Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Moment with Queen Charlotte

In honor of Queen Charlotte's birthday on May 19th, 1744, it's only fitting I write about a place that is her namesake. But first, we must start with the hero of the story. His name was Roger, and he made my day.

A speaking engagement found me in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, and as luck would have it, I was able to take advantage of a break in the agenda to seek out afternoon tea.  J threw her lot in with me, and we showed up at the Queen Charlotte Tea Room on the off chance we'd be able to get a table. When we first arrived, Roger greeted us apologetically with the news that there was no room at the inn. And indeed, the place was hopping!  We were about to say thank you and be on our way, when he asked us to just wait one more moment.

Magically, he conjured a small table out of thin air, and with that our afternoon tea began. A pot of Scottish Breakfast Tea later, and then the real decisions began. This was no ordinary tea room. This was Queen Charlotte's Tea Room, an English Tea Room complete with Shepherd's Pie and Fish and Chips on the menu. The aromas were heavenly. The Shepherd's Pie was exactly what I needed. My compliments to Chef Linda!

Afternoon tea for me is always a good thing, but afternoon tea with great company is the best. I have only spent a little bit of time with J in the past year, but she's the type of person who feels like an old friend. No topic is off limits, stories are lively and sincere, and every person who interacts with her falls head over heels in love. It's as fun to watch others enjoy her attention as it is to be the object of it.

And to be in this particular tea room. Cozy, warm, and so very British, Roger and the rest of the staff made us feel as though we were the visiting long-lost relatives. It was clear why they had a full house. I have a feeling this was the norm, rather than the exception.

Most people visit Niagara Falls for the waterfall, and I'll tell you, that's definitely a magnificent attraction. But this tea room should definitely be on your itinerary. When you need a place in which to slow down, relax and be fed, you'll find no better option than right here.

And as I told J on our way to the airport, "We'll always have Roger."

To Visit Queen Charlotte Tea Room:

5689 Main Street
Niagara Falls, ON L2G 2E5
Phone: (905)-371-1350

Mon:  Closed
Tue - Thur: 11AM - 7PM
Fri:  11AM - 8PM
Sat - Sun:  11AM - 7PM

Reservations recommended (and please tell Roger and Linda hello from me)!

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Moment of Descendants

It's official. I no longer know how to relax. Or maybe my version of relaxing is just a satisfying level of 'doing.' In any case, I was supposed to be taking it easy as I recovered from an umbilical hernia repair. Minor outpatient surgery, but recovery must occur.

I'm extremely fortunate that my parents were here to help with the girls while I attempted to rest and recover. But what does one do on a mid-Friday morning when the girls are at school and one is not allowed to work? Bring out the gong fu, of course.

In general, my parents have only been subjected to my tea hobby when I send them teas I think they would like or I bring teas with me when we come for a visit. This is the first time I got to get super nerdy about it with them.

I found it rather fitting that the tea of choice was from Tea Descendants, a family company whose roots are south of the Fujian province of China, best known for Oolong tea. One part of the family immigrated to Singapore in the early 1900's while the rest of the family stayed behind to continue the family trade of tea farming. Some of the Singapore descendants made a journey to their homeland to explore their family history, and this is where the company was born.

They sent me a gift of their Oolong No. 2 Smooth Floral Touch (talk about a descriptive name!). And that is where we began my parents' introduction to gong fu tea.

While it is fairly well known that I am a tea nerd, I am also a bit of a process nerd. In fact, my entire higher education focused on process improvement. So, it warmed the cockles of my heart to find that step-by-step instructions on how to brew the tea properly were included in the tea tin. When you steep tea in the gong fu manner, you steep it for seconds, not minutes, which goes against all of my instincts. But it makes you more mindful, more observant, more engaged in the process, the flavors, the aromas.

It was fun to hear my parents' observations of what they smelled and tasted. (We even pulled out Linda Gaylard's flavor wheel from her latest book, The Tea Book, to help us describe what we were experiencing).

