Friday, December 19, 2014

A Moment with Black Tiger

We all experience it, I think. December moseys on in after Thanksgiving, all nice and casual. "There's plenty of time!" you think. Christmas is 3-whole-weeks away. No problemo.

And then it's December 19th and you find yourself frantically searching to find the perfect gift for everyone, grateful that you're an Amazon Prime member and that everything will arrive in 2 days or so. And by "you," I mean "me," of course.

This last week before Christmas has been back-to-back appointments, meetings, parties and commitments. Everything is traveling at break-neck speed (more so than usual), and there was one point when the Man o' the House looked at me and said, "You look exhausted."

I looked back at him and said, "You know what? I Am Exhausted. I think I'll sit down and watch Top Chef." And have a cup of tea.

Tea has been consumed by the gallons in my house - 99% of it by me. Old standbys and new arrivals. It's funny how out of dozens of new teas that arrive regularly in my house, there will often be one that grabs my attention and I become obsessed with it for days, even weeks, on end. This week, it was a Black Tiger that saw me through the mayhem. Hailing from Boulder, Colorado's Pekoe Sip House, Black Tiger is an organic black tea from the Blue Mountains of southwestern India (where tigers run wild, so they say).

Bold, wild, hearty, this tea does not mess around.

Exactly what I need.

I have no time to mess around. There are cookies and trees to be decorated. Cards to be addressed. Kids to play checkers with. Oh yeah - and work.

And what is that in the background? The slightest hint of fermentation, almost leaning into puerh territory.


Just a few days left. Enough time for the postal service and UPS to act as my personal fleet of reindeer.

I think Black Tiger may be my pet throughout the entire holiday. I'm going to need it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Christmas Chai Moment

The squeals of excitement every time a different ornament was unwrapped. The exclamations of "Decorations!" by my 2-year-old every time she was struck by the reality of what we were doing. The laughter and joy of completing such a task together. This was my first Christmas where I was able to share my love of Christmas tree decorating with both my daughters and see them fall in love with it, too.

My oldest taking such care with the fragile ones, my youngest piling 5 or more ornaments on a single branch.

After tucking them into bed, I steeped a cup of tea and admired our handiwork (and maybe moved an ornament or two). And what a perfect cup of tea for such a moment. Ginger Chai from Steeped Tea. The ginger, cloves and cardamom enveloped me like a comfortable quilt.

Silent Night, Holy Night...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Joseph Wesley Tea Showcase Moment

If you don't yet know about Joseph Wesley Tea, that must change immediately. Many of you know I've harbored dreams of having my own tea company, but when I first learned of this Joseph Wesley Tea, it was almost a relief - someone else had created what I would have loved to do: curate single estate black teas. Only Joe Uhl, founder, did it better than I could have ever imagined! And you and I and the rest of the world can reap the benefit!

Joe Uhl is the newest addition to my collection of Tea Mentors, and although we haven't met in person, he has introduced such a beautiful and modern approach to tea than I ever knew to be possible.

My first blog post about his tea company is by far the most read, shared, liked article I have ever written. While I'd like to think it has something to do with my writing skill, I know it's because of the story itself, the person and the brand that provides a very unique and strong perspective rising from the ashes of Detroit, Michigan.

A Detroit Moment - In which I discover the wonderful story of Joseph Wesley Tea and fall in love with the most perfect Lapsang Souchong.

So, it was rather serendipitous that out of the blue, a package arrived yesterday from Joseph Wesley Tea. Joe couldn't have known that I was planning to showcase him and his company today.

Detroit Freedom House-inspired tea house

In addition to a beautiful new tea (Classic Chinese) that I am currently sipping and will be writing about at a future date, there was this little house. An unglazed ceramic tea house, created by Canadian Potter, Dayna Wagner, is a nod to a nine-hundred year old Chinese tea tradition of dousing an unglazed ceramic tea pet with tea in the hopes of acquiring attributes of that pet. 

But this is more than a sweet spirited trinket. This is a movement to support the Detroit Freedom House, which is a temporary home for survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum  in the U.S. and Canada. While I first thought, "Oh, what a nice service," my mind began reeling when I read more about what Detroit Freedom House provides at no charge:
- shelter and clothing (of course)
- language classes (nice)
- legal aid (very good)
- mental health care (oh. yes, I can see the need)
- medical care for injuries due to torture (whoa.)


The reality and enormity of what this sanctuary provides has stopped me in my tracks. And to learn that of the 98,000 refugees who seek asylum in North America, about 45% of them are under 18-years old.

I'm a mom now. I feel sick to my stomach if one of my daughters takes a rough tumble off the edge of their bed at night. Imagine being a mother to young ones who have seen or even experienced physical deprivation, torture and worse. 

So this tea house, you see, is one company's way of helping shelter a community in great need. Extremely great need. Joseph Wesley Tea Company is donating the net proceeds from the sale of these Tea Houses to Detroit Freedom House.  

I wrote this last night when I had opened the Joseph Wesley package and absorbed the contents. 

Thank you, Joe Uhl, for creating Joseph Wesley Tea. Thank you for sharing the beauty of some of the most exciting single estate black teas I've ever encountered. And thank you being a part of the rebuilding of Detroit and the rebuilding of lives who seek shelter from unimaginable storms. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Naivetea Showcase Moment

In my first couple of years of blogging, there were a handful of Tea Mentors that stepped forward and helped widen my horizons on what "Tea" could be. One of those individuals is Lawrence Lai of Naivetea. 

