Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The 2015 Tea Moment Holiday Gift Guide

Isn't it fun to find the absolutely perfect gift for that friend, co-worker, family member, or special someone? If you know someone who enjoys tea, here are some of my favorite tea-inspired gift ideas for 2015.

For the Tea and Book Lover

The Tea Book, by Linda Gaylard, a.k.a. The Tea Stylist
A tea primer that masterfully unfolds the story of the tea plant, complete with a flavor wheel and the most comprehensive recipes for mixed tea beverages (both alcoholic and alcohol-free) that I've ever seen! Linda makes the world of tea beautiful, accessible and relevant in today's fast-paced society.

The Art and Craft of Tea, by Joseph Wesley Uhl
An enthusiast's guide to selecting, brewing and serving exquisite tea. Like everything Mr. Uhl creates, this book is masterful in telling the story of tea, revealing the simplicity and complexity of the world's favorite beverage, with many practical tips, recipes and brewing methods to take your personal tea experience to the next level.

Myths and Legends of Tea, by Gary Robson
Gary has a gift for making history come to life, and this book has become a fast favorite of mine. His tales span centuries and continents, and you'll find it hard to come up for air once you dive in. I'm relieved to see that this book is noted as Volume 1, because I can't wait to see what he'll write about next. (It also has the best "Forward" I've ever read, courtesy of Geoffrey Norman, a.k.a. The Lazy Literatus. 

The Ultimate Tea Mugs

Flying Tea Gourd Stainless Steel Tea Infuser Bottle
This 16 oz. Travel Tea Infuser has made me a believer. Not only is the stainless steel tea infuser basket deep enough to allow for proper steeping, this thing keeps your hot tea HOT and your cold tea COLD!!! If your tea lover is always on the go, this is the perfect gift that says, "Have tea, will travel." To receive $5 off, enter discount code TEAMOM15 at checkout.

American Tea Room Glass Tea Infuser Mug
Sheer elegance. Whether at home or in the office, this 16 oz. clear glass tea mug and its stainless steel infuser basket create an instant zen moment. Use the glass trivet to enclose the tea's aroma as it steeps and then place below the tea infuser once the infusion is complete. Give a gift that says, "I like what I see."

Tea Exploration
Tea of the Month by The Devotea
Choose a size, choose a frequency and get a package. It's as simple as that. This is a fun way to be introduced to a wider range of teas, whether single origin teas or club-only blends.  Each tea has a story, each blend - a rich history. Give a gift that says, "Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours." To receive 20% off of your purchase, enter MOMENT at checkout.

Tea Blending Kit by A Gift of Tea
We each have a little bit if artist, a little bit of scientist in us, and this kit allows you to create your own custom masterpiece to be shared with loved ones or enjoyed on your own. Choose between Black Tea, Green Tea or Herbals. (If you're in the NYC area, you can register for tea blending classes too! Give a gift that says, "Choose your own adventure."

Four Seasons Tea Tan Yang Gong Fu Jin Xi Yu Tang -
Red Label Series
A relatively new tea company based in Toronto, this is a tea company that you'll want to keep on your radar. Not only is their website a guaranteed way to induce calm and relaxation, their tea is exquisite. Let Four Seasons Tea be your mentor in Chinese teas. Give a gift that says, "You're ready to take tea to the next level."

Joseph Wesley Tea For Two
A canister of the most incredible Chinese or Indian black tea and two cups nestled in a beautiful gift box, well, frankly, I'm hoping Santa delivers one of these to me! Whether a tea novice or connoisseur, these teas are among the best I've ever had, hands down. Perfection. Sophistication. No detail is left to chance. Give a gift that says, "Baby, you're worth it." To receive 20% off your purchase, enter 2015holidays at checkout.

Tea for the Animal Lover

Williamson Tea Christmas Special Gift Set
I love elephants, and I love tea, not necessarily in that order. But if your loved one is an animal lover and tea drinker, there is no better gift than this one for the holidays. A snowflake elephant tea caddy, Kenya Earth Tea (one of the best breakfast blends I've ever tasted), and a #KeepOnWandering enamel mug that will make you feel like you're on the set of "Out of Africa." All this, and with every purchase, £1 ($1.50 USD) will be donated to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that helps protect endangered African elephants and rhinos against poachers. Give a gift that says,"Let's address the elephant (caddy) in the room."

