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Food & Wine

5 Things to Love at the Restaurants Canada Show

April 26, 2016
Pluck Tea Southbrook Berry Blend

If you work in the restaurant industry in Canada, the Restaurants Canada show is one of the best events of the year. It’s a fun and informative opportunity to learn about new products and services that can improve your business and impress your customers. A trade event, which is only open to those in the restaurant industry, it’s a great way to track emerging trends and find new and delicious things to add to menus. Here are a few things I hope will be appearing at local eateries soon.

Sloane Tea artisanal tea blends1.    Artisanal teas – I’ve long been a fan of Toronto’s Pluck Tea, who were once again showcasing their products here. Sloane Teas also had a booth and I was torn between two of the best cups of tea a girl could ask for – they’re both delicious. I hope more restaurants will start to realize that having quality tea available is just as important as having good bottles of wine on the list.

PEI Mussels on Mondays are a great option2.    PEI Mussels – While I’m all about oysters, I have to admit I don’t eat enough mussels. So I was pleased to see PEI Mussels making a case for restaurants to choose Canadian and offer more options. I’m hoping Canuck mussels in white wine sauce will start appearing on more menus soon.


Pure Leaf iced tea offers unsweetened options3.    Unsweetened iced tea. When I gave up sugar-sweetened drinks in September, I missed having a cold beverage to sip. Enter Pure Leaf. I like the black tea with a little milk as an alternative to soda or juice and I really enjoyed trying the new unsweetened green tea. While I usually like a glass of wine with my restaurant meals, this is a great option when you’re going for a non-alcoholic beverage. What do I need to do to get this offered at the salad place where I gravitate for lunch on days I don’t bring my own?
William Street Beer Company Ontario brewery

4.    Local craft beer. It’s everywhere these days and I love seeing restaurants supporting local breweries. From William Street Beer Co. to Mackinnon Brothers, to High Park Brewing and everything in between, there was lots of local goodness on display. Shawn and I are already planning a few weekend trips to visit some of the Ontario communities that have joined the beer revolution.
Fever Tree Tonic Water and Ginger Ale

5.    Good quality mixers. So Fever Tree is far from new, but ever since I took my recent Spirits course, I’ve been obsessed with cocktails made with high-quality ingredients. While Fever Tree does have sugar, putting it on my very, very occasional treat list, it’s so much better for my body than a cheap tonic. I can understand the ingredients in the bottel and it just creates a much more high-quality (but not inexpensive) cocktail.

What are you hoping to see more of at restaurants in the year to come? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social!

Food & Wine

Wine and Tea – Pluck Tea’s Unique Blends

April 18, 2015
Pluck Teas Founder Jennifer Commins

There is only one item more plentiful in our house than wine—tea. My cupboards truly runneth over with little bags and jars of loose leaf tea. I think tea, like wine, appeals to the part of my brain that likes to combine flavours and textures to create a unique drinking experience. As with wine, loose leaf tea has the potential to be truly magical.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Pluck Tea, a Canadian company creating blends that take tea to the next level. There’s nothing worse than enjoying a lovely meal at a restaurant and having a wine list full of inexpensive plonk, or a tea list that consists of cheap bags of orange pekoe. A brilliant glass of wine can bring a meal to life, and a splendid cup of tea just makes everything better.

Pluck Teas’ founder, Jennifer Commins, gets that. A tea sommelier, her company is founded on the idea that tea should be special. She uses the best quality teas from around the world, combined with local ingredients to create what she describes as, “one-of-a-kind tea blends as distinct and unique as a well-aged wine.”

Pluck Teas Southbrook Blend
The Southbrook blend

And to make the wine connection even stronger, Jennifer has partnered with wine companies on at least two of her blends: Niagara Icewine, which combines Ontario Icewine with a peachy base of white tea, and Southbrook Berry Blend, which is made using grape skins from Southbrook Vineyards in Niagara.

Pluck’s decision to partner with Southbook was what first caught my eye – the delicious burst of fruit flavour this tea brings to my mug sold me completely. I loved how Pluck captured some of the unique qualities of a fruity red wine in a fantastic cup of tea. I was equally impressed with the Spirit Tree Crab Apple blend, which combines green tea and cinnamon spice with fire-roasted apple pressings from the Caledon-area apple cidery.

“Pluck is always on the lookout for local growers to supply delicious products that can be integrated into our teas,” says Jennifer. “In the case of Southbook and Spirit Tree, not only are these products delicious, but in both cases Pluck is able to rescue a by-product of their core (pardon the pun) business: grape skins from Southbook and apple pressings from Spirit Tree.

