A Collaboration with Nilufer Tea, The Best Organic Tea (ft. recipe for the most ideal pairing)

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Title says it all. Bleary-eyed from 5 hours of sleep, a neatly wrapped bundle in the post set my mind and palate into gear for the day. It’s been ages since I last indulged in a cup of tea, breathing in a subtle fragrance, meditating on steam. Now that I’ve been back in Singapore for a while it hasn’t occurred to me to have anything hot; dinner is typically preceded by a frigid green juice or iced water. Nevertheless, tradition transcends change of climate, and so I settled down to a long lost habit. Sent so kindly by the folks behind Nilufer tea, an organic herbal tea brand I am so grateful to have become acquainted with the past week, I decided it was only appropriate to enjoy them with the chewiest, chocolate-pumped salted cookies, of which recipe I recently developed. The best organic herbal tea, I learned, is borne out of love, sweat, and quality. This is quality tea, I repeat, which uses non-pesticide herbs & flowers with premium dried fruits. How stunning is that.

Straight from the hands of independent Japanese tea farmers, Nilufer has put itself a head above the crowd of conventional tea brands by capitalising on ethical business, involving itself in every step of the tea-making process, from laboured harvest to artisan packaging. I was stunned by the simple array of complex flavours to choose from– red rooibos, chamomile, herbal fruit, rose and ginger rooibos tea. I absorbed its ethos in its entirety as I placed a delicate ginger rooibos teabag into my mug.

Going vegan, as I have mentioned before, is not just about the food, but a keen awareness. Of where I am, what I’m doing, what is happening all around–I am now sitting outside in our little garden, feeling the cushion beneath me, beige and smooth, still learning to live comfortably with the dense air, as if packed solid with noise that does not move, as Sebastian Faulks beautifully puts. That awareness naturally involves awareness of one’s use of resources, and so though I am not as tea-crazed as some of my English friends, with a cup of tea comes an appreciation of the here and now, instilling some sense of emotional granularity, and the lesser need to constantly compare oneself with everyone else, caught up and blind in the world of faster, bigger, better. Every second is your own. I was therefore excited to collaborate with a brand whose ethos resonates so well with this sentiment; Nilufer’s organic approach rooted in sustainability would similarly appeal to many other vegans in Singapore. Learn more about the best organic herbal tea before treating yourself. Revel in that rare authenticity.

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Their rose tea was alluring and fragrant, which, by the way, also restores female hormonal balance and peace of mind. Perfect after an insanely busy office day. A touch of hibiscus accentuates a heady floral aroma with a hint of strawberry. Chamomile, one of my long-time favourites, is mixed with orange, ginger and lemongrass in an exotic blend for a more revitalising, mid-work kick. Chamomile also stimulates the production of enzymes in the gut for efficient digestion, complementing my passion for a gut-friendly plant-based diet.

My personal favourite was the very first flavour I tried– ginger rooibos. Red rooibos and peppery ginger up the ante here with spice and tingling earthiness, red rooibos itself being a potent antioxidant to help fend off oxidative stress, burnishing your beauty routine with several minerals for rapid skin regeneration and hair growth. All sounds pretty wild, but after meditation on each flavour, I for one am more inclined to believe.

Scrolled starry-eyed through their website. Thorough health and beauty articles (on Nilufer Tea blog) are written to pad out their wellness ethos. Do also check them out on Nilufer Tea Instagram and Nilufer Tea Facebook.

Now for cookies. Which, in my opinion, are perfect with this tea. Before I went vegan I was hooked on one particular recipe, and I was swimming in the conviction that nothing, ever, could beat it.

Until I went vegan and developed this baby (haha).

The chew is what will get to you. The secret here is the resting time in the fridge and top quality chocolate. The idea is that this gives the sugar in the cookies time to mix into the other ingredients and so, upon baking the next day, the sugar caramelises more efficiently and you get a deeper caramel flavour and chewier texture. Your cookies also spread less because the chilled cookie would have more solidified that melted fat. That means making the batter the night before is most ideal if you want to wake up to a glorious, familiar wafting fragrance and cookies with the best shape, form and flavour. No need for any flax/chia egg or funny flour (though by all means play around with buckwheat spirulina charcoal flour if you feel inclined to). The ingredients shine through in their simplicity and natural affinity for each other. Salt and sweet. Each bite is chockfull of chocolate, of which varied size and thickness offers such complex mouthfeel. The middle is dense, dark and sinfully chewy.

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Chewy Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies (makes 12 medium-sized cookies)

Ingredients

250g plain flour, or use half plain flour and half whole-wheat/oat flour

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

200g good quality dark vegan chocolate (use Lindt’s 70% or another vegan brand), chopped into chunks

110g soft, dark brown sugar

100g white/coconut sugar

1 tsp salt

coarse salt for sprinkling (I use Maldon)

1 tsp vanilla extract

100ml plain vegetable/canola/sunflower oil

80ml hot water

 

Directions

Line two baking trays with parchment paper and set aside for the time-being. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the chopped chocolate. In a separate medium bowl, mix the oil, vanilla, water and two sugars together with a fork. Tip this into the dry mix and stir with a wooden spoon until everything is just combined.