The Naivetea US corporate team.  As Lawrence introduced them, the two little ones, Chloe and Egan, are the supreme executives, Ann is  the lovely spokesperson, and Lawrence himself is proud to have been named Employee of the Month 8 times in a row!
I had never thought much about Oolong Tea until Lawrence sent me a package containing a few different Oolongs, which he sources solely from Taiwan. They didn't have the robust boldness of my usual black tea blends. These were something different, something special. For the next several months I spent a lot of time steeping and tasting Oolongs.

The very first one I tasted was their Award-Winning Lychee Oolong. Having little experience with either Lychee or Oolong, I didn't know what to expect, but it definitely inspired one of my longer blog posts:

A Good Housekeeping Moment

One of the things I enjoy most about Naivetea's approach is their sense of humor and ability to make tea approachable. During one of my conversations with Lawrence, he talked about how Infused Oolongs is a good way to introduce people to Oolong because they're so friendly and can be served hot or cold. - A friendly tea. I love that!

I Long, You Long, We All Long for Oolong

Naivetea's Oolongs have always brought out my inner royalty, whether feeling like a Princess myself or comparing teas to royalty, there is just something elevating about these teas.

An Imperial Beauty Moment

An All-the-Oolong-Day Moment

So, thank you, Lawrence and family, for introducing me to an entire world of teas that I had never previously explored. They are now a part of my go-to-teas (especially if you bring back the Rose Violet Calendula Oolong!!!)

And, by the way, their packaging is as beautiful as their teas. If there's a tea lover in your life, Naivetea Teas are a special gift they'll adore!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A TeaSource Showcase Moment

I suppose I shouldn't be, but I'm always amazed at the generosity of time and spirit of the people I've met in the tea community. At the top of the generosity charts is Bill Waddington, founder of TeaSource. When I was first starting to write about tea, I had the good fortune of travelling to the Minneapolis area, and I reached out to Bill to see if I could stop in, look around the tea room and chat for a few minutes. He graciously spent over an hour with me, answering my million questions about how he got started, how he sources his teas, what he enjoys most about the industry, what was his current favorite, what was the biggest challenge in running a tea room, etc.

Bill Waddington of TeaSource introducing me to
Dark Green Needle

Over the years, there have more more tea room visits when I've been in town, and I never miss an educational session when he's speaking at the World Tea Expo. I remember one year he taught a seminar that outlined every aspect of opening a tea room, including check lists, timelines, equipment lists, whether or not to use commercial realtors or certain types of contractors, everything. It was amazing!

His willingness to share everything he has learned has inspired Tea Meditation Moments like this one:

Day 4: Tea Meditation Moment

Bill has also been an amazing mentor when it came to my exploration of Green Teas. One of my favorites was the introduction of Dark Green Needle. Highlight moment:

A Wintry Tea Moment

He also introduced me to a variety of black teas that I had shied away from. One tea in particular was quite a surprising discovery: Keemun.

A Quasi-Sophisticated Moment

For all of the tea chats, education and inspiration, I want to thank Bill Waddington of TeaSource. I wish you and your team a happy and successful 2015!

TeaSource Holiday Special

During the month of December, spend $75 at TeaSource (in-store or online) and receive a FREE $10 gift card - a perfect gift for a loved one or for yourself!
Enter coupon code DECGC14 at checkout.
Offer expires December 31, 2014.

Monday, December 1, 2014

An American Tea Room Showcase Moment

During this season of gratitude and giving back, I'd like to take a few days to say "Thank You" to some of my greatest tea mentors - ones who opened my mind and palate to the endless spectrum of teas. At the top of my list is American Tea Room.

I'm often asked what my favorite tea is, and though that changes on a weekly basis, there are a few staple teas that I always have in my Tea Cupboard that come from this wonderful tea oasis.

American Tea Room Owner, David Barenholz, and me
One of the first teas I fell in love with was Romanoff Blood Orange Organic Tea. This is a bold black tea blend with subtle undertones of blood orange. I'm typically not one to go for fruit-influenced teas, but this is one that is done right. No sweet aftertaste. Just a lilting hint of orange on in a wave of hearty breakfast-level black tea. When I'm in the mood to get things done and hold no prisoners, this is my go-to tea. I've probably written about this tea more than any other. Here are some highlights:

A Romanoff Moment - Where it all began!

A Russian TEA*Vent Moment

A Russian Reflection Moment

Another long and enduring love of mine is Brioche Organic Tea. This is a black tea blend that makes you feel like you've wandered into a French bakery. Voted An International Tea Moment's Best Black Tea Blend of 2010, I always have this one on hand when I need a little decadence in my day. Some highlights of my Brioche affair:

A Decadent Brioche Moment

A Downton Abbey Marathon Moment

One of the first teas I discovered at American Tea Room was Maharajah, a Single Estate Assam (of course!). And, I could be wrong, but I believe this is the blog post that sealed my friendship with David Barenholz, founder of American Tea Room. A bold, black blend, This is a tea that is my equivalent of comfort food. Rich and luxurious, but familiar and cozy, it has everything I need in my morning cup of tea. A highlight:

A Moment of New Beginnings - The arrival of Baby #2 and my re-introduction to tea

Now, David is a lover of Green Teas in particular, and he was a great influencer when it came to my foray into greens. One of my favorites is Immortal Green, which can be served hot or iced. Warning: this is a gateway tea. Once you try this one, you'll want to explore more green teas. Highlights:

An Immortal Moment

A Green Tea Expedition Moment

I could go on and on, but At least it's a good starting point for tea exploration or holiday gift ideas. To David and all the wonderful tea experts at American Tea Room, Happy Holidays and Thank You for all you have shared with me over the years!

