Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Detroit Moment

Detroit. The name comes from the French word that means, "strait," referring to the river that links Lake Huron and Lake Erie. Today, Detroit is in another type of strait; one of the "dire" variety, as it will discover if their city will be allowed to remain in bankruptcy protection.

There are many symbols that come to mind when I see the name Detroit. Motor City, Eminem, 8 Mile, Motown, a city struggling to find its place in a country where factories are obsolete and the housing crisis is at its worst. One thing that doesn't come to mind is Tea.

Until now.

Joseph Wesley Black Tea, a company built on passion. That's how they describe themselves, and that passion emanates from everything they do. From the package that arrived on my doorstep...

to the simple, yet elegant containers...

To the very leaves themselves...

No detail is too small.

So, already, it's love at first sight. There is no doubt that the teas will be special.

The first tea I steep is Joseph Wesley Tea No. 4, Dian Hong Congfu from China's Yunnan Province. The dry leaves have a malty, almost honeyed, fragrance, and the resulting brew is a deep, rich, clear red. The first sip - smooth, malt, with a caramel finish. There is a rustic touch embedded within, almost reminding me of sweet hay. It's so intriguing, I steep cup after cup.

I had mentioned to Joseph Uhl, President and CEO of Joseph Wesley Black Tea, how he had created my dream company: one which focuses solely on single estate black teas. And as I sipped Tea No. 4, I read his handwritten response to me, cementing once more my understanding of his passion, his brand, and his vision.

On to Joseph Wesley Tea No. 7, Lapsang Souchong. I must confess, I was truly disappointed when I saw the second tea was a Lapsang Souchong. Though it is a celebrated black tea among many, I have never enjoyed it. I've found it to be too smoky, too heavy-handed. For years, I have avoided it.

But, Mr. Uhl had won me over with this Tea Company from Detroit. I decided to put my faith in his selection and give it one more try.

I'm so glad I did.

This type of tea is typically plucked from the larger leaves on the tea plant, away from the bud, and often smoked over a pine fire, which gives it that distinct flavor. I love that Tea No. 7 is a "uniquely crafted iteration" of what is one of the oldest and most famous of the Chinese black teas from the Fujian province. I also love that it is "harvested in the famed tea gardens of the Wu Yi Shan rock cliffs." Doesn't it sound picturesque?  There is a smoky quality to the tea, but there is a balance of sweetness so the result is not harsh but harmonious.

I was so taken by surprise at how much I enjoyed this tea. I immediately tweeted:

I drank it all day yesterday and started with it again this morning. You can't stop me.
I may be biased - it's my dream tea company concept - but what I've experienced here is perfection.
Yes, Detroit was built on gritty determination, relentless hard work, and a hardscrabble survival instinct. But it was also built on refined perfectionism: whether the finely tooled automobile or laying down the flawless music track, or in this case, the search, discovery and presentation of the next level of tea. 
Today, Detroit may be in dire straits, but it is because of people like Joseph Uhl and companies like Joseph Wesley Black Tea that this city will soon regain its rightful place as a thriving and innovative American metropolis.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Amoda Moment

Vanilla Jasmine Special
There's something so fun about a tea delivery service. It feels like the mail man only ever delivers bills and ads, and then suddenly there's a flat little box from Amoda Tea that arrives, opening like a treasure chest.

Inside are three teas from a different tea vendor each month. In the September box, for example, the tea was from Hale Tea Company.

In the weeks following delivery, I found these teas popping up randomly whenever I was craving a treat.

Mirabelle Cream, a green rooibos with Mirabelle plum, which gives the scent of peach or apricot. I'm not typically a rooibos fan, but this was something special, something unique. A true treat that kept me coming back for more.

The Vanilla Jasmine Special (pictured above) was another one that caught me by surprise. It's the rare vanilla blend that I can really rave about, but this is certainly one. Working heavily in its favor is being a black tea with very subtle and balanced hint of vanilla and jasmine. No one flavor or scent overpowers. I'm sad that I'm down to my last cup. This has become a highly anticipated afternoon companion...

