Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Moment with Queen Charlotte

In honor of Queen Charlotte's birthday on May 19th, 1744, it's only fitting I write about a place that is her namesake. But first, we must start with the hero of the story. His name was Roger, and he made my day.

A speaking engagement found me in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, and as luck would have it, I was able to take advantage of a break in the agenda to seek out afternoon tea.  J threw her lot in with me, and we showed up at the Queen Charlotte Tea Room on the off chance we'd be able to get a table. When we first arrived, Roger greeted us apologetically with the news that there was no room at the inn. And indeed, the place was hopping!  We were about to say thank you and be on our way, when he asked us to just wait one more moment.

Magically, he conjured a small table out of thin air, and with that our afternoon tea began. A pot of Scottish Breakfast Tea later, and then the real decisions began. This was no ordinary tea room. This was Queen Charlotte's Tea Room, an English Tea Room complete with Shepherd's Pie and Fish and Chips on the menu. The aromas were heavenly. The Shepherd's Pie was exactly what I needed. My compliments to Chef Linda!

Afternoon tea for me is always a good thing, but afternoon tea with great company is the best. I have only spent a little bit of time with J in the past year, but she's the type of person who feels like an old friend. No topic is off limits, stories are lively and sincere, and every person who interacts with her falls head over heels in love. It's as fun to watch others enjoy her attention as it is to be the object of it.

And to be in this particular tea room. Cozy, warm, and so very British, Roger and the rest of the staff made us feel as though we were the visiting long-lost relatives. It was clear why they had a full house. I have a feeling this was the norm, rather than the exception.

Most people visit Niagara Falls for the waterfall, and I'll tell you, that's definitely a magnificent attraction. But this tea room should definitely be on your itinerary. When you need a place in which to slow down, relax and be fed, you'll find no better option than right here.

And as I told J on our way to the airport, "We'll always have Roger."

To Visit Queen Charlotte Tea Room:

5689 Main Street
Niagara Falls, ON L2G 2E5
Phone: (905)-371-1350

Mon:  Closed
Tue - Thur: 11AM - 7PM
Fri:  11AM - 8PM
Sat - Sun:  11AM - 7PM

Reservations recommended (and please tell Roger and Linda hello from me)!

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Moment of Descendants

It's official. I no longer know how to relax. Or maybe my version of relaxing is just a satisfying level of 'doing.' In any case, I was supposed to be taking it easy as I recovered from an umbilical hernia repair. Minor outpatient surgery, but recovery must occur.

I'm extremely fortunate that my parents were here to help with the girls while I attempted to rest and recover. But what does one do on a mid-Friday morning when the girls are at school and one is not allowed to work? Bring out the gong fu, of course.

In general, my parents have only been subjected to my tea hobby when I send them teas I think they would like or I bring teas with me when we come for a visit. This is the first time I got to get super nerdy about it with them.

I found it rather fitting that the tea of choice was from Tea Descendants, a family company whose roots are south of the Fujian province of China, best known for Oolong tea. One part of the family immigrated to Singapore in the early 1900's while the rest of the family stayed behind to continue the family trade of tea farming. Some of the Singapore descendants made a journey to their homeland to explore their family history, and this is where the company was born.

They sent me a gift of their Oolong No. 2 Smooth Floral Touch (talk about a descriptive name!). And that is where we began my parents' introduction to gong fu tea.

While it is fairly well known that I am a tea nerd, I am also a bit of a process nerd. In fact, my entire higher education focused on process improvement. So, it warmed the cockles of my heart to find that step-by-step instructions on how to brew the tea properly were included in the tea tin. When you steep tea in the gong fu manner, you steep it for seconds, not minutes, which goes against all of my instincts. But it makes you more mindful, more observant, more engaged in the process, the flavors, the aromas.

It was fun to hear my parents' observations of what they smelled and tasted. (We even pulled out Linda Gaylard's flavor wheel from her latest book, The Tea Book, to help us describe what we were experiencing).

The First Steep: light, spring vegetables, with a reserved floral scent.
The Second Steep: lightly roasted vegetables with green hay
The Third Steep: toasted rice, faintly similar to genmaicha
The Fourth Steep: an intensifying floral aroma, grassier notes appearing
The Fifth Steep: lessening scent, but tasting more of what we had been smelling
The Sixth Steep (which sounds like it should be a movie title): bright, slightly astringent, with a sunnier green flavor

As we steeped, we talked. It occurred to me that this was the first time in as long as I could remember that it was just me and my parents sitting and having a conversation. No siblings, no grandkids, not even a dog in sight. Just the three of us. It was so nice. It was so comfortable. That's what family is, isn't it? Or what it's supposed to be.  And maybe that's part of the "secret sauce" of Tea Descendants. When family comes together in such a harmonious way, beautiful things happen.