“I approached Bill at Southbrook in the early days after steeping up some of their BioFlavia product (finely ground grape skins) and he was able to divert whole dried skins to Pluck for our production. In the case of Spirit Tree, they reached out to me directly with some samples of apple pressings in hand and we created a Spirit Tree holiday blend. Beyond the ingredients themselves, both of these companies are run by fantastic people who truly ‘get it’ when it comes to sustainability. I feel very fortunate to work with them.”

Pluck Teas and Southbrook wine work so well together
Jennifer and Bill at Southbrook

The feeling is mutual for Southbook’s owner, Bill Redelmeier. “We at Southbook really appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Jennifer at Pluck Tea. Her total devotion to maintaining high quality standards, and creating compellingly delicious beverages, aligns perfectly with my own goals,” he says. “We also identify with her spirit of independence, and pluck, in competing in a market dominated by multi-national brands, by focusing on building relationships with our local community.”

Pluck Teas Earl Gray Cream
I’m a sucker for a great Earl Gray

The fact that Pluck takes advantage of ingredients that might otherwise be wasted makes them even dearer to my heart. The company is built on an ethos of sustainability. “At Pluck, everything we do is guided by “Tea for Good.” Supporting Ethical Tea Partnership members, sourcing locally, and upcycling by-products of the local food industry all support this mission,” says Jennifer. “As we grow, I will be seeking out more and more Canadian grown ingredients to integrate into our line. We also offer a buy-back program for restaurants, where we purchase sealed teas left over from their previous supplier and donate them to The Stop—a local community centre and food bank.”

I know many of my fellow wine-lovers are also mad about tea, so I encourage you to check out these wonderful wine-inspired blends (even the ones with no connection to wine are quite fabulous). They are bursting with delicious flavours and you can feel good about supporting a company that is helping the local economy and the world around us. Pluck Tea is available via their website (the best selection), at Chapters/Indigo stores and in other select stores and restaurants across Canada.

Have you tried Pluck Tea? What was your favourite?

* Photos featuring Jennifer provided by Pluck.

Drink to your Health

Iced Tea Instead

July 20, 2012
Takeya Flash Chiller
Having kicked the iced coffee addiction into high gear this summer, I’m actively trying to find alternative options that involve less caffeine, sugar and whatever else they put in those drinks. It’s working, to a degree.
One of my biggest allies in the fight has been my Takeya Flash Chiller, which I use to make brewed iced tea. I freely admit that it was an impulse purchase. Shawn was getting his hair cut and I wandered down the hall to the David’s Tea to get an iced tea. I chatted with the girl who waited on me and was fascinated by the iced tea brewing process they used. She said I could purchase one of my own – I nodded appreciatively and paid for my drink.
But the thought stuck with me. I like cold drinks and I tend to go a bit off the rails with my calories and chemicals when I vow to stick just to water. I get bored with that and end up having a diet soda or juice – not great health options. I’ve tried cutting my juice with sparkling water and just drinking sparkling water, but neither option really worked.
So when Shawn finished his haircut, I asked him to come with me to check out the Flash Chiller and see what he thought. Surprisingly, he was on board. It was $50, though, so he made me promise that I would actually use it. And I have – a lot.
These days, I brew a pitcher on the weekend to use throughout the week. I take a glass with me in the morning and then often have one in the evening. Sometimes I go through two pitchers in a week and that’s just fine too. David’s offers a range of fantastic flavours and I like the process of making tea in my chiller. We have an IKEA brew pot too, which I use for hot tea or making iced chai tea a la Oh She Glows, but I like the Takeya one best. It’s also BPA-free, which is a big bonus for me.
I even lugged it with me to the cottage this summer – and wished I had brought more tea because I ran out after just two days. Sadly, there isn’t a David’s in cottage country.
So was it worth the cost? I think so. It’s easy-to-use and easy to clean. I also like how it’s tall and thin so it doesn’t take up a lot of space in the fridge. I am willing to pay a little more for an item if it’s something that I will get value out of (and actually use). In this case my Takeya Flash Chiller fits the bill. Using David’s Tea, however, does make this a decadent purchase. I have spent more on tea in the last few months than ever before and because it takes about 20g to brew a pitcher it is a significant investment.
But I’ve decided that if paying extra for fancy tea means that I’m not putting diet soda or sugar-laden juice in my body then I’m OK with that. And I am hopeful that over time I’ll figure out what varieties I like the best and which ones are the most cost-effective, so I’ll make better purchases.
Do you brew your own iced tea? What are some of your favourites? Do you use a home brew system or just a regular tea pot?