I'm a sucker for sleek, simple packaging, and so when I was called in for strategic planning, it was easy to bring in some much needed back-up.

Creamy Cacao Delight brought some critical solace to a long two days.  A soft white tea with touches of chocolate and vanilla. I don't know, I may have to change my position on vanilla in tea.


Now, let's see... 3:30. Looks like it's time for a little more Mirabelle Cream.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Fall Floral Moment

It's been a bit rainy and cloudy this past day or two. Just perfect for a cup of a familiar favorite, Irish Breakfast Tea from California Tea and Coffee Brewery. I'll sit out here and admire my flowers for just a minute or two.

I love the vibrant colors of fall flowers in Southern California. We just added these outside my front door, and I love being greeted by them each morning as I take the girls to school.
See how the raindrops cling to the snapdragons? Snapdragons make me think of my dad. There were always lots of these in the garden when I was growing up.

These pansies make me think of my dad's sister, Aunt Sue. Many of the tea pots and tea cups she's given me over the years have pansies on them. Such sweet, friendly flowers.

I'll linger just a minute more...

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Confessional Moment

I love a good game of tag, and I want to thank Lu Ann, author of The Cup Of Life, for thinking up a great way to get to know more fun folks in what I dub, "The Underground Tea Syndicate."
And so, based on the questions she has posed, here is where I write my Tea Confessions:

1) First, let's start with how you were introduced & fell in love with the wonderful beverage of tea. There were many initial tea moments as I was growing up. My great-grandma Olive, for example, would steep me a cup of Lipton tea and let me drop numerous ice cubes in it. Or, in the summer she'd scoop a tablespoon of powdered tea concentrate into a glass of cold water for some instant iced tea. But where the fascination really took hold was a trip to visit my Aunt Jane and she took me out for afternoon tea. You can read all about that moment right here.

2) What was the very first tea blend that you ever tried?

 Difficult to recall. My mom often had and still has Red Rose tea on hand, and that was my first foray into Lipton alternatives.

3) When did you start your tea blog & what was your hope for creating it?
 I started this blog just after the birth of my first daughter. Becoming a mother was terrifying, confusing and exhausting, and as much as I ferociously protected and cared for my little baby, I needed something, anything, in which I could feel competent. And so I wrote. It wasn't really intended for anyone else initially. It was reflecting on past tea moments and remembering there was a greater world out there that I could someday introduce my little girl to. It was my creative outlet and a way to recharge. I was actually surprised when I realized there were people reading it, and even more surprised (and delighted) when tea companies began reaching out and asking me if I would please try their teas.

4) List one thing most rewarding about your blog & one thing most discouraging.
 I love, love, love when readers share their own special tea moments with me, and I feel like a kid at Christmas when a tea company introduces me to their own creations. I feel both surprised and honored every single time.
I rarely feel discouraged except when I realize how long it's been since my last post. While I initially started writing just for me, now I do feel a bit of pressure (self-imposed) to now stay on the radar screen of the blogiverse - and that can only happen by writing and posting on a regular basis.

5) What type of tea are you most likely to be caught sipping on?
 Single estate Assams or any really robust Breakfast Tea blend. I like a good, strong blend that really kicks you in the teeth and lets you know it's there. That doesn't sound very refined or relaxing, I realize, but I love 'em hearty!

6) Favourite tea latte to indulge in?

 I've only had one Tea Latte and it was a green tea latte from a local café that shall remain nameless. I generally prefer not to write negative reviews about things - I prefer to write about that I love - but that was one of the worst things I've ever tasted. I'm going to have to give Tea Latte's another go at another venue. I am very open to recommendations!

7) Favourite treat to pair with your tea?
The cucumber sandwich. It is practically perfect in every particular when it comes to accompanying tea. You can find my recipe at the bottom of this past blog post.

8) If there was one place in the World that you could explore the tea culture at, where would it be & why?
 A tour of tea rooms in the UK would be a fun thing to do again. That would probably be one of the most relaxing vacations I could take right now. But for really exploring tea culture, I would love the opportunity to go and stay at a tea estate in the Assam region or with a tea farmer in Japan. That would be a near religious experience for me. So, if any tea estate owners would like to fly me out to be your personal estate blogger for a week or so, I'm totally available for that. Just sayin'.