The First Steep: light, spring vegetables, with a reserved floral scent.
The Second Steep: lightly roasted vegetables with green hay
The Third Steep: toasted rice, faintly similar to genmaicha
The Fourth Steep: an intensifying floral aroma, grassier notes appearing
The Fifth Steep: lessening scent, but tasting more of what we had been smelling
The Sixth Steep (which sounds like it should be a movie title): bright, slightly astringent, with a sunnier green flavor

As we steeped, we talked. It occurred to me that this was the first time in as long as I could remember that it was just me and my parents sitting and having a conversation. No siblings, no grandkids, not even a dog in sight. Just the three of us. It was so nice. It was so comfortable. That's what family is, isn't it? Or what it's supposed to be.  And maybe that's part of the "secret sauce" of Tea Descendants. When family comes together in such a harmonious way, beautiful things happen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Moment Where it All Began

"It all began when my Aunt Jane took me to Lisa’s Tea Treasures somewhere near San Jose, CA when I was entering my senior year of high school..."

For those of you who have read the "My Tea Journey" section of my blog may recognize that sentence. I had never been to an actual Tea Room until my Aunt Jane took me to this one. It was one of those experiences that shaped my aspirations and future endeavors. Yes, it was a cup of tea and a presentation of tea sandwiches and scones. But it was more. It was a moment of infinite possibilities.

Since that time, I've visited countless venues for tea around the world, but I have never returned to that very first one. Until last week. I was in Santa Clara, California to speak at a conference, and before my flight home, I decided to look up Lisa's Tea Treasures to see if it was nearby. There is now more than one location, so I decided to visit their newly opened tea room in the up and coming Santana Row.

It was a Monday afternoon and the tea room was bustling. I was ushered to a table and handed the menu, and that was where the memories came flooding back. Since my first visit, I've drafted out what my own tea house would be like. There would be a few small dining rooms, each themed in a different country. The Russian Room. The Fleur de Lis. The English Fireside Room. And here was why. Lisa's menu was deliciously themed with options of afternoon teas that reflect a variety of international tea traditions.

Unlike my afternoon tea experience with Aunt Jane, I started this tea service with a celebratory glass of sparkling wine. And then a pot of their English Breakfast tea. I noticed right away their bowl of sugar cubes and little tongs, which made me laugh as I realized that must be why I am so adamant about the necessity of cubes at afternoon tea rather than granules! I saw it there first!

Megan, my server, was a multi-tasking genius. Despite a full house, she was warm and hospitable, going out of her way to make sure each table had the best experience possible. I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy each delicious morsel of food in a cozy, beautiful tea room.

How I miss my Aunt Jane. As I sat at my table, I reminisced about the family trips we took when I was young. My parents, two brothers and I would drive from Idaho to California and run wild with my cousins, laughing and singing and eating like crazy. Aunt Jane would play her beautiful grand piano, singing a few favorite hymns or some silly children's songs. And of course, my mom and her sister would perform the German beer-drinking songs they had learned in their high school German class, which always cracked all of us up.  Those vacations always felt too short. When I got my first job in California, I would have to fly up to the Bay Area every few months, and would often drive to her house for dinner with my aunt, uncle and whatever cousins happened to be home. Then I would stay an extra hour or two and talk and talk with Aunt Jane in the wood paneled living room, the familiar grand piano in one corner, shelves of books in every direction. She was so much like my mom, it was almost as good as being home. Those visits with her kept my homesickness at bay. And when we lost her too soon, I treasured those moments even more.

In the 20-some years since my first afternoon tea experience at Lisa's Tea Treasures, I am amazed at where so many tea moments have led me. New people, new places, new flavors and fragrances. It was so fun to visit where it all began. Let's see where the next 20 years lead.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Moment with The Queen's Teapothecary

The utter gall of the email to the team left me speechless. I had not approved this next step. I had not even seen it. After letting it gnaw at me for a good part of the afternoon on the last day of my vacation, I crafted my response. It was succinct, pointed and specific. I would not be bulldozed. My authority in this arena would not be usurped!

Damage control was swift and complete. There were apologies and declarations that no harm was intended. An immediate update of all upcoming communications was sent to me and a promise of weekly such updates.

And then discovery. There, in my inbox, untouched, unnoticed from the previous week, was the email that documented from top to bottom the communication that would be going out to the team. The communication that had set off my (what could now only be called) temper tantrum.


