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Archive for the tag “tea”

28 years abroad: All about…the Netherlands {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by my aunt Colleen Savelkouls, who was born in Pennsylvania and has resided in the Netherlands since 1984. Staying at Colleen’s house in the Netherlands has been the way I’ve slept off jetlag for every single trip I have taken to Europe since 2000. Still strong to her Pennsylvanian roots — and accustomed to welcoming family visitors of all ages — Colleen is a great reference for explaining Dutch culture to Americans and expressing what she loves about both countries.


As an elementary school child growing up in central Pennsylvania, I still remember an older Dutch woman coming to talk about Holland. All I remember was her talking about wooden shoes and windmills. After all, isn’t that what most Americans think about when they try to picture Holland today — windmills, wooden shoes, and maybe tulips?

But having lived half my life in Pennsylvania and the other half in Holland, I know that there are many misconceptions that exist. First of all, Holland Dutch and Pennsylvania Dutch are not the same. The latter derives itself from the German immigrants who moved to Pennsylvania and introduced themselves with their “Deutsch” language. Second, most stories about Holland that exist in the U.S. are not necessarily about modern Holland, but the Holland that existed during or after World War II. This was the case with the older Dutch lady that I met as a child, who had left Holland to follow her love, an American soldier. Third, the country’s official name is the Netherlands. North and South Holland are actually provinces of the Netherlands from which ships used to sail with spices and Delft porcelain to sell around the world.

Here are a few differences that I have compiled to explain modern Holland, as well as the trials of living an immigrant life.

Learning languages, learning cultures. One month after receiving my Bachelor of Arts degree in 1984, I followed love to Holland. I believed I could conquer the many cultural differences and was willing to try. I was accepted easily by the Dutch, as most people my age learn English at school. Languages abound in Holland: Dutch students begin learning English around 5th or 6th grade, and in high school, they study Dutch, English, and have at least two years of both French and German. (Students going to college often also study Latin and Greek, for a total of six languages at a time.)

However, for me to learn Dutch at age 22 proved to be more difficult than I had thought. While I am now fluent after 28 years of living in Holland, I still cannot write a letter without asking someone to check my spelling. I now have more compassion for immigrants than I once did, especially a husband and wife team who are trying to learn another language as adults. My Dutch husband can correct my writing, but, as it often does with family immigrants, it often lands on the children’s shoulders to translate. After learning Dutch, I was also surprised to find that my language skills would continue to disable me in a job. I have a university level of thinking on how to approach a job, but my language skills have decreased how I can work. I can think and speak myself into a management level, but especially at the beginning, I could not write at a management level. This was limiting and, at times, very frustrating.

Old windmill near Waspik, the Netherlands, 2010

Old windmill near Waspik, the Netherlands, June 2010

Low skies and cloudy days. The first years of living in Holland, I was always asked where I was from, what I missed most about the U.S., and what was the most difficult about living abroad. My first answer was obviously learning Dutch, but the second answer — what I missed — was the mountains. Holland is extremely flat. I also did not expect to be so affected by how far north in the hemisphere Holland is. Holland is as far north as Alaska’s most southern islands, meaning that you get short days in the winter and long days in the summer (in June the sun sets at 10 PM). Due to the Atlantic Ocean, Holland has a sea climate with rain and low clouds. All together, the winters are usually cloudy, rainy, and have only 7 to 8 hours of light! If we get snow, it usually melts fairly fast. In winters, I yearn for sunshine, although I am grateful that neither summers nor winters in Holland are extremely hot or extremely cold. I tease the Dutch that they only have spring and autumn instead of four seasons.


Sunny view from the bell tower of Oude Kerk, Delft, the Netherlands, 2010

Breaking bread and drinking coffee — together. Another aspect that I had to get used to in Holland was the coffee breaks and the eating of so much bread. The average Dutch individual — blue-collar and white-collar — eat an open slice of bread or sandwich for breakfast, have a 15-minute coffee break coffee sometime between 9 and 10 AM, eat a sandwich for lunch, have 15 minutes for coffee or tea sometime between 3 and 4 PM, eat supper, and have coffee or tea again around 8 PM. In the beginning, I thought that, with so many breaks, I could never get any work done! Now, I have come to love this time. Visitors usually come to visit for coffee or tea instead of a meal; and they usually only accept one or two cookies when sweets are offered. Taking more is considered greedy. The Dutch also have the most delicious (and healthy) bread I have ever tasted, and the aroma of Dutch coffee is phenomenal! I am addicted! Coffee time is also a time to discuss how your day has gone and to plan the next few hours. This must be why Hollanders are known to be good managers!

