The Boston Tea Party tasting Event

As our December monthly tea tasting topic, we couldn’t help but take advantage of the fact that December 16th is the anniversary of the ‘Destruction of the Tea’ which was later renamed to ‘The Boston Tea Party’.  For our tasting, we enjoyed the teas that were thrown into the harbor on that fateful day.  Our teas were much fresher however and without a hint of sea water!  For our welcoming tea cocktail, we embraced a historic Colonial Tea Punch.  Punches in that time in history had a much more sophisticated flavor profile from the ‘day-glo’ versions that you may remember from your college party days.  They were also typically much stronger than modern styles, but this recipe can be adjusted to your sensibilities.  The very act of icing this punch down, something that was not readily available to our colonial forefathers, will of course reduce the alcohol content.  One of our guests on leaving the tasting commented that ‘it tasted like history’.  So enjoy a taste of history on us.

Fish House Punch shown with a Colonial Era Tea Caddie

Fish House Punch

In honor of the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, we’d like to share with you a colonial favorite.  ‘Fish House Punch’ was created in 1732 at the gentleman’s club, ‘The Schuylkill Fishing Company’ in Philadelphia.  This angling club, which is still in existence, was the first of its kind in the American Colonies, and claims to be the oldest social club in the English-speaking world.  George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, as well as of course the Boston patriots, enjoyed Fish House Punch.  Who knows?  It may have been used to fortify the nerves and warm the bodies of the Tea Party participants on that fateful night. While the original 1732 formula is still secreted away at the ‘Fish House’ as the club is referred to, many recipes and variations have circulated over the last 280 years, through the colonies and beyond.

It is typically shown being diluted with either water or tea.  All written records of variations refer to either black or green tea (we used a Bohean black in our photo), which is what was available at that time, but to tease forward the flavors of the Peach Brandy, you may want to consider substituting your favorite Oolong.  The recipe shown is adapted from research by David Wondrich for Esquire Magazine.


1.5 cups superfine sugar

2 quarts water

1 quart lemon juice

2 quarts dark rum

1 quart cognac

4 ounces peach brandy

3 tablespoons full-bodied Chinese black tea leaves

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil and steep tea leaves for 5 minutes.  Strain and discard leaves. Set tea aside to cool.  In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in two cups of the water, and then incorporate the lemon juice. Add the spirits and the remaining water and tea to taste.  Place a block of ice into your bowl and let stand in a cool place for the flavors to develop for an hour or so before serving.  The ready availability of ice is a modern luxury.  Since our forefathers were typically drinking at room temperature, they would balance it with more water and tea than you might, as they did not have to account for dilution from the ice.

Note: To learn more about the history of Punch as well as modern variations, see the fall issue of TEA Magazine, or the excellent book Punch, The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich.

Photo courtesy of Julian Landa.

A Not So Lazy Summer at Apple Street Farm

As the weather cools and the green wilts, we reflect on the summer past.

To be a chef is to appreciate product – not only those with a high price tag, but also those we use everyday; the onions, carrots and lettuces of the world.  We are lucky here at L’Espalier to work with a Chef who takes his produce seriously, so much so, he grows it himself.  Chef Frank has been working the fields at Apple Street Farm for several years now with the help of a small farm crew and the occasional cook-turned-weeder.  From their labor we, who toil in the flame rather than the dirt, reap the benefits of a tomato ripened in the morning sun and served before that same sun sets.

Nathan, one of many chefs from L’Espalier to offer his labor at ASF, transfers seedlings in the greenhouse.  A very tedious job indeed.  All of the plants, not directly seeded into the ground start here.  They are raised to the required size and transferred to their permanent home in the fields.  At least once a week, but never enough, we visit the farm to plant, weed, harvest, forage, and slaughter.

From seed to seedling, to plant, and ultimately vegetable.  The amazing truth of the green world…from one seed infinity can grow.

Over the course of the growing season we are able to purchase up to 80% of our produce from ASF, during peak production.  This translates to 500-1000 pounds of fresh vegetables a week, with deliveries coming sometimes up to 5 days a week.  Of course, shear volume is not enough to satisfy the discerning chef; variety and quality is what we are truly looking for.  On any given delivery we would sort through up to 50 different varietals; everything from eggplant to onion, tomato to potato, tatsoi to sheep sorrel, strawberries to nasturtium and everything in between.  This produce drives our creativity and ultimately our daily menu.

Above our “Walk through Apple Street Farm”, a cool salad comprised of 100% ASF vegetables, lettuces, flowers, and herbs; below, “This week’s harvest with Ibérico and brown butter”.  Both with strong Bras overtones.  Both a real joy to prepare during the height of the season.  Both an expression of the best ASF has to offer.

Beyond fruits and vegetables, ASF grows many varieties of edible and decorative flowers.  Nasturtium, Bachelors Button, Calendula, Borage and many more graced the plates and tables of L’Espalier this summer.  One of my favorites, sunflowers, for their shear beauty, cut flowers, seeds, and the edible flower head once past its bloom.

And of course there is honey from the hive, a task only Chef dares to undertake…

Apple Street Farm also supplies us with dozens of multicolored eggs, heritage chickens, and Berkshire pigs for everything from charcuterie to whole roasted for our farm dinners.  As I think back to those happy summer days I wish I could have done more with the vegetables I received.  As I plan for next summer’s bounty; I hope that my creativity can match that of mother natures.  A task I am sure to lose…

A Tea Blending Event

As part of our holiday season tea events, earlier this month we had the pleasure to host an Afternoon Tea combined with a tea blending class.  Our guests all arrived to our bright and sunny Corner Room ready to create their own signature blend.  We discussed why tea blends are created, both historically and currently, as we tasted and discussed our chosen base teas.

The base teas we played with were a classic Earl Grey, scented with bergamot oil, a full bodied and rich Chinese Keemun, a bright and aromatic Darjeeling and a Chinese Green tea, Chun Mee.  We tasted each of these individually, then started to combine them in different proportions.  Once everyone decided on their base tea, or base blend, it was time to start playing for real!

We had a variety of different dried fruits, spices, flower petals and more for scenting and flavoring our signature blends.  Initial blends were all made one cup at a time so that the test blends could be tasted and tweaked as much as desired.  When a success was reached, then it was time to formalize that tea with a recipe and a name.  A new tea was born!  After each perfect blend was named, local artist and photographer Julian Landa did a calligraphy label of the tea and then a quarter pound of the new creation could be blended, packed and sealed.

Many of our guests chose to bring home multiple bags of their signature blend when it occurred to them that a pouch of their own tea blend would make a wonderful holiday gift.  Homemade gifts are always appreciated, and this was far more unique than a batch of holiday cookies and of course can be enjoyed for weeks to come.  For our guests that chose to leave with their one quarter pound of tea, I hope they still have the opportunity to share their tea with their holiday guests, pot by pot.  Here at L’Espalier we are always blending up something new and are featuring our Holiday Blend tea for this month only.  Visit L’Espalier while it is still available!

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