Tea for All

Innkeeper Gloria Cipri-Kemer prepares sweet and savory bites.

Gloria Cipri-Kemer lifts the lid of a spice jar and offers a whiff. The heady scent of Happy Ginger — full-bodied black chai tea leaves with notes of cardamom — fills the air. One of 100 flavors she serves at her Emerald Necklace Inn & Tea Room in Fairview Park, it’s just the ticket when you’re craving something that’ll make you feel warm inside and out.

But why is it being stored in a vessel usually reserved for seasoning?

Because, Cipri-Kemer says, that’s exactly where it belongs. For her, tea is the spice of life. Meant for so much more than liquid refreshment, it can, she explains, add pizzazz to any dish.

“Cooks are led by their noses, and what it tells them can be mixed together,” the innkeeper says. “Tea is open to that imagination.

“And,” she adds, “the possibilities are endless.”

It’s easy to see why this philosophy is her mantra: In 1999, the former Disneyland hotelier purchased a two-story, 150-year-old former general store perched on a bluff overlooking the Rocky River Reservation. (The inn’s name pays homage to the Cleveland Metroparks nickname.) Over the last decade and a half, she has painstakingly transformed it into a B&B and day spa. As the establishment’s reputation is due in large part to the high tea Cipri-Kemer offers daily, it’s surprising to hear that she didn’t intend for the beverage to receive star billing.

“When I was a child, my grandmother was known for her little sandwiches and petit fours,” the innkeeper recalls. “I never focused on the tea she served as much as the ceremony of it — the pretty tablecloth, the pretty cup, the pretty shapes of the food and the fact that it looked really nice on the plates.”

As Cipri-Kemer updated the recipes for sandwiches and scones that Louisa Cipri made for her family 50 years ago, tea was relegated to an afterthought. In fact, whenever a guest requested a pot, she’d provide hot water, sugar cubes and a bag of Lipton’s.

But in 2002, a well-traveled visitor provided what the innkeeper calls “a door-opening experience.”

“This lovely lady pulled me aside,” Cipri-Kemer recalls with a grin, “and said, ‘Honey, may I suggest that you really should consider serving loose-leaf tea?’ “I looked at her with surprised eyes. Loose-leaf tea? And she said, ‘Yes, there’s a whole world out there to explore.’ ”

Cipri-Kemer was a rapt pupil. She became a fan of traditional English blends, including Earl Grey and Darjeeling. Soon, she branched out into chai, herbal and Rooibos.

It didn’t take long to become spoiled.

“When you put some loose tea in a teapot, and pour hot steeping water in, a flavor emerges like nothing you’ve ever experienced before,” Cipri-Kemer enthuses.

“All the senses,” she adds, “are heightened.”

For the innkeeper, the notion of using tea as a substitution for traditional spices in fare ranging from pasta to marinades and sweets was the natural next step. Cipri-Kemer took it six years ago when asked to participate in Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show. Since part of the exhibition’s popularity involves the plethora of samples proffered, she knew it wouldn’t be practical to serve tea in beverage form to the thousands of show attendees.

So instead, Cipri-Kemer and her son, John Berninzoni, a chef in Manhattan, set about creating something more substantial for the occasion: a tomato pesto, made with jasmine green tea. Served on bruschetta, it’s been a signature dish at the Emerald Necklace ever since.

The innkeeper has gone on to whip up smoothies made with berry-berry, an herbal tea infused with deep notes of currant; and sauce from a vanilla-cinnamon black tea that’s an ideal complement to bread pudding. Cipri-Kemer happily shares her knowledge during tea-tasting classes and is putting the finishing touches on a cookbook.

As she experiments with a hibiscus herbal tea — which boasts a refreshing, citrus flavor perfect for desserts — Cipri-Kemer offers this kitchen wisdom: “Don’t be afraid of trying something new. As with a spice, trial — and error — is the key to success.”

Emerald Necklace Inn & Tea Room is located at 18840 Lorain Rd., Fairview Park 44126. For reservations and information about classes, or to purchase tea from the inn, call 440/333-9100 or visit emeraldnecklaceinn.com.


Herbal All Fruit Tea-Chocolate Chip Scones
Makes 12–14 medium scones

4 tablespoons All Fruit tea spice*
   (or any fruit blend of herbal tea)
4 cups of water

On stove top, place All Fruit tea into a pot with 4 cups boiling water. Cover and let steep 30 minutes or until fruit is softened. Cool and separate tea from liquid. Set aside liquid for iced tea beverage.

Place softened fruit into a blender and pulsate. Remove any larger tea pieces.

For the scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1/2 cup whole oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
   (your choice of chocolate)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
   (keep egg white for topping)
1/2 cup orange juice
6 tablespoons melted butter

For topping:
1 beaten egg white
12–14 fresh raspberries or fruit of choice
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease baking sheet. Mix all dry ingredients, including chips, together in large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine eggs with 1/2 cup orange juice and melted butter. Stir together dry and wet ingredients. Add All Fruit Tea mixture, just enough to combine ingredients but not enough to overblend.

Place dough mixture (approximately 2 tablespoons) on baking sheet 2 inches apart. Brush with beaten egg white, place fresh fruit on top of dough and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15–17 minutes or until golden.

Lapsang Smoky Tea Chicken Salad
Makes 1-1/2 cups, serves 6–8

2 chicken breasts
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the rub:
3 teaspoons Lapsang Smoky tea spice*
   (or any lapsang tea)
1/4 teaspoon garlic seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste

1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease 9-by-11-inch pan. Cut breasts into strips and brush thoroughly with olive oil. Blend tea spice, garlic seasoning, black pepper and salt. Thoroughly cover chicken with mixture. Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until fully cooked. Let chicken strips cool for 10 minutes, then mince.

Put minced chicken into a bowl. Add lemon juice and mayonnaise, thoroughly blend.

Refrigerate chicken salad approximately 20 minutes before serving.

Happy Ginger Chai Mini Rolls

Makes 18–20 petite rolls

For the rolls:
1 pastry sheet (1/2 puff pastry package)
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons Happy Ginger chai tea spice*
   (or any chai tea)
3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Let puff pastry thaw for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease mini cupcake pans with butter or cooking spray. Unfold the pastry on a floured surface. Melt butter and let cool. Brush butter onto the dough. Sprinkle Happy Ginger chai tea spice and light brown sugar evenly over dough.

Roll dough tightly into a log shape. (It should be approximately 12 inches long.) Cut 1/2-inch discs from dough. Place discs into mini cupcake pan.

Bake until golden, about 8–10 minutes. Remove and cool.

For the glaze:
1 tablespoon milk
  (add 1/2 teaspoon more if consistency is too thick)

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons Happy Ginger chai tea spice*
  (or any chai tea)

For garnish:
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 teaspoon Happy Ginger chai tea spice*
  (or any chai tea)

Whisk together milk, vanilla and powdered sugar. Once blended, add Happy Ginger chai tea spice. Remove rolls and flip upside down. Top rolls with glaze and walnuts. Finish with a sprinkle of Happy Ginger chai tea spice.

*Available from Emerald Necklace Inn & Tea Room.

For more recipes and tea tips from Gloria Cipri-Kemer, click here.