A recap of the Pure Leaf tea event with tea master John Cheetham and Gail Simmons.
Exciting! But, which part?! All of it! New York! Gail Simmons! John Cheetham! Pure Leaf Tea! And me! Wee! Well, I’m not as exciting as the mentioned, but I do have some exciting news! Okay, I really need to limit my exclamation marks, but by now you should expect nothing less than at least one or two in the first paragraph.
Anyway, guess what? Okay, don’t guess, I’ll just tell you. I’m very happy to announce that I’m the new brand ambassador for Pure Leaf! Yay!!
So what does that mean? That every post will now feature Pure Leaf? No.
I’m honest and transparent about what I do, and as someone who’s skeptical and somewhat critical about everything, I had to do more research. Luckily, the more I learned, the more enthusiastic I got.
I was introduced to Pure Leaf when it launched in Canada April last year and I still remember the day it arrived at my door – in plastic bottles. In this day and age… turn off. That is until I learned the bottles were made of 100% recyclable PET plastic, which are lightweight allowing for less fuel to be used during transport. Eco-friendly initiatives? Check.
Then, there was the concept of tea in a bottle. Was this supposed to be “the next Snapple?” Flavoured and playful teas have their market, but as someone who can be a purist, I enjoy real, natural, pure ingredients when it comes to food, tea, and everything consumable. It’s not to say I don’t have my guilty indulgences, but if I can get real deal ingredients, all the better.
Pure Leaf Real Brewed Tea isn’t just another “iced tea” on the market, but it’s the only ready to drink iced tea in Canada made from fresh tea leaves. It is made from natural ingredients with no preservatives and the ingredients list was simple, just like the product in general.
The ingredient label read: Brewed tea, sugar (in sweetened varieties), citric acid (for tartness), natural flavours and pectin (a natural fiber found in most plants). Pectin is also used to preserve freshness, keep colour, help with texture (for example when making jam), and speed up cooking time so you don’t lose too much flavour. So far, so good.
To be honest, as much as I love sugar and have a sweet tooth, I’m not keen on sugary drinks and try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. It’s not a strict rule, but I pick and chose. For this reason I prefer the Pure Leaf unsweetened tea to drink and to cook with. It’s a bit a of a purist thing because I actually want to taste the flavour of the tea itself, but I also want to control the amount of sugar in my cooking. The other flavoured varieties are also good and fun, but hopefully they’ll make unsweetned versions of them too.
Last, but not least, how about corporate social responsibility? I’m very happy to say Pure Leaf carries the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal indicating that the tea is sourced from farms that are Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and it’s all Fair Trade. So they checked that off their list too. *High five*
Now for one of the most important factors, taste. How does it actually taste? To be honest, it tastes like tea. I guess that’s a bit general because teas can be fruity and floral, but the unsweetened black tea was nutty, woody, earthy, and a bit bitter, but not in an offensive way. I know it sounds simple, and it really is, but the process of making this tea is more than meets the eye, thanks to the expertise from this guy!
One of the most exciting parts of attending the Pure Leaf event was the opportunity to meet the highly respected tea master, John Cheetham. I actually really wanted to meet him not only because his tea knowledge is incredible, but I also wanted to grill him with questions. I wanted to know why he chose to work with Pure Leaf and what exactly he does for them.
Cheetham has dedicated over 16 years of his life to studying tea and it’s not uncommon for him to taste test up to 500 cups a day. He is known to be able to pinpoint where the tea leaves were picked, what year they were picked, when they were picked and the name of the person who picked them just by blind taste testing. Okay, so I’m joking about knowing the name of the person, but the rest I’m serious about.
Tea is much like wine, chocolate, olives, and coffee beans. Selection is key, flavour profiles are intricate with nuances, and all of these ingredients vary according to terroir.
The tea leaves in Pure Leaf are hand-selected by Cheetham from India, Africa and South America. The black tea is a blend of over 10 different tea leaves from different terroir in order to achieve the desired flavour. For the amount they are producing, they would have to create a blend as well though, and the tea farmers Cheetham is working with, are ones he’s known personally even before working with Pure Leaf. This is important because I wanted to know how much control he had in tea selection.
I was actually really impressed they had a dedicated tea master selecting the leaves because I was picturing a million tea bags soaking in a giant swimming pool – not so special. Luckily, it’s not the case.
It’s challenging not to think negatively when it comes to bigger corporations and national brand names sometimes. I think of volume, compromise in quality, cheap labour costs, disregard for the environment, cost-cutting etc., and it’s really not fair. Every company is built differently and the values and direction of Pure Leaf are ones I can respect and drink to.
So what can you expect with this partnership? Well nothing changes with Follow Me Foodie and the voice will always stay the same, but you can be sure to see some Pure Leaf inspired recipes, contest giveaways, and more! I have plenty of ideas brewing, but you’ll have to come back and see!
Lemongrass-Scented Rice Noodle Salad with Mint and Cilantro
By Gail Simmons
1 shallot, thinly sliced and separated into rings
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
8 oz vermicelli rice noodles
4 ¼ cups Pure Leaf Unsweetened Iced Tea, divided
4 cups water
1 lemongrass stalk, peeled and trimmed into two 2–3 inch pieces, one half of pieces bruised using the back of a knife, one half finely chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves, 10 stems reserved
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, half sliced, half finely chopped
2 small Thai chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped or ½ teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 hothouse cucumber, cut into matchsticks or shredded lengthwise on a mandoline
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks or shredded lengthwise on a mandoline
6 radishes, cut into matchsticks or shredded on a mandoline
¼ cup mint, coarsely chopped
¼ cup dry-roasted peanuts, crushed
1 pound cooked shrimp or shredded rotisserie chicken, optional
Heat canola oil in a medium sauté pan until just before smoking. In a shallow bowl, toss shallots with flour, shaking off any excess. Fry shallots in oil, stirring gently until golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Season immediately with ½ teaspoon salt.
In a large saucepan, combine 4 cups Iced Tea, water, bruised lemongrass, sliced ginger, 10 cilantro stems and remaining teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add rice noodles and cook until just tender, about 7 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water until chilled. Shake out any excess water and spread noodles on a paper towel-lined tray.
For dressing, combine reserved lemongrass, reserved ginger, chiles, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and remaining ¼ cup Iced Tea in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.
Place noodles, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, mint, cilantro leaves and chicken or shrimp (if desired) in a large bowl. Add dressing to taste and toss well. Garnish with fried shallots and crushed peanuts before serving.
Note: Any remaining dressing can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week and used on meat, fish and salads.
By Gail Simmons
Canola oil for grill
1 pink grapefruit, quartered
½ cup Pure Leaf Sweet Tea*
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon fine smoked salt
*This is a U.S. SKU. To adapt this recipe for Canadians, consider subbing in Pure Leaf Lemon or Raspberry flavours.
Heat a grill pan to medium high heat and brush with canola oil. Add quartered grapefruit, flesh side down, and grill until well charred, 2–3 minutes per cut side. Remove from grill and allow to cool.
Juice grapefruit, straining seeds and reserving one juiced wedge. In a cocktail shaker, muddle together charred grapefruit juice and cilantro. Add Sweet Tea and plenty of ice and shake until well chilled.
Rub the rim of two rocks glasses with the reserved grapefruit wedge. Spread the smoked salt on a plate and swirl the rims of each glass through the salt to coat. Add ice to glasses.
Strain the grapefruit/tea mixture into the glasses. Garnish each with a few cilantro leaves and serve immediately.
Optional: Add 2 oz mezcal to mixture before shaking.