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I recently discovered a delicious tea from the Numi brand called Chocolate Puerh. It is magnificent. Medium caffeine, bold flavor, hints at chocolate, and won't become bitter tasting no matter how long you steep it. After I finished the first box I noticed that Numi includes a recipe for vegan cookies on the inside of the box. I'm not much of a baker, but when I do bake I like to try new and unusual recipes. These light, flavorful tea cookies are perfect not only for the vegan home but for the kosher observant Jewish home. Many a dry overtly sweet dessert have I eaten (and made myself) because a dairy-free sweet after Friday dinner, or any other meat meal, is a must with some mint tea, and there are few recipes that are actually tasty. These cookies boast subtle flavor and sweetness without understating themselves. This has become a parve standard in my home for those very reasons.

Vegan Chocolate Puerh Cookies

Preparation Time: 30 minutes – Makes 18 pieces

2 tea bags Chocolate Puerh (3 for stronger flavor)

1/3 cup all-purpose flour (can substitute 1 cup as whole wheat)

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup raw sugar

½ cup canola oil (I use coconut oil)

¼ cup Earth Balance/non-dairy spread (Earth Balance is my go-to brand for dairy-free)

½ tsp. vanilla extract

1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to a boil in a pot. Steep 1 (or two) tea bag/s for 10 minutes. Squeeze and remove. In medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and contents of other tea bag/s. In a separate bowl, mix sugar, non-dairy spread, and oil. Add vanilla extract and ¼ cup of tea. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix together until dough is slightly sticky. Add remainder of tea if dough is too crumbly. Place heaping scoop of dough using spoon onto baking pan, 1 inch apart. Push 1-2 chocolate chips into tops of each cookie. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until bottoms turn a light golden brown. The cookies should appear slightly under-done, but will firm up after standing. Enjoy!

While sipping on a mug of puerh and thoughtfully nibbling a cookie or two, I recalled the beginning of my relationship with tea. My mother gave my siblings and me an excellent home school education. So excellent an education that I fear to home school my own children because I'm not sure I have been gifted with enough patience, perseverance, or the ability to build such a comprehensive, engaging curriculum (the tales of her science experiments and nature excursions are worthy of their own post). She gave us a very thorough “British experience” for our Brit-Lit courses, we read the classic and the obscure, the ancient and the modern, there isn't a British mini-series or a BBC classic from the 70's or 80's that I haven't seen or at least heard about, and we were able to experience a bit of “real” English culture through the British foods section at the grocery store. P.G. Wodehouse's books and the adapted TV Series about Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves played a very influential role in our childhood. We were steeped in their humor, and like a good cup of tea, have retained the flavor. The list of books my mother read to us or those we read ourselves, and the many movies and/or TV series adaptations we watched is seemingly endless. What I noticed throughout them all is that though the characters and scenes changed, the tea remained.  Tea was ever present: Being sipped on, brewed, gulped, shared, spewed, sloshed, critiqued, fortified, ordered, or smelled. I began to understand that tea time was already known to be an essential part of people’s days if not hours, so I took that fact to heart, and it didn’t matter that I didn't know how to brew tea, we didn't even own decent tea, or that the only tea set we had in the house was a factory standard from an Asian grocery store. We were very far from being part of a tea “culture”, but my siblings and I tried our hand at a few teatimes together that were quiet enjoyable.

Sometime after this picture was taken and we had moved to our home in Dallas, Texas, I was inspired to make my own teatime. After I finished all of my school work, I cleared a wooden side table of two bird watching books, a notebook, one candle, and several cork coasters, grabbed a small wooden chair, took my mother’s tea set down from the cabinet above the fridge and started "brewing" some tea. Recalling my knowledge of tea and the selection we kept in the house at the time, I probably brewed some Celestial Nighttime chamomile junk that had been sitting in the cabinet for the rare time anyone in my family had a cold or Good Earth spice tea my mom occasionally drank in the winter. Don’t get me wrong, my parents had (and do still have) good taste in a lot of things, especially food and drink, but they were coffee drinkers and I was too young to go buy tea for myself, so those were the options: Good Earth spice tea or chamomile. With everything set out on the side table in front of the skinny window by the front door of the house, I poured myself a cup of tea and noshed on some pastry of a type probably unrelated to teatime. Though I can’t remember the pastry, the date, or even the exact type of tea, I can recall that “first sip” moment, and it was horrible, likely I had over-brewed the spice tea or under-brewed the chamomile. But I pushed through like a trouper. I brewed that tea and it was teatime.

