Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Tea Reader Moment

Personal tea moments. Adventures in discovering new teas in foreign lands. Decisions in starting a tea venture. What Katrina Avila Munichiello has accomplished in her book, "A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time," is nothing short of delightful. It's the book I wish I could have written.

A Tea Reader is an anthology of readings focused specifically on tea, and to my absolute joy, on tea moments. It is divided into 5 types of stories, or "Steeps:" Tea Reveries, Tea Connections, Tea Rituals, Tea Careers, and Tea Travels. Each "steeping" is filled with personal accounts of a moment that impacted each author, whether a singular and special moment over tea with a dying father, a tea enhusiast's first venture into the tea houses of Japan in the 1890s, an account of inspiring tea travels for a tea mystery author, the rememberances of a New Orleans tea shop owner of the first and last days (courtesy of Hurricane Katrina) of a treasured business, and more.

Some people begin or end their day with devotions or meditations to calm and center their soul. A Tea Reader became my meditation during the past several months when, awakened from sleep due to ongoing morning sickness, I would journey to the kitchen at 3 a.m. trying to find anything to make it better. By sitting still and absorbing these stories, I was transported and able to leave my own physical ails behind.

Katrina has done a masterful job in assembling an amazing variety of personal tea stories from around the world and throughout history. There is not only "something" for everyone, but many "somethings" for every reader.

Some of my favorite readings:

I Don't Drink Tea - a woman's defense of being a coffee drinker, except in very specific instances.
A Tea Cup of Friends - the struggle to make friends and find a sense of belonging in a new town.
Comedy at the Customs with a Barrel of Water and Other Stories - an amazing insight into the beginnings of Lipton's tea empire, including blending teas to work best with each village or city's available drinking water!
The Tokaido - a journey of tea discovery through the forests and hillsides of Japan via jinrikisha, or hand carts pulled by teams of 10 men.

This is one of those bookshelf treasures that will be pulled out year after year until the pages are worn, stained with a variety of beverages or snacks, and perhaps even filled with underlines and notes in margins. And what with the holidays literally around the corner, you may want to order a copy now for the tea enthusiast in your life. They are sure to be delighted and entertained.

A Tea Reader is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (Try it! You'll love it!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Gift of Tea Moment

There are those in the world who do not see the value is social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I have found some very interesting resources, communities, and even friends as a result of exploring these venues. Case in point, when I was preparing for a trip to New York in late September I asked my Twitterverse of tea friends if they had any recommendations of tea rooms. The response from @AGiftofTea: That I must visit In Pursuit of Tea.

And so I did - with the added bonus that @AGiftofTea would meet me there!

It was with great pleasure that I met Jo-Ani Johnson and learned about her own journey with tea. Now, I could wax poetic about our time together, but as the holiday season is upon us I want to share with you her craftsmanship and creativity. And who knows? You may just find yourself able to check a few more people off of your shopping list as a result!

Jo was thoughtful enough to present me with one of her hand-crafted, tea-inspired jewelry creations. I fell in love with the delicate artistry.

To browse her collection, and delight the jewelry lover in your life, visit HERE!

In addition to her ability to craft such works of art, she also has a way with words and education. Recently, my day was made when a package arrived from Jo with the following inside:

This beautiful gift bag contains an herbal blend of tea designed for children, and an educational booklet on the historical events that led to the enjoyment of tea that we experience today. The book is simply, but beautifully illustrated (by Jo, of course!), and the tea blend is a caffeine-free rooibos-based blend that is light and fragrant enough for children to enjoy, but dark enough in color like Mom or Dad's normal cup of tea! Brilliant!

I love having such opportunities to sit with someone and learn what makes them tick, what they enjoy, and what amazing gifts and talents they bring to this world. Jo has a unique way of introducing beauty and understanding in a tangible way, and I hope you will take a moment to look, enjoy, and indulge.

Thank you, Jo, for not only introducing me to In Pursuit of Tea, while I was in New York, but also sharing your amazing story and talents with me. I look forward to seeing you again soon!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Moment In Pursuit of Tea

I feel like I'm re-joining the land of the living. Tea is tasting like tea again. I'm living on a few more items than just cereal. There is plenty to be grateful for. And in the midst of coming out of hiding, I had to travel to New York for the wedding of one of my dearest friends. Gene and I added a couple of days to the beginning of the trip to enjoy one last couple's vacation before becoming the parents of two small children where, I imagine, logistics of child care become even more complicated. I asked my twitterverse of tea friends where I should stop in for tea, and Jo (@AGiftof Tea) responded immediately with, "You've got to stop in at In Pursuit of Tea."

So, off to 33 Crosby we went. I had looked briefly at their website, but didn't know what to expect. We navigated through the streets of SoHo and finally reached the address. There was nothing to signify we'd arrived at the right place except for the simple hanging sign that read, "TEA." Inside, the tiny shop was equally as rustic in all the right ways. There was a counter where two customers were being offered samples, a couple of narrow shelves with a small display of pressed teas and teas currently available for sale. The window held a simple display of small tea pots and books. There was a bench and a stump for seating. It was as if I had been on a walk high in the mountains of Asia and had stumbled upon the simple abode of the local healer.

Mary, who was helping the two customers, greeted us cheerfully and offered us samples of the day's tea, which we accepted gratefully after having walked in a light misting rain. I was impressed with her ability to manage the decision-making of the couple in front of her and make the new couple (us) feel welcomed and engaged. I was even more impressed that she had only been working there for 6 months and yet spoke with a genuine authority and passion for the teas surrounding her.

Shortly thereafter, Sebastian Beckwith, co founder of In Pursuit of Tea, arrived and invited us to share in tasting some new arrivals as well as some old favorites. He sat in the window seat/display and invited us to take the rustic bench to his left. He then prepared the first brew, gongfu-style. Gong-fu translates, loosely, to skill and patience. By brewing a larger concentration of tea leaves for a short period of time (as short as 10-15 seconds), one can enjoy multiple infusions of the same leaves, the taste developing and changing infusion after infusion. I had been intimidated by the term and had not spent any time researching what it was, so I was delighted to discover I already owned a gong-fu style tea pot and small cups, and that the process didn't have to be complicated at all. Learn more about Gong-Fu here.

