To Darjeeling and back

Text and photos by Del Tamborini

Have you ever wondered about the journey tea leaves take to get to our cups?

the moment the leaves are plucked off the bush, until they reach us in
tidy little packages ready for consumption, many different steps have to
be followed exactly right to ensure the highest quality tea is

On a recent trip to Darjeeling, India’s Makaibari Tea
Estate, we were fortunate to be invited to experience the intricate and
fascinating tea production process.

Darjeeling tea is frequently
called the ‘Champagne of Tea’, for its refinement and delicate
complexity. Furthermore, like Champagne, Darjeeling is a ‘controlled
appellation’, meaning only tea produced in Darjeeling can legally bear
that region’s name.

Although some of the distinctiveness of
Darjeeling tea can be attributed to terroir – a particular combination
of soil, precipitation, sunlight, and other factors that contribute to
the unique character of a given tea – the chain of events starting from
the plucking of the leaf is equally important in creating the tea
masterpieces for which Darjeeling is renowned.  


proper pluck is essential for making a high-quality tea. While plucks
vary depending on the tea to be manufactured, the ‘classic’ pluck is two
leaves and one bud. (The workers pictured are selecting exactly this
pluck.) Plucking is labour-intensive and challenging. It must be done
with great speed but also a high level of discernment – care must be
taken to select leaves of the proper size and age, and to maintain the
integrity of the leaf during the plucking. In many tea countries, tea
plucking staffs are composed almost exclusively of women, as they
possess a degree of manual dexterity men often lack.

the pluck, the leaves are gathered in large bamboo baskets and returned
en masse to the estate’s central tea factory, where they undergo further

The next step is withering, done in long, shallow
troughs, to reduce the moisture content of the leaves and make them more


After the wither,
the remainder of the process varies according to the particular type of
tea being produced, but for black teas – the bulk of Darjeeling teas
produced – the next step is rolling. This step’s purpose to break the
cell walls of the leaf and enable the leaf to oxidize, and it is a
heavily mechanized process – the rolling machines we saw were nearing a
hundred years old, from the British colonial period!


the rolling is done, the oxidation process begins. The rolled leaves
are placed on shallow metal trays to allow maximum exposure of the
leaves to oxygen, and left there until they have oxidized to a
predetermined level. The leaves are now nearly finished!


oxidation, the leaves still retain a significant amount of moisture, so
to make sure they don’t become mouldy during their journey to us, they
are placed into enormous electric dryers. The dryers
reduce the leaves’ moisture content to 2-3% (any lower and the leaves
would become too brittle and break), at which point they’re removed and
immediately packaged in large paper sacks.


sacks are then sent to your favourite tea retailer, where they’re
broken down into smaller packages. Finally, the leaves make it to you
(hooray!) to fulfill their ultimate purpose – to provide you a delicious
cup of tea!

Healthy Homemade Tea Jello!


We made jell-o! Well I guess technically jelly but that doesn’t sound quite as exciting. It was surprisingly easy, delicious and is a really healthy snack. Here’s what we did:

Cold brew 1 litre of Strawberry Mint (see cold brewing instructions here)

Pour the strained tea into a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of gelatin (we used this one) and bring to a low simmer. Stir in 1-2 tbs honey and stir until completely combined.

Turn off the heat, let it cool and pour it back into a big jar, cake pan or little molds. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. Enjoy!

Tea for kids!

If you have a little one at home (or
more than 1), you know that anything you eat or drink is literally up for
grabs. We have learned to quickly scarf down desserts and throw back glasses of
wine. And kombucha. She loves kombucha! This, along with our goal of exposing
said little one to different flavours in her food, materialised into: letting
her drink our tea.

While this usually looks like just giving her sips out of
our mugs once the tea has cooled, we sometimes succeed at proactivity and cold-
brew an herbal tea overnight in the fridge to let her drink on its own or in a
smoothie. (See cold-brewing instructions here.) As evident by the big smile on
his face, her best little friend Tom who lives next door has been loving this
month’s Baked Apple Rooibos! His parents brew it hot and then let it cool
before putting it in his sippy cup for him to enjoy. Rooibos is particularly
good for kids because it’s so high in vitamin c and antioxidants, and also
great for digestion. So go ahead and brew a pot! You might even get to drink
some this time.

