Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Moment to Fixate on Assam

I'm often asked what my favorite tea is, and although it's difficult to say exactly what my absolute favorite is (it can and does change daily), I do know what my favorite type of tea is.


Even the name is strong and soothing.

I like that Assam teas are typically bold, rich and malty. For those who are trying to find an alternative to a coffee habit, Assam teas can be a good option because of their robust characteristics. (Or as I like to say, a tea that kicks you in the teeth!)

While I love whole leaf, single estate teas, I also enjoy blended black teas that feature Assam as a main ingredient, most notably English or Irish Breakfast blends.

You'll find me sipping Assam - based Breakfast blends from a variety of cups or mugs ( the Rooster mug, most often), but when I'm indulging in a special, single estate or high quality Assam, it's time to bring out the white and platinum tea cup. My mother-in-law inherited this set of china, Konigl pr Tettau La Mer, from her aunt and gave it to us as our wedding china. Though we rarely use the dishes, I elevate certain cups of tea by using a beautiful cup and saucer from the set.

Some of my favorite Assams? I'm so glad you asked.

Top of my list:
Assam Black Tea No. 2 by Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Assam Hazelbank (which I can't find anywhere at the moment, much to my chagrin)
and Mokalbari Estate Assam from American Tea Room

These are teas that begin my days perfectly. They are the teas that allow me to slow down, contemplate, enjoy. They are the James Bonds of tea. Powerful, unfailingly smooth, unforgettable. (And I wouldn't mind fancying myself a Bond girl. But one of the Bond girls that doesn't end up dead. I much prefer staying alive, thank you.)

And if you find Assams overpowering, they also dress up very well (rather like a secret agent I know). A little milk and sugar, and you'll be hooked.

As I begin planning my wall of tea, you can be sure to find Assam being well-represented in the collection.

Friday, September 25, 2015

An Evening in the Jardin Moment

I hear that summer has officially ended, but as a resident of Southern California, we'll be having toasty days and sultry nights for at least a couple of months. So while many of my friends in the northern reaches are starting to enjoy warm evening tisanes and tumblers, I am in want of something chilled.

I'll enjoy a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio from time to time, but I'm wanting to avoid alcohol before bedtime. Iced tea is off limits, too, as any caffeine after 3 p.m. will keep me awake for hours.

As fortune would have it, I received a package from my friends at Palais des Thes, introducing me to their "Les Jardins" (Garden) collection of herbal infusions. From the moment I opened the package, my senses were already engaged. "Garden" is right! The delicate scents of fruits, berries, spices and flowers washed over me. My first infusion? Hanging Garden, or Jardin Suspendu.

The herbal tea bags are jumbo sized to brew an entire pot of tea with one bag. I steeped one bag in a half liter of water for about an hour at room temperature, then I removed the bag and put my steeped carafe into the refrigerator.

Night has fallen, the girls are finally in bed. It is finally my time to unwind. My first sip of chilled Hanging Garden is heavenly. The light floral bouquet with a hint of the citrus-y bergamot and the bright mango combine beautifully into a refreshing treat without being overly sweet. I'm able to sip slowly and savor the flavor and the scent.

The back door is open and the warmth of the evening drifts in lazily. I listen to the sounds of suburban California. Car doors shutting as families arrive home for the night. Giggles of the teenage girls down the street. Crickets. A rustle in the bushes from a bunny (or a skunk, though I prefer to think it's a bunny!).

Summer may be over, but warm nights on the patio with iced (herbal) tea are not.

Monday, September 21, 2015

An American Made Moment

One of the tea companies that I love the most is a 2015 Food Finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Competition!

Joseph Wesley Black Tea has made quite an impression and has quite a story, which has caught the attention of Martha Stewart's empire. If you haven't heard about this remarkable company based in Detroit, Michagan, you can read my original blog post on them here.

I love so many of Joseph Wesley's black tea, but 2 of my favorites are 02 Assam and 07 Lapsang Souchong. Please take a few moments and vote your support for this remarkable company! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Moment with Jane

I've known the name, "Jane Pettigrew," for over a decade, now. Since I very first began learning more about the world of tea, her name has been at the top of the list of leading experts and educators on the subject. Her name was on the marquee of numerous seminar and panels at the conferences I'd attended. The books that she wrote were and are known as the gold standards of tea tomes. And yet, I'd never met her.

Until now.

There's always a tiny fear when one has the opportunity to meet someone he or she has respected and/or admired from afar. What if they are snobbish or condescending? What if they are full of themselves? Jane is non of those things. In fact, I found her to be as gracious, kind and effervescent in person as I've experienced from her presentations and writings.


