Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My experiment in tea blending


I enjoy sampling new teas like the ones Adagio was recently kind enough to send me, and when the tea is a loose tea, I also enjoy simply observing what the tea leaves look like. Can you guess what kind of black tea this is? I'll give you a hint and say the color and bits of fruit are significant.

It's Peach Tea from Adagio, and I greatly enjoyed it! A good peach tea is a perennial favorite with me, and this one was full of the peach flavor I so enjoy.

And what about this tea? Can you guess what type it is? Note the little white bits, because they are pieces of …

Coconut in the Coconut Black Tea! This was an almost creamy tasting tea, which I believe would make this an excellent dessert tea.

Having enjoyed these two samples, I decided I'd pretend to be a tea blender and mix a bit of each for a Peachy Coconut Tea (or maybe a Coconutty Peach Tea?). Aristotle is quoted as having said, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," but I must tell you that was not true of my blend, because the "whole" blend was a blah-tasting tea in which I enjoyed neither the peach nor the coconut. Guess I'll let the experts at Adagio stick to the tea-blending from now on!


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Atman Tea: for the mind and body

Recently I was contacted by Atman Tea Co. about trying some of their organic and natural tea that was said to relax the mind and body. Goodness knows my mind and body could use some relaxation, so I said sure, I'll try it!

A package soon arrived in the mail, and inside was this packet with the Atman Tea Co. logo. I liked the look, but I wasn't at all sure what to expect inside.

Now this is quite a different tea than I am used to sampling. The silken tea sachets were lovely, and the tea inside looked intriguing. It's a blend of jasmine green tea and ashwagandha, said to be an ancient exotic herb from India and "especially useful for those who are exhausted, agitated, or drained by stress. It is also one of the most renowned anti-aging and rejuvenating herbs in Ayurvedic medicine." Now while I'm not exactly "drained by stress," I have been burning the candle at both ends lately, keeping up with all of my freelance writing and editing work while, perhaps ambitiously, keeping to my 1,000-words-a-day writing goal in order to finish my second cozy mystery—when I really ought to be editing the first! When I opened this packet of tea, my first thought was of Coppertone suntan oil. Even a whiff of that little coconut smell sends me back to the Florida beaches of childhood summer vacations, which is always a pleasant image. That's not *exactly* the right scent, as there was a spicy quality I can't quite define, but the Coppertone whiff comes close. This tea has a unique taste, sort of a zestier version of jasmine tea, and I rather liked it. This is not the sort of thing I'd want to guzzle by the gallon, but I sensed I was having a "spa" type tea, and that was a good thing. (I did read on the package that women who are pregnant or are on medications should check with a doctor, so please be advised of that if you're interested in trying this tea.) For more information, you may visit Atman Tea Co. here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The winner of the "Time for Tea" wall stickers is ...

Misty! I've just sent an email to the address you provided, and hopefully these will be headed your way soon. Thanks for entering, and congrats, Misty!

Best door prize ever!

Over the weekend, Alex and I were in North Carolina to attend the annual party (a weekend-long event) of the small press where I edit fiction. We attended for the first time last year and had such a great time, we were eager to attend this year's festivities as well. I so enjoy meeting my fellow editors and some of the authors I've worked with, and one of the highlights of the weekend is the delicious dinner we all share on Saturday night. Afterward, bags of door prizes are given to every single person attending the party, and this year, we earned tickets by answering trivia questions throughout the night. As our ticket numbers were chosen, we got to go choose a gift. Lucky for me, my name was drawn second, so I had my pick of most everything, and I chose a bag with a company T-shirt, mug, and other goodies, but what closed the deal for me was this package of Novel Teas from Bag Ladies Tea! (And yes, I learned the owner of the company had hoped I would win it, which I thought was quite touching!)

I've heard the C.S. Lewis quote before, but I had not heard the Henry Ward Beecher quote, "Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?" Isn't that the truth! 


Each Ceylon tea bag (which makes a nice, brisk cup of black tea, by the way) has a quote attached, and I also liked this one by Jorges Luis Borges: "I have always imagined that Paradise will be kind of a library." (We book lovers can only anticipate what we'll be reading in Heaven one day!) So there are door prizes, and there are door prizes, and I must say I was thrilled with mine this year!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Maryland


Maryland is one of the original thirteen colonies, and I find it notable that it's considered the birthplace of religious freedom in our country. Maryland also assisted in the founding of Washington, DC by donating the land. (And I'll let you decide whether that was a good thing or not, ha!) And in tea history …



• Baltimore, Maryland, was the home of the famous Hochschild Kohn and Company department store, and this 1921 menu from the store's tea room can be found in the digital collections of the New York Public Library. I love knowing what foods this old Baltimore tea room once served, especially the desserts! Boston Cream Pie, Fresh Strawberry Whip, and Peach Meringue? Yes, please!