9) Any tea time rituals you have that you'd like to share?
 No rituals, per se, but traditions in a sense. Every time my Mom comes out to visit, I try to take her to afternoon tea at a different local tea room. Those are some of my very favorite times in my entire life.

10) Time of day you enjoy drinking tea the most: Morning, Noon, Night or Anytime?
 Morning. All morning.

11) What's one thing you wish for tea in the future?
 That I would have more time to share tea moments with friends and family. We're all so incredibly busy - everyone is - that it's really challenging to find little pockets of time to slow down, share some tea and treats, and enjoy each other's company. It's a selfish wish in a way, but I wish it for everyone - time to connect with loved ones over a cup of tea.

-- Who do you tag?


Jo from Scandalous Tea
Geoffrey from Steep Stories
Tara from Tea & Cookies
Robert from Lord Devotea's Tea Spouts
Darlene from The Tea Enthusiast's Scrapbook

*Note: When/if you create your own tag post, please start by letting your readers know who you were initially tagged by. Feel free to use the photo above as well.

**If you end up participating in this game of TAG, tweet us your post so we can get to know you more too. @teamoment and 
@theteacupoflife OR @teaaholic !

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Park on Fremont Moment

Spoiler Alert!

This musing has absolutely nothing to do with tea.

But it was one of the cooler venues I've ever visited, and so you're stuck with me waxing poetic about it. It's a little place called Park on Fremont in Las Vegas, Nevada. When you're in Vegas as often as my husband and I, it's pretty exciting to find out about off-the-beaten-path restaurants from locals. This was one such place. Just steps away from the "Fremont Experience," (which I will say is the "B" side of Las Vegas tourism, currently), is this charming, kooky restaurant. It somehow blends into its surroundings, so we walked by it 3 full times before we realized THAT cute little entryway was indeed the place. Upon entering, it's as though you've stepped into the land of Oz. Only more bizarre.

The decor is kind of like Alice in Wonderland meets Lady Gaga (Yes, for the girl in the portrait, "skirt steak" has taken on an entirely new meaning).

Taxidermy runs rampant throughout, though I'm not 100% sure all of the animals represented can lay claim to all their original parts.

And while weird and wonderful, it is incredibly casual and cozy with friendly, helpful servers. Even the manager stopped by and asked how things were. I noticed he stopped and chatted with each table in a casual, neighborly way.

Everyone had been talking about the Grapefruit beer (Steigl Grapefruit), so of course we had to try that.

Served in a canning jar, this brew was dangerously delicious and refreshing. I could see that this is yet one more attraction in Vegas that could keep you sitting at a table for hours. A glance at the drink menu gives you a clearer understanding of the owner's sense of humor.

I was so obsessed with the steak salad I ordered, that I can't recall at all what Gene ordered. All I know is that it was good, and I don't think you could go wrong with any burger or salad you select. Everything comes served in a basket with a "newspaper" lining, giving it that picnic-in-the-park kind of feel.

Everywhere you look, there's something that makes you do a double take. Even in the ladies room.

A peek through the back window made me wish we were coming back that evening. I can picture myself very comfortable installed at any of these outdoor tables.

And though I mentioned before this venue had nothing whatsoever to do with tea, they did have a fine collection of china...

Next time you're in Vegas, do yourself a favor and venture away from the Strip for lunch or dinner. I know a spot. Tell them I sent you. (They'll have no idea what you're talking about, but I bet they'll smile and nod and seat you anyway.)

To find Park On Fremont:
506 E Fremont
Las Vegas, NV 89101
(702) 834-3160

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Turkish Delight Moment

It's not every day something arrives via Turkish Post. In fact, I'll go ahead and admit this is the first time anything has arrived for me via Turkish Post.