Enjoy this holiday season. Tell your family and friends how much you love and appreciate them. Invite them to join you for a cup of tea and share a Tea Moment together, be it silly or serious. It's not all about the gifts, though gift-giving can be so much fun. It's about being together, appreciating each other for who we truly are, and being grateful for the time we have with each other. I wish you joy, peace and contentment during this festive season.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Moment for Scottish Tea Growers

My mother being a Cunningham, I can't help but love all things Scottish. So when I heard that there was to be a gathering of Scottish Tea Growers, I was more than happy to share the news!

Scottish Tea Plantation. Photo courtesy of Wee Tea Plantation

Scotland’s Growing Wee Tea Gardens
Perthshire tea plantation has helped create ten more in Scotland due to high demand for iconic hotels!

A newly formed Scottish TeaGrowers’ Association has staged its first AGM on November 20, 2015 with the country now boasting ten gardens growing to the tipple. Wee Tea Plantation owner Tam O’Braan has been working alongside others in all corners of Scotland to develop a double figured number of growers.

Tea Garden on the roof of The Dorchester.
Photo courtesy of Wee Tea Plantation
Some of the gardens are already attracting elite customers such as The Dorchester hotel in Mayfair who were so inspired they installed their own roof top tea garden while serving Dumfries & Galloway’s own grey tea- Garrocher Grey. Garrocher Tea Garden owner Angela Hurrell went down to close an exclusive agreement with the iconic London hotel.

I have to admit I have never ordered Afternoon Tea before and The Dorchester Hotel gave me the confidence of knowing that with our tea every possible modern convenience was at hand but still there was time to rest and enjoy in very comfortable surroundings”

Terraced Tea Garden. Photo courtesy of Wee Tea Plantation
O’Braan stated that “It’s been our stated aim to grow an industry, not just one business and
while most of the members won’t have a commercial quantity until 2018 they’ve taken the first steps to grow a new drinks industry”. While traditionally no one would have considered Scotland a natural location the variety of tea plant used by all the Scottish growers (Cameliia sinensis sinensis) stems from the Himalayas already grows at minus 15 degrees centigrade.

Due to the slower growth of the Scottish leaf all of the resulting teas develop superior flavours. “A happy coincidence as to make this sustainable we have only supplied teas of the highest quality commanding a premium price. If one’s supplying The Dorchester then it’s no surprise when a call comes in from the Rtiz or one of their many comparable global rivals.

Turning down Harrods the prestigious retailer Fortnum & Mason were preferred by Dalreoch to launch Scottish teas in 2014 and were followed this year by their rivals Mariage Frères- the premium Salon du Thé au Paris. The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh was the first hotel in Scotland to serve the tea early in 2015. All of those names and the many more +5 Star establishments are queuing up to work with the other Scottish Gardens in the coming years.

Scottish Tea Growers
Agronomist Tam O’Braan has worked in crop research in extreme heat or cold before returning to Scotland and starting his idea for Scottish tea in 2010. The Wee Tea Plantation uses cutting edge methods for growing tea. The teas are sold through his friends business The Wee Tea Company and given as gifts during UK trade and diplomatic visits.

Unique teas are being grown and developed in Aberdeenshire, The Isle of Mull, Lismore, Orkney, Peebles, Perthshire and Dumfries & Galloway. A processing centre for freshly picked tea leaf is under construction at Perth & Kinross. New jobs and program of high-end tea training not known to exist outside of Asia is presently underway for the two first ever young British Tea Sommelier.- both local young people with appropriately sensitive palates.

The Scottish Tea Growers.
Photo courtesy of Wee Tea Plantation

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Moment Among the Elephants

I must have been Edie's age, around 7 years old, the year my Grandma took me to the Circus. I remember two things: eating popcorn and riding an elephant. My Grandma could not believe that her quiet, shy granddaughter was truly determined to sit atop a pachyderm, but there it was. There would be no stopping me. Much to the chagrin of my older brother, an elephant ride for me meant an elephant ride for him. I could hardly contain my excitement as I climbed up into the carrier on top of that amazing creature. I don't know how many children were packed up there, but I made sure I was in front. I imagined I was alone, on an African savanna, just me and my elephant. I remember the deep, grey wrinkles and being surprised by the rough sprouts of hair on its skin. It was thrilling.

Elephants were always interesting to me. One of my favorite chapters in the book, "The Secret Garden," was when Mary discovered the room with the cabinet of carved elephants. I read that chapter again and again.

That's one of the reasons I was so excited to receive a beautiful elephant tea caddy gift set from Williamson Tea, Tea Farmers in Kenya since 1869. And with it, an enamel mug. Visions of sitting outside my safari tent near an open fire, my fingers curled around the mug, the trumpeting of elephants in the distance... it was nearly tangible.