As with all folks who have created a profession in tea, I was curious about how Sebastian got his start. For him, it started with a career in adventure tourism and leading treks through Bhutan. Over time, and as his circle of friends, acquaintances and destinations grew, he found himself spending more time in tea-growing regions, such as Darjeeling, and learning more about the tea culture. A big part of his vision for his company is education - for himself and his customers - and so he spends a lot of time personally visiting the tea farms and farmers and gaining continued understanding. The teas he sells are pure leaf teas, not blends, though there is an Earl Grey available.

We must have sat with him for over an hour as he steeped, re-steeped and then introduced a new leaf, steeping and re-steeping. I enjoyed his running commentary on the different teas we sampled, as much as I enjoyed the responses to my many questions about him, his store, his company, and his tea. I also thoroughly enjoyed the continued village feel as different customers would stop in, try whatever tea he was steeping, some pulling up the tree stump to sit and talk tea for a few minutes before going on with their day. Each person was made to feel welcome, and each person left with a new nugget of knowledge in addition to their purchase.
Sebastian and Mary, In Pursuit of Tea
One of my favorite discoveries was Phoenix Honey, an oolong from the Guangdong Province in China. Both Gene and I were immediate fans. While having the signature perfumed fragrance of oolong that I have come to identify, it also verged on the side of a Chinese green tea with a faint earthy grassiness. But the magic is the hint of honey sweetness that finishes each mouthful. I'm enjoying a cup (or several) now... Gong Fu Style!
In Pursuit of Tea is a perfect example of what I love about tea exploration. It's a completely different experience than I've had in any other tea shop thus far. And my experiences barely scratch the surface of the variety of tea shops, tea rooms, tea retailers that are out there. And there's more than just the place. There are the people who create these places and experiences.

Thank you to Sebastian and Mary for your hospitality and infusions of tea and knowledge!. And thank you to Jo (@AGiftofTea) for introducing me to such a gem. (More on her to come soon!)

Visting NYC?
In Pursuit of Tea
33 Crosby St, NYC NY 10013
Phone: 646-964-5223

Open Monday - Saturday: 12:00 - 6:30 pm
Closed Sundays

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Moment of Memories

Today I finally feel ready to write about the past few weeks. It will take a few posts to totally catch up, but this is a start. My taste for tea is coming back, slowly but surely, so this morning I got adventurous and broke out my gift from Teas Etc. and brewed some Citrus Sorbet Oolong.  Today is supposed to be in the 90's, so comething citrus-y seemed appropriate.

A nice yellow-amber liquid with the lightest floral perfume that I now associate with oolongs. And, of course, the first sip... More robust than I expected, but smooth with just a hint of citrus and cream. Any more of the citrus or creaminess would have been too much, so the balance was lovely. I'm grateful to be able to drink this today. And I can't help but thank my Grandpa.

You see, while I was away in New York to attend my dear friend's wedding, I received The Phone Call from my Dad. I knew it was coming, but it certainly doesn't mean you're really ready to receive it. My Grandpa Don had passed away.

After the call, I sat in my hotel room and just thought. Out of habit, more than expecting to be able to enjoy it, I brewed a cup of tea that the hotel room provided. English Breakfast from Bigelow. To my great surprise and delight, it actually tasted GOOD! (Not that I expected a Bigelow tea to taste bad. You must understand that ALL tea has tasted terrible to me for the first 4 months of this pregnancy!!!)

In fact, my morning sickness was suddenly more manageable. I had, in the previous day or so, been able to actually think of foods that might actually taste good and stay down.  I decided it was my Grandpa's blessing to me on his way Home.

My Grandpa was one of those men who could do anything. As I learned from my Dad, Grandpa had been a soda jerk, a salesman, a police detective, a pilot, a workshop foreman, just to name a few. He had a gift of craftsmanship, having built a canoe, campers, a house in the mountains, and crafted many designs out of cast iron. He was a quiet man, but he had Presence. My older brother reminded us of how, when we were very little, Grandpa had seemed so big and scary, and how this big, brawny man's man would always lie down in the middle of the carpet of whoever's home we were in and lay perfectly still until we children would get brave enough to slowly creep over to him, and maybe even climb on him. This was his way to make us feel safe and let us approach him on our terms.

His care for his grandchildren was equally clear in my teen years. One year in particular, I went with my Dad to his annual hunting camp. Grandpa went for a few days as well in his well-appointed and comfortable RV (the facilities, of which, he made available to me - thank heavens for running water!) He had agreed to take me home at the end of the weekend so I could get back to school. Knowing he wasn't much for conversation, I admit I was dreading that 5 hour drive home. Alone. With Grandpa. I envisioned miles and miles of silence, with not even radio music to fill the void. It was looking grim. And then, somehow, conversation began. He started telling me about when he was a little boy, born in L.A. What it was like there, how they would drive the freeways and see nothing but citrus groves for miles and miles. He talked about moving to rural Idaho and the different businesses his parents tried - a chicken farm was not so successful, a motel a little more so. He talked about meeting and dating my Grandma, stories I wish I could remember with any clarity at all! I think I was so stunned by the volume of words that were issuing forth from his mouth, my mind couldn't retain much else.  I heard him speak more in that 5 hour stretch than in my whole lifetime put together.  It was heavenly.

I'm so happy he got to meet Edie and be a little part of her life. I am sad he won't meet the newest addition. But I'm so grateful for the gift of love he poured continuously on our entire family throughout our lives and for his final blessing to me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Unveiled Moment

It's September already! Where has the summer gone?

To think I haven't visited the pages of An International Tea Moment since July 25th! I hope you'll all forgive my radio silence now that the truth can be revealed. And here it is:

We're having a baby!

