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!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Lady Mendl Moment

I Heart New York. And after this recent trip, I Heart Lady Mendl's Tea Salon.  When my friend, P, asked me what I wanted to do while in town, and I mentioned I wouldn't be opposed to afternoon tea, she immediately did a little research (as she is wont to do) and made reservations at the celebrated tea salon. As it turned out, it was exactly the spot I had been researching myself, so I couldn't have been happier.

The history of Lady Mendl herself is rather fascinating and a little racy for her time, and I think she would approve of the salon that now bears her name. It's a place where people can gather in a chic, comfortable atmosphere and enjoy each other's company. 

P and I go way back - back to our exchange to France in college. And while we live on opposite coasts, she is one of those non-negotiables in my life. I don't get to see her nearly enough as I would like, so each visit is precious.

On Saturdays and Sundays, there are two seatings available, and we opted for the first one at 2:30 - as did apparently half of NYC's female society. It was a packed house, and we were glad to be a little early, as we were able to secure a corner table with zebra-carved chairs. (Ivory? Hard to tell). The wait staff was plentiful and exceptional, and we were immediately served an amuse-bouche of a mini quiche. This is where it can be tricky to review a tea room with one of my closest friends. I get so caught up in catching up that I miss the details. The most important detail, however, is how the place made us feel. And it created the perfect environment. There was a comfortable mix of small tables and chairs, comfortable divans and low tables, and large tables to accomodate bridal or baby showers.

Next, we were offered the tea menu, which provided a solid selection of black teas, green teas, oolongs, white teas and herbal infusions. There were also house specialty blends. I went with the "Connoisseur" blend, while P went with the Red Lychee. The tea pots came out fully steeped and with the tea leaves removed, so there was no need for strainers. The wait staff poured, and it was the very rare occasion when I ever re-poured for myself. Talk about service!
Shortly after the tea was delivered, a gentleman came around with a platter of tea sandwiches. There were four to choose from, so of course we had to try one of each. While I'm a fan of the tiered service tray that typically delivers your entire tea service, I admit I liked this personalized service and the option to gorge on your favorite. (Not that I would ever...) He even came around for seconds, which allowed me to indulge in just a couple more cucumber sandwiches.
Of course, the downfall of eating more than 4 tea sandwiches is the inability to finish dessert! All I know is that it was a beautiful slice of some kind of cheesecake along with a chocolate covered strawberry and some gingerbread cookies with cream filling. It was all we could do to even have a small bite of each. Delicious, rich and gorgeous. No need to fear leaving unsatisfied!

I can't speak for P, but I believe I drank about 2 pots of tea. The luxury of lingering over an afternoon tea for a couple of hours is something I never get over or take for granted. We caught up on family, mutual friends, weddings, babies, work, places to live, places to travel, current interests, current conondrums and more. There's nothing more comfortable than being able to lay thoughts out on the table and have someone be able to understand it all without needing any additional explanation. They know where you've come from, what's important to you, who the key players are and your intended trajectory. They know when you're looking for input or just needing an ear. 

Here's to good and faithful friends! And here's to Lady Mendl's for providing such a conducive environment for enjoying tea moments with them!

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon at the Inn at Irving Place
56 Irving Place New York, NY 10003
Reservations required: 212-533-4466
  • Served Monday to Friday: 3pm or 5pm seating
  • Wednesday and Friday Matinee Seating: 12pm
  • Saturday and Sundays: 12pm, 2:30pm or 5pm seatings
  • 5 Course Tea, $35 per person


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Celebritea Moment

When it rains, it pours, and then there's a rainbow. One rainbow for me this week was a lovely post written by Carolynne, author of the blog, "Keen Tea Thyme," spotlighting me as her June Celebritea!  I love her writing style, and her blog is full of all things tea: people, artists, tea companies, tea blends, etc. I'm delighted to have discovered her, and I'm thrilled to have been noticed by her.  Thanks Carolynne!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Kettle Whistle Moment

HOT OFF THE PRESS! (For my California Bay Area friends, you seriously don't want to miss this. Please go and send me pics! I'm jealous already!)

