a long and interesting history. Native Americans used to create a snack called ‘parched corn‘, by drying and roasting corn kernels. This created a lightweight but nutritionally dense food that could easily be stored or carried, and either eaten whole or ground into flour. Parched corn was such a great foodstuff that European settlers who arrived in the Americas quickly started making it too.

Years later, in 1936, an enterprising California resident named Albert Holloway started rehydrating the corn kernels before roasting them, to make them bigger and more delicious. He then discovered a giant type of corn from Peru called cusco gigante, and once he’d managed to start importing it, the business really took off. Holloway had originally (and somewhat inexplicably) named his product ‘Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn’ but later (presumably after learning a little more about marketing) changed it to the much snappier Corn Nuts. And corn nuts have been a popular snack in the USA ever since.

Love, Corn: The Review

Having tried all four flavours, I can confirm they’re pretty awesome – much lighter and crunchier than you might expect. I think my favourite Love, Corn flavour is the barbecue, while my husband loved the spicy habanero chilli – but honestly they’re all delicious, and I was particularly impressed how they managed to get a real vinegary tang in the salt and vinegar corn. Much like popcorn, these corn nuts are really more-ish – once you start munching a few, you just keep going! Obviously the fact that they’re gluten-free is also a real bonus for us as a family.

Apparently Holloway originally created corn nuts to sell to tavern owners as a great snack to pair with beer, and that’s definitely also still true! We’ve been enjoying munching on our Love, Corn corn nuts with a cheeky beer in the evenings, while watching the last of this season’s football (just as well really, because Arsenal’s performances have not really given us much to enjoy in and of themselves…)

Something else I really like is that unlike crisps, Love, Corn doesn’t get crushed to pieces if you squash the bag… When we’re travelling, space is usually at a premium thanks to all the bits and pieces you have to cart around when you have a toddler, so it’s nice to have a delicious snack that you can just shove in a bag and not worry about it being ruined in transit.

Where to get your Love, Corn

Well, first off, if you haven’t tried corn nuts before, you can get a free sample pack of all four Love, Corn flavours and all you have to pay is £1.99 shipping. Just head to this link: www.lovecorn.com/sample and follow the instructions. Alternatively, you can get 20% off your entire order if you follow this link to the website and enter the code ‘CRUNCH20’.

Four bags of Love, Corn gluten free snacks in smoked bbq, sea salt, habanero chilli and salt and vinegar flavour with corn nuts spilling out of one packet
food · recipes · reviews · tea

Review: Making Matcha At Home With The Zen Tea Co.

So, it’s no secret that I love tea! My kitchen shelves are stocked with all kinds of tea from all over the world. But up to now, Japanese matcha tea hasn’t been something I’ve tried making at home. Until UK-based company The Zen Tea Co. came along, that is… Here’s my review of their organic ceremonial grade emerald matcha.

Making matcha at home with the zen tea co organic ceremonial grade matcha.

Making Matcha At Home With The Zen Tea Co.

What is matcha?

Okay, first things first: what actually is matcha? It’s become more popular in the UK in the past few years, but it’s still definitely a bit of a niche drink…

Matcha is a powdered green tea. It actually originates from medieval China, where tea leaves were steamed and formed into bricks as a way to make them easier to store and trade… in fact, tea bricks were even sometimes used as a form of currency! During the Song dynasty, it became popular to make a drink by powdering the tea bricks and whipping the powder into hot water.

These days, though, matcha is associated with Japan and particularly the Japanese tea ceremony. In the 12th century, a Japanese Buddhist monk called Myoan Eisai visited China, got hooked on that sweet sweet green stuff, and brought it back to Japan with him. Eisai and other monks believed that drinking matcha helped their meditation sessions, by producing a state of “calm alertness”. It was the Zen Buddhist equivalent of your morning coffee en route to the office.

Two cups of ceremonial grade organic matcha made at home with the zen tea company

Why drink matcha?

Well, obviously, as with any beverage, the first draw is the flavour! Matcha has a very rich, earthy, bitter flavour which can be a bit of an acquired taste – in the same way that coffee can. In Japan, to balance out the natural bitter flavours, it’s often served with little sweets, or used to flavour treats like cakes and mochi. It’s also got a lovely texture; as the powdered tea is whipped into the hot water, it has a much fuller, creamier texture than other teas.

As well as the flavour, though, matcha is high in antioxidants and a compound called L theanine which can help to reduce stress. Yum!

Making matcha at home

As my husband has a lot of family in Japan, I’ve drunk matcha over there in some beautiful traditional tea gardens in Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s very much always been something I’ve enjoyed as an unusual treat on holiday, and up to now it hadn’t occurred to me to try making my own matcha at home in the UK.

Matcha and sweets in Kyoto, Japan
Matcha and sweets in Japan

But then The Zen Tea Co. kindly offered to gift me a box of their organic ceremonial grade matcha tea. Sourced from Uji, Japan, their organic tea is cultivated on a family-owned farm and processed locally to ensure a top quality final product. So I couldn’t wait to try making matcha at home!

The Zen Tea Co. also sent me a copy of their downloadable guide, which comes with lots of useful information about matcha and, most importantly, a tonne of different recipes to try – from traditional matcha to matcha lemonade, lattes and smoothies. Obviously I had to give a couple of their recipes a go…

Traditional ceremonial matcha

To make traditional ceremonial matcha, you sift two teaspoons of matcha powder into a bowl or cup, add about 60ml hot water, and whisk vigorously until the powder is dissolved. Then you add another 60ml (or so – it doesn’t have to be exact!) and keep whisking, until you have a lovely frothy, foamy green drink. See the pictures below for how mine turned out!

Traditionally, you would do this with a bamboo whisk and matcha bowl, but I made mine in a measuring jug with a small metal balloon whisk, and I can attest that it still tasted fantastic and incredibly authentic. Even before I had actually tasted the tea, just the smell of the matcha in our kitchen was enough to take me back to holidays in Japan. And my husband in the living room said the same thing.

organic premium uji matcha tea and teacups

Iced matcha latte

The Zen Tea Co. recipe for iced matcha lattes really intrigued me. You whisk three teaspoons of matcha powder into about 50ml hot water, until it’s lovely and frothy. Then you mix in a teaspoon of condensed milk, 200ml milk and pour over ice cubes.

I loved the end result! I’ve had condensed milk in coffee before and thought it was a great combination, and it really works well with matcha too – again it’s that bittersweet flavour that’s just delicious. I would definitely recommend iced matcha lattes as a really summery drink that feels like a proper treat for tea lovers. I’d think it’s also a great starting point if you’re new to matcha and want to try it out for the first time.

green iced matcha lattes made with the zen tea company's organic ceremonial grade matcha tea
Iced matcha lattes

A Matcha Made In Heaven

Whether you already love matcha, or you’re interested in trying it – if a holiday to Japan isn’t on the cards any time soon, then I definitely recommend trying The Zen Tea Co. Their matcha is fantastic quality and I love their recipe ideas as well – I’m looking forward to trying some more of them!

If you’re based in the UK and you love Japanese food, I can also recommend Ai No Mochi, a London-based mochi delivery company. Yum!