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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Moment to Discover the Secrets of the Best Chai

It's my birthday today, and I've been sitting here, enjoying a cup of my favorite Assam, thinking about tea. And chai, as it turns out.

Assam by Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Chai. I see and hear about it everywhere. The thing is, I most often hear about it terms of "chai lattes," which is kind of chai, but not quite.

What makes a good chai? What's the secret to making the Best Chai? I turned to my friend, Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea, and here are the secrets that he shared:

My wife is Indian, so whenever I go to India I take note of my wife’s aunts' various techniques and have my cousins take me to their favorite chai wallahs where I make everyone laugh with embarrassment as I ask a lot of questions and show much too much interest in process. I learned a few important lessons about masala chai (secrets that are not in my recipe) this last trip and during previous trips:  

(1) The best chai wallahs always simmer their milk for hours to reduce the water content and increase the fat content.  This is important to create a heavier and more silky “mouthfeel” as the kids like to say. 
(2) The best chai wallahs almost invariably boil their milk.  This is important because boiling the milk will actually brown the sugar. I’ve found it easiest to boil the milk before simmering (I boil it three times.  Let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a boil and then take it off the heat.  When you return the milk the fourth time, reduce the milk to simmer and let it simmer for as long as you can.) 
(3) Although the chai wallahs rarely do this, I’ve found that it’s best to infuse your milk with your spices and then add your pre-made chai/tea concentrate with a 1 to 1 ratio — instead of infusing the actual tea and adding milk.  This provides you a much longer time to allow the spices to develop as you allow the milk to thicken. 
(4) Actual milk is rarely used by the best chai wallahs. Almost all chai wallahs use evaporated milk instead of whole milk, although I’ve had occasion to have goat’s milk masala chai (in southeast asia everyone uses sweetened condensed milk).  I know it’s not fashionable with the youth, but evaporated milk creates the je ne sais quoi almost always missing in North American masala chai attempts.  — Sweetened condenses milk has a lot to offer too, but in my old age it’s just too sweet for me.  
(5) Black peppercorns are not essential but really important — much more than fresh ginger (although ginger can add something nice to a masala chai) — with that in mind, I like to add a pinch of salt to enhance some of the spices lurking in the background.
Recipe and Image by Joseph Wesley Tea

In honor of Joe's willingness to share his Chai Secrets, and because it's my birthday, I'm giving away a free copy of Joe's amazing book. The Art and Craft of Tea.

To be entered into a drawing to win a copy of this book, please vote on which chapter you would read first in his book. You may vote in the comments here, or Twitter, or Facebook or Instagram. Tag me (@teamoment). You may enter once per social media platform. The drawing will take place this Friday. January 29th at 12 p.m. Pacific Time. So, which chapter would you read first?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Moment with Snowmen

My aunt is the type of person who creates beauty wherever she goes. From painting to woodworking, to quilling, to gardening, to sewing... you name it, she can create it. In the years after I acquired my driver's license, her house would be a regular stop to say hello. There would always be snacks and fun stories, a sympathetic ear, and a new project to see. There would also be the seasonal decor.

Nearly every month, there is a new theme, reflective of the appropriate upcoming holiday or season. While we were home for the holidays, it was with great pleasure that we stopped in to see said aunt a couple of days after Christmas. January decor was in full force, which of course means... Snowmen.

Even though we had promised we were coming by just for a very short visit, there was a pot of tea and a tray of treats. And, of course, no detail was overlooked. Milk and sugar cubes - with tongs even!

It was a quick visit, a needed visit, a hearkening-back-to-old-times visit. And I'm so glad that Edie could be there to experience a glimpse of the magic that is Aunt S. Tea and cookies, some moments to play with her cousin, soaking in the beauty created by this relative that we only see a couple of times per year. It's important. It's part of who I am, of who she is, and I look forward to more of these precious moments each time we go home.

And while I can never seem to stay on top of the changing seasons in my own household, and certainly not seasonal decor, this visit has inspired me to get out the few snowmen I have. Funnily enough, 2 out of the 3 were gifts from her~