For all my Tea Friends, today's a great day to take advantage of the Cyber Monday special at American Tea Room:

 American Tea Room Cyper Monday

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Reading Nook Moment

In my fantasy world, I have a room in my home referred to as "the library" that is lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves. One wall would be my own personal "Wall of Tea," while the rest of the shelves contained traditional, leather-bound books. There would be a fireplace, of course, and a comfy chair with a soft afghan draped over one arm. A little tea table would sit next to that. And I would spend hours there, in my own little world.

A nice little dream, but terribly impractical in my world. So, I'll take the next best thing: a tea blend that evokes all the feelings of my fantasy world. And I've found it in this: the Reading Nook Blend by PlumDeluxe.

Not only is this black tea blend beautiful to look at in its dry form (there are dried rosebuds, passionflowers and lavender), but the aroma is intoxicating (cinnamon, roses, and lavender with a creamy background).

As the weather as finally turned just chilly enough to justify sweaters and boots, it's a luxury to be able to steal a few minutes to pour a cup of tea, sit by the fire and read a chapter of a latest mystery.

Ah, the first sip. With a strong black tea base, the cinnamon and floral notes dance beautifully with each other. PlumDeluxe is absolutely correct in sharing that this blend pairs well with creativity, reading and writing.

I might not have my library, but a reading nook, a fire and this cup of tea suit me just fine.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Minnesota Daydream Moment Part 1

I am having a bit of a love affair. Granted, it's a little unconventional, but I find I'm reliving sweet memories and devoting inordinate amounts of daydreaming to it. I must confess, I've fallen head over heels for Minneapolis - St. Paul. As luck would have it, I was invited to speak at a conference in October, and I jumped at the chance to get back there. 

Looking at the weather they're experiencing this week, I can see how it may be viewed as a challenge, but the Twin Cities are so much more than weather.

I love the collaborative spirit I find there. If you have a good idea and you're willing to put in the work, it feels like everyone is ready and willing to cheer you on and support your venture. Which brings me to my current musing. While in town, I was happy to discover I had a bit of free time, and I had some writing to catch up on. I reached out to Lilly, owner of Verdant Tea, to see if she and her husband would be around that afternoon. As it turned out, they had a staff meeting and training session going that day, but she gave me an extensive list of recommendations of where I might want to go. At the top of her list was Kopplins, a coffee house in a cool neighborhood in St. Paul

It was the perfect, cozy neighborhood spot to grab a bite and get the creative juices flowing.

And, no accident, they just happened to have Verdant Tea's Kombucha on hand. Pink Robot, no less! (Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea. Some are apparently tough to drink, but Verdant Tea's is as refreshing as an Arnold Palmer!)

To make things even more perfect, they had a cheese tasting plate available with the most savory cheese, salami and cornichons!

In every nook and cranny, there was reading, writing, and collaborating going on. The creativity was palpable. This place embodied that sense of community that I always pick up on in this town. And it makes sense. After all, it was the owner of Kopplin's who first discovered Lilly and David's Chai at a farmers market and wanted to sell it in his own store. Those discussions led to the opening of Verdant Tea. 

If you're in St. Paul and are in need of a good cup of coffee (or kombucha) and a place where innovation thrives, stop by Kopplin's. It will be one of the best decisions you make that day. 

ST. PAUL, MN 55104  
M-F 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Weekends 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Darling Darjeeling Moment

Fall made an appearance this week in Southern California. I got to break out the fuzzy socks, if only for one brief shining moment. With a nip in the morning air and the heater actually turning on, there was nothing better to accent it all than a tea cupping session.

Golden Tips Tea had sent me an amazing assortment of black teas, and among them were five Darjeelings from separate estates. Each estate name so beautiful and intriguing, it was  an exercise in restraint to allow each tea to steep for 2.5 minutes (a time chosen randomly by me, by the way. I typically steep longer than recommended, but that's just my taste).

Which would be my favorite? Would they all be very similar? Very different? Let the tasting begin!

Okayti Muscatel Darjeeling - From the Okayti Estate, this tea was plucked on June 3rd, 2014 and is a Second Flush Darjeeling. A deep, burnt orange colored liquid, this tea is rich, robust and full of tannins. Being one of the first slightly chilly days this fall, I really enjoyed the notes of roasted chestnut and, do my taste buds deceive me, a hint of lavender.

Gopaldhara Darjeeling - From the Gopaldhara Estate, this tea was plucked on April 6th, 2014 and is a First Flush Darjeeling. The light yellow liquid tastes of spring and sunshine. There's the faintest hint of grass and I could see this being a perfect, mellow afternoon companion.

Giddapahar Muscatel Darjeeling - From the Giddapahar Estate, this tea was plucked on June 8th, 2014 and is a Second Flush Darjeeling. This, too, offered a roasted essence and a deep amber color, but the flavor was more earthy and savory than the Okayti Muscatel. I found myself lingering over this cup and coming back to it again and again.