• One of the newer companies on the tea scene today, and one whose teas I have sampled and enjoyed, is Capital Teas. This company is based in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, and I was pleased to read that the company has a rich tea history, as co-founder Manelle Martino is the great-great-grandson of Francis Van Reyk, "a tea entrepreneur who planted and oversaw some of the first Ceylon Tea estates (in what is now Sri Lanka) starting in the 1870s." If you haven't tried their teas, you may want to visit http://www.capitalteas.com.



• This vintage photograph from Greenbelt, Maryland, is another I found from the Library of Congress website. (Okay, so Washington doesn't mess up *everything* it touches, I guess.) It's from the Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information. The photo from February 1938 is titled "Serving tea in one of the one-room apartments. Greenbelt, Maryland." I'm intrigued that the "Office of War Information" photographed something related to teatime, so now I have yet another mystery to investigate, thanks to Maryland!

Friday, May 20, 2016

More teatime coloring fun

May has been a crazy busy month for me, as I gather it is for many people at this time of year. With lots of social obligations, a huge editing project, and more, I feel I've had little "me" time, so I've been multitasking by coloring my way through the morning and evening news shows lately. These designs are all from the new coloring book I wrote about here last month.

I've still got lots of pictures left to color, fortunately, but I was wondering what I'll do when I've colored that last tea page. Turns out, there are quite a few tea-themed coloring books on the market these days, including:



and


This weekend I'm off on a road trip to the annual party of the publishing house I work for, and I'm definitely hoping to get in a few hours of coloring and relaxation along the way!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fun with tea-themed gift baskets

You'd think I would have done this before, but only this year have I started assembling tea-themed gift baskets. I'd seen other authors give away gift packages to promote their books, so when I published my "Teatime Tales" earlier this year, I decided that donating some tea baskets with a signed copy of my book to local charities I'm involved with might be a good idea. This is my third and latest gift basket this year (all destined for silent auctions), and it's one of my favorites yet. In addition to my book, this Tommy Bahama basket contains a tea towel, peach and other teas, a green tea candle, a white teapot, and two teacups.

This gift basket is for a fundraiser for our local community foundation, whose logo features a peach, so I thought this "Thanks, You're a Peach" tea would be a perfect item for some supporter to win. (At least I hope they do, as this event hasn't been held yet!)

The basket also includes two 222 Fifth teacups. These are more contemporary teawares than my style, but this is aimed at a younger, hipper crowd, so I hope I guessed correctly about their tastes.

Earlier this year, I donated this gift basket to another local nonprofit, and again it included a signed book, tea towels, a teapot, and two teacups.

Now these were two teacups I absolutely adored, and if I'd seen one more, I would have gotten it for myself, but alas, that T.J. Maxx had only the two! But isn't this design lovely? I especially liked the scalloped shape of the teacups.

Whether or not donating such items ever works as a "marketing tool" for book sales, I must say I have enjoyed finding and packaging these baskets while supporting local nonprofits. (And I failed to get a picture of the last basket, but it was different too. I don't think any two will ever be just alike.) So I've learned that a plain teapot, two teacups, and some teas is a great basis for a tea-themed gift basket. I'm thinking an "adult coloring" basket with a tea theme might be fun later on. Do you have any ideas for tea-themed gift baskets?




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

About those Twinings tea samples …

Well, I hardly know what to say about this! Some weeks ago, I shared here a link to an offer I'd seen online to request three free samples of Twinings teas. I'd done so before with happy results, and I was eager to claim three more freebies. But in what is surely a first for this blog (and, I hope, a last), I didn't like any of them! Why?

The Pumpkin Spice Chai tasted musty and old. I'm used to a brisk, robust pumpkin flavor like the Harney and Sons Pumpkin Spice Tea, and this Twinings blend isn't even in the competition. I wondered if it was just an old tea bag.

The Jasmine Green Tea would surely be better. Meh. It was just a so-so green tea, drinkable, but with scant jasmine flavor. Nope.

Finally, surely, surely I would like the Organic Camomile with Mint and Lemon, right? But no, this just tasted like plain old chamomile tea, with maybe a teeny tiny bit of mint but no lemon flavor. And I had expected I'd love this one!