I wasted no time in brewing a cup of Kenyan Earth, their English Breakfast blend, made with Kenyan tea. I'll admit I was hoping beyond hope that it would be good. I've had challenges with Kenyan teas in the past. This one had to be good. It just HAD to be.

And it was! The first sip, the first wonderful sip was everything an English Breakfast blend should be. Bold, malty, and smooth. Absolutely perfect. So perfect, in fact, it has been my morning cup of tea all week long. And the caddy? It sits atop my wall-of-tea that is a work-in-progress. I can look up from my desk and I can happily be aware of the elephant in the room.

These days, we're more aware of the treatment of animals in captivity, and even Ringling Brothers has said they will be retiring their 13 travelling elephants by 2018 in response to the changing attitudes of its customers. The focus has shifted to conservation, and rightly so. The elephant population continues to dwindle due to poachers (100,000 were killed in just 3 years according to one report).  Which is another reason I am quickly becoming an uber-fan of Williamson Tea. They partner with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of pioneering conservation organizations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa. For every elephant caddy sold, Williamson Tea donates £1 to the Wildlife Trust. 

Thank you, Williamson Tea. #KeepOnWandering

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Moment in Tina's Traditional Old English Kitchen

Just outside the hustle and bustle of Indianapolis, lies a beautiful gem of a town called Carmel, Indiana. It was in this small town of boutiques and cafes that I found Tina's Traditional Old English Kitchen. 

In true British style, this tea room has corners dedicated to the Royals, 

as well as whimsy. 

But most important of all, it has traditional English Afternoon Tea.

I always enjoy seeing who visits local tea rooms, and at Tina's there was a bridal shower taking place in one corner, with family and friends enjoying their special time together, a couple of small tables of guests, and then a couple who obviously visited the tea room regularly, as they chatted with Aaron, the server, and exchanged news about mutual acquaintances. 

As I was given the menu, Aaron also offered the opportunity to learn a little history about the tradition of afternoon tea, which of course I accepted. And I was so glad I did! It was refreshing to hear the distinction of "High Tea" and "Afternoon Tea" and to understand that what I would be indulging in was Afternoon Tea. 

High tea refers to an early evening meal that typically consists of tea, a hot dish, bread and cake. It was traditionally the after work meal of the working class (now more often referred to as supper), and served at the kitchen table (as opposed to low tables next to comfy chairs in the parlor). Afternoon tea was more of an upper class refreshment with dainty sandwiches, scones and clotted cream. It was more of a social event than a meal. 
I ordered a pot of Prince of Wales, a black tea blend consisting of Kenyan and Assam teas, and I knew I had chosen the right venue when I saw there was a sugar bowl of sugar cubes (not packets) on the table.

When the 3-tiered tray was delivered, all was right with the world. Traditional tea sandwiches (cucumber, ham and mustard, coronation chicken), scones with imported clotted cream, and just the right amount of sweet treats to cap it all off.

Someone asked me today to describe what the 'draw' of afternoon tea is for me. I think a big part of it is a sense of tradition, of being part of something more than just a moment in today's world. We all have a need for heritage of some sort. This is one of the few instances where we can re-create a time and tableaux of the days of yore. There is a romantic notion surrounding tea with friends and family. Even tea all by myself.  It comes down to a feeling of being taken care of or taking care of others. Some people might enjoy it because they can show off their culinary or decorating skills. Some might be drawn to the effect it has on a crowd, however intimate or large: conversation flows easily over afternoon tea, similar to (and yet more refined than) gathering at a bar with friends. It's relaxing, it's elevating, it's fancy (and yes, sometimes a gal just needs to feel fancy).

Maybe that's why I enjoy visiting tea rooms across the country and around the world. I admire the environment these proprietors create so that people can enjoy a simple, yet elegant, pleasure. They are all so distinct and different, but there are basic elements that are the same.

If you're ever passing through Indiana, and you are in need of a moment with tea, look for the exit for Carmel, and stop by Tina's Traditional Old English Kitchen. Use all of your senses and drink it all in. And enjoy.

To visit:
Tina's Traditional Old English Kitchen
30 N Rangeline Rd,
Carmel, IN 46032
(317) 565 9716

Open from 11am - 4pm DAILY for lunch and afternoon tea
Brunch is served weekdays 9.30am - 11am
Full English Breakfast is available on Sundays from 11am

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Moment of Subtle-Teas

As November rolls in quickly after the hype and fanfare of Halloween, there is a subtle shift in the air. If you aren't paying attention, you'll wake up one day and wonder where the early morning chill came from or realize you suddenly need to switch the climate control to 'heat.'