It's the second for us, and Edie is over the moon about it. She's convinced it's a girl and refers to the baby as "she."  After kissing my belly, she'll ask me things like, "What's she wearing right now?" Or make suggestions like, "Tomorrow I'll take my baby in her stroller and you'll take your baby in MY old stroller and we'll walk to the mailbox. All together!" ("Tomorrow" meaning any time in the future.)  My favorite moment so far, though, was when I was resting on the couch and Edie asked if the baby was cold. I assured her the baby was plenty warm, but she came back a few seconds later with a doll blanket which she arranged carefully over my newly expanding waistline.

The prospect of a brother or sister for Edie is exciting. The road to get there is, well, less than. There's the issue of morning sickness. Or as I like to think of it, "Every-minute-of-every-day-and-night-for-nine-months sickness." Each morning begins with a round or two of dry heaves. The song that goes through my head at these morning moments is a play on Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence: "Hello dry heaves my old friend. I've come to retch with you again..."  The day simply can't begin until that task is complete. Forget all you've heard about nibbling crackers before getting out of bed, or moving slowly, or sleeping with a window open. It's just a part of what my body does. Maybe because it's the only exercise I get each day. I also refer to it as my "90-Second Abs" workout.

While I could write several lengthy posts about what I can not eat, but wish I could, I won't put you through that just now. What I will say is that one of my greatest anguishes is that I have not been able to drink tea for the past several weeks! "Because of the caffeine?" you may well ask. No. Because tea tastes like cigarettes.

It is a low blow. How my taste buds have betrayed me! It is a fate worse than death on many levels. And before you start speculating, no, I don't smoke. Nor am I around anyone who smokes. Therein lies the great mystery.

I have days when a light oolong will work. I've even had some recent luck with strong, plain black tea dressed heavily with cream and a touch of sugar. Those are the happiest of moments right now. When I can catch glimpses of the solace that once was my cup of tea.

I have so many teas I'm dying to taste! A fascinating selection from a generous and adventurous Greg of Norbu Tea. Some glorious samples from the kind and knowledgeable Beth of Teas Etc. But what I taste today is not a true representation of these teas. The reviews you see from me right now will speak only of the joy in being able to keep certain blends down and achieving some level of hydration.

I'm 14 weeks into this pregnancy, and there are faint signs of hope that my taste buds are relenting. It feels like the rehabilitation process when one loses sensation or use of a limb and must work day after day to make just the tiniest promise of progress. I will keep trying. This will be restored. Tea is simply a part of who I enjoy being.

In the mean time, I read about others' experiences and keep a list of teas I will try when I feel myself again. And I read. In particular, I am luxuriating in the new book by one of my favorite tea bloggers, Katrina Avila Munichiello. The book is entitled, "A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time." It is an anthology of readings that speaks to the hearts of tea lovers. I look forward to giving a full review right here in the very near future.
So, there you have it, friends. The next weeks and possibly months of this blog may not be so tea blend-centric, but they will still celebrate the different aspects of enjoying tea. I look forward to getting back in the saddle again and enjoying many more tea moments with each of you!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Russian TEA*Vent Moment

In the life of a working Mommy, it is a rare treat to be transported on a "school night" to something completely unrelated to work or kids. In this particular case, I got to indulge in an "evening out" that included a trip to Beverly Hills and a Russian Tea Pairing TEA*Vent hosted by American Tea Room. Could the timing have been more perfect? I submit that it could not! I am knee-deep in Russian research/obsession revolving particularly around their tea and food. It was fate!

Admit it, David. You scheduled this Russian TEA*Vent just for me!
 My good friend (and L.A. local), M, joined me in the experience. The evening consisted of a brief introduction to the tea and food offerings, and then the guests (it was a full house!) were able to taste as they desired.

We started with blinis and caviar, a Russian must-have. The secret is the dollop of sour cream to balance the salty richness of the caviar. This was paired with a tea-infused White Russian cocktail.

Next, a shot glass of borscht. A bright crimson-pink puree, this was an eye-catcher. While I've had (and made) many types of borscht, this one, in my opinion, leaned toward the Moscovite borscht, with more of a pickled beet flavor and no competing ingredients. Pure beet.  A Siberian borscht is more of a beef and beet stew, hearty, chunky and completely unrefined.  To complement this sophisticated borscht, however, was the Samovar blend, a serious, smoky blend that tips its hat to a traditional Russian Caravan. It smells of camp fires and feels like you can sink your teeth into. Listening to the comments around me, this was either their least favorite or their absolute favorite. No in-betweens!

Next, a blini topped with smoked salmon, complemented by a Lapsang Souchong. While Samovar smells like camp fire, this tea tastes like campfire and leaves your throat coated in embers. While too smoky for my developing palate, there were again many enthusiasts who love-love-loved the blend.

With the savories behind us, we jumped into the sweets with scones and blood orange Romanoff jam paired with the Romanoff blend. This strong black tea blend has hints of blood orange, so the combination  was divine. I will admit that I went back for Romanoff refills more than once.

And in the tradition of saving the best for last, the most divine presentation of handmade chocolates paired with the delicately floral black tea blend, Anastasia. There was a great deal of debate in the surrounding tables on which of the last two teas was the best. But, of course, it all comes down to individual preferences. There are those who lean more toward floral undertones, and those who prefer fruit or citrus undertones. Personally, I could bounce back and forth between these two blends all day long.

The TEA*Vent is a marvelous creation: a way to introduce a variety of teas, pairings, and general knowledge to anaudience who is eager to learn and try new things. The entire presentation is sophisticated without being the least bit intimidating. Team members interacted comfortably with guests, answering questions, making suggestions, asking about favorites. It had the intimacy and interaction of a gallery opening.

But best of all, it was an Evening Out. One of my favorite environments accompanied by one of my favorite people. And, of course, we did not leave empty-handed.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Moment of Sheer Joy

There are days when I, too, would like to dress up like Tinkerbell and have a cup of tea...

...and then just laugh until my face hurt.

That's a good day, right there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

An Energetic Calm Moment

Over the holiday weekend, we journeyed to our hometown for a family reunion and also a nephew's wedding. There was a lot of eating, kids playing, visiting, laughing, and all those things you expect at large (and small) family gatherings. I drank copious amounts of iced tea to combat the excessive heat, and had a fun, though ridiculously busy, long weekend. Among one of the many little surprises was running into my jr. high algebra teacher, Mrs. Shue. I don't think I've seen her since I left the halls of Fairmont Jr. High, but there was no mistaking her long, flowing hair (though it contained a few more silvery streaks), the long, flowing skirts, and the Birks.