In addition to bread, the Dutch export excellent cheese. Delft, the Netherlands, 2010

In addition to bread, the Dutch export excellent cheese. Central Market, Delft, the Netherlands, 2010

Windmills and wooden shoes?  I would assume that maybe only 1% of the Dutch still wear wooden shoes on a farm or around the house to keep their feet dry. In contrast, the Dutch are very fashion-minded and follow the latest styles. Amsterdam is getting world-wide recognition for designs and models. Also, while there are still some old wooden windmills existing, many are not in use. Instead, there are a few provinces, especially Flevoland, filled with modern 80-yard-high windmills. This tells you how windy it can get on some days! Don’t try to keep your hair neat!

Not exactly fashion-conscious, supporting the Dutch "football" team in the World Cup. Rotterdam, 2010

Not exactly fashion-conscious, supporting the Dutch “football” team in the World Cup. Rotterdam, 2010

All in all, I have come to love Holland. I would probably have culture shock if I permanently returned to the U.S. after 28 years abroad. In Holland, I don’t have to worry about the violence of guns, and I strongly recommend the Dutch multiple political party system instead of a two-party system that divides the nation. The news in Holland is more international, whereas in the U.S. the media seems to focus just on America’s own problems. There are truly good and bad things in every country, no matter where you live.

“Pinky splint” Earl Grey sandwich cookie, Om Nom Bake Studio, Pittsburgh

Om Nom Bake Studio, October 2012

Om Nom Bake Studio, October 2012

If you’re like me, you’ve occasionally caved and bought a buttery Panera shortbread or a chocolate chip cookie from Subway only to wonder why all store-bought cookies somehow taste exactly the same. Who are we kidding– actual, homemade cookies, made from scratch, are hard to come by.

Fortunately, Om Nom Bake Studio works constantly to whip up original cookies and bars that are just as sophisticated as they are simple. Missing a classic peanut butter or your childhood Fig Newtons? Om Nom pays homage to them here. Want a straight up chocolate chip? Of course. Or, if you’re looking for a cookie to (finally) satisfy the gourmet foodie in you, try the “Naughty Chocolattie,” a smoked-chocolate cookie, the “Besto Pesto” with lime, pesto, and basil, or the “Holy Pinoli” of pine nuts and rich brown sugar.

This Earl Grey “Pinky Split” sandwich cookie above is my current favorite cookie in Pittsburgh: a delicate, crumbly short bread cookie hinted with Earl Grey, lingering in your mouth as if you’ve really been sipping the tea. Filled with a lightly whipped frosting tinted with orange and lemon, the cookies are then rolled in crunchy sugar and flecks of fresh lavender for an indulgence that’s light, balanced, and surprising. And since when can I say that about a cookie — that I was surprised?

Check out for a gloriously-full list of treats. Orders available online or on location.

Pittsburgh Public Market, The Strip District
1701 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Fridays 10 AM-4 PM
Saturdays 9 AM – 5 PM
Sundays 10 AM – 4 PM

Om Nom Bake Studio
5134 Clairton Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15236
(412) 219-2552

Prestogeorge Fine Foods, The Strip District
1719 Penn Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Delanie’s Coffee, Southside
1737 E Carson St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

720 Music, Clothing and Cafe, Lawrenceville
4405 Butler St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15201

Caramel apple latte, St. Thomas Coffee Roasters, Linglestown

Hand-crafted caramel apple latte, St. Thomas Coffee Roasters, October 2012

Hand-crafted caramel apple latte, St. Thomas Coffee Roasters, October 2012

If you want to celebrate fall but are sick of pumpkin beer, pumpkin cheesecake, and pumpkin wing sauce, try the classic caramel apple latte at St. Thomas Coffee Roasters in Linglestown as reported by The Patriot-News in late September 2012.

“In my opinion, apple is more of a fall flavor than pumpkin is,” says barista Andrea Musselman. “What we think of pumpkin is usually just a particular spice blend.”

In this drink, two espresso shots are blended with caramel and apple syrups, topped with steamed 2% milk, whipped cream, and a delicate caramel drizzle, creating a drink that’s like a caramel apple without the crunch. The in-house roasted espresso blend keeps this decadent latte from becoming too sweet.

