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According to bountiful legends tea came to existence because of an accident. My favorite story goes like this … Shen Nong, the father of agriculture and herbal medicine in China, who found how various herb work by trying them all. Shen Nong had a super human power – his stomach was transparent so he could observe reactions each plant had on human body. But, one day he tried 72 different types of poisonous plants, that had almost killed him. As he lied weakened on the ground, he noticed a pleasantly smelling leaves falling nearby him on the ground, curious he picked up some and chew them. Soon he felt energetic again and kept eating more of the tea leaves, which cleared all of the toxins away from his body. In his book Shen Nong Herbal he writes: “Tea tastes bitter. Drinking it one can think quicker, sleep less, move lighter, and see clearer”.

Tea plantation in China

Tea plantation in China

Believe the tale or not, one thing is quite sure – Southwest of China (today mainly the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces) is geographically, where the greatest of grandfathers of tea came from. Still today over 1, 000 years old wild tea trees can be found in these areas.

Lu Yu: the Saint of tea

The chinese have also identified their “Saint of tea” Lu Yu (around 733-804 AD), who wrote the first commentary on tea “The Book of Tea” that is known in the world. Lu Yu was an orphan raised in a Buddhist temple by a monk named Zhiji. Nevertheless he run away from the temple while still a teenager and was lucky to be helped by an official who got him educated. Later he travelled around China, learned about tea and wrote the famous book.

The father of tea

The father of tea

Tea and wine during festivities

In China tea was served at banquets during the rule of the Wei (220-265) and Jin (265-420) Dynasties. As Liu Tong in his book Chinese Tea writes “people preferred teas’ freshness and purity to wine’s violence and intoxication” at that time. The author further praises the benefits of tea and wine companionship “because tea can quench one’s drunkenness”. Later many scholars and even emperors wrote about tea. Yet, tea was popular not only at the royal courts, but also at the temples, where the monks created one of the first customs – ceremonies – of tea drinking. It was later that the tea ceremonies – the ways tea was prepared, served and drunk – were tailored according to local Chinese minorities with each of them having its own specifics.

Not only Asian food can be enjoyed with both wine and tea with the same meal

Not only Asian food can be enjoyed with both wine and tea with the same meal

Tea crossing the Chinese borders

Tea spread across China and Asia mainly because of Buddhism and Taoism and later from East to West because of an abundant trade. At first Buddhist monks brought tea with them to Japan, then trade between Russia and China moved tea across the borders towards West with India and Middle East following the suite. Tea was transported via the “Tea-Horse Road” leading from Yunnan through Tibet to the Western countries. The road was established because of the needs of the Chinese princess Wenchang, who married to Tibet, so she needed a frequent supply of tea. The East India Company imported tea leaves from China since 1637. First a green tea was imported to England, but because it perished and lost its quality black tea took precedence later. Tea became a major import item for Britain and facing a huge trade deficit with China, the British taxed tea heavily. The East India Company was thus looking for other countries to produce tea. India was under the British influence and the British governor managed to send one of his people to smuggle some tea seeds from China. These were planted mainly in Assam, Kumaon and later also in Sri Lanka. Today, India is currently the number one producer of tea in the world.

Unlimited choice of tea-based drinks at a modern tea shop in Singapore.

Unlimited choice of tea-based drinks at a modern tea shop in Singapore.

Modern tea

With global economy blending ideas and millions of entrepreneurial minds, tea in the 21st century has many faces. The global giant Starbucks offers matcha (Japanese green tea powder) latte, steeped tea or chai (Indian black tea with spices). There are thousands of tea brands offering original blends such as chocolate tea, marshmallow or gingerbread tea. Tea rooms became the new cafés and hangouts for creative spirits – here tea is prepared and drunk properly and the choice can be wider than wine lists at most of the restaurants. What more ICE TEA is the new Coca Cola. The mastermind country behind the most original ice teas is Taiwan. There the milk tea, bubble tea (tapioca starch based round pearls in tea – also called pearl tea), ice jelly, pudding tea and many other perhaps more ridiculously looking teas. From Taiwan the frenzy swept China, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and recently became a staple of Hollywood stars at the jet set LA-based organic Urth Café. At Urth you can also buy finest teas as well as their own tea blends.