Arya Ruby Darjeeling - From the Arya Estate, this tea was plucked on June 27th, 2014 and is a Second Flush Darjeeling. I found this tea to be deep and rich with a wilder, unrestrained element. While the Muscatels came across as having smooth, finished edges, this one felt very jagged and exciting.

Thurbo Moonlight Darjeeling - From the Thurbo Estate, this tea was plucked on June 11th, 2014 and is a Second Flush Darjeeling. A deep yellow liquid, this tea was smooth and velvety with lilts of nuttiness. This was slightly more robust than the Gopaldhara.

Once again, my views of Darjeeling teas have been reshaped. For so many years, the Darjeelings I had been exposed to seemed flat, weak, watery. Whether my palate has been refined or I've just had the good fortune of experiencing better Darjeelings, I'm absolutely blown away by the range of personalities and the complexities they can offer. More and more, step by step, I'm understanding why this particular type of tea is the Darling of all teas.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Tea Blogger Directory Moment

Typically, I write about the moments I've experienced courtesy of countless amazing tea providers. Not only am I introduced to a spectrum of beautiful and interesting teas, I get to know the brilliant and intriguing people behind the teas. It is for that reason that I felt compelled to try and do something specifically for them. So, Tea Retailer friends, this one is for you!

I'm so excited to announce the official release of the 2014 Tea Blogger Directory

The world of tea is a vast and varied one, and as a tea retailer you have a unique story to tell. In this digital age, getting that story out to your target audience is priority number one, but knowing it and doing it are often two very different things.

In this directory, discover over 30 tea-focused bloggers who have as unique backgrounds and stories as you do. Each blogger has an extensive and focused reach to help you connect with your potential audience.

Additionally, learn some best practices on the do’s and don’t’s of working with a blogger. We are all a part of the tea community because we enjoy it and want to share that joy with others. Knowing some basic guidelines can leverage the positives and minimize any negatives.

Enjoy getting to know this international set of tea enthusiasts, and I hope you will see your customer engagement and audience grow tremendously as a result of the relationships that begin here.

Add to Cart

Join my list of Preferred Tea Retailers and be the first to learn about any future tea business resources that become available. More details HERE. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Moment of Luxuries Big and Small

Roctober. What a month.

Each year, I think I'm ready for it, and each year it pulls out tricks I never could have imagined or anticipated. As we have been barreling toward the finish line, there have been a few moments of grace, however, to allow me to catch my breath.

One happened over the weekend. After getting through a soccer game and remembering to assemble snacks for the team, my husband and oldest daughter packed up and headed for a camp out - their first together.  My daughter's first ever.

That left me with my little Hurricane. And she had some reckoning to accomplish. It's the rare moment when I get to spend time with just her. She flitted from coloring to play-doh to cars to tickling Ed's ears to doing a dance of joy when I announced we were going to the park.

I stood back as she ran laps around the playground, arms spread like wings as she laughed with glee. The other parents chuckled at her exuberance, and I kept thinking, "She's mine. She's really mine." Fearless. Free. Overflowing with joy and excitement. That I could bottle up her joie de vivre and sip it daily. I'll just have to work on absorbing it by osmosis.

The luxury of time with her.

By sheer miracle, she fell asleep at precisely 8:15 p.m., a full hour earlier than usual and it didn't require an hour of me laying next to her, ensuring she doesn't sneak out of bed.

The luxury of time alone.

I slept hard, and so did she. In another miraculous turn, she didn't come padding into my room until 5, and since there were just the two of us, she climbed over me, collapsed on the pillow and we slept until 7:30.

The luxury of sleep.

Our morning was leisurely, and I found that my little Hurricane was pure sunshine, entertaining herself. So, I took the opportunity to steep one of the most luxurious teas that has ever graced my home. Feng Huang Dan Cong Special Oolong from Palais des Thes had arrived just the week before. I had looked at it longingly for days, and now was my chance. A Sunday morning, with no reason to hurry, I steeped this rare and beautiful tea and watched the long, twisted leaves unfurl.

As I inhaled the toasted, woodsy aroma, I felt the reigns of October slacken a little. Ah, the first sip. Don't let the initial toasted notes fool you into thinking you're heading down a genmaicha path, because suddenly some bright citrus notes subtly begin to float in. Each sip is so incredibly smooth that "velvety" doesn't even begin to describe it. Rich, full, smooth, incredible. And the flavor continues to develop. Fruity undertones begin to appear, all the while with an unmistakable floral backdrop. I think we've discovered the true Garden of Eden.

The luxury of tea.

I sit and sip, I watch my 2 1/2 year old play, I appreciate the strong comforting presence of Eddie dog. I enjoy the moment. I swim in it. In my mind's eye, I'm running laps around the playground, arms spread wide like wings. For this moment, I can fly.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Moment with the Artiste

Some days you just need a little time in an oasis. Some days you crave food with soul. On days like those, I am grateful for a place like Coffee, Tea and Tulips in Mission Viejo, where the chef known as The Artiste, Michael Samawi and his gracious wife, Lina, provide food and hospitality like no other.

A pot of tea, a divine scone with preserves and cream, and a plate of tea sandweeches that are unforgettable . This time around I opted for the Mediterranean Veg that assembles flavors and textures that I literally dream about for days afterward. (What is this creamy, feta sauce magnificence beneath the cucumbers??? Sheer Genius!)