Mrs. Shue is something of a marvel to me. As an "A" student, math of any kind was the bane of my existence. It didn't come easily. And even once I learned a concept, it slipped out of my memory banks within weeks, if not days. Algebra I was the worst of all maths. And here was this teacher who patiently worked with me before school, during breaks, and after school, thinking of any number of ways to explain a basic concept. She didn't give up. And her ever-patient smile was always waiting. I managed a B+ that year, for which I was extremely grateful. And when I showed up at her door the following year for Algebra II, she greeted me with that same patient smile (though I think we both inwardly groaned with the thought of, "Here we go again."). We survived another hard fought year together, and I think the thing that struck me the most was not that she was so patient and persistent with me. It's that she was that patient and persistent with EVERYONE. I was one of many. She had what I think of as an 'energetic calm.' She was the Energizer Bunny of teachers, and yet had that totally feel-good calmness that washed over you as soon as you entered her classroom. It was good to see her and let her know the impact she had. It's going to take some doing, however, to call her "Dorothy," as she requested.

It was her image that was brought to mind today when I sipped Traditional Guayusa (pronounced gwhy-you-sa) for the first time today. Runa Amazon Guayusa was kind enough to send some samples to me of this infusion. A caffeinated holly leaf native to Ecuador, guayusa is purported to contain an exceptional balance of caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins, and amino acids. In my mind - an energetic calm. As I steeped the leaves, I noticed a slightly sweet, almost banana scent, which I found very interesting. My husband said it smelled like a green tea, and I could sense the tiniest grassy element. Then, the first sip. I was surprised at how it hit my palate very similarly to a mild black tea blend. The brew seemed to coat my tongue just slightly more than your average black tea, but it finished with a subtle, natural sweetness. A cup of guayusa has nearly double the caffeine of a cup of black tea, though about 30% less than a cup of coffee. A bonus is that it contains 50% more antioxidants than green tea. For those tea lovers who are looking for the benefit of additional antioxidants and caffeine, this is a very good alternative.  I'm looking forward to trying their flavored blends, such as Peppermint, Ginger Citrus, and Guayusa Spice.

It's always fun to discover how different cultures have their own version of the 'tea' tradition. I wonder if Mrs. Shue, um, Dorothy would enjoy it?

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Secret Ingredient Moment

With my current obsession mix of tea, mysteries, writing, and food, what better way to bring them all together than a visit from the author of The Teashop Girls, Laura Schaefer, who is getting ready for the release of her sequel, The Secret Ingredient! Here's a preview of what you'll find in her book:
It’s nearing the end of summer before ninth grade and Annie has been busy working as a barista at her grandmother's teashop, The Steeping Leaf.  In between serving up chai lattes and matcha frappes, Annie has gotten involved in a scone bakeoff with one of Louisa's tea suppliers. The winner gets an all-expenses paid trip to London for a tea vacation! Annie The competition is tough and sabatoge is in the air when suddenly Annie's food blog begins attracting mean comments. Then there's the whole matter of a stolen kiss with Zach Anderson in the Steeping Leaf stockroom. Could Annie's former sworn enemy become her current love interest? With the help of her two best friends, Genna and Zoe, can Annie come up with an awesome contest entry and sort out her love life before the end of the summer?

So, of course, my question for Laura was, "What is the Tea Shop Girl's ideal tea moment with friends?"

My ideal tea moment has several important ingredients. First, the tea has to be delicious...high quality loose leaf in a pretty pot, preferably steeped for 3-4 minutes. Some people who are new to tea under-steep. A lot of my favorite teas are the ones that have been blended with interesting flavors such as apricot, ginger, or even pink grapefruit. When you try herbal blends, the interesting varieties are almost endless. Next, I love having tea with cucumber sandwiches or scones. When I was writing The Secret Ingredient, I made scones many times. They're easier than you think to whip up, and they can be a perfect way to express your creativity as a baker. I started with a basic recipe and then let my mind wander...what would be good in a scone? In the book, you'll find combinations such as a sun-dried tomato, aged cheddar, bacon scone and a green apple toffee scone. I think having both sweet and savory varieties is ideal for a great tea moment.

The most important ingredient for tea is a good friend. Annie, my main character, makes it a point to meet with her two best friends Genna and Zoe every week for tea. As we get older, it gets more difficult to keep standing plans like this, but it makes life so rich. We have to make the effort. I'm in my thirties, and it's cool to notice how all my longtime friends are really making an effort to stay connected, even the ones who live in different states. Having a ritual like tea helps friends make the most out of their time together. I've also noticed that many of my friends (myself included) are really trying to live healthfully. Tea can be a part of that effort.

It occurs to me that warm weather is another great ingredient for a perfect tea moment. The Steeping Leaf, the fictional tea shop in my books, has a patio and on a summer day like today, it would be packed. Tea can been a great comfort when you have a chill, but it's also an ideal summertime beverage. I pretty much always have a pitcher of iced tea in my fridge. Summer sun, welcome to tea time!

To find out more about The Secret Ingredient, released this week, please visit

My thanks to Laura for sharing her characters' ideal tea moment with me! Congratulations on the release of your sequel to The Teashop Girls! Readers can order a copy of The Secret Ingredient right here!

Laura Schaefer

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Plain Ol' Iced Tea Moment

Here's the thing. It's summer. It's hot. And I like iced tea. Unsweetened, unfancy iced tea. Is there a slice of lemon in it? That's fine. If not, that's fine too. Whether it's a standard restaurant Lipton brew or something decidedly upscale, I am perfectly happy, perfectly content with any ol' iced tea you've got.