But if you've been paying attention, you'll notice the temperatures dip a little lower, a little colder each evening. You'll pull on PJ pants one night rather than PJ shorts, then reach for an extra throw for the bed the next night, and then for an extra blanket the next. Mornings have that delicious chill. The kind that invites you to sit outside on the patio with that hot cup of tea, because the juxtaposition of hot hands and cold feet is suddenly perfectly balanced.

I enjoy those subtleties, and maybe that's why I enjoyed The Devotea's Ali Shan Oolong during these increasingly cool mornings. Oolongs in general, I find, are floral and perfume-y, usually in a good way. But this Ali Shan, which is one of the more refined oolongs, holds back and is rich in subtleties.

The steeped liquid is pale yellow and is as smooth as the fog that envelopes the tea plants in the Central Mountain range of Taiwan. The floral quality is exceptionally light, and there is a mild sweetness that lingers. It is not a bold or brash tea, nor is it meant to be. Steeping it longer will intensify the flavor but not the astringency, which is always a good thing in my book (and because I tend to oversteep everything!)

This Ali Shan is a perfect and gentle introduction to Oolongs for the reluctant explorer. And as the holidays approach, it could be the perfect gift for that special someone who enjoys tea. Go ahead - indulge in something subtle and sublime.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Moment with Tea of a Different Color

There's black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea. I've even heard of red tea. But yellow tea? This mythical brew was as steeped in reality as Bigfoot or efficient DMV offices, as far as I knew. 

Until I was invited to a private tasting, hosted by Jo Johnson, of A Gift of Tea. During this tasting, the participants would sample 3 teas, (one black and 2 yellow teas), and discuss our thoughts. There was a 4th tea we would be able to sample on our own and provide notes to the group. All teas were provided by the highly esteemed Seven Cups, based in Tucson, Arizona. 

A Tea Tasting is quite an event. But a long-distance Tea Tasting takes things to a whole new level! Our international group met via Google Hangout and included our host, Jo (New York), Nicole Martin of Tea For Me Please (New Jersey), Geoffrey Norman of Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus (Oregon), Rachel Carter of iHeartTeas (Illinois), Robert Godden of The Devotea (Adelaide, Australia),  Linda Gaylard of The Tea Stylist (Toronto, Canada), Sara Shacket of Tea Happiness (New York), Darlene Meyers-Perry of The Tea Enthusiast's Scrapbook (New Jersey), and Nicole Schwartz of The Devotea USA (Virginia). 

Tea Bloggers Unite!

Yellow tea is a highly specialized tea, requiring lots of time to process. It is so specialized and complicated, that there are only 3 regions in China that still hone the skills to craft this unique tea. A lightly oxidized tea, it is said to create a lot of digestive enzymes, making it gentler on the stomach than green tea.

Seven Cups is one of the few American tea retailers who sells true Yellow Teas, and we were fortunate enough to taste two of the three they have available.

The first yellow tea was Meng Ding. The dry leaves are flat and light green. They resemble pine needles but smell like hay. Add hot water and suddenly the scent changes to asparagus and artichoke. Then it was time for my first sip. The green vegetable scents translated into the taste, and I realized this tea had an interesting influence of both green and oolong teas, though leaning more toward the green tea. I liked that the leaves can be steeped several times, and with each steeping, the flavor changes subtly.

The second was Mo Gan Huang Ya. These dry leaves smelled more grassy, with a hint of toasted almond. And then the big surprise: the steeped leaves gave of a lightly vanilla-grass aroma, and the first sip? Lightly creamy with some faintly toasted notes of rice or almonds. A cousin, perhaps, of Milk Oolong, which is one of my favorites. I fell in love with this one instantly.

The teas were lovely (thank you Austin Hodge for providing the teas for this tasting!), and the gathering of friends was fantastic. I got to glimpse a snippet of everyone's homes and lives, and enjoy their senses of humor in real-time. Discussions wandered from bears to electric blankets to chocolates to children's nighttime routines, to local farmer's markets. We got to say hello to Robert's lovely wife, wave goodnight to Rachel's son, enjoy background banter of everyone's "real" lives, and raise our handcrafted snails in their artist's honor (Thank you, Jo). 

Want to read more about our Tandem Tea Tasting?