A quick chat, a sneak peek at the updated menu, that literally left my mouth watering, and an extra sachet of Midnight in Paris tea to enjoy at home, and I am refreshed and ready to get back to the real world.

All you who are hungry and weary, find your way to Coffee, Tea and Tulips, and let Michael and Lina do the rest.

Coffee, Tea and Tulips
25280 Marguerite Pkwy, Mission Viejo, CA 92692
(949) 587-9988
Hours: Wed - Sun 9 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Moment of Pause

There's a subtle shift in the air this week. An ongoing disturbance in the force has changed direction or is operating on a lower frequency. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but my sense is that it is a good thing.

Resolutions are slowly creeping in on a variety of fronts. Most noticeably, I saw one of the giant spiders during my run yesterday morning. As a rule, I hate those things, because every fall they build these giant, Halloween-sized webs - typically across a sidewalk - and walking into one of those is, well, I can't really talk about it. Too soon.

In any case, usually they arrive in late summer, mid August or so. But I haven't seen them this year. And the ridiculous population of flies is a testament to that fact! With their arrival, while in some ways is unwelcome, in other ways it is a relief. Small resolutions, tiny developments, subtle shifts.

Sitting in the cooler morning air, I'm soaking it all in with a Chinese Oolong from Kedocay. Wuyi Yancha Da Hong Pao Oolong has its own subtleties and shifts. As a dry, long, twisted leaf, it smells of drying hay, which feels appropriate for this harvest time of year. As the hot water is added, the scent transforms into a nutty, toasty fragrance that hints of cooler weather to come. The flavor is robust and has a toasted rice flavor, leaning toward a genmaicha profile, which is an unexpected, but pleasant twist.

I'm grateful for the noticeable reduction in flies today, I'm also grateful for the awareness that sometimes the answer that we thought was, "No," might actually just be, "Wait."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Moment of Firsts

My oldest daughter starts 1st grade today. I'm excited to hear what she thinks of her teacher, her classmates and her new adventure. I loved my 1st grade teacher, Miss Enderlin, who loved frogs and always had a ready laugh. She opened up the world in a new way for me through reading and writing and numbers.

I feel like it was about that age that I also began spending more time with my Great-Grandma Olive. She was another one who opened up the world for me. While my parents and grandparents attended church every Sunday, used the word, "Rats!" to express displeasure and whose vices ran along the lines of perpetual home improvement projects, Grandma Olive smoked cigarettes incessantly and sprinkled "Damn!" and "Hell!" liberally into her vocabulary. She never attended church, although she would always ask me what I had learned in Sunday school. Her idea of indulgence included a bucket of KFC original recipe and a frozen Mrs. Smith chocolate cream pie. She let me play for hours in her gigantic back yard and in her guest room (the "red room," I called it with its red velvet bedspread and hanging lamps). She also drank a fair share of tea and would occasionally serve me some. Lipton tea bags in the winter and instant peach-flavored Nestea in the summer.

Great Grandma Olive, as always,
in an impeccable pants suit
A little over 30 years later, I was in New York City when I received the phone call that Great-Grandma Olive's son, my Grandpa Don, had passed away. It was not unexpected, but it was heart-wrenching all the same. It was on that difficult day that I met yet another person who would open up my world in a new way. In a moment of darkness, here was a calming and gentle light. Her name was Jo, and she had not only recommended a tea venue for me to explore in the city, she suggested meeting me there.

See Related: A Moment In Pursuit of Tea

Jo is one of those "hubs." She knows everyone and takes great pleasure in connecting them. Through her, I've not only met an incredible and diverse community of tea experts, I've been given the opportunity to participate in her brainchild, the Tea Blogger Roundtable at the World Tea Expo, and gain access to proprietary tea tastings.

See Related: World Tea Expo Day 2 Eventful Moments

One of those tastings was of her own creation, Rose Thé Macaron Blanc. Being the hopeless francophile that I am, the name alone captured my attention. A French name MUST be an indication of bon goût in every sense of the word. My sole misgiving was that it was a white tea. I love white teas, but I often find them too delicate to be my daily pleasure. This tea, however, gently removed its kid glove and slapped me across the face. In the nicest possible way.

My Tweet moments after tasting this for the 1st time
The white teas in this blend find the unique balance of being delicately robust. White in this case doesn't equal "light." This white tea blend creates a textured backdrop onto which vanilla and rose are layered with soft brush strokes. The overall effect is that of being transported to hidden Parisian courtyard surrounded by lush, sculpted gardens. My kingdom for a croissant! Or better yet, an eclair. This tea can handle it.

As the end of my daughter's first day of school approaches, all of these thoughts and more swirl through my head. In the meantime, I'll brew up a pot of this extraordinary tea, lay out some of my Great-Grandma's sunny linen napkins and wait to hear how my baby's world is opening up this year.

Pre-order this limited production tea blend from Jo by contacting her at:
Rose Thé Macaron Blanc will be in 2 oz packages for $12 plus shipping. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Moment at Le Salon

New Orleans! The name conjures up images of dancing, jazz music, brass bands, raucous crowds and the oft-requested go-cup. However, upon entering Le Salon at Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, calm and serenity was there to greet us in cool blues and greens. Here is where we found our oasis.