Lazy Cold Brewed Tropical Coconut Oolong

This is actually how we cold brew any tea, but cold brewing is perfect for this kind of tea as it brings out all the flavour with none of the astringency.

Step 1: Measure one tablespoon per 500ml mason jar.

Step 2: Add cold water, filling the mason jar. Tighten lid firmly and shake
well. Place in fridge for a minimum of 4 hours to a maximum of 10 hours. We loved this tea after 5 hours, but cold brewing forgives both impatience and forgetfulness.

Step 3: Remove from fridge. Feel the excitement.

Step 4: Strain the leaves as you serve the tea. Enjoy! Celebrate your awesomeness.

Cold brew tea

Cold brew is where the Venn diagram of lazy and awesome meet: little effort for a result that is flavourful, never bitter and often even better than the hot version.

You need to know how to make this if you want to be prepared for summer.

For 1 litre:

Pour 2 tbs of loose tea into a 1 litre mason jar, then fill with cold water. Cover tightly with a screw-top lid and shake well. Place in your fridge for 5 hours or overnight. Strain and enjoy!

Crimson Berry Sangria Pops

Icy things for a teething
toddler are always great. But what about the teething toddler’s parent? Surely
this person needs a special treat as well. And wait. What about the teething
toddler’s parent’s friends and neighbours? And their friends and neighbours?
All of these people clearly need icy treats.

These popsicles are
just that…they are dark and fruity, sweetly spiked, and not the least bit
kid-friendly. The perfect treat to keep cool…both temperature-wise and

Remember to share them with your
friends and neighbours.

Crimson Berry Sangria

 750 mL sweet red wine

2 cups cold-brew Crimson
Berry tea

2 apples, cored and

2 oranges, sliced (peel

1 cup sliced pineapple

¼ cup simple syrup

Pour the wine into a
saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, reducing to 2 ½ cups. Add the
rest of the ingredients while the wine is still warm, place in your fridge to sit
overnight. Strain, pour into popsicle molds, freeze and wait patiently. Enjoy!

Strawberry Champagne: 3 cocktails and a giveaway!

I love baking. But this heat wave we’ve been having in Vancouver has been a little less than inspiring. That, plus Bon Appetit’s collection of summer bubbly cocktails got me thinking – what if we could replace the champagne with Strawberry Champagne cold-brewed tea?
The answer: YES.

Some notes:
We cold-brewed the tea in our fridge for about 5 hours by putting 2 tbs of loose tea in a mason jar, filling it with water, screwing the lid on and leaving it in the fridge to cold brew. That’s it! 1 litre was enough to make 1 of each drink.

I would suggest strongly against putting the cold tea through your soda machine (if you have one) to add bubbles. It was a nice idea but…the tea exploded everywhere and the extensive clean-up process woke the baby up for several hours. #neveragain

If you do like (real) bubbly, we think you could play with the recipe a bit and add it!

Ginger fizz (the mocktail) was my favourite, but I’m a little ginger-obsessed, so…

Michael loved the Pomegranate Punch. It’s sweet and fresh and goes down a little too easily.

The French 75 was great – dry and packed a good punch.

Whatever you decide to do, let us know! Post a picture and your comments on Instagram and tag @tea.sparrow, using the hashtag #bringonthebubbles. Our favourite entry will win a free month of tea!

Happy sipping!


For the Ginger Fizz:

½ oz ginger syrup

5 oz Strawberry Champagne tea

orange slice

Blend the syrup and the cold tea, add a slice of orange and enjoy!

For the Pomegranate Champagne Punch:

8 oz Strawberry Champagne tea

1 oz rum

2 oz pomegranate juice

1 oz simple syrup

lemon slice

fresh mint

Blend the tea, rum and juice, add a lemon slice and a few sprigs of fresh mint. Enjoy!

For the French 75:

1 oz gin

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

¾ ounce simple syrup

2 ounces Champagne

Add everything to a glass and enjoy!

Apeldoorn’s Asian Duck

Both poultry and Appeldoorn’s Tea are staples in our home, but not two things we have ever thought to combine. Enter Lindsay, our guest chef who also happened to stop by when I was making this cake and offer me some pro tips! If you find yourself wondering what to do with your Appeldoorn’s Tea this month (a problem we don’t have), she has an idea all cooked up for you.