Using an ice cream scoop for consistency, scoop your batter onto your lined baking trays. There should be 12-14 even balls. Press the balls down slightly with your fingers and liberally sprinkle salt over each one. Place the trays into the fridge to firm up for at least 10 hours or overnight (important, as stated before these instructions!!). The next morning, bake the cookies in an oven preheated to 180C (350F) for 12 minutes, no more and no less. There will be a little raw better on a wooden skewer stuck into a cookie- fret not, that’s what you want! The first time I did this I was sure it couldn’t be that raw, but the insides do firm up a little once you take the trays out of the oven and let the cookies cool completely

I’ll repeat that- let the cookies cool completely. The cookies may have a bit of rise but they will eventually deflate. The result? Inch-thick, ridiculously chewy, stretchy cookies, loved up with hand-chopped chocolate for an intense flavour and complex texture. These can be stored in an airtight container for a few days, though I promise they won’t last that long.

Tea Drinker?

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Tea? Me?

My typical early mornings comprise a bleary-eyed kettle-boiling-plus-toast-making session. In a few minutes I have toast and black coffee. In less than half an hour the sun is way up there and I’m ready to do whatever it is that I have to get on with. Tea rarely makes the cut.

But when I received a lovely assortment of teas from the enthusiastic guys of Clipper Teas, I knew I’d be ready to make a change to this morning agenda. Read: I’m never one for aimless advertising. I have to seriously love a brand’s aesthetic or flavour, or support their cause, or both. So why Clipper?

Before you read any further, please take a minute to click on this link.

Doo doo doo.

Da dum.

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Done? OK.

Shocked? Disconcerted? Yeah, same here. What it really boils down to is this:

Do you know what’s in your tea?

So many of us buy bags and bags of the stuff each week, not once considering how we’re cheating ourselves. I too was completely unaware of the reality of the industry. Though I’m not the biggest tea drinker, I have friends who drink copious amounts of tea every day, and, if not the usual black, green tea is what accompanies those stressful revision sessions.

With Clipper, which also became the UK’s first Fairtrade tea company in 1984, you can be sure to get every bang for your buck, every brew fresh and free of anything artificial. Their mantra is ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’, and I completely agree. No bleaching of tea bags, no quarter-filled bags, no chemicals, nothing. Just pure, unbleached, natural goodness in a cup.

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A breakfast to complement this hot, flavourful cup of tea. My mother’s amazing homemade pistachio butter, which I here paired with caramelised banana, is one of the best things your lips will touch.

This early morning I enjoyed their lemon green tea, which exudes a bright, true flavour. Knowing the story and aim of Clipper made every sip all the more enjoyable. Here you can find the whole range of their delicious and reasonably priced teas! I’m already planning to smuggle as many flavours as possible back home to Singapore for the family to try.

Next time you think of having a cuppa (tea) or need something to accompany that slice of cake, just remember:

It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

 

Laurent Bernard Chocolatier

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Basically I have this problem. And no, I’m not talking about my pathetic sense of direction or the fact that I cannot walk in a straight line.

And this problem has manifested itself slowly and silently throughout my teenage years.

The problem is that I hardly ever go out to tea. And yet such a sophisticated English Rose occasion is crazily ubiquitous; millions of the common folk go out to experience this pinkies-up-whilst-drinking-earl-grey phenomenon. Yes, even here in the not-so-quaint Singapore. I remember going out for pain au chocolats with the maman and sister in Kensington, London, back when I used to live there. I’d hop onto a buggyboard at the back of my sister’s pram and we’d all stride along the leaf-littered streets just to chance upon a myriad of cafes, offering the tempting smells and charming, traditional sights. I cautiously sipped my mother’s cappuccino and crinkled my nose, not understanding the power of such a drug which I would only come to know of many, many years later. It’s rather nice to think about how many years I’ve lived, for it makes me reminisce and ponder and yet sadly, feel remorseful over. Everything there was sweetly carved in white brick and rustic wood, as if no other material would live up to the quintessential English Rose cafe. Even here, there are so many little quaint bistros, cafes and specialty dessert places which allow one the privilege to live the life of an uptown aristocrat from the 16th century. Perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing, but delightful all the same. Delightful.

Just an hour or two, but that’s really enough. The chance to sip tea and dig into petite cakes and souffles with a couple good friends was beyond what I consider to be privileged. Just a note: this all happened after Ruru and I managed to actually find the place.

The Pier?

Yes. The Pier!

Where on earth is that!

Somewhere on Mohamed Sultan Road. But I swear I can’t see it. I swear I swear.

Google Maps is utter crap.

I know, it should be here.

Panic, panic, panic. Before we politely asked a passer-by. She looked behind her and calmly mentioned that The Pier was right ahead.