Kristin welcomed us with warmth and a sparkling smile as she led us to a plush sofa and chair looking over the hotel courtyard. I was delighted to find the enthusiasm and hospitality she conveyed over the phone to be matched perfectly in person.

The low table was ready and waiting for us, a single pink rose in a vase and Wedgewood China in Wild Strawberry at the ready. Eduardo, our server in his 17th year of service at Le Salon, started off our afternoon tea with a cocktail of choice. As it was a celebration for the end of a successful conference, Lia and I opted for sparkling wine.

What an incredible luxury to be served by a true master of service. Eduardo told beautiful stories of the tea events he's witnessed at Le Salon; shared fun snippets of history of the Coleman family who opened the Windsor Court Hotel 30 years ago; and allowed us to set our own pace of dining and visiting while somehow keeping the momentum gently rolling.

The Tea List
The tea list was extensive, with options for every taste. Black, green, white, herbal... even rooibos and puerh!

The variety of sandwiches that arrived as our first course reinforced New Orleans as a foodie's paradise.

The lobster salad canape was so savory and delicious, and the truffle egg salad is now in my TOP 3  list of iterations of this staple tea sandwich!

Truffle egg salad? Yes, please. 

Scones! With all the perfect fixin's! Vanilla bean cream, Devonshire cream, lemon curd, raspberry preserves - I sampled them all. And the fact that the scones are seasonal make me very happy. For summer, currant scones and walnut scones.

But wait... Just when you think you can't possibly handle one more bite, the desserts arrive.

Chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate truffles, tartlets and... a coconut cream swan???!!!

Seriously. How amazing is this?
Lia and I found ourselves absolutely transported to a place of culinary decadence and creative inspiration, which for us is the greatest gift we could ever receive. You see, Lia is not only my good friend, she is my work counterpart. And while we speak nearly every day via phone, we haven't actually seen each other since last December. After a successful and productive conference this week, we thoroughly enjoyed having a couple of hours to relax, debrief, brainstorm and re-energize before catching flights to our respective coasts.

Double trouble
A fine afternoon tea service always does my heart good, but add Southern hospitality and a good friend, and you've just fed my soul.

If your travels take you to New Orleans, give your soul a break from the Beads and Beverages of Bourbon Street. Indulge in Afternoon Tea at Le Salon, and please give my kindest regards to Kristin and Eduardo.

Kristin, Me, Eduardo

To visit Le Salon at Windsor Court Hotel:

300 Gravier Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Reservations: 504.596.4773 or Book Online
Afternoon Tea Seatings:
Thursday & Friday at 2:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday at 11:00 am & 2:00 pm 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Dare to Dream Moment

Rajiv Lochan is a man with a vision. And as that vision is realized today in India's Bihar state, that region is growing in new and exciting ways because of his family's new and exciting teas.

Although I had seen and heard his name for years in tea industry publications and on tea conference agendas, I finally met Rajiv Lochan for the first time at the World Tea Expo in Long Beach in May 2014. I saw him taking a rare moment of rest, sitting at the Tealet booth, and I made my move to very quickly say hello. I was delighted at his gracious invitation to sit down and talk tea. As he described the teas and people of the Darjeeling region, his passion to preserve the history and traditions, I understood instantly his clout and ability to bring people and ideas together in a productive way. One of those ways is through his own tea estate, Doke Tea Garden.

Doke Tea Garden. Photo courtesy of Vivek Lochan
Not long after meeting him, I received a beautiful gift of teas from Lochan Tea Ltd.. And now, as life has calmed a bit, I've taken the luxury of brewing and exploring one tea each day. Each companion has revealed a unique character, some very bold, some surprisingly sunny. Hints of fruit in one, honey in another, some with a refreshing green back drop. All beautiful. All intriguing...

Photo courtesy of Vivek Lochan
...Just like the Lochan family. Doke Tea Garden is made possible by the work of many of the Lochan family members, each with their own role. Rajiv, visionary and CEO, providing direction to the operation; Neha, his daughter, managing the garden from plucking to finishing, tasting and continuously improving the process and product; Manisha, his wife, tasting and providing feedback on product quality; and Vivek, his son, taking care of design, packaging, sales, logistics and customer relationships. In addition to running the day-to-day business, the Lochan family also participates in the good of the community, sponsoring Don Bosco Catholic High School in Mirik, and hosting French business students who are studying the tea business sector.

As I've discovered more and more about Lochan Tea and Doke Tea Garden, I came across this glimpse of their journey:
The lush garden rests in an area called Pothia, Kishanganj. The area is very poor, with high unemployment and a lot of civil unrest. In 1998 Mr. Rajiv Lochan, a lifelong tea garden manager and now tea business expert, decided to plant new tea bushes on small plot of land. Many said that the land was 'useless', but Rajiv persisted, with the help of the garden workers and local farmers the garden began to surprise everyone, including Rajiv. 

Photo courtesy of Vivek Lochan

Oh.  Did I mention? They produce beautiful teas.

Of the eight I was given (all of which I am now in love with), there are three that I seem to have consumed more quickly than the others.

Doke Black Fusion - Described as bitter-sweet, I found this to be a solid, robust companion through my day. The aroma and flavor are malty with a hint of roasted nuttiness. This could easily become a daily habit. 