Sip while looking out the large windows of this historic coffee shop in downtown Linglestown to truly drink in the beauty of fall, and pick up a pound or two of in-house roasted coffee or gourmet tea to take home.

St. Thomas Coffee Roasters
5951 Linglestown Road
Harrisburg, PA 17112
(717) 526-4171

Monday-Thursday: 7am-8pm
Friday-Saturday: 7am-10pm
Sunday: 9am-4pm

Friday Photo: The cozy and chill Té Café, Pittsburgh

Té Café, Pittsburgh, September 2012

Typically, my posts on this blog unfold around coffee, whether it be a review of the shakerato-style “cold jar” at Little Amps, Harrisburg, or my description of visiting a café con piernas in Santiago, Chile. For once, however, I found myself stunned by tea at the Té Café on Murray Avenue, Pittsburgh, which — amid plush cushions and a large, sunny storefront — serves more than 100 loose leaf teas along with a smattering of biscotti, muffins, and banana bread. Ranging from genmaicha, a Japanese brown rice tea, and kokeicha, a green tea made of matcha powder, to more-accessible options like chai and Moroccan mint, most teas are available in single-servings or full pots and are served with an hourglass timer to alert tea novices, like myself, when the delicate leaves have steeped long enough.

Té Café also serves unique lattes in flavors like Earl Grey or mate; gourmet coffees; smoothies; and specialty ginger, hibiscus, or lavender lemonades. It’s not the place to eat for lunch — the most hearty item on the menu is a grilled cheese — but if you’re here studying, a grilled Nutella panini or almond butter and jelly will get you through the toughest chapters.

Té Café was named the best place in Pittsburgh for “a cuppa” in Pittsburgh Magazine’s”The Best of the ‘Burgh 2011.”

Té Café
2000 Murray Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 422-8888

Friday Photo: ‘Holy basil’ seed tea, Cafe di Luna, Harrisburg

Cafe di Luna, August 2012

Cafe di Luna, August 2012

For my boyfriend Jon Hoey, a sales representative for Troegs Brewing Company, Hershey, culture can be as evident in a beverage as it is in food. This means that an international meal can be complimented by much more than regionally-grown tea or a local beer; it can include mango lassies, yogurt drinks, bubble teas, Shandy of Trinidad, bottled juice of aloe vera, and more. For me, I’m constantly surprised by how variant and creative beverages can be; the daughter of a dairy farmer, I am still just shocked to be reminded that people routinely drink more than milk.

Two weeks ago, I asked Cafe di Luna owner Ambreen Esmail what she recommended for a light, hydrating summer drink. She produced to me a cold herbal tea made of basil seeds suspended in a vibrant red syrup that was cut by a single ice cube. Made with pure cane sugar, this drink was extremely sweet and fragrantly perfumed, like bananas, flowers, or incense. According to Ambreem, basil seeds are actually considered to be holy in the Hindu faith and are widely used in Chinese and Thai beverages for their health benefits, which include regulating common digestion issues including nausea and constipation.

The drink was incredibly sweet to my taste, but I loved the rubbery, squeaky seeds, which could be slurped, chewed, or swallowed whole.

Imported bottles of basil seed tea can be also purchased at GM International Grocery on 3918 Jonestown Road as well as other local Asian and Middle Eastern food markets.

Café di Luna
1004 N. 3rd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 233-3010

Friday Photo: Going Dutch (Cookie-wise) in Central Pennsylvania

Jennie Groff displays Stroopie’s cookie press, June 2012

This article first appeared in the August 2012 issue of TheBurg, greater Harrisburg’s community newspaper.

Hold on, biscotti. Take a back seat, pizzelle. And welcome a new international cookie, the stroopwafel, to central Pennsylvania’s confection scene.

A stroopwafel is a traditional Dutch cookie, literally meaning “syrup waffle.” The “stroopie” consists of gooey caramel syrup pressed between two pie-crust-thin, cinnamon-spiced waffles. Traditionally, the cookie rests on the rim of a hot cup of coffee for a few seconds before eating to soften the caramel—an ode to taking time to eat, to drink and to be.

“My customers keep saying, ‘Oh, they’re caramel! Oh, they’re Dutch!’” said Ambreen Esmail, owner of Café di Luna on N. 3rd Street in Midtown. Esmail has carried the cookies since late June to complement her array of small batch, independently made desserts and internationally inspired coffee beverages. “Not many people have heard of stroopwafels, but they’re delicious,” she said.