As we chatted on our way to the studio, I learned that she got her start in tea 33 years ago when she and some friends opened a tea shop in London. They had no experience, no knowledge... they just thought it would be a fun and interesting business. Three decades later, she is recognized as on of the foremost voices of tea, as demonstrated by her 2014 World Tea Award for Best Educator and 2015 World Tea Awards (plural!) for Best Tea Personality and Best Tea Health Advocate.

I asked her what she's working on at the moment, and she shared the progress she's making in helping to found a Tea Institute in the UK. Yes, you read that correctly. There currently is no formal institution of higher learning on the subject of tea in the UK. And she's working to remedy that!

As we waited in the green room, we shared a cup of Golden Phoenix provided by Jesse Jacobs of Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco. As we sipped this incredibly smooth tea, I sat back and enjoyed learning of more of Jane's life, growing up in London, and learning that one thing she was most excited about was flying home in time for the finale of The Proms, an 8-week summer season of classical music concerts and events that dates back to 1895. Though one can purchase tickets to an indoor seating area for the concerts, what Jane loves most is that anyone can still just "pay a fiver," bring a picnic and listen to the music in the nosebleed section, and have that access to a beautiful moment.

Once it was time to get to work, I enjoyed seeing Jane in action as much as I enjoyed chatting with her. She was kind and engaging with every person with whom she interacted. She was genuinely interested in each of them.

There's a reason Jane Pettigrew has risen to superstar status in the tea world. Yes, she is knowledgeable, and well-spoken, and talented as a speaker and author. But there is more to it. She's a lovely human being.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Down To The River Moment

It's been nearly 16 years since Gene and I packed up both of our cars and drove from Boise, Idaho to Southern California to start our new married life together. And while we enjoy the perks of living so close to the ocean, the truth is that I'm a mountain girl at heart.

Columbia River, Oregon
To scratch that itch, we used the long weekend to fly to Portland and take a mini road trip through the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon toward our final destination of Boise. As our drive began, there were lush, green pine forests in every direction. The late afternoon sky was blue with just a few fluffy white clouds, and then there was the river. The Columbia River. Surrounded alternately by steep mountains, thick forest and mossy banks, to me this is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

We stopped at Skamania Lodge (because - how great is the name?) for the night and enjoyed being right in the thick of it. Mountains. Trees. River. I soaked it in. It fed my soul.

The complete contentment of the time there made me think about my connection to other rivers. One in particular came to mind. The Doke River of Bihar, India. I've never been there, but I've met the man who has nurtured a tea garden on the banks of that river, Mr. Rajiv Lochan.

The Doke River. Photo courtesy of Doke Tea
His family recently sent me a small collection of teas, and one in particular, has become a fast favorite. Although I've enjoyed it before, it's been awhile, and that first taste...  Well, it, too, fed my soul.

Doke Black Fusion. It has everything I want in a black tea - it's hearty, on the verge of bitter. There's a slight edge that brightens it and keeps it from sliding too far down the bitter path. While it's recommended to steep for 1-2 minutes, I find (happily) that I can steep it for longer. It only grows more robust rather than astringent. I was not at all surprised to learn that this year, Doke Black Fusion won a Gold Star at the Great Taste Awards. It's just that good.

This weekend was a good reminder to me on the importance of getting back to your essentials every once in a while. What is it that immediately calms you or makes you smile. Is it a place? A friend? A macaron? A cup of tea? Whatever it is, find a moment to be there.

Feed your soul.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Hide-Away Moment

Some of my favorite words of wisdom from my Grandma Betty were, "No one's looking at you."

This was intended, I believe, to calm the overly self-conscious teens or young people within her reach, and give them a dose of reality. We are not, in fact, the center of the universe. Everyone else is so consumed with the same worry that no one's looking at anybody - they're just worried about themselves!

As school begins and there is that anxiety of kids wanting to fit in and worried that they aren't wearing the right thing or their hair isn't done the right way, it makes me want to roam random hallways of junior highs and high schools with a bull horn shouting, "No one is looking at you! You're all JUST FINE." Probably wouldn't go over very well.

Despite the truth that no one, in general, is looking at us, the growing reality is that SOMEONE is looking at us at all times. A few weekends ago, the Man o' The House discovered that had a photo of our house on their web site (even though our home is not for sale). The alarming part was that the photo was taken from a slightly aerial view of the alley side of our home (we enter our garage from the alley). Not only was our garage door open at that moment, but the photo had been taken on the day we were cleaning out our garage and staging all of our goodwill items at the mouth of the garage to be loaded into our truck and carted off.  Any casual browser on that website will have no doubt in their minds that we are a family of hoarders. Awesome.

That same weekend, we were visiting a friend's house where we all went to their neighborhood swimming pool. While our two families were enjoying the pool, along with one other couple from the neighborhood, we all heard a faint buzzing sound and realized that a drone was hovering way above us - directly above us - for a full minute. Why? I have no idea. But it was unsettling. When we got home from our outing, we discovered our neighbor test flying his own drone and the neighbor kids were running after him as though he was the Pied Piper.