I will try to review all of these fancy teas and places you can get them across the globe here at Winebeing in the new TEA section I have created. I must admit – I got hooked up on these fun ice teas so much – that every day whether I am in Singapore or in Los Angeles I crave these and often end up buying at least one.

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Cuisine: Gastronomic Italian.

Visit: November 2012

Price: High (starters above €20, PRIMI: first courses above €20 and SECONDI: main courses starting at €29; a 7-course tasting menu for € 70,00 or a 9-course for €90,00 are of a better value).

Chef: Alfredo Russo is from Turin, but his cooking goes beyond the borders of the Northern Italian Piedmont region. With his wife Stefania he opened Dolce Stil Novo in 1990 and only after three years he was awarded his first Michelin star for his innovative Italian cooking. He also published two booksDa Idea” and “Il miele in cucina”, participated in numerous conventions devoted to high cuisine as well as in a TV show in Israel. His concept of taking traditional dishes and ingredients, elaborating them from an idea and create something new stands behind the title of his first book Da Idea. Alfredo Russo gives cooking classes at his restaurant as well so you can learn how to create  Michelin star dishes like his.

Modern and sleek Dolce Stil Novo

Atmosphere: Simple, open and classy. This a gastronomic restaurant located just next to the former summer royal palace of the Italian kings and it feels very upper-class. A quiet, large dining room with high ceilings and views of the palace is made as if royals were to come for a lunch or dinner here. Dress accordingly to the restaurant’s stately attire, either a jacket or a formal shirt for men and a dress or elegant pant suit for women is appropriate although it is not required. Dolce Stil Novo can be a great spot for a romantic date since the restaurant’s location in the suburban Torino near the sprawling park next to the castle invites for a nice walk before or after you eat.

Food:  Playful, modern and rather complex than simple Italian. I was impressed by the starter of Vitello tonnato di fassone piemontese con caramello al limone, which is one of my favorite Italian starters. Usually a thin-cut veal slices are patted with a layer of rich and creamy tuna sauce with capers in this dish, but the version of Alfredo Russo is mush lighter and elegant. He wraps the thin veal around a spoonful of the tuna sauce and adds much more of a refreshing lemon juice creating a delicious appetizer that will not fill you up before the second and third courses arrive. Great with a glass of the local red Barbaresco or perhaps some white from Gavi.

Punte di asparagi con uovo di fattoria croccante e sale di vaniglia

Another starter or you can have it as your “secondo” is Punte di asparagi con uovo di fattoria croccante e sale di vaniglia. This is a fun plate. An asparagus cream with vanilla salt covered with cheese shavings is a discovery for most of the diners. It is creamy, yet fluffy and light at the same time. Multiple textures from creamy smooth to dry and rough mingle on your tongue as a pinch of sand on a layer of cream in a fresh milk bucket. This is one of the vegetarian dishes the restaurant offers, but there plenty of others including various pasta and rice-based plates.

In the mood for seafood? Then start or continue with the lobster. The Astice scottato alla piastra con cremoso di melanzane viola is light, fresh and juicy. The succulent pieces of lobster with juicy marinated vegetables are drizzled with a thick drops of balsamic vinegar. It is a nice dish for light eaters, but it was not my favorite from the menu – I found it quite boring and the lobster was far from its Maine (US state) relative, that is much more tasty and complex.

Lobster tails.

One of his signature dishes also suitable for vegetarians are the “Pasta in bianco olio e parmigiano”- Alfredo Russo. In this lasagna-like pasta he combines three layers, each of a different age, of parmigiano cheese. The meat lovers will not be disappointed at this Piemontese restaurant either. The special beef main course of Spalla di manzo con intingolo alle erbe aromatiche is good but quite small, so you will still have some space for a dessert or a cheese plate. It is the most expensive meat on the menu though, so I would not pay for it.

We skipped the desserts, although we got from the chef one pre-dessert of a creamy mouse with sorbet, which was delicious, and later with tea the chef treated us to a tray of chocolate and caramel lolies and small sweets so we did not miss out any sugar that night.

Chef’s pre-dessert

We could not resist the wide cheese selection on a trolley. The offer of mostly local cheese from mild cow cheese to stinky blue goat cheese lets you savor the flavors of all cheese corners of Piedmont. I would not recommend the stinky goat blue cheese as it tasted like a stinky wax for all of us who tried it, the cow and goats cheeses with rind were nice though. Overall, I was a bit disappointed by the restaurant’s selection. Italy has excellent cheeses, so why not to show these instead?