Edie's caterpillar making googly eyes at my iced tea.
 This right here is a hodge-podge of the last remnants of about 5 different black teas and tea blends. I won't list them for fear that the tea providers of said remnants may be offended that I mixed them with foreign leaves. That said, the result is


Sweet tea, unsweetened tea, iced, hot, black, green, white, whatever it is you enjoy, do it with gusto. For me, today, I just want some plain ol' iced tea.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Baikal Boat Moment

Drew couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for the island excursion. The sun danced on the surface of the clear lake, and there was no noise but the hum of the boat that took the party to their destination.  She gazed with wonder at Caitlin who was this morning holding court over the guests, regaling them with hilarious tales of being on set with one of Hollywood’s most notorious actors.  The entire group, who less than 24 hours earlier been ready to throw her into the lake without a life vest, was now eating out of her hand.  Laughing, admiring, and even gushing. It was a feat to be admired.
Hollywood refers to that special quality as the “It” factor. There was no doubt, Caitlin had “It,” whether she gave her brother credit for her discovery or not. Drew watched as she connected with each person, touching one person’s shoulder and leaning in as if sharing a secret, reminding another of a common acquaintance’s outrageous behavior at that one event, and dishing dirt on those celebrities that absolutely everyone loves to talk about. It was a sight to behold. She shook her head and looked out across the lake at their destination.
She could already see the canopy, table and chairs set up on the beach that Natasha had orchestrated early that morning.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Immortal Moment

I think I can say it. Summer is back. And it's sizzling hot! You may hear about the warm California sun, but these past 12 months have been strange and unpredictable. And hardly sunny.  It's been over a week now, however, and while we still have traces of June gloom in the morning (also known as the marine layer) it burns off well before noon and the heat begins to rise, rise, rise!  Oh summer, how I've missed you!

And with summer heat comes the necessity of iced tea to keep things cool. Today, I decided it's time to brew some to have on hand while I work. Not just any tea would do, however. Today I decided to go with some Immortal Green from American Tea Room. I love the description they have on their site:
In Taoism, peaches are considered to be an “elixir of life,” and there are stories of a peach tree that granted immortality to all who consumed its fruit. In modern science, Japanese green tea has been associated with longevity and wellbeing. With Immortal Green, we have combined these two elixirs in one enchanting brew.
This peach and passion fruit-infused sencha is just the right, summery balance of sweet and slightly astringent. It refreshes as well as cleanses your palate and it is equally delicious hot and iced. I'm not typically a fan of fruity teas, because they often have that sickening-ly sweet after taste. Not so with this one! That makes me so happy!

All this immortal talk brings to mind the character of Caitlin. She fancies herself the next icon in line behind Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson. But were/are they as badly behaved as this diva?

As the cars pulled up to the Baikal Museum, Drew sucked in her breath with horror. Waiting around the entrance was a pack of bona fide paparazzi.
“Keep driving!” she barked at the driver, panic rising. This is exactly what did not happen on her watch. Discreet. No published itinerary. Absolutely no paparazzi. Where was the leak? How did they know?
“No, no! Stop the car!” Caitlin screeched at Drew. “They are here for me! You’re ruining everything!”
Drew turned and stared at her. “You did this?”
Caitlin smiled at herself in her compact as she did a final make-up check.
“PETA will be crawling back to me in two seconds when they see how passionate I am about saving the Baikal dolphins.”
“Seals.” Cody said flatly.
“Whatever.” And she flung open the door, gracing the flash bulbs with her megawatt smile.
Drew stared after her, desperately trying to conjure a contingency plan.
Cody caught Drew’s attention.
“It’s okay to hate her, you know,” he said, and slowly eased himself out of the opposite door, out of the view of the cameras.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Midnight in Paris Moment

What a rare treat to have afternoon tea with a friend on a Sunday afternoon! As my friends and I have started families and continued careers, it has become more and more challenging to get together on weekends, which are now reserved for much-needed family recreation, mini vacations, and increasingly, athletic practices and games.
Our destination: Coffee, Tea and Tulips in Mission Viejo. I had taken my mom there in January while she was visiting, and I wanted my dear friend, B, to experience it as she is as much as a coffee fanatic as I am a tea one. Here was a happy spot where the two obsessions could comfortably collide. That being said, she was kind enough to agree to afternoon tea. (Next time, we'll have to experience their brunch and coffee.)

The Perfect Scone with Clotted Cream and Fig Jam

As before, we were welcomed right away, with our table reserved right by the window. B enjoyed seeing the menu for the first time, each tucked into a children's book. Don't let the touches of whimsy and eclectic decor fool you, though. This is a place for serious foodies.

"The Moody Chef," as he jokingly refers to himself, recommended their new black tea blend, Midnight in Paris. I'm a sucker for anything French, so of course I had to have it! B chose their Ginger Peachy Kean (excellent choice). And so, we delved into a chat fest of grand proportions while our Royal Tea service was prepared. First, the currant scone with cream and fig jam. Delish! Then the tiered tray of the traditional "Sandweeches" that Chef does better than anyone, anywhere. Period. The cucumber sandweech is such a refreshing balance of all traditional ingredients, plus the bread has a little firmness to it. No squishy bread here. The egg salad is hearty, flavorful, perfectly seasoned and with no egg-y smell. (They say anyone can boil an egg, but this is not entirely true. The reason boiled eggs get smelly is due to overcooking.) And then the chicken salad sandwich. I can't say I've ever paid much attention to chicken salad until my first visit here. Big chunks of chicken, savory seasoning that I could not replicate (a dash of curry, maybe?) I could eat these sandweeches all day, every day and still be as in love with them as I am at this moment.

And then there is still dessert! An apple and a blueberry tart. I will just say this: that if someone were to try and steal my share, I would not hesitate in scratching their eyes out. Yes. They are that magnificent.

And to compliment the entire experience, there is this magical tea. Midnight in Paris. It is as intoxicating as the name implies. The official description is:
Midnight in Paris (Black Tea w/vanilla, coconut, ginger)
Haven’t been to Paris? No worries, we’ll take you there! One sip of our wonderful blend of black tea splashed with natural vanilla and crème de coconut, dashes of ginger pieces, a sprinkling of bright blue cornflowers and red safflowers, and you’ll be dreaming of sipping this under the city lights in Paris saying “Je l'aime” (I like it). 
Oui, oui. Je l'aime bien!