Tea wasn’t just European or Asian in my memories, in fact the most frequently brewed tea in our home was Jamaica (known by different names across varies warm-weather countries in the Americas, Africa, and South Asia). As soon as the weather hinted at the summer season in Texas mothers would stock up on “pool snacks” like varieties of sodas, chips, juice boxes, and bright bags of candies. Come spring my mother started brewing Jamaica and would send us to the pool and beyond with bottles of it to keep us hydrated and filled with vitamins for the warm seasons spent running through parasitic city creeks, climbing trees, and well over eight hours a day at the community pool. Jamaica flowers when brewed make a delicious fuchsia colored tart tea. My mother would add some sugar or honey and iced it in large pitchers in the refrigerator.  To this day when I see that beige plastic pitcher in her kitchen cabinet I am hit with a bolt of summer sun, the sensation of seared feet on hot pavement, and the toxic smell of chlorine in my braid. Not only did we greatly appreciate the junky snacks our friend’s moms packed for them, but I truly believe Jamaica was the reason we didn’t die of heat stroke or jaundice.

I worked for 5 years in a tearoom called Chocolate Angel. I could write a medium-sized novel about what went on in five years in that place, but I’ll spare you. It’s important to know that my years spent in a tea house did little to advance my knowledge of tea. For boasting a decadent afternoon tea service, the tea service itself offered a sad selection of rather tropical loose leaf tea made by a small company based out of Fort Worth. None of the teas tickled my palate, but I can speak highly of the scones we served baked fresh in our bakery. As the years passed, I realized the people who made reservations for afternoon tea at a Southern inspired cafe probably didn't know what to expect nor could they have been real tea drinkers. Even my knowledge of tea drinking from my books taught me that afternoon tea was not what was offered at that cafe. No one was trained on proper brew time, tea pairing suggestions, or even how to actually serve the tea. Regardless, people came in droves and I was able to pay my way through college. It wasn’t the proudest chapter in my tea history, and I think there was at least a year after my resignation that I wasn't particularly interested in seeing tea or thinking about teatime.

So really I believe my real tea drinking years began when I met my very dearest friends. Three sisters: each more interesting as the next and all beautiful in all the ways a maid can be. Years of friendship grew into a future of intimacy like that of sisters and life-long companions. Bonds were formed, memories made, and everything we could offer the other three was shared in mutual understanding that whatever could be mine would, of course, be yours. A similar home school education and shared interests meant a shared interest in teatime. Under oath I am not permitted to divulge where some of our teatimes have occurred, but I can say that the teatimes of our most recent years have occurred in many places in the UK, in our homes, on a few rooftops, and along railroad tracks at night while star gazing and imagining what would happen if a train went flying past us on the tracks. Teatime with the “sisters” meant (and still means) true uninhibited laughter, talks of the absurd and ridiculous, speculations on the improbable, and serious consideration of current events and future plans. The tea was always present. Popovers too, but when there wasn’t time for popovers, there was always time for tea.

More recently, just before my nephew was born, I would go to my older sister’s apartment between classes and work, or on my days off, to sit with her and share over a cup of tea. Share ideas, share thoughts on this very existential child that was growing inside of her, share some chai, and share some sesame biscuits. Those afternoons spent quietly together in her apartment-sized life like two mushrooms in a forest of words, sharing cool moist dirt mean even more to me now that they are shared with a squirmy, incorrigible toddler of one and half years old who insists on sharing our tea, sesame biscuits, and conversation.

Photo credit to @springraine73 for this amazing shot. Click on the picture to follow her on Instagram for more amazing views and words.

What does teatime mean to me now? In addition to teatimes with the “sisters” and my sister, teatime is every weekday evening sitting with my husband drinking Nana (mint) tea, talking, melting our brains in front of the TV, arguing our different views on controversial topics, planning our next big adventure, or sitting quietly, separately reading our books in peaceful end-of-the-day contentment.

Currently I own a modest selection of tisane and black bag teas as well as few loose leaf options. It's nothing to invite the Queen over for, but they're very tasty and many of them pair well with chocolate Puerh cookies.

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