IMG_2450As a purist, my tea drinking habit requires only five things: whole premium quality tea leaves, good water, a heating mechanism, a strainer, and a cup—no sweetener, no dairy (with very few exceptions), no offending lemon wedge. But lately, I have become obsessed with the flavor possibilities of sweetening my tea with honey, preferably local honey, harvested by a beekeeper within a number of different city limits, drawing on hives set up in backyards where the bees forage for nectar within a mile of the hive.

In the interest of expanding my taste horizons, I set up a honey tasting in the following way: I chose a simple tea from Sri Lanka that tastes like tea (I apologize for defining something in terms of itself, but tea drinkers will know what I mean). The tea is Kenilworth Orange Pekoe. I brewed it using 2 grams of dry leaf per 8 ounces of 212-degree F. water; steeping time: 5 minutes.

After brewing with a watchful eye, I divided the tea equally among 6 small vessels into which I had spooned small amounts of six different kinds of honey, one per vessel. (See Chart below).  I poured the tea over the honey, needing to stir vigorously in some cases where the honey had crystallized and thickened. I waited about 30 seconds and began to taste (palate-cleansing plain crackers at the ready). The results in some cases were surprising, intriguing and even delicious enough to win me over to a different way of drinking tea. Here’s what I found:

Tea and honey pairing
Raw avocado blossom

(Santa Paula, CA)

Raw alfalfa blossom

(Nevada)

Raw Meadowfoam

(Meadowfoam flowers

(Oregon)

Raw Urban from Illinois (clover and linden flowers, mainly; other flowers indeterminate) Raw Urban from Northeast Los Angeles

(multi floral; whatever was  blooming at the moment in the area)

Raw carrot blossom from

(carrot flowers over a large plot of land in Oregon)

Slightly vegetable edge

Honey dominates the tea flavor

Mildly sweet finish, inoffensive Persistent; vanilla marshmallow note, sweet lingering finish Fruit, cherry/ almond notes; Nice balance between tea and honey flavors Slightly metallic note Cotton candy notes, lingering

I chose to keep it simple but the experiment could be expanded to include more than one tea to taste with the honeys or one could choose to taste six teas with one honey and see what happens.  It’s up to you.

At the end of this process I was inspired to take my favorite honeys from the six tasted and introduce it into a baked product—buttery shortbread, the perfect accompaniment to tea, sweetened or not.

Accounting for the fact that sugar and honey have equal sweetening power, the recipe for my standard shortbread need not be changed, other than in the use of the sweetener. So here it is.

2016-06_wemischner02Honey-Topped Shortbread

6 oz (1-1/2 sticks) sweet unsalted butter, cold, plus butter as needed to grease the baking pan

2.6 oz granulated sugar (scant ¼ cup)

7-1/2 oz (approximately 1-2/3 cups) all-purpose flour

Generous pinch of salt

Your favorite honey to brush on top of the finished shortbread

Sprinkling of sea salt

Butter an 8 inch false-bottomed fluted tart pan and set aside.

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor outfitted with the steel knife attachment. Process until the mixture has been reduced to a homogeneous dry powder. Scrape the sides of the bowl once during the processing. (Do not overprocess to a paste). Place the tart pan on a sheet pan. Pour the mixture into the pan, lightly spreading it without compressing so that the mixture is distributed into an even layer. Once the mixture has been evenly spread out, press lightly using the palm of your hand to densify the mixture. Chill for 30 minutes; after 15 minutes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and use a fork or the point of a knife to dock the dough at ½ inch intervals.  Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, or until lightly golden brown, turning the pan halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Remove from the oven and brush with warmed honey, sprinkling the top with a bit of sea salt (be skimpy in the use of the topping salt; then cut immediately into 16 equal wedges. Allow to cool thoroughly before removing the wedges carefully into a container with a tightly fitting lid. Store at room temperature. The shortbread keeps fresh for a few days (more than likely it will have been consumed before that.)

I would be interested to learn which honey you have chosen to top the shortbread and which one you prefer in your tea.

Honey courtesy of Buzzed Honeys, Los Angeles, CA