One day I'm living in a normal world, and the next day I'm living amongst drones.

The next day, I flew out to Houston to teach a seminar, and when I landed I had just enough time to escape to my favorite Texas oasis, McHugh Tea Room. Kim McHugh and her staff were waiting for me, and somehow knew I was in the mood to hide away.

I was escorted to a reserved table tucked away in a corner where I could feel secluded but also have the best view of the house. From my private perch, I could look at the bench made from Kim's grandparents' headboard with a view of the outdoor patio beyond. I could quietly observe the mother and daughter enjoying a special afternoon tea together.

I could soak in the wall of black and white celebrity photos all sipping a cup of tea, and inspect and admire the beautiful hand-crafted chandelier made of glass tea cups. All the while, enjoying perfectly brewed tea and Miss Billie's mouth-watering afternoon tea recipes.

Kelly, my most gracious and accommodating server, started me off with an Irish Breakfast Tea, the perfect thing to give me some pep back in my step after a long morning of travel. The tea tray was brought out shortly thereafter, and though I tried to conduct myself with the best of manners, I'll admit I devoured the Bold Blue scone (infused with Kim's True Leaf Bold Blueberry tea blend) as though I had been raised in a barn. It was too delicious.

Next were the tea sandwiches that have this incredible magic of being both dainty and hearty. I particularly enjoyed the chicken salad with the red and green grapes, as well as the Southwest influenced open faced sandwich. I don't know what all was in there, but the savory bites were finger-licking good!

And then, of course, the desserts. Irresistible. I'm not typically a fan of desserts with nuts in them, but Miss Billie's Pecan Pie bite falls into an entirely different category. Made with local Bellaire pecans, it is a bite of heaven. As a testament to this truth, one of the local farmers traded 5 lbs of shelled pecans for the delivery of just one of Billie's pecan pies. Worth its weight in gold, I'm telling you. Then there was the snickerdoodle cheese cake bite and lemon bar. There are no words.

I did get to enjoy a few minutes of chatting with Kim about the success of the tea room. She opened her doors 2 years ago this month, and I was curious about what was the most surprising part of her business. She said that when she opened it, in her mind it was about the tea. What has happened, though, is that it's about people gathering together. The tea and food certainly keeps people coming back, but it's how people feel comfortable gathering together in this tea room that surprises and delights Kim the most. And I get it. It's a place I want to spend time in.

I wrapped up my hide-away moment with Organic Cherry Sencha. Smooth, with a light sweetness, I felt ready to face the world once more and not think about the Someone's or No One's who were or were not looking at me.

Thank you, again, to Kim, Kelly, Billie and the entire team that makes McHugh Tea Room such a special place.

To Visit:

McHugh Tea

5305 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, Texas, 77401

Lunch Served Daily 

Monday - Saturday 11AM–5PM Closed Sundays

No reservations needed for parties of 4 or less
Reservations appreciated for all parties on Saturdays

Afternoon Teas Served Daily 

Monday - Saturday 2PM–4PM*

Reservations required for all parties
2 person minimum, 12 person maximun
*last reservation taken at 4 pm

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Morning Cup Moment

I'm so grateful this morning. Grateful that my girls are healthy, grateful for my husband who makes our lives better and happier each and every day, grateful for the parents I have and for my entire family, for my friends, my home, my work...

This weekend was one full of difficult news from a variety of friends. One friend dealt with a final goodbye to her mom's ashes in a special and intimate memorial. One friend's dad is now in hospice care and the family is faced with saying goodbye. Another friend's son fell from a tree, broke his jaw, his back and partially tore his spinal cord. The family is faced with the reality that they nearly lost their son and due to a miracle, he is alive and now gearing up with a long road to recovery with the hope of gaining any feeling or movement from the waist down.

My #MorningCup of Dong Ding from TeaVivre

With these friends on my heart and mind, I'd like each of my tea friends to take a moment to raise their own cup to those for whom they are grateful. Take a photo of your tea cup and post it to Instagram with what you are grateful for today, as well as the hashtags #MorningCup and #TeaVivre. Tag me (TeaMoment), and your tribute could win one of 4 online gift cards from TeaVivre who celebrates Tea for Life every day, and is celebrating their 4th anniversary this summer.

Thank you to all of you who are a part of my life, and take a moment today to give a loved one a call, a hug, or share a cup of tea. Remember, the best moments are shared.


Note: Random drawing of eligible entries will take place on Wednesday, August 26th at noon PST. To be eligible, post an image of your cup of tea with the hashtags #MorningCup and #TeaVivre and tag my Instagram account, TeaMoment. Note of what you're grateful for is encouraged but not required.