In such moments as these, there can only be one course of action. As my colleague, Lia, always says, "When you mess up, 'fess up." So I crafted another email. This one took more time, more measure, much more responsibility, and even more courage to hit 'send.'

What tea pairs best whilst eating crow and a slice of humble pie?

This newly deflated princess turned to a recent gift of The Queen's Teapothecary to soothe a bruised and battered ego.

Isn't it interesting how viewing a thing of beauty can instantly make the world seem a little brighter? As I opened the beautiful box, I was presented with an herbal blend for every occasion. Did I need a touch of The King's Charm (a refreshing citrus mint blend) or to be wrapped up with the warm and soothing Queen Mother's Blend (with lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon and clove)? The escapist in me considered The Sleepy Princess Blend with thoughts of a nap, but in the end, I retreated with the The Queen's Favorite, a lavender and lemon verbena blend. Calming, with a bright ending, just what today's saga needed.

There has been a lot of change in the past few months in my workplace. The founder, president (and my long-time friend) said farewell to the company at the end of the year to begin a new adventure. At the same time, our parent company ramped up dedicated resources, and suddenly things on my wish list that used to take months or years to become reality are now taking weeks. There is suddenly more staff, which means I'm wearing fewer hats, which also means less involvement/knowledge in certain activities. I'm now able to focus on things that are the 'best use of my time,' and these are exciting and important changes. But even good change is change, and I'm realizing I'm not as flexible or resilient or ready to evolve as I thought I was.

What doesn't change is the comfort and consistency of a nice cup of tea. And what could be better than my own Teapothecary?

The Queen's Teapothecary is the creation of Mandalyn King, who has developed a beautiful line of  herbal infusions and floral tisanes.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Moment at the Global Tea Hut

As with many young adults, I had a window of time when I got to explore the world a little bit. I lived in Pau, France for a semester during college and took every opportunity to experience the sights and cities within my reach. One adventure led me and a couple of friends to Barcelona, Spain, where we had 2 encounters with the local police. The first was when we arrived by rental car in the city at 2 a.m. and couldn't find our hostel. We flagged down an officer and attempted to ask for directions. In return, we received a police escort to the hostel's front door. The second was when we awoke in the morning and discovered that our rental car, a cute little red Clio Renault, had been towed at some point during the night. We flagged down another officer to ask for directions on where to reclaim our car and got a ride in the back of his squad car. Quel service.

"This will go down on your permanent record"

Besides making good friends with the local authorities, we also saw some amazing things. Park Guell, Sagrada Familia cathedral, Las Ramblas. And, because I was travelling with P, it was no surprise to run into someone she knew: our next door neighbor at the hostel. (That girl knows Everyone. Literally Everyone.) Our limited budgets and humble accommodations didn't get in the way of the experience, the moments of connecting with our surroundings, and soaking it all in irrevocably.

Barthelona, Espana
My adventures these days involve fewer squad cars and nicer hotels, but there's a magic to being in a place and soaking the moment into your soul, whatever the locale may be. Perhaps that's why I was completely captivated with the Global Tea Hut, Tea and Tao Magazine.

While many tea magazines focus on traditional British afternoon tea and the associated decor and recipes (which I love, mind you), I've seen fewer publications that immerse you in the world of tea itself. This is where Global Tea Hut fills that void for those who might take a more academic or purist approach to their own tea experience.

The magazine, courtesy of the Global Tea Hut Team, arrived with a sample of Old Man Dong Ding, the highlighted tea of the month. I granted myself a half hour to sit in the morning sun, brew the Dong Ding, and be transported to Taiwan where this tea was grown, processed and finished in a time honored tradition.

Using a gaiwan, I infused the tea several times, steeping for seconds, as opposed to minutes - gong-fu style. There's an art to Gong Fu, and I'm very much a novice, but I enjoyed as each steeping took me on a journey. The flavors started deep, roasted, and nutty. As the steepings went on, the edges were worn down, the nuttiness smoothing out to a brighter tone, as though I was walking through a deep, dense forest that slowly opened up into a bright, grassy meadow.

As I sipped my tea, I journeyed through the magazine and was taken in by the stories of oolong (which means Black Dragon), and how culture and popularity nearly erased the old techniques and textures that make a true Dong Ding Oolong. One article laid out the chance meeting and a shared memory over tea, which led to the opportunity to breathe new life into an old methodology. And so, the introduction of Old Man Dong Ding, which was then in my cup. Art brought into life. My life. A beautiful moment.