Drinks: The wine list has a great selection of price-friendly local wines. It was a pity though that the sommelier recommended us wines that we did not love as they did not correspond with our requests and her description. The choice and quality of teas is tremendous! Having a cup of a local herbal blend after a multiple-course dinner is all one wishes before getting to bed. You get a small hour-glass to measure exactly the length of steeping your tea in water, so you can remove it in time to obtain just the beneficial substances from the tea. Many restaurants and even tea houses neglect the right steeping time for teas, so I give a huge credit to Dolce Stil Novo for making the tea experience proper for their guests.

Tea selection

Opening hours: Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm; Lunch: daily from 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm except on Monday and Tuesday.

Address: Piazza della Repubblica, 4 – Venaria Reale (Torino); Italy

Contact: Tel: +(39) 011 4992343 – Mob: +(39) 339.1996218; Reservations are required for both lunch and dinner.

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Angelina’s tearoom

Angelina Jolie may not be the sweetest bearer of this heavenly name. Angelina Tearoom at Rue du Rivoli is known for its best hot chocolate in Paris and heavenly desserts for which people stand in long lines day by day. Since 1903 this centrally located cafe has been attracting local connoisseurs as well as palate – conscious and pleasure-seeking tourists coming to Paris. Founded by an Austrian confectioner, it resembles the top grand cafès of Vienna with its chandeliers, mirrors and elegant chairs in the main room, yet it was designed by a great Belle Époque architect Edouard-Jean Niermans giving it a truly Parisian touch.

Cuisine: International with an emphasis on deserts.

Visit: April 2012

Price: High with main courses as well as sandwiches in the €20 and over level and deserts as a highlight over €10 a piece.

Head pastry Chef: Sébastien Bauer from Alsace, North-East France. His task is a very challenging one as he has to showcase Angelina’s heritage, while at the same time, incorporate contemporary dining trends into his recipes. He masters it very well. Just look below at his perfection-seeking (as nothing is perfect) creations.

Pastries selection at the tea room

Atmosphere: Elegant, pompous and haute as its customers once were the trend setters such as the fashion designer Coco Chanel, aristocrats or creative writers such as Marcel Proust. Today though, be prepared for hordes of tourists visiting from China to Brazil. Dress code is consequentially very relaxed. The rule basically is wear anything you had on you during your visit of Louvre or a stroll in the nearby park.

Food: The most popular are afternoons with a cup of hot chocolate and one of the Angelina’s deserts, yet great breakfasts and lunches are served as well. If you want to avoid the long queues then come early. From a simpler snack menu consisting mostly of luxurious sandwiches, through large lunch salads to proper main courses, one surely finds what his taste buds desire. I have not resisted the daily offer main dish of a pan-seared fish with crispy polenta on a bed of asian vegetables accompanied by a sweet and savory sauce with sweet potato tempura. East meets West in this refreshing yet rich meal. The fish was perfectly cooked, not too oily, just the right balance. The wheel of crispy polenta was tremendous and the veggies have lightened up its fried neighbors on the plate.

Pan-seared fish with crispy polenta

Desert is hard to choose, since there are so many and looking so delicious! If you are there for the first time I would recommend Angelina’s signature pastry the Mont Blanc. It is a meringue with sweet whipped cream and chestnut puree vermicelli rolled all over the top. It looks a bit funny, but its taste is unique. A cup of tea is ideal with it. Having a hot chocolate with this already creamy treat would be perhaps too much at once.

Millefeuille & a cup of espresso

Millefeuille a la Vanilla Bourbon is seductive as well. The thin layers of caramelized puff pastry filled with Bourbon vanilla cream are perfect with a cup of espresso.

Drinks: Hot chocolate L’African is a must, this rich, thick warm drink is served with a side-pot of whipped cream to soften it up how much you like. Wine list is also above satisfactory, although one does not feel like drinking alcohol at this magnificent tea room.

Opening hours & contact: Come for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon tea as Angelina is closed for dinner. Open Mon-Fri from 7:30am-7:00pm; Weekends from 8:30am-7:00pm. There are many new locations so you can choose the most convenient one for you.

Angelina at Rue du Rivoli by Louvre: +33 (0)1.42.60.88.50

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