One of the most amazing things about this time of year is that suddenly a whole host of indulgent ingredients become available for us to unleash our creativity on! Whilst we will always maintain our Christmas favourites on our menu, this season really is our time to shine and concoct some truly delicious Christmas creations!
This week, we take a brief look at some of those classic flavours and ingredients - and the things that we are most excited about this season!
The Season for Mint
One of the more overlooked flavours that can be found everywhere this season from coffee to sweets is mint. Whilst candy canes might now be quite as popular in the UK as the US, mint still features prominently during this season and is not only delcious by full of other great characteristics.
Peppermint has a high oil content and it is this oil which gives peppermint its distinct menthol flavour. In order to retain as much of this oil as possible, peppermint is best harvested in the morning when the oil in the plant is richest and before it dries out throughout the day.
There are various theories on what cut is most appropriate, and we prefer large cut leaf, which is where the leaves are partially cut or broken to release oils which results in a strongly menthol cup, but also allows the subtle undertones of caramel to come through in the brewed cup which adds and extra complexity to the cup not seen with milled or whole leaf infusions.
Peppermint is famously taken for a variety of health benefits. It is said to aid digestion and concentration (in fact the Romans are said to have used is specifically for this purpose). It is also used to relieve the symptoms of headache, irritable bowel, heartburn, diverticulitis, nausea and motion sickness.
Lots of Peels
Citrus peels, most often orange peel and lemon peel are widely used as blending ingredients with teas, herbs and spices and are specially used to flavour Christmassy blends such as our Palace Christmas.
Lemon peel contains high levels of calcium and vitamin C, both of which are great for bone health, it is strong antioxidant and may aid in reducing cholesterol and heart conditions. Orange peel shares many of these qualities and is also a good source of pectin which helps to control blood sugar and appetite as well as promoting gastrointestinal health.
Orange peel is the milder and slightly sweeter of the two so blends very well with robust black teas and oolongs, as well as apple flavours, cinnamon and herbs such as chamomile. Black tea and orange blends are especially popular in the middle east and are becoming more well know in the West as well.
Lemon peel is more acidic and therefore tends to be better mixed with very strong flavours. It is excellent for improving the flavour of earl greys and actually balances out bergamot flavour somewhat, it also works very well with strong herbs and spices, particularly ginger.
Both of these resilient peels feature prominently in our Winter selection to add fruit, sweet and sour notes to strong, aromatic blends.
Aromatic & Spicy
Winter is the season for delicious, aromatic strong and spicy favours that produce warm and indulgent cups. The primary flavours used to achieve this are Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg.
Ginger is an extremely strong flavour and it seems almost impossible to turn around without finding some at this time of year, but in some ways its strong flavour can be its biggest detraction - especially to those who aren't fans! We often find that in a lot of ginger-based creations, so much ginger is used that it drowns out all other flavours which really isn't the best way for it to be used. Ginger has so many properties that make other ingredients shine by either cutting through other strong flavours, balancing others and even enhancing the natural spice and sweetness of other ingredients (especially fruit) that it seems such as shame when used in unnecessarily high quantities.
Ginger also has plenty of medicinal qualities that can relieve certain health conditions. Ginger is known for its anti viral properties and can help with digestion and many others such as nausea and arthritis pain.
Cinnamon is another common winter spice that seems to pop up everywhere at about this time of year - and why wouldn't it? It's delicious. Ginger's milder cousin is so versatile that is runs the gamut of uses: sweet, sour, savoury, aromatic, not to mention its antiviral and digestive qualities.
The real test is using cinnamon really well. It is rarely meant to be the predominent flavour when included in drinks and dishes, but this so often ends up being the case because like ginger, it is an extremely strong flavour and usually only a touch is needed in order to enhance a blend without overwhelming it.
We don't use cinnamon as much throughout the rest of the year as we do at Christmas as it is so strongly associated with this season, however as its popularity and medicinal use grows we see increasing demand year-round for this curious little bark.