The heady aroma is a subtle coconut backed gently with a whisper of vanilla. It's the restraint of these components that add to its power. Any one of these ingredients could easily overwhelm, but their quiet presence support and compliment each other perfectly. The first sip, always my favorite! Smooth, medium bodied, with the essence of the ginger, coconut and vanilla floating on the surface. I smell, rather than taste their presence, and I like that very much. William, our hospitable server, said that he likes to add candied ginger to it, which sweetens and enhances the ginger components of the tea. For ginger lovers, this may be your own personal crack recipe. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The end result? Not only did I drink more than one pot of this new treasure during afternoon tea, I left with 4 oz. of the blend and am on my 3rd  cup this morning. I can see this is going to be a problem. The obsession has begun.

Afternoon tea on the first weekend of summer. Friendly, welcoming service, delicious food, addictive tea, and the company of one of my favorite people. It truly doesn't get any better than this.

P.S. While they don't yet have an online store, Chef Michael said he would be happy to provide his loose leaf teas for sale via phone or email request. Did I mention Midnight in Paris is to die for?

Coffee, Tea And Tulips©25280 Marguerite Parkway at La Paz, #B2
Mission Viejo, CA 92692 – Near Steinmart in the Village Center,
across from the Mission Viejo Library / City Hall
Reservations and Information: 949/587.9988
NEW Worldly Hours: March 2011
Tuesday – Saturday 9a – 3p
Sunday 9a – 2p

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Moment of Disarray

I have over 65 different teas on my tea shelf. And I am actually getting ready to place an order for more. I'm running dangerously low on several favorites. While it may seem like 65 teas should be more than enough for even the greatest of tea fans, the reality is that I drink so much tea it's just not. But then there is the problem of storage. I now have an entire shelf in my pantry devoted to tea. It's even organized by Black, Green, Oolong, White and Infusions. But I'm finding I still need a space for Pu-Ehr. And my bins are in need of a good straightening. Tea seems to be in complete disarray!

As is my writing. The real crux of the matter has not yet occurred, though I'm getting close. And in the mean time, there are a lot of minor character interactions that seem to be important, even though I don't know quite where they belong yet. I've got random conversations floating around in my mind as disorganized as my tea shelf currently seems to be. Maybe it's a sign. Clean tea shelf. Clear thoughts. Here are some examples.

Drew was grateful for a free day where she was not required to be anywhere at any particular time. Local maps and drivers have been made available to all of her guests, as well as direct phone access to her. While she fully expected several calls throughout the day, there would be plenty of solitude.  She sat at a small bistro table off of the hotel lobby taking her morning tea, just accessible enough to any of her guests who needed a word before departing.
She heard, rather than saw, her first guests.
“I don’t care what you do! Go find some pretty boys to play doctor with.,“ Caitlin jeered at someone, most likely her brother. Drew could overhear a sharp response, but couldn’t make out the words.
“Why I take pity on you is beyond me. Now shut up, here he comes. One more word and you’re cut off. Period.” Suddenly the syrup turned on. “There you are, Anatoli!”
So Anatoli was taking Caitlin on a private tour today. Interesting.
Cody came rushing by her table and knocked over the empty chair. Fumbling to set it upright, he blushed crimson when he saw who occupied the other chair.
“S-s-sorry. I just..” He shrugged his shoulders and appeared to be thinking of any way to exit gracefully.
“Don’t worry about it. Have a seat and try some of these blinis. They are to die for. Can I pour you some tea?”
She could see he wanted more than anything to get out of there, but she was dying of curiosity to understand this brother-sister celebrity train wreck a little more.
Finally, he sat down and forced a smile of thanks. Drew flagged down a server and requested another order of blinis and was about to ask for another pot of tea when Cody interrupted the order and asked almost sheepishly, “Would you be totally offended if I just got some black coffee?”
Drew laughed.
“Go for it!”
Drew watched him as he fidgeted in his chair.
“How is the tour treating you so far?” she asked gently.
“The tour guide is fantastic,” he said with a wink at her.  “My travel companion leaves much to be desired, though that probably comes as no shock to you.” He said this matter-of-fact, much to Drew’s surprise. She had come to expect his behavior to be consistently of the kicked puppy variety.
“I’ve always found the phrase, ‘the price of fame,’ to be more applicable to the famous one’s friends and families.”
Cody snorted. “My price is indentured servitude and serial abuse.  All for a gamble on a trust fund, that in all honesty probably does not exist.” After looking off into space for a second, he looked directly at Drew and said, “I’m actually a pretty good stylist, you know. I actually bowed out of a Sofia Coppola movie for this. And forgive me for being a dick, but I don’t even like tea.“
Drew smiled sympathetically, not sure what he was looking for.
“It was actually me who got her first gig. I was working on a Jason Statham set, and they needed an extra girl in a bikini for a pool scene when guess-who dropped in on me to borrow some cash. I turned that piece of trash into instant treasure, and the rest is history. And here’s the thanks I get. This is the thanks I get!” He slammed his palms on the small table and stood up.
“I’m done. I think I am just about, totally done. Sorry to wreck your breakfast.” And with that, he rushed out of the hotel and disappeared.
Drew watched where he had disappeared and pondered his words. She remembered the movie that had introduced Caitlin to the Hollywood scene. She had never heard the back story. Cody was right. Some thanks he got.
As she was about to open her door, she heard raised voices and paused.
“It’s bad enough to find out Hollywood’s Bimbo is on my tea tour, of all things. But for you to flaunt your supposed conquests in everyone’s faces the entire trip…”
“Oh, there’s nothing supposed about it!”
A door slammed, and she heard Cailtin’s voice screech some choice names immediately after. She waited until all was quiet before venturing into the hallway.
“To insinuate that tragedy was anything more than just that, a tragedy, is despicable.  That girl hid her history of heart problems just to qualify as a patient. Ricardo was absolutely devastated when he learned she had died.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Tea Cup Bracelet Moment

I'm going to brazenly piggy-back off of a post from The Adventures of Junie None because I am absolutely intrigued by this idea. Tea cup bracelets.