SAN FRANCISCO – June 2, 2011 Kettle Whistle, a new concept in afternoon tea that pairs the world-class oolong teas of Naivetea with the culinary artistry of Tell Tale Preserve Company in a distinctive setting, will make its debut on Saturday, June 25, in the Burritt Room at the Crescent Hotel in San Francisco. Kettle Whistle is a “pop-up” tea service that will be held in different locations around the Bay Area each month, showcasing Naivetea’s artisan teas and Tell Tale Preserve Company’s pastry creations. The menu for each Kettle Whistle tea will feature an array of Naivetea’s hot and iced, premium Taiwanese oolong loose-leaf teas, expertly paired with three flights of Tell Tale Preserve Company’s cutting-edge savory and sweet pastry creations.

“With Kettle Whistle we’re creating an entirely new tea experience, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Tell Tale Preserve Company Executive Pastry Chef William Werner.  “I like the idea of combining traditional European tea service with the presentation, quality and purity of Taiwanese tea culture. We’ll add our own our twist on the tradition with unique menus and pairings, in various locations, and for a limited time.”

“Partnering with Tell Tale Preserve Company on the Kettle Whistle concept is the perfect opportunity to showcase our oolong, which, like fine wine, may be enjoyed on its own or be paired with an array of savory and sweet flavors,” said Naivetea President Lawrence Lai.  “We think William Werner’s creations are nothing short of brilliant and are an ideal match for our tea.”

Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Lawrence Lai and Ann Lee launched their artisan, premium tea company, Naivetea, in 2009.  As the only company in the United States to focus specifically on Taiwanese oolong teas, Naivetea works exclusively with the finest small-production tea farmers in Taiwan’s renowned tea-growing regions to procure the highest quality tea possible, many of which are otherwise only available in Taiwan and China.  Naivetea won First Place in the 2011 North American Tea Championship for its Dong Ding Oolong, which is one of an array of heritage, high altitude and infused teas offered online at   Lai and Lee’s goal is to share these high-quality teas from their homeland, and proliferate the appreciation of not only the pure, delicate flavors and aromas of the oolong teas, but the traditions and practices of the tea culture.

Lawrence Lai and Ann Lee
The Naivetea line includes a range of 18 pure oolong teas from different regions in Taiwan, which boast an array of natural flavors and aromas such as sweet, floral, fruity, roasted wood and caramel.  Also in the Naivetea family are a selection of teas infused with fruits and flowers, such as lychee, peach and lavender.  Unlike many commercially-infused teas, which are simply “sprayed” with the flavor, Naivetea’s are infused the traditional way, by allowing the tea to actually absorb the flavors naturally from the raw ingredients after the fermentation process.

Tell Tale Preserve Company, founded by Executive Pastry Chef William Werner, is operated from a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood and has earned an avid customer following and international critical acclaim since its launch in 2010. Innovative flavor pairings, whimsy and, above all, rock-solid culinary techniques are showcased in Werner’s culinary creations, which may be found at locations throughout San Francisco. Tell Tale was featured in the April 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine and recognized in early 2011 by Wallpaper magazine (UK) for “Best High Tea Confections.” Additionally, Werner’s “Rebel Within,” a savory muffin with a complete soft boiled egg nestled inside, was recently chosen as SF Weekly’s “Best Improbable Breakfast” in its annual “Best Of” awards. For more information about Tell Tale Preserve Co., please visit

The first Kettle Whistle is on Saturday, June 25, at the Burritt Room in the Crescent Hotel, 417 Stockton Street, San Francisco, with seatings at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.  The three-flight, prix fixe menu is $55 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity.  Space is limited. For more information and to make reservations (recommended) please email or call 415-643-4894.  Future Kettle Whistle dates and locations will be announced online at and via the Facebook pages for Naivetea and Tell Tale Preserve Co.
Kettle Whistle Menu
June 25, 2011 at The Burritt Room, Crescent Hotel, San Francisco

good afternoon |cucumber granité, shaved marcona almond, mint

one   | iced peach oolong

heirloom tomato sablé, lemon and lardo Iberico de Bellota
bánh mì financier
salmon rillettes, seaweed brioche
apricot, young celery, burrata, olive oil cracker

two | hot dong ding oolong

petit scones
preserves & clotted cream

three | hot shan lin shi oolong

strawberries, yogurt sablé, granola
rhubarb-olive oil layer cake
milk chocolate-oolong bon bon
meyer lemon-hazelnut petit gateaux
chocolate fondant, raspberry

for the morning after  |
damn good granola and Wen Shan Bao Zhong oolong

(menu subject to change)

**All photos beautifully done by Justin Lewis Photography