Kedoçay - The name itself is so deliciously mysterious for a Westerner such as me. And the timing couldn't be better. Rocktober is finally over, but the aftershocks are still being felt. My daughter's upcoming surgery, a "Test" program that I'm overseeing at work, and on and on. The daily grind feels like an hourly grind. Being whisked away from craziness via my new friends in Istanbul is very, very welcome. They thoughtfully gifted me with three of their teas. And being a day like today, I decided to indulge in all three.

First, Milan Dancong, which if I recall correctly, is a favorite of +Geoffrey Norman of @LazyLiteratus fame.

This oolong from Feng Huang, China, is much less floral than many oolongs I've been introduced to and has a rather nutty flavor.  Very pleasant and rather robust without being harsh. Even as it cooled, it did not take on the bitter quality that I sometimes find. A good find. A good friend.

Next, Huang Shan Mao Feng, a green tea from Anhui, China. As you've learned from my travels through green teas, these have become an acquired taste. It's not always an easy introduction. And yet, every once in awhile, I get an amazing surprise, as I did here. Smooth, smooth, so smooth. Sometimes green teas almost feel like there is a slight texture to them as sip, but no so with this.  Lovely, lovely.

Jasmine Pearls from Fuding, China, I saved for last. I've grown an appreciation for Jasmine infused teas since we moved into our current home. Outside my office window is a large jasmine bush that scents the air around our home. It's an aroma that has become familiar and comforting. And Jasmine Pearls, the process of steeping involved all of the senses.

First, feeling the little rolled pearls of tea as I drop them by hand into my cup. Smelling the hint of jasmine. Pouring the hot water over the pearls and watching as very slowly they start to unfurl.

The scent of jasmine increases, and the resulting liquid is a sunny yellow. The flavor, mellow, slightly floral without feeling like you're immersed in a bouquet, smooth and substantial. I steep and resteep.

In a whirl of madness that just isn't quite ready to die down, I am grateful for this moment of Turkish delight, and I look forward to becoming better acquainted with the beautiful minds of Kedoçay.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Mother's Moment

Change is change, whether good or bad. And although one of the aspects of my career is to help businesses make changes gracefully, I suppose it's good to be reminded from time to time that change is not easy.

Over the past couple of weeks we've been transitioning from a full-time nanny to care for our two girls back to a daycare situation. We literally could not have survived Anne Marie's first year of life without this guardian angel/saint, and yet for a variety of reasons we had to come to the realization that our needs and situation has changed, and so back to daycare it is.

As with every change, there are pros and cons. One of the biggest cons is saying goodbye to my weekly "Appointments" with Edie.

For the past few months, around lunch time a few days per week, Edie would stop in for tea. Sometimes it was truly just a cup of tea, and she would practice sipping with pinky extended.

Sometimes it was more elaborate, with cucumber sandwiches and perhaps some strawberries or grapes.

A large plastic storage container covered by a large-ish tea towel has served as our tea table. We sit on the floor and talk about what's happening at kindergarten, or how many days until Christmas, or what we should have for dinner, or how smelly Edward's dog breath is. Ewwwww!
After a first experiment with tea sandwiches and the 5-year-old stamp of approval, cucumber sandwiches had been making more appearances lately.
And, of course, we could not forget the sugar cubes. Often, we even brought out the "Special" sugars by Chambre de Sucre.
These appointments were never very long. 15 minutes or so. She always asked for one of two teas:  Persian Princess or Two Tigers. Her ratio of tea to milk was about 1:3. I taught her the joys of dunking cookies in her tea.
And now, things have changed.
Now I drop the girls off in the early morning and drive home to an empty house where I dive into work. There's no special appointment to break up my day. I have to wait until work is over before I get to hear about anything interesting that may have occurred on the playground. And while all of that is fine, I realize I'll have to work just a little harder to make time for these little moments. They're worth it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Verdant Moment

There's that certain time in early spring when suddenly everything is covered with a layer of bright green. The trees are no longer bare and grey. Instead of sharp edges there are softened curves. Life is springing up every which way you look. The landscape is verdant.

\ˈvər-dənt\ - something that is lush and green

And so it is that I find Minneapolis, despite it being October and my need for a coat. Verdant in the sense that I always find this community lush and green in growing creativity and opportunity.