 Travel is meant to expand your world, and it's nice to know that I don't always have to hop in a plane (or a rented Clio Renault) to explore new people, places and things.

*Side note - If you do want to hop in a plane and physically immerse yourself in The Global Tea Hut's world, you can visit Tea Sage Hut in Taiwan, a tea and zen center that operates purely on donations.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Moment on Who to Love

Comment here or on Instagram with whom you'd like to share a Valentine's Day cup of tea, and you'll be entered into a drawing to win The des Amants, courtesy of Palais des Thes! The drawing will take place at 5 p.m. PST, Tuesday, February 9th. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New York City Moments

New York, New York. It's a wonderful town. And it's even better when you have friends to meet you there and show you what you'd most likely never find on your own.

I was in the city for just one day and one night at the end of a pilgrimage to see one of my dearest friends who had just had her second daughter and who lives in Upstate New York. Spending a few days with P, her husband, 2 scrumptious little girls and a 5-month-old puppy was already the best Thanksgiving weekend I could have asked for. Stopping in the city was the cherry on top.

Reaching out to the Underground Tea Syndicate NYC, I was able to secure 2 rendezvous with some of my favorite tea enthusiasts. Stop number one was with Rachel Safko, a gifted writer who I've really enjoyed getting to know over the past year. There's her Scents and Sensibiliteas blog, also known as "These Foolish Things... for the Urban Romantic." She had just been doing some research and tastings for this blog post on scented teas when we met at a cafe called Fika - apropos, as my maiden name is Swedish and I'm always interested in finding a little Swedish culture where I can.

She shared fun information on the research she had been doing on scented teas, we talked about family, of mutual tea friends, and I asked for her thoughts on a research project I was thinking of. Once again, I was struck at the reality of our times. I know Rachel through her writing, through her Twitter posts, through a couple of email exchanges, and one conversation at the World Tea Expo last spring. And yet, here we met, chatting like old friends. 

Now, you may well ask what two tea lovers were doing meeting at a Swedish coffee bar. But here is where I appreciate Rachel's "sensibiliteas." Whether she knew of my Swedish descent previously or not, she introduced my not only to the cafe known as Fika, but the Swedish tradition of Fika.

Here is how the cafe defines it:
The word FIKA [fee:kah] translates into taking a coffee break to indulge in the ritual of conversation, often accompanied by something sweet or savory. Having a daily FIKA is a way of life in Sweden and an important part of the culture. It offers a way of both relaxing and staying connected. - See more at:
I love this concept. And so, we indulged in the practice, though with tea rather than coffee (of course!).

We bid each other farewell, and off I went to Rendezvous no. 2. After a few missteps, I finally found myself in front of Chalait. And as the sun began to sink behind the New York City skyline and I stepped inside, there sat Jo. And a mug of matcha. 

It had been just over 4 years earlier that I had met Jo Johnson of A Gift of Tea in New York City in a tiny tea shop called In Pursuit of Tea, which unfortunately has closed its brick and mortar shop. As I greeted her with a hug and sat down, she pointed at a shelf above her. 

Tea by In Pursuit of Tea


What to drink? Well, Jo's mug looked very interesting, so I asked to have what she was having. A Matcha Cortado,  matcha shot cut with a little steamed milk. It was fun to watch the drink being crafted. Such precision. Such care. 

 And guess what. This was my first real matcha drink. At least my first that was prepared by someone who knew what they were doing (namely, not me!). For the first time, I began to see what the fuss might be all about. This was good. This was very good.

Of course, the best was being in the company of a friend such as this. I loved hearing about the projects she was working on, the dance exhibition her daughter was planning, holiday ideas, news about mutual friends. I picked her brain about some ideas, and enjoyed each wonderful moment.

Jo demonstrating the proper "Don't bother me," NYC subway face.
I, however, am demonstrating the "I'm not from around here!" NYC subway face.
New York, New York. It truly is a wonderful town, but my moments were about the people, this time. Not the places. The stories, not the statues. I look forward to my next adventure there and the people I'll see.