Domestically, Stroopwafels are made at Stroopies, a Lancaster-based company managed by a husband and wife team, Jonathan and Jennie Groff.

“We both grew up in small family businesses, and we wanted one of our own,” Jennie said, herself the daughter of a dairy farmer. Jonathan is the son of the founders of Groff’s Candies in Lancaster.

Owners Ed McManness and Dan Perryman founded Stroopies in 2008 to make cookies and provide jobs to underprivileged men and women. They operate a branch in, of all places, Moradabad, India, with six full-time workers. Jonathan and Jennie joined the company two years ago and wanted to market the cookies in Pennsylvania. Since then, laboring in the back room of Groff’s Candies, they have made every stroopwafel from scratch.

Four cookie-size balls of homemade dough are placed on an authentic Dutch stroopwafel griddle and pressed for 80 seconds. Each waffle is transferred to a cutting board, filleted in half and drizzled with house-made caramel syrup. The halves are then pressed back together, cooled and hand-packaged.

“Our very clean hands are all over the stroopwafels that you buy,” laughed Jennie.

In addition to traditional stroopies, the Groffs offer stroopwafels dipped in Wilbur’s dark chocolate from Lititz, PA. They are experimenting with gluten-free stroopwafels, fresh pecan stroopwafels and chocolate dipped stroopwafels that are sprinkled with locally roasted espresso from Lancaster’s Square One Coffee.

There’s a balance between keeping it simple and being creative, Jonathan said, “but I do think the espresso stroopwafels are out of this world.” The couple hopes to eventually introduce a new stroopie variety each year.

Like the India branch, the couple hopes Stroopies can provide employment opportunities to immigrants in central Pennsylvania. “Specifically, we see a need among refugees that the U.S. has welcomed,” Jonathan said. “Sometimes they have a hard time finding work. We love working with internationals, so to be able to provide work for people from other parts of the world would be an enjoyable privilege for us.”

That inspires Café di Luna’s Esmail. “I promote Stroopies’ cookies because they bring people together,” she said. “So much is lost these days with the way we rush. I believe we need to go back to our values, and I try to promote products that do the same.”

105 Old Dorwart Street
Lancaster, PA 17603

Café di Luna
1004 N. 3rd St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
(717) 233-3010

Friday Photo: Arctic Fire Tea, St. Thomas Roasters, Linglestown

Following up on my recommendations on holiday crab-stuffed potato appetizers and carrot cake dessert, this week I suggest a hot drink to finish off any holiday meal — or simply to bag as a unique gift.  The Arctic Fire tea, sold in bulk at St. Thomas Coffee Roasters in Linglestown, is not only pretty to look at, black tea flecked with blue cornflower — it’s delicious to drink. Know the sensation of a York peppermint patty or an Andes mint?  It’s the same here, minus the chocolate — a vibrant blend of warming black tea layered with cooling peppermint.  I drank a cup in house and found it to be reminiscent of tiny snowflakes falling down my throat.  This tea I’d love to serve with my grandmother’s homemade sticky buns on Christmas morning: an added tinge of holiday luxury.

Also check out the in-house roasted coffee beans.  Ordering in bulk is available online.

5951 Linglestown Road
Harrisburg, PA 17112
(717) 526-4171

Monday-Thursday: 7am-8pm
Friday-Saturday: 7am-10pm
Sunday: 9am-4pm

Sixteen loose-leaf teas are available at St. Thomas Roasters, Linglestown

Tales of Pennsylvania Peppermint

A few months ago, I bought a tall can of organic dried peppermint from the Broad Street Market and tucked it into my cabinet next to the espresso machine.  I think I bought the peppermint tea purely out of nostalgia. I hadn’t drunk mint tea in years.  I, in posh old age, had graduated to chicer beverages like green tea or French pressed coffee, or–my usual at The Scholar in Harrisburg (the only place where I have a “usual” of anything)–an americano.  In 2005, I had learned to drink coffee on my aunt Colleen’s back patio in Holland while eating some gourmet European chocolate dessert and watching the sun set, and afterwards, I used to boast that learning to drink espresso was somehow intimately connected to growing up, alongside other admirably adult tasks like learning to eat with chopsticks or driving aggressively in heavy traffic.