Are my tastebuds off? I think not, because I drank other teas that day that I enjoyed (including tea from a fresh box of a Twinings berry blend), just not any of these samples. Have any of you received yours? Did they taste old? I don't think I've ever said a negative word about Twinings, but I have to say these new samples left me wanting!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Coming soon to a (tea) bookshelf near you …

I've said it before, but if I'm not editing a book or writing a book, I'm reading a book, and most days, I do a bit of all three activities. Occasionally, I go snooping on Amazon to see what new tea books are coming out in the months ahead so I can go ahead and add them to my Wish List! Among the ones I’m eager to read this fall is “Tea Sets and Tyranny: The Politics of Politeness in Early America” by Steven C. Bullock. “Politics” and “politeness” aren’t two words I would put in the same sentence today, so I’m very interested in a book that examines the role of social interactions that contributed to the coming of the American Revolution.

“A Catered Tea Party” by Isis Crawford is coming this August, and it looks like just the sort of cozy mystery I’d like. I haven’t read any of this author’s othered “Catered” mysteries, so if you have, please let me know what you think.

Now I’ve been a Cath Kidston fan for years, so when I saw she’s coming out with a teatime cookbook, I immediately placed it on my Amazon Wish List. This one comes out in September, and the preview on Amazon looks delightful!


Coming in October is "Prêt-à-Portea: High Fashion Cakes and Cookies" by The Berkeley. The cover alone makes me want this! Tea friend Nancy Reppert personally enjoyed this unique hotel tea in London last year, and you can read about it here. (I imagine this book will be on her Wish List if it isn’t already.)

Also coming in October is “World Atlas of Tea” by Krisi Smith, which “follows tea from the plantation to harvesting and processing to how to make the perfect cup. The book is illustrated throughout with beautiful color photographs taken in the field." I love the idea of a "World Atlas" of tea and can't wait to read this one.

So what's on your teatime reading list these days?


Monday, May 16, 2016

May giveaway: "Time for Tea" wall stickers!

I'm always searching for some interesting new tea item for each month's giveaway, but it's rare that I come across something I've never seen before. Recently, however, I found these self-adhesive and removable wall stickers at T.J. Maxx, and I decided they would be great for a giveaway! You could use them for a temporary decor for a tea party for yourself or little girls, or you could use them in your kitchen anytime, or if you've got a daughter or granddaughter with a tea-themed bedroom, these might be fun in there as well. I'd say you're limited only by your imagination!

I didn't want to open the package, but the back does give you some ideas for different ways you can use these. The stickers are from a company in the UK (next.co.uk), which is not really surprising considering the theme!

And here's a closeup to show a little more detail. If you'd like to win these wall stickers, just leave an "Enter me" to this post by 7 a.m. next Monday, May 23, and you'll be entered to win. (US and Canada residents only, please.) Good luck!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My Country, 'Tis of Tea — Maine


The rain in Spain falls Mainely … oh, wait. That's the wrong use of "Maine," isn't it? At any rate, this week I'm continuing my alphabetical exploration of tea in every state, and a number of notable items related to Maine caught my attention …


• Georgia peaches, Florida oranges, Idaho potatoes, and Maine … blueberries, right? I cannot even begin to think of Maine without thinking of blueberries and of my dear friend Ruth here in Newnan, who hails from Maine and is the first person I ever knew of in Georgia who had successfully grown blueberries. (The second was my dad, in whose garden I photographed the Georgia blueberries above.) Ruth says her Georgia blueberries are good, but she just looks wistful and sighs when she recalls the blueberries "on the island" where she grew up in Maine. Is it any wonder that blueberry is a perennial favorite flavor of tea lovers? Some of the blueberry teas I've enjoyed are, from top, Mrs. Patmore's Blueberry Scone Tea from Republic of Tea, Cape Shore Blueberry Tea, Inko's White Blueberry Tea, and Bar Harbor Tea Company's Blueberry Tea. (If you know of another blueberry tea I should try, please let me know!)


• Kennebunkport, Maine. I always think of that as the summer home of President George H. W. Bush, but in tearoom history, it was also once the home of the Old Grist Mill Tearoom. The restaurant opened in the forties and was owned by two generations of the Lombard Family, and it was an actual working grist mill that had been converted to a restaurant. The restaurant is no longer there because it burned down in 1994 "under suspicious circumstances." I'm thinking that would be an interesting plotline to explore in a mystery, don't you?


• Finally, I have to mention a fact that I did not know until a few years ago, which is that the Boston Tea Party was actually just one of a number of early "tea party" protests in our country. Ten of them are featured in Joseph Cummins's intriguing "Ten Tea Parties" (which I noted was on sale for just $5.98 in the discount section of Barnes and Noble recently), and one of them was in York, Maine. If you're interested in all the juicy details, as I always am, you can also read about the "York, Maine Tea Party of 1774" in this article.