Verdant Tea Minneapolis Tasting Room's name says it all. They know Tea. They are a Tasting Room in Minneapolis. And they are Verdant in their community.

Lily and David wanted to share the stories of tea. Not just any tea. The tea of some of their friends who skillfully and lovingly run tea plantations in China. What started out as an online business blossomed rather suddenly when they returned from a trip to China in May and decided to open a Tea Room. In July.

And they did.

Upon arriving, Lily greeted me and decided I needed to try their Kombucha on Tap. Kombucha, which is fermented tea, is new to me. And apparently it is often described as not tasting too great. However, this kombucha was something magical. The three they have on tap are each slightly fizzy, slightly sweet, and totally delicious. My favorite was Pink Robot. (The one on the far right - though in this photo, they all look the same!)

The space is large, open, and accommodates a wide variety of uses. There's the prep bar in the far back corner, there's an open studio area perfectly suitable for group discussions or yoga classes (which, yes, are available), there's a section of small, comfortable, booths for café style tea service, and then there is what I consider their piece de resistance - the grand tasting table that rests in the middle of the space.

Built of heavy wood with graceful vines hanging above, you almost feel like you're in a woodland oasis while seated there. And that's where we sat and chatted.

About the He family, about Mrs. Li, and the other tea farmers they work closely with. David brought over the He family's Lao Shan tea, both black and green. I've never had the experience of tasting tea from one garden that is processed two different ways. There are as many subtle similarities as there are differences. And I got to learn fascinating tea facts like the reason Chinese green teas can have that nutty taste is due to the soy plants that are often grown next to the tea plants. The bugs like the soy plants more, so they eat that instead of the tea leaves. Voila! Organic farming at its best! And because tea plants absorb the flavors and scents that surround them, it absorbs the soy, nutty flavors.

I love this kind of stuff.

Then they both insisted I try Mrs. Li's Dragonwell. And with good reason. It is hands down the smoothest, most perfect Dragonwell I've ever experienced. Her joie de vivre that shines brightly from her portrait on the wall is captured perfectly in her tea. If you love green tea, you must try this.

As Lily told me the stories of the tea families, it became more and more evident that this is more than a business. It is a community. Underscored by the fact that their space is also home base for a variety of start-ups in need of commercial kitchen space. For Lily and David, it's a no-brainer. They have a huge commercial kitchen. They have creative and entrepreneurial friends who need to prepare food. And a community is born!

There is Sweet Science Ice Cream who uses space and also entreats the Tea Room staff to be guinea pigs when it comes to new ice cream flavors (tough sell, I'm sure!).

There's Nate Uri - inventor of Pink Robot Kombucha and other fine flavors, and also the YouTube sensation Hot Date with Nate

Real Deal Chocolate - and the name says it all!

And The Birchwood Café.

What I have found in Minneapolis, and what I find proven at the Verdant Tea Minneapolis Tasting Room, is that good ideas are celebrated here. People come together to cooperate and support those who have the willingness and bravery to put their dream on the line.

Verdant indeed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Rocktober Moment

It is the first of October. Or, as it's referred to in my house, Rocktober. I think most families have one of those months that is just abnormally weighted down with commitments, renewals, appointments, obligations, fees, etc., etc. October is our month.

So, as the last days of a comparatively mild September came to a close, it was so wonderful to be invited to tea at a dear friend's house. I'm in awe of her wherewithal to have me over as I believe September was her Rocktober. A return to work, a new home purchase, the start of school for one, the entry into the terrible two's for another, etc., etc.

There is such luxury in sharing a moment with an old friend, talking about (or purposely not talking about) what we've all been up to, work, the kids, gardening (or the fantasy of gardening), books we've read (or would love to have 5 minutes in which to read), ideas for home décor, and the absolute newly discovered necessity for cress in tea sandwiches. Say yes to the Cress!

She's a wonder, this friend of mine. With everything else going on, she crafted delicious tea sandwiches, freshly baked scones with homemade Devonshire cream and cherry preserves. And, of course, a plate of shortbread cookies.