Now, some of you may have known of these bracelets by StayGoldMaryRose, as they have been sold in Anthropologie US and UK. For me, however, this is a first. I particularly like the style of the 2nd bracelet from the left in the photo above. Small, delicate, feminine, and just unique enough to start a conversation.
Not only can you order a bracelet from their etsy store, but you can send them your own favorite tea cup and have them transform it into your own accessory.

I love such innovations. Aren't people's minds amazing?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Easing Back Into Life Moment

Even though is has been many years since I was a student, I believe I still suffer from the end-of-school year ants-in-my-pants syndrome that makes it difficult to concentrate, complete any productive task, or be willing to learn anything. And while that syndrome has a much shorter duration these days compared to my teenage years, it has been a few weeks, maybe more, since I've been able to really focus on anything from beginning to end. Today, I feel as though I'm easing back into life with an interest in learning and absorping new things. Or, at least, new tea. Or learning new things about old tea.
What better teachers than those at Norbu Tea! While they have been one of my willing mentors in my exploration of smoky teas and Russian Caravan-inspired blends, they have also encouraged my attention toward other teas with a similar gravitas. In today's case, I decided to explore their 2009 Lao Cha Tou Shu Pu-erh.

While I've enjoyed Pu-erh in the past, I didn't really know what I was drinking, so I really got a kick out of the complete education Norbu Tea provided on their website. Here is a snippet of what they share:
While it is recommended for most teas to be disposed of after a year, Pu-erh is similar to a fine wine that can improve with age. In the case of this particular "nugget," it was fermented in 2006 and given 3 years to mellow in its flavor.

Another thing I leared about Pu-Erh in other reading is that it is actually begins as a green tea grown in the Yunnan Province of China. It is the fermentation process that causes it to have a more reddish-brown liquor when steeped. Whereas I had thought it was considered to be a black tea, it is actually its own classification of tea.

As I steeped one of these precious and prized tea nuggets, I noticed the very earthy, almost compost-y, smell. Not unpleasant, but it is an active scent, not passive. The liquor is a very reddish dark brown that is nearly opaque. I love teas that have that substantial look about them. Once steeped, I sense a hint of that "fermenty" quality that I read about. Again, it is not at all unpleasant, but it does make me think of rustic scenes and settings. Sitting and looking out into the woods, or overlooking a mountain lake.  I suddenly think that sauteed mushrooms would go well with dinner tonight.

The first sip. Full, robust, grounded with a lilt of sweetness. There's a grittiness about it that makes it feel hearty yet somehow still clean. It coats your entire mouth without leaving an bitter aftertaste. and you can't stop at one cup. I steeped cup after cup, with the flavor never losing its integrity. The Norbu team claims steeping 15 times or more. I believe it.

I wonder if perhaps this would be the reviving cup of tea Drew might want after her startling discovery of Rimma Chen.

Somehow she managed to gain control of her shaking limbs and make her way back to the dining room. She stood at the door, looking around helplessly. Suddenly, Dave Armstrong  was before her, his face showing concern.
“Drew? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Are you ok?”
She shook her head. “Rimma. She’s in the bathroom. I – I think she’s dead.”
Seeing she was not joking, Dave looked around the room, beckoned Anatoli and one of the bodyguards.  Drew led them to the door of the bathroom but refused to go in. She heard the muted uproar from the men, and then saw Anatoli rush out to the telephone, yelling sharp orders into it. Dave came out minutes later and escorted Drew to an office lounge, offering her some water.
She laughed half-heartedly and said she suddenly felt so British because all she wanted was a reviving cup of tea.  He sent a curious secretary for the tea, who had followed the group down the hall but had been barred from the scene.
Natasha and Vica rushed in moments later, Vica handing her the cup of tea. Natasha exchanged hushed, sharp words with her father as a medical team entered the bathroom.
“You are alright, Mees Belmond?” Vica asked quietly. “Dreadful shock to find a body!  I bring you something else?”
As she said this, their attention was drawn by the bathroom door opening once more. Rimma Chen was wheeled out, shielded by medical personnel who appeared to be working on her as they moved. Vica craned her neck to get a look at the victim. Anatoli strode over to Drew, knelt in front of her and took her free hand.
“Mees Belmond. My dear. Please put mind at ease. Rimma Chen ees being cared for.  What fortune that you discovered her.”
Drew stared at him and blinked. “She’s not dead?”
“There, there my dear,” he said gently, patting her hand.  “Thanks to you, all is well.”
He told her to take as much time as she needed, and Natasha and Vica hovered until Drew assured them she would be just fine, especially knowing Rimma Chen was going to be alright.  Dave offered to sit with her awhile longer, so Natasha assured her that she would return to the party and look after their guests.
In the silence after everyone had left, Drew stared at the floor and Dave stared at her.
“You alright?” he asked finally.
Drew sighed and straightened up, beginning to feel embarrassed at her show of weakness, and now, apparent over-reaction.
“I’m sorry. Yes. I’m just fine. Sorry I over-reacted. I should have done something intelligent like check her pulse or see if she was breathing before I put everyone in a panic.”
“I was actually impressed with how you handled everything. You were able to get help quickly and without any of your guests knowing anything was wrong.” He smiled and squeezed her hand.
“Well, you know something is wrong. You are one of the guests.”
“Yes, but I had a meeting scheduled with Rimma Chen at the close of this event. I would have known sooner or later.”
Drew looked at him hard for a second. She wondered when he would be able to meet with Rimma Chen now.
“What’s wrong?”
“Sorry. Nothing.” She started to stand up but he stopped her.
“Nope. Something’s bugging you. Out with it.”
She sat back down and then straightened her posture.
“It’s just that… Well, I don’t know. I’ve never seen a dead body before, except at a couple of funerals. But I really thought… “
“You really believed she was dead.”
She nodded and stood up, determined to shake off the bad feeling. “I’m very glad to know I was wrong.”
Dave stood up slowly, then gave her a side squeeze. “Yes, that’s a relief, isn’t it? Now, what do you think? Ready to join the others?”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Slowing Down Moment

After enduring several days of having to "take it easy," I feel like there is nothing I would rather do than go sprinting through a field or doing some cartwheels or some such activity. But, I'll be a good girl and do as I'm told. One thing about sitting a lot is that the mind has the freedom to go in all sorts of directions. And, drinking tea is not considered a strenuous activity, so I'm probably consuming close to 2 tea pots per day of one thing or another. Plus, my Mom is in town, so there's a lot of fun to be had watching Edie and her Grammy spend time together. It was particularly fun to watch them water the garden together and see Edie's excitement of being able to pick a strawberry right off the plant and pop it in her mouth. Good stuff.