Apeldoorn’s Asian Duck

·         6 cups water
·         ½ cup Apeldoorn’s House Blend Black Tea
·         3” piece of ginger, roughly chopped
·         6” piece of cinnamon
·         2 star anise
·         1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed
·         3 cloves garlic, minced
·         2-3 green onions, chopped
·         4 tablespoons brown sugar
·         ¼ cup soy sauce
·         1 whole duck or 4 duck breasts

Combine water, tea, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, and peppercorns in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, add the garlic and green onions, and let steep for 30-45 minutes..
In a large glass or plastic container, combine the tea, brown sugar, and soy sauce, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  
Reserve 1 cup of the liquid and use the rest to marinate the duck/duck breasts for 4-6 hours.
Remove duck from the liquid 1 hour before cooking. Rinse and pat dry.
Prepare the duck/duck breasts to your liking, using the reserved marinade to baste the bird or as a base for sauce.


Bourbon black magic


Well folks, it’s officially spring…oh wait, unless you live on the east coast and just got a dump of snow! On behalf of West Coast Canada, we’re sorry.

We made this on a Monday night, after a Sunday all-day birthday celebration (for moi) and before leaving our baby with a babysitter (!) – ok, actually 2, we’re nuts – and riding our bikes to Italian birthday dinner date night. It was a delicious weeknight celebratory drink. A way to keep the birthday going…maybe for a few more days.

Here are the basic proportions:

1 part bourbon

3 parts tea

1 tsp sugar
Splash of milk

+ a sprig of mint (mostly for fun, and to pretend/celebrate the coming of spring)

It was lovely sans milk but honestly so deliciously creamy with just a splash. Feel free to play with the ingredients and let us know how it turns out!

Raspberry Green Tea Sangria

It’s spring! Well…practically…depending on where you live. We decided that this weather and this month’s green tea were the perfect reasons to make tea sangria.

We used this recipe from Minimalist Baker and swapped out half the wine for cold-brewed Raspberry Green tea, and it was delicious! Feel free to play with the ingredients or use your own sangria recipe, and let us know how it turns out!


  • ½ apple, cored, skin on, chopped into small pieces
  • ½ orange, rind on, sliced into small pieces, large seeds removed (plus more for garnish)
  • 3-4 Tbsp brown sugar
  • ¾ cup orange juice, plus more to taste
  • 1/3 cup brandy, plus more to taste
  • 1 ½ cups dry Spanish red wine
  • 1 ½ cups cold-brewed Raspberry Green Tea
  • Ice to chill (~1 cup)


  1. Add apples, oranges and sugar to a large pitcher and muddle with a muddler or wooden spoon for 45 seconds.
  2. Add orange juice and brandy and muddle again to combine for 30 seconds.
  3. Add
    red wine, cold-brewed tea and stir to incorporate, then taste and adjust flavour as
    needed. Feel free to add a bit more brandy, orange juice and brown sugar. Stir to
  4. Add ice and stir once more to chill. Serve as is, or with a bit more ice. Garnish with orange segments if you want.
  5. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours, although it’s great when fresh, and even better enjoyed in the sun with your feet up.

Sweet Cinnamon Banana Bread

We made tea-infused banana bread! And it was amazing. I think
you could use any banana bread recipe you love, but we used this one, and
infused the butter with tea. I even (accidentally) spilled some of the tea leaves into the batter
in my tired attempt to squeeze every last drop of butter out of them, and we
have yet to have an overly-crunchy-tea-leaf bite! I also added walnuts and they add a nice texture to it. It’s deliciously cinammon-flavoured, with
the cinnamon oil from the tea most present in the aftertaste, and really
sinking into the bread after a night in the fridge.

My only word of caution: infusing butter with tea does use a
lot of tea leaves (I used ½ cup for this recipe!) so…maybe don’t make this if
you love actually drinking the tea.  Or make it sans tea and brew a cup of Market
Spice Sweet Cinnamon

Sweet Cinnamon Banana Bread

3 to 4 ripe bananas, smashed

¾ cup melted salted butter + ½ cup Market Spice Sweet
Cinnamon tea (instructions for infusing here)

1 cup light brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons bourbon (or more!)

1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt (oops, I forgot this)

1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional – I left this out but it could
be nice for a layered flavour)

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 ½ cups flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a
wooden spoon, mix infused butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing
bowl. Mix in the sugar, egg, vanilla and bourbon, then the spice(s). Sprinkle
the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour last, mix. Pour
mixture into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or
until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Remove from pan and slice to

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