I brought along a variety of teas (green for her, black for me) and a little parcel of beautiful hand crafted sugar from Chambre de Sucre, for that special touch.

In the calm before my storm, it was the perfect moment to soak in what life is all about. Family, friendship, and in this case, food! Thank you, C.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

An Earl Grey Kind of Moment

"They" say that Earl Grey is the most popular black tea blend in the U.S.  And I can believe it. When you travel as much as I do and stay in any chain of hotels, you soon discover that the standard "fancy" teas they provide in your room or in the hotel restaurant are Earl Grey, Chamomile or if you're really lucky, Bigelow's Constant Comment.

While I've tended toward unflavored teas in recent years, I'll admit I like a good Earl Grey here and there, and today was just one of those days.

Today, a fun treat from Hampstead Tea of London. Now, when it comes to Earl Greys, there's an entire spectrum of bergamot influence. There's the blend with the very light touch of the citrus all the way up to the Bergamot with hint of black tea added. On a scale of 1 to 10, Hampstead Tea's Earl Grey is about an 8.5 on the Bergamot scale. Just perfect for the addition of milk and sugar. Citrus lovers, this one's for you.

I don't know what it is about Earl Grey, but it's a very cozy tea. It begs for sweater-wearing and book reading. So, despite it being in the 90's in sunny, southern California, I'm improvising and curling up on the sofa with an afghan nearby (too hot to actually wrap self in) and a favorite mystery (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie), and sipping this comfortable treat.

The funniest thing happened. While writing this very post, I see that I just received an email from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas with a blog post on "Who was Earl Grey?" I guess it really is just an Earl Grey kind of day!

To celebrate it, let's have a drawing! Comment on this post with your favorite Earl Grey Tea Moment by September 20, 2013, and I'll send a package of Hampstead Tea's Earl Grey to a randomly selected winner. Can't wait to hear your "Moments!"

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Virtual Tea Party Moment

I don't know when exactly it happened, but somewhere along the line it seems that if I want to try and get together with friends, we end up scheduling weeks or months in advance - especially if the friends have children too.  With school and sports and jobs and doctor appointments and birthday parties, it can feel like every waking moment is scheduled.

I'd rather be busy than bored, but I'd also prefer to catch up with old friends and have the opportunity to make new ones. While I'd love to have friends over for tea, I've had to make peace with the fact that it's just not going to happen any time soon.

Unless... I do it here.

So, sit down with me, old friends and new. Grab your favorite tea cup. Steep your favorite tea.

World Tea House is the first to arrive with their fun travel mug. Perfect for a stroll on the beach, I see.

And Rachel, of i Heart Teas with these beautiful cups that soothe my mind just looking at them.

Here comes Cynthia with a glass tea cup from her parents' set, c. 1970's.
And Jo, of A Gift of Tea, brings with her this cup of simple elegance.
Seattle Coffee Gear joins the gathering with their own clear glass tea cup,
while Robert Godden, a.k.a. The Devotea, shares his beautifully ornate glass cup,

and Geoffrey, a.k.a. The Lazy Literatus, brings his own version of the clear glass tea cup, which is his trusty AquaOvo travel mug.

Nicole, of Tea For Me Please, brings her cheery polka dot cup (which she would be wise to hold tightly, as I might "accidentally" abscond with it),

and Heidi, of Tozy Tea, sets out her beautifully swirled tea cup that reminds me of Russian porcelain but with a modern twist. 

It's so fun to bring friends together and learn just a little more about them, about their preferences and about how they take their tea.

I knew it would be tough for my friend of The Dorothy Days to choose which tea cup to bring to the party, but I was not disappointed by this delicately beautiful choice.

And I found Beth's choice, of Teas Etc. fame, so fun and whimsical.

And finally, I was delighted that Aimee, of MySteepedTea.com, joined the party with her own fun tea mug.

As I enjoy this moment, learning the story behind each treasured tea cup, I feel connected again. I may not have time to stop and smell the roses today, but I created time to stop and sip. With you.