All of this observation has made me think about how people influence each other knowingly and unknowingly. Purposely and ignorantly. For better or for worse. Which brings to mind my characters. It's time they stirred the pot.

At the end of the performance, the group was ushered into a formal dining room, where they were served a more formal tea service.  A beautiful silver samovar with zavarka sat on an ornate side board. Caviar and champagne were in abundance, and Natasha and Vica, with two of Rimma Chen’s secretaries served the guests. Dave and his business partner were seated catty-corner from Drew, giving her the opportunity to admire him out of the corner of her eye. Rimma Chen ensured Dave sat on one side, while Caitlin sat on the other. Anatoli watched the governor with a thunderous expression, and Natasha seemed extra attentive and subservient to Rimma on this day, though slightly agitated.
The conversation and review of the performance was lively and fun. Today, the group seemed to prefer champagne and vodka over tea, which ratcheted up the frivolity rather significantly. Mimi demonstrated her lack of ability to even touch her toes, let alone kick up her heels as they had just witnessed from the young dancers. “Is there an enhancing surgery I can get for that, Dr. Rico?” she laughed.  “Wait!” she held up her hand. “If it’s lipo, I don’t want to hear about it!’
Dr. Valenzuela smiled good-naturedly and answered, “Mimi, you are absolutely a work of art. I wouldn’t alter a thing!”
“An abstract work of art,” Caitlin whispered too loudly to Angela.  “Not for all tastes. No wonder her husband left. He has quite an eye for art, if I do say so myself.” And she smiled smugly.
Drew noted Mimi stiffening almost imperceptibly. With the din of conversation in several languages around the room, only a few people could have heard the comment, but she was obviously one of them.
“Of course,” she continued a little louder, “Maybe the good doctor could pull a Marie-Laure and just put that work of art in the archives. Permanently!”
Angela went white and seemed to be searching for a response, when Anatoli came around and offered to show Caitlin a small display of Fabarge eggs on loan to Irkutsk.
Tea and other beverages were consumed, food was eaten, conversation and laughter abounded. This was as good a time as any to use the ladies’ room. There were the general facilities, but Rimma Chen had pulled Drew aside to show her to the private facilities adjacent to her office. Whereas the public restroom lacked things like toilet seats and toilet tissue, the private restroom provided plush accommodations, toiletries, music, comfortable seating and even the latest fashion magazines. Using the key that had been lent to her, she strode in, luxuriating in a moment of peace and solitude. As she turned the corner to enter one of the water closets, she stopped so abruptly, she nearly lost her balance. Lying face down on the smooth, marble floor with arms outstretched toward the toilet bowl lay Rimma Chen.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Smoke and Mirrors Moment

A package arrived for me last week, and it felt a little like Christmas. I opened the box and discovered a trove of teas from Greg at Norbu Tea. They had read of my Russian Caravan exploration and had some suggestions for me - and here they were now!

I've been pondering the person of Drew Belmonde, my mystery's Hollywood tea expert and amateur sleuth. One of her peculiarities is her obsession with how her face is aging. The women she looked up to in her small-town background aged natuarally, sometimes ruggedly. In her new home, all women look 37 regardless of actual age due to Botox, chemical peels, face lifts, etc. She struggles between letting nature take its course and trying to fit in. The resulting daily rituals border on compulsive. I like the idea of watching her watch herself in the mirror, sipping a smoky tea. A tea like this one.

They even provide pics of the terrace where the tea was harvested!
It is from the Spring Harvest this year. Jin Xuan Xiao Zhong, from the Janai Township, Nantou County, Taiwan. I love how Norbu Tea provides the exact origin of their teas so that people like me can research the heck out of them. They understand the tea nerd in me. In fact, each tea description makes me feel more intelligent and sophisticated just by reading them. I learned that this tea, while a spin on the Lapsang Souchong of China, was smoked using sugar cane stalks rather than the traditional pine logs, and therefore has a carmelized, smoky sweetness.
So while this black tea does have the smokiness that I'm exploring in Russian Caravan blends, it is much more approachable, subtle and inviting to a novice like me.

The lighting was darker than at home, so she lugged a bedside lamp over to the vanity and removed its shade. With a practiced hand, she set up the mini tri-pod and digital camera a precise distance from her face. She quieted her expression as she looked directly into the lens. Click.  She pulled out her laptop and downloaded the photo into the proper file, then pulled them up so she could view them clockwise starting with the upper left: today, 12 days prior, 12 weeks prior, 12 months prior.
Beneath her eyes was a shadow. Fatigue from the journey. Was it her imagination or did that spot to the right of her nose look darker as well? The line between her eyebrows seemed barely more pronounced. She had been furrowing the brow again. But not much ground had been lost. Not much. Still…
She pulled out her bag of tricks. Creams, lotions, masques, gels, roller ball applications. This one for dark circles, this one for fading, this one for plumping. Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize. She checked the computer screen as she selected tonight’s amalgamation.
As she smoothed them over her silky skin, she paused to reach for her tea cup.  Natasha had left the gift basket with a hand-selection of rare teas from her father. This Russian Caravan was said to be the Russian president’s current favorite. She inhaled and was transported to a camp out with her own father. Pine branches crackling and snapping in the fire pit.  She sipped. The robust brew filling her nostrils with a not-unpleasant smoky earthiness.
She looked in the mirror and wondered how much of all of this was just that. Smoke and mirrors.
Win a selection of An International Tea Moment's Best of 2010 teas by voting on what Drew Belmond's self-describing title should be. Vote here by June 14th!