In big letters too. The Pier.

Joy of joys. We sucked in our embarrassment, straightened our blouses and hurried over. The best things are always the most esoteric nowadays. Or perhaps it’s always meant to be this way to prevent hyperactivity and overly sensational ravings from the common peasants who wander along Orchard Road and nowhere else.

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Charming, charming.

Their coffee and wine selection is most agreeable, with a whole section dedicated to connoisseurs of either.

Burns a hole in your pocket, too. My old school camp facillitator Aik Seng treated Ruru and I, and wanted to engage in some appalling splurging. That single-shot espresso macchiato right there was round about nothing less than $5 or $6, if I may correctly recall. I never was one for such price memorisation. It surged with the strength of real caffeine. Believe it or not I saved that little square of (hopefully) dark chocolate in the misty corner of my black tote, waiting for the right time. Today isn’t right, and tomorrow probably won’t be either. Somewhere, sometime in heaven perhaps.

Even though no one will be there anyway.

We quickly ordered the chocolate soufflé, since Ruru warned that it typically takes quite a while to prepare and then serve. I hurried the waiter, who I’m afraid to say failed to impress on any level.

At all. It took about 5 times before he stumbled towards our table, hefty with the pains of everyday life and almost steaming with a mild sense of rebellion. Service-wise, it was a terrific disaster.

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chocolate soufflé

This actually made my mouth water when I saw it make its way through the empty lit cavern, a dark-skinned king hailing triumphantly from the Land of the Oven. It rose almost obnoxiously from the pristine, gargantuan white thing of a ramekin, coupled by a lovely little scoop of raspberry sorbet.

Or in other words, its saving grace. I’m that type of person who can’t have a molten, gooey dessert my itself; it must certainly be accompanied by some wildly cold partner to lax its richness and offer some breezy, white-hued relief. The relief this time was in a becoming shade of baby carmine, good and icy, yet full of that frozen raspberry twang and punch.

Soft but not to the point whereby it was perfectly scoop-able and oh so dangerously fragile. The lady came with a tiny jug of hot chocolate sauce, which we all expected to flow out gracefully like a reincarnation of Wily Wonka’s chocolate river. Dark and seductive, making a nice small hole in the middle as it hit the centre, cracking its tissue-like surface and ravaging the fluffy holey interior.

We could not have been more wrong about anything in our entire lives.

The lady didn’t even pour anything, so we did so ourselves. Woe and behold, the sauce was thicker than the consistency of frozen nutella right out of the fridge. We literally had to force it out in thick , rounded globs. That chocolate flavour, I admit was well on spot, with the slightest hint of orange or perhaps even a tinge of Grand Marnier, to complement the rich electricity of dark chocolate. Could’ve had the whole jug if no one was watching (not like something like that would ever happen ever). It was just that terrible, terrible consistency which made my heart sink to the floorboards beneath and beyond.

I felt rather greedy when the other two had stopped picking at the souffle, but I continued to scrape and poke and prod and lick anyway. Story of a chocolate addict.

Thanks to my small lunch, I believe. I can be practical okay. If I possess some degree of sentience and sanity.

We attacked the middle to indulge in the tender warmth of its belly, before proceeding to enjoy the slight chewy crispness of the outside edges, warmed from the oven’s kiss and broil. All made just perfect with the contrasting tang of the raspberry. The one downside was that it was a smidgen dry, but the dense core and bottom were not lost, since even the little bits left over were obviously still very moist and slightly fudgy. But still a smidgen dry (and crumbly). Not as good as the strawberry one in La Bastide last year in December, but then again that would be like comparing little master with grand master in its native home. Partial comparisons make for no good comparisons at all, oui?

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would you look at that

And no, you can’t go and have tea with a couple other lovely people and some riveting conversations on our lives and other random happenings with just one dessert.

Honestly. Be honest. Please, for you and for me.

It’s just not practical or sane. So we ordered another.

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warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream

And that rounded the whole event off to make it perfect and beautiful and complete.

With a spoonful of whipped sweet cream for good measure (as if that will ever live up to the glory of the humble vanilla bean ice cream.) Comparatively, I actually preferred the texture and flavour of the chocolate souffle compared to this. Anything cakey or crumbly is not typically my cup of tea (all puns intended), but this was sufficiently moist. It said cake, not molten lava, so thankfully I was not let down by my own disappointment when there was absolutely no evidence of anything molten. Couldn’t help that small tinge of sadness, of course, but it was pleasing all the same, especially when paired with the sweet and aromatic vanilla. I quite enjoyed the bed of crumbled crackers which the ball of ice cream rested on. Textural variety is probably what I live for.

It’s Valentine’s Day today, isn’t it?

Wonderful! Let me revel in the magnificence of being absolutely single and elated in the blurred joys of life and raw freedom.

Rating: 4.4/5

Laurent Bernard Chocolatier

80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-11
The Pier @ Robertson Singapore
6235 9007