Friday, May 18, 2012

A Victoria Princess Moment

One can't truly appreciate the notion of afternoon tea without first appreciating the woman who fanned the popularity of this notion. Queen Victoria. Her entire history is fascinating and the stuff of fairy tales, replete with becoming heir to the throne as a baby shortly after her father died, a controlling mother, being protected from uncles who could not produce heirs of their own, various attempts on her life, and marrying her own Prince Charming.

But before she became queen, she was a princess.

As a young princess, she travelled the country to become more familiar with what would become her kingdom, and her mother, in a rare display of wisdom, gave her journals to encourage her to document her experiences. Though an only child with only her tutor to call 'friend,' her extensive journals expose a playful, curious, brilliant mind who was able to bring the written word to life in an extraordinary way.

She married her one true love, Prince Albert, and he lovingly helped her become a most beloved and successful monarch. Her reign is most often credited with industrial expansion, economic prosperity and a growing empire.

It is said that one of her ladies in waiting, the Duchess of Bedford, came up with the idea of afternoon tea to overcome that "sinking feeling' she had in the late afternoon, well before dinner would be served. Already a tea fanatic, the now "Queen" Victoria embraced the concept and made it all the rage in very short order. So, while using her influence to build and strengthen a country, she also brought about one of the world's most refined and elegant pastimes, Afternoon Tea.

With so many complexities, it is no wonder that American Tea Room has created an equally complex yet lovely blend of tea invoking her name, Victoria. A black tea blend with bergamot, rose petals and vanilla beans, this tea gets down to business, but in such a surprising way.

Typically, a tea blend might be described as having citrus notes or floral notes or vanilla notes. In this case, it has all three - which should not work (in my mind). Additionally, vanilla has never appealed to me in tea blends. With all these strikes against it, I was prepared to be disappointed, but as with all fairy tales, this had a happy ending. The aroma is what strikes you first, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the rose and citrus scents enhanced and elevated with the vanilla. Then, the first sip. The full bodied black tea held a light symphony of the citrus, floral and vanilla notes, swirling together in perfect harmony. No one essence overpowered another. Delightful! And delicious!

I love the thrill of discovery, and if it has to do with princesses or royalty, all the better. My never ending thanks to a fine queen who encouraged a practice that brings so many such pleasure, and to American Tea Room for providing the tea that honors such a princess who became such a queen.

(We love our princesses and their castles)

American Tea Room Your Ultimate Tea Resource

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A China Breakfast Moment

The mornings in Southern California have been gorgeous this week! Skies are clear blue, birds of all varieties are flitting around, showing off their colors, my rose bushes have exploded in beautiful spring blooms, and Edie has become fascinated with the abundant arrival of snails.

If you look really closely, you can spot the two snails below the rose bush who captured her attention this morning. "They're kissing," she decided. "This one's the mommy and this one's the baby."

"Yes," I said. "That must be right."

I'm beginning to understand the true sentiment of 'seeing the world through a child's eyes.' So many things that I've become blind to or grossed out by are new or fascinating to Edie.  "I touched his eyeball!" she'll exclaim about the snail's antennae, and I have to stop myself from physically cringing or ordering her not to EVER touch snails - Eww! Eww! EWW! Instead, I smile and gently suggest he might not like his eyeball touched, but he might not mind her touching his shell.

I also am reminded of the excitement I feel when I make my own new discoveries. Like the China Breakfast blend sent to me by California Tea and Coffee Brewery.

I was already primed for liking it based on it being a Breakfast blend, but seeing the deep, deep gold-tinged amber brew biased me even more. Is there anything more exciting than a first sip of tea (or the discovery of not one, but two snails frolicking under a rose bush in the morning?). Perhaps there is, but for me, this ranks very highly on the excitement scale. In this instance of The First Sip, I was struck by a hint of what I associate with Puerh teas. The slightest nuance of a fermented tea. It makes me think of that scent you'll find deep in the woods if you were to turn over the soil after a spring rain. But then there's more. A full, robust deluge of that familiar black breakfast blend flavor - in this case from the Yunnan region of China. Bold and hitting every point of my palate, I know I'm drinking tea, not flavored water, and it's good. Just the companion I want to journey through my morning with me. It's not quite as in-your-face as the Irish Breakfast blend that I adore from the same fine establishment, but it could certainly beat the English Breakfast blend in a fight, if the two were to run into each other in a dark alley.

We'll see what other interesting creatures Edie helps me rediscover in the coming days and months and what new teas make their way to me. My mission, however, is to not just be a passive specator, but to be Edie and Anne Marie's tour guide on their new adventure called Life. To point out the beautiful, the exciting, the interesting. I know we'll make many new discoveries together, and I'm looking forward to them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Sussex Teapot Tea Room Moment

One of the first posts on An International Tea Moment was my first tea moment with my daughter, Edie. It was an interesting time of life - wondering where to find the policy and procedure manual for this new baby, adjusting to sleeping in 1.5 hour increments, dealing with a hurricane of emotions, and trying to come to terms with this new definition of who I was. Taking Edie to one of my favorite tea spots was a first step in discovering me new "normal."

Now I've got baby Anne Marie, and things are a little less terrifying this time around. I now know there is no policy and procedure manual, I get to sleep in 3 hour increments, and my emotions have mellowed to the occasional spring shower.  All of this is good news. We're again working toward a new normal, though this time it's more of an updated normal.  In any case, tea is in order, and it was with great joy that I was able to include my mom to share my first tea moment with Anne Marie. My mom had visited England years ago and has memories of afternoon tea in the homes of friends there, so I thought she might enjoy a little place my friend, S, had introduced me to a couple of years ago: The Sussex Teapot Tea Room.

Chris, one of the owners (who is originally from East Sussex), greeted us with enthusiasm and called Anne Marie a "poppet," which won numerous points in my book. It's a term I've always read in the British mysteries I read, but I've never heard it said out loud. The traditional British tea room itself is what might be called shabby chic with small touches of Britain here and there. They asked if we'd like tea, and when we said yes, two pots of strong, black tea were produced. No need to select a blend. You get what they serve, and it's just right (PG Tips). We selected the Afternoon Cream Tea, which includes a pot of tea, tea sandwiches, side salad & crisps (potato chips), and fresh scones with jam & cream.

The salad, though simple, has a traditional dressing that I've only ever tasted in Europe and love with a burning passion. Once again, I forgot to ask for the recipe or if I could buy some (the Shamrock & Thistle British/Irish Grocery & Gift Shop is connected to the Tea Room).  Drat! For our choice of sandwiches, we selected cucumber (of course), egg salad, chicken cashew and the coronation chicken salad. All traditional. All delicious!

The scones were served after the sandwiches, which I've noticed is opposite of what most American tea houses do, but it does make more sense. Scones are so scrumtiously dessert-y, I've never understood why they are served first so often.

As my mom and I enjoyed our tea together, and Anne Marie slept (as Edie did during our first tea moment), Chris and her co-worker stopped by regularly to refill our tea pots with fresh, hot tea, to admire the baby, or to just chat for a few moments. It felt more like having tea in someone's living room than in a restaurant, and for this particular outing it was just exactly perfect. I was transported to the cozy tea rooms of London and York that I visited nearly 15 years ago, and to have my mom and daughter share the moment with me was all that I could ask for.

To visit the Sussex Teapot Tea Room:
12752 Valley View Street, Suites P&Q
Bridgecreek Business Park
Garden Grove, CA 92845
(just one block north of the 22 fwy)

Phone: 714-897-9442

Wed through Sun - 11a.m. - 4p.m.