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