But mint tea was actually my first hot beverage. About every other morning when my farming father got up early to milk cows at 3am, my mom would treat our entire family to a big breakfast–“dippy” eggs, toast, and homemade strawberry jam.  She had one flowered teapot that she’d fill with dried mint leaves picked from bank at the end of our lawn, and she’d fill a teacup and place the sugar bowl next to my plate.  Cradling the cup of weak-colored liquid in my palms, I’d sit with my siblings on the kitchen heat register that pumped the room full with boiling warmth.  I’d wonder what could ever be better in the world: I had a family around a kitchen table lit with yellow light, the sweetness of pink-red jam, and the way the butter-soaked toast buckled beneath the weight of egg and yolk.

In the summer, my mother would pluck fresh tea leaves from the bank and boil them in an open kettle on the stove, eventually filling a pitcher with the sugared liquid and ice cubes as a breeze fringed with the smell of cut alfalfa blew in and out of the kitchen screen door.  In July, when my grandmother picked sweet corn to sell by the dozen under the shade trees in front of my cousins’ farmhouse, my brothers, sister, cousins, and I capitalized on the increased in traffic and sold the same cold mint tea in plastic cups for 25 cents each.  One year later, when we set up the business again, we adjusted the price to 30 cents for inflation.

My older brother Chris once gathered armfuls of mint leaves and spread them on newspaper in our garage like my mother would lay out peaches to ripen, and when the tea dried, he packed the leaves carefully into plastic freezer quarts and stashed them somewhere for my mother to use.  For the rest of my junior high and high school days, dried mint tea seemed never-ending, like the Biblical story of the woman with the bottomless jar of oil which provided everything for her until she had no more pots left to fill.

But my parents eventually graduated to Eight O’Clock Coffee and I to chai lattes and Maxwell House International Cafe Decaffeinated Sugar-Free Swiss Mocha, piling the red-lidded tins around my dorm room to display my intellect and my taste in fine things.  Tea bags marked my growing up which then were replaced by fair trade coffee in wide-mouthed mugs at the Kind Cafe in Selinsgrove, Italian hot chocolate drunk with Ellen Witoff while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, then Vietnamese coffee at Garden Vietnamese in Harrisburg, as if beverages could map the footsteps of a departure.

In 2007, after accepting an English assistantship position in Talange, France, I bought espresso at 5:30am during my layover at the airport in Milan, Italy, due to a promise I’d made my boyfriend, and I sipped it standing up while surrounded by dark-haired businessmen.  From there, I flew to Luxembourg where I took a train north to sleep off my jetlag at my same aunt’s familiar home in Holland.  When I woke up–proud and adult for having traveled from Philadelphia to Milan to Luxembourg to Brussels to Rosendaal, the Netherlands, in a single day of French, Dutch, and Italian–Colleen and I drank Dutch koffee from black and white patterned mugs while sitting again on her back patio.  Afterwards, she walked me around her backyard and garden to show me the new landscaping that I hadn’t seen in two years, and Pennsylvania peppermint was there.

I don’t really remember the details–how the plants had been brought through customs, or whether or not they’d been a gift from my grandmother–but I remember that they had been from the farm in Pennsylvania. When I moved to Harrisburg in 2009, the first gift I asked my younger brother to bring was a plant of peppermint from the bank from my family’s backyard.  He brought it to me in a grocery bag with the dirt stripped from brittle roots.  I placed it carefully in a pot in the sunroom next to the Thai basil, like a ceremony.  I just watered it a moment ago.

These days, I drink peppermint tea only at nights, especially cold ones, cupping my hands around the little black and white mugs that Colleen bought me in Holland to match hers.  I drink mint tea only with honey.  As I sip, I remember making tea in the evenings in Talange with my German roommate Tobias as the French winter wind blew desolate around our apartment.  I remember the raw honey given to me that same year by a French teacher named Catherine, who had a family member had a beehive, and how certain she had been to make sure the glass jar was always refilled when I wanted more.  I remember the Moroccan tea ceremony that was performed for me on the day before I left France in 2008, with its imported mint leaves and frosted tea glasses and ritual pouring.  I think about drinking tea with Rachel Fetrow after she returned from Senegal during our junior year in college, or the tea shared with Alli Engle on the frosted winter morning when I arrived in Chile this past June.

I think about the voyages away and home again.

Metz, France, June 2010

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