Doke Diamond Green - The dry, fluffy green leaves have a sweet, almost vanilla scent, and the brew is a robust summer of scents that sometimes even hinted at genmaicha. I found myself sipping and sipping, again and again, trying to identify the perfectly balanced layers. It's a bewitching mystery that I'm happy to continue to investigate. 

Doke Silver Needle in the Crisp California Air

Doke Silver Needle - For me, this was a tea that stopped me in my tracks. Actually, it made me want to take a moment, and so I allowed it to escort me outside to enjoy the slightly crisp morning air after a week of waking to hot, muggy, grey clouds.  This brew is velvety smooth and hits every point on the palette, making it incredibly satisfying. It has somehow achieved both complete lightness and fullness at the same time. There is the tiniest hint of peach on a backdrop of hay. It is the essence of early summer. It is enchanting.

It is experiences like these that I love so much. Yes, there are the teas themselves, but it is often the people, the families, the passion that I find behind the teas that compel me to keep exploring and tasting and writing. 

Some day, I hope to have the opportunity to see for myself the land and people who make these teas possible. Doke Tea Garden will be at the top of my list.

Me, Rajiv Lochan, Elyse Petersen of Tealet Tea

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Dog Days of Summer Moment

It's hot out there. Really hot. It has made me a bit more of a morning person lately because it feels so refreshing to throw open the windows and the back door and let the cool morning air drift in.

As the sun rises into the clear, blue sky, the temperature rises with it. It makes it more challenging to figure out what to cook for dinner or even what to have for lunch, because it's just too hot to cook.

These are just the kind of days that make Iced Tea a must. In the early afternoon, I'll take a  bit of a break and sit in the shade with good, old Eddie dog - me sipping on some iced tea, him soaking in the sun.

Edward Dog Days of Summer

I had always thought the Dog Days of Summer were an observation of how dogs will just lounge around in the hottest days of the summer with no intention of doing anything else as the mercury rises (I can relate to that!). Apparently, what it's actually referring to is the time of year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun. In this part of the world, this happens around July 3 - August 11. Either way, it's the time of year when we're looking for ways to cool down.

Growing up, my mom always had this enormous glass, screw top jar that she'd fill with water and a million tea bags and set out on the back patio to steep in the sun. "Sun tea" is what we called it. We'd drink it all day. These days, I tend to do something similar, though I'll use whatever loose leaf tea I'm craving that day. It's a waiting game. These teas need plenty of time to steep in that sun-warmed water. Today, however, I'm enjoying The des Sources from Palais des Thes, which doesn't require the hours of patience that I've honed in past summers. Chinese green tea, mint, and a hint of bergamot, I am refreshed by this Moroccan inspired blend. 30 minutes in room temperature water is all that is required by these Iced Tea Bags. Brilliant.

So here Ed and I sit, he in the sun, I in the shade with iced tea in hand. No matter how you slice it, these are indeed the Dog Days of Summer, and today I wouldn't want to share them with any other dog (or any other tea, for that matter).

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Monday Mystery Moment with Flavia de Luce

There is a special place in my heart for all things British. Part of it is that a good chunk of my heritage is British. Among my ancestors are Featherstones and Paxtons with some Scottish Cunninghams for additional flair. I love the droll humor of British romantic comedies (Love Actually or Bridget Jones' Diary are some faves), as well as their productions of all things Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice , anyone?) There's a dry humor and willingness to be downright silly that I enjoy, because so often one is not quite sure if they intended to be silly or clever or if they're just being ironic.
Family motto: "Over, fork over!"
Yes, really.
And so it should be no surprise to anyone that while the English take their tea very seriously, there are those who have to infuse their humor into that arena as well, with delightful results. TeaPigs is a British company who love their tea and loves their fun and have made it their mission to combine the two. Even their name, "Teapigs" came about from a brainstorming session where someone made the remark that they're pigs about their tea (meaning they can't get enough and just want more and more). The name stuck. And their love of fun certainly makes an impression. Teapigs Darjeeling Earl Grey   has an image of a little grey dachsund on the package, but don't let their love of fun be mistaken for lack of standards. In this case, they've taken something that is a common and well-loved classic (Earl Grey) and elevated it. Using Darjeeling as the base tea, there's something special and surprising that takes place in your cup. It's the flavor of the Earl Grey that we know and love, but it's a little bit more. Each element of the tea is raised to a new level. Tea with a twist.

Which is what I like about British mystery novels as well. They are often good, old fashioned, comfortable mysteries with a twist.

July happens to be one of those months during the year where every second feels like it is scheduled. There is no down time. There is no stopping. It is go-go-go. And so, in those moments when I finally force myself to go and eat some lunch I tend to reach for something comfortable and familiar, where I can allow someone else to have to do all the thinking and surmising. One of my go-to's is the  Flavia de Luce Novel Mystery series by Alan Bradley. It's your typical mystery series set in a quaint English village, with the usual police inspector playing his part, but the amateur sleuth here is not the usual fare. It's 11-year-old Flavia de Luce. Youngest of 3 sisters, her mother is believed to have died in a mountaineering accident when Flavia was still a baby. The girls live with their ever-grieving and stamp-collecting father in their mother's slowly deteriorating mansion, Buckshaw. Not only is Flavia 11-years old, she is also a chemistry genius who spends hours on end experimenting in her late uncle Tar's private chemistry lab where no one bothers her. Her scarily brilliant mind is evened out by her precocious antics, which are often carried out astride Gladys, her faithful bicycle. Book 1, in the series,The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, has been read so many times, its spine is showing its popularity.

