Delicate finger sandwiches. Fine china cups and saucers. Aromatic tea perfectly brewed. Maxine Shear and Linda French don’t just serve tea. They create an experience, and teach you how to do it yourself at home.
On Saturday, eight women gathered at Cheese Central on School Street for Keep It Simple, Sister, a lesson on how to combine cheese, chocolate and tea into a delightful gathering. French and Shear led the day as the Loose Leaf Ladies duo. Officially, they are tea educators running Possibili-teas. They met while on separate vacations with their husbands in Mendocino. The cold weather urged both to seek out a warm cup of tea, and they got to talking about their favorite varieties. They never looked back.
“People are used to drinking tea bag tear, but once they try a full leaf tea, brewed at the right temperature for the right time, there’s no turning back,” said Shear.
In 2005, the pair ran Earl Gray Manor, a tea shop in Old Sacramento, but the economy turned and their business had to change. Today, they manage a tea shop inside CR Antiques and Gifts in Pioneer, and host traveling tea events around the central valley and the foothills.
During K.I.S.S., the two prepared a lunch of caramelized fig salad, chicken mole soup, chile cheese cornbread scones, an artichoke and provolone frittata, a chocolate and cheese panini, and a prociutto and cheese tea sandwich. To wash it down, Assam tea and a hard cider punch. Assam tea comes from an area on the border between China and India, said Shear, which is essentially the international birthplace of tea. The low caffeine level released slowly in the hot water creates more alertness for a longer period of time than a cup of coffee, she said.
For dessert, guest sampled California cheeses, chocolate tarts topped with goat cheese, and a brownie based tiramisu infused with traditional Japanese green tea.
The party included two groups of sisters, a pair of tea loving friends, and a woman who had just stopped in to buy cheese and stayed for tea.
“A lot of times, when you go to tea, you spend a lot of time sitting there, eating and talking with your friends,” said Linda Albright, of Sacramento. “With Linda and Maxine, you learn something.”
Guests made up their own place settings with assorted china and a mishmash of napkins and placemats. Any of them could have been found in a thrift store or your grandmother’s cupboard.
“As long as you’re together and enjoying yourself, you’re good,” said French. “Tea doesn’t have to be hard.”
Before they took a course on pairing cheese and chocolate with teas, Shear said she and French were a unsure of the possibilities in combining such different flavors. Savory cheese and sweet chocolate can seem a strange partnership. But melted in a freshly grilled panini with marmalade, or infusing marscapone cheese with matcha tea powder for a tiramisu, and the flavors work. The key is a pairing a mild, malleable cheese with a very sweet chocolate. Melting them over toast or in a sandwich also helps.
The guests got their hands into the food by making their own bacon, bleu cheese and chocolate crostini. Hazelnut chocolate spread was smoothed onto toast, topped with the bacon and cheese. Shear popped the tray into a small oven for a minute to melt the combination before doling them back out to the class.
To make a good cup of tea and emphasize its healthy properties, the Loose Leaf Ladies recommend loose leaf teas, or pyramid style tea bags. Try steeping the same leaves for several cups to get varied flavors.
Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.