A few minutes of tea and sanity, and it's back to work. Something for me to look forward to: the next novel in the series has just come out, and I can't wait to learn more secrets about Harriet, Flavia's long-lost mother.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Reflective Moment on Puerh

The first time I was introduced to Puerh Tea was in Minneapolis, at the Hotel Ivy. I had just barely started blogging and so I was feeling a little adventurous in wanting to explore new teas. I had never even heard of Puerh, but whatever it was they served me that day, I found it dark and rich and mysterious. Looking back at my blog post, I see that it was Harney and Sons Puerh. Thank you, dear, departed John Harney, for the introduction.
My first taste of Puerh at the Hotel Ivy
May 2009
Despite the unsuccessful savories I had that day (one of the very few poor reviews I've ever given, and perhaps I was trying too hard to be a "foodie" (*sigh*)), this tea captured my attention. And yet, while I've had a cup here and there, I haven't spent much focused attention. Until now.

But let's take a step back. Puerh. An intimidating (and frankly unsavory) name as pronounced in the English language. "Pooh-air." Some people prefer to pronounce it "Pooh-urr," as though the absence of "air" from the "pooh" makes it more elegant. It's simply an unfortunate name. Once we get past that, however, we can begin to enjoy the unique and addictive nature of this beautiful beast. Interesting side note: Puerh is not actually grown or produced in the Yunnan town of Puerh. Though, this town was the official beginning of the Tea Horse Route, which was the starting point of the long journey Puerh tea made on the way to Tibet in the days of yore. Also of note, Puerh comes exclusively from the Yunnan province of China.

According to The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide, by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, there are 2 types of Puerh: raw and cooked. Cooked Puerh is a relatively recent invention from the 1970's where demand necessity was the mother of invention. In order to get the tea to market more quickly, a new method was invented. Raw Puerh, however, is a longer process, which involves levels of controlled moisture to trigger a bacterial fermentation process, which gives it the unique flavor profile. Puerh was and is most often compressed into molded cakes of various shapes and sizes. Like some fine wines, Puerhs (if properly stored) improve with age. If aged over 10 years, the price tends to get serious. 30+ year-old Puerhs can fetch hundreds of dollars per cake or brick.

Another interesting side note. Much of Puerh tea comes from tea trees (not bushes) that are 20-30 feet tall and over 100 years old. In fact, there are trees that locals claim to be between 500 and 1000 years old! Villagers must climb these tall mammoths to carefully harvest the broad leaves.

This year, I snapped a photo of this over-sized mushroom-shaped Puerh (which apparently is sometimes called "Camel's Breath") at one of the TeaSource locations (also in the Minneapolis region, believe it or not). I've never known where to post this photo until now. You're welcome.

Here's the thing. Despite what any experts say, Puerhs are a little bit complicated and intimidating. Loose leaf Puerh is designated into 11 quality grades, and that's before even factoring in age, which adds additional complexity as well.  Where does one begin?

Where indeed? Among my current collection of teas I have 5 different Puerhs. So I decided to set up a little tea tasting for myself to see what I'd recommend on how to get a decent introduction to this type of tea.

Starting with the upper right, lightest to darkest -

Tea Setter Wild Grown Puerh - While incredibly earthy, this Puerh is pleasantly lighter than many Puerhs, even after being steeped for more than a minute. In both color and flavor, this one is a very good introduction to the genre that will not intimidate you. (I classify this: Step 2)

California Tea and Coffee Brewery Vanilla Mint Puerh - The ultimate gateway tea to true Puerh addiction. Purists might disagree with my inclusion of a Puerh blend, but when one comes across such an inviting blend that is so harmoniously balanced, AND it can introduce an entirely new genre to a palate, I say "bring it!" I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a fan of vanilla in tea, and yet, the subtle vanilla and mint mellows the unfamiliar fermented tea flavor that is an acquired taste for many. If you're intimidated by Puerh, begin your journey here. (I classify this: Step 1)

TeaVivre Fengqing Raw Puerh Tuocha 2006 - This Puerh packs a punch and is the most robust of this tasting. I don't know how else to say it, but you can "taste the raw!" It's edgy, it's not shy, it's powerful. And then there is this sweet finish that makes me think of honey. This 8-year-old is a force to be reckoned with and is worth the reckoning. (I classify this: Step 5)

TeaVivre Fengqing Zhuan Cha Raw Puerh 2006 - I found this one very interesting. It had a "green" quality to it, though it retained its fermented strains, and then there was this licorice finish. I would place it 3rd in line on a beginner's journey through Puerh. (I classify this: Step 3)

TeaVivre Fengqing Wild Tree Yesheng Raw Puerh 2013 - While this one also had a green, almost broccoli quality to its taste, it was the second most robust. Take no prisoners, pay attention to me, yes sir, may I have another sir, kind of charisma about it. (I classify this: Step 4)

I found it interesting that although the brewing of each tea created a rainbow of shades, the color of the liquid didn't necessarily correspond to the robustness of the flavor.

Is this the end-all, be-all of Puerh designations or journeys? Absolutely not! I explored this genre based on what I had on hand. There is an entire universe of options out there. But I will say, without hesitation, that if you don't know where to begin, any one of these will provide a positive introduction to the true, wild, beautiful nature of Puerh.