Friday, May 13, 2016

An early bloomer

One evening this week, I was walking to the mailbox in the evening when a spot of peachy color in the front yard caught my eye. What is that? It was my 'Tea Clipper' rose from David Austin English Roses, which doesn't usually bloom until around Memorial Day! I absolutely adore this beautiful, fragrant rose, a birthday gift from my friend Deberah years ago.

She also gave me a pale pink David Austin 'Wedgwood' rose, which will be blooming soon.

And this hosta obviously isn't a David Austin rose, but I'm still so happy my 'Tea and Crumpets' hosta has come back to life. The deer munched it to the ground last year, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to enjoy some of these garden treasures for a bit longer this year!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bourbon Black Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas

When I arrived home from a Kentucky Derby party Saturday night, I had the most wonderful and timely gift awaiting from my tea friend Linda in Kentucky, and it was …

This tin of Bourbon Black Tea from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas in Danville, Kentucky! I had been wanting to try this tea, even though I've never had a sip of bourbon that I'm aware of (unless chocolate-covered bourbon balls count). You'd think a boring, middle-aged teetotaler (or teatotaler?) wouldn't be interested in bourbon-flavored tea, but I was, and since the bourbon in mint juleps is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, this tea is the perfect tea lover's tea to enjoy on race day!

I'm happy to report that I really, really like this tea and have been drinking it all week. (There's no alcohol, so don't worry that I'm turning into a lush!) It has a smoky edge and an almost sweet quality that I greatly enjoy, almost as if somebody finally got the recipe exactly right for that Lapsang Souchong tea I find so offensive. So I'm enjoying my new bourbon tea very much, and now I don't have to wait a whole 'nuther year to get in Kentucky Derby mode again!

Note: If I'm about to review a new tea, I try not to read about a tea's ingredients until I've tried it so that I won't be influenced by the description. Here's what I just learned about this tea from the Elmwood Inn Fine Teas website: "The immediate notes are caramel and vanilla. Lingering in the background is a subtle hint of char delivered by a tiny bit of Lapsang Souchong." So apparently I do like "a tiny bit" of Lapsang Souchong!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The most amazing teacup card ever. Seriously.

I am always grateful whenever anyone takes the time to send me a birthday card, especially since I am not the best about sending them myself! And when I received a birthday card in the mail from tea friend Mary Jane last week, I certainly had no idea of the cleverness contained within that envelope. It was something called a "Swing Card" from the Santoro Company in the UK!

And when I read her thoughtful greeting on the back and folded the card into position, these lovely teacups started sweetly swinging!

I can't even begin to imagine the paper engineering that it took to a) make such a card possible and b) make it so foolproof that the recipients couldn't manage to bungle it when setting up the card.

They even designed the perfect background images …

And the clever teaspoon "suspension" for the teacups …

And I wondered if it wasn't easier to make a teacup than to make a teacup card! Bravo, Santoro (a link to their Swing Cards is here), and thank you again, Mary Jane!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Finding new bottled teas at Whole Foods

While in Whole Foods last week, I had to check out the latest bottled teas to see if there were any new offerings. Indeed there were, and I came home with two: from Cascara Tea and Charleston Tea Plantation. The cool-looking design on the Cascara Tea bottle immediately caught my eye, and then I was even more curious when I saw the words "from dried coffee cherries."

"This is Cascara, a clean and fruity tea brewed from dried coffee cherries, sourced directly from the award-winning coffee farms of Aida Batlle in El Salvador." This tea is said to be an herbal tea made from the dried cherries of the coffee plant, and it has only 10 calories per bottle and no sugars, so that's a plus. Now I know that true tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant, but I was intrigued by the idea of a tea coming from coffee. So what did it taste like? Sadly, it tasted like black tea that is oversteeped and unsweetened with a tart, bitter finish. Not a fan.

Happily, the next day I opened this absolutely delicious 16-ounce bottle of Charleston Tea Plantation's Green Tea with Mango. Mmm, mmm, mmm. It's just 70 calories per 8-ounce serving, and I felt like I was sipping pure mango. A lot of mango-flavored drinks taste like peaches, which I also love, but this one was definitely the real deal with the mango flavor. Ah. I’ll definitely be buying more of this tea when I see it in the store again!

Monday, May 9, 2016

A decorative discovery on Derby Day

Saturday evening marked my second year to attend the Hats and Hooves Derby Affair fundraiser for our local Communities In Schools program, a dropout prevention program that has been highly successful at keeping students in school and graduating on time. CIS holds just one major fundraiser each year, and Hats and Hooves is it. I know some people are most excited about watching the actual race on big-screen TVs, but I go to see all the pretty hats and decor, and the food is always delicious. In the small photo at upper right, you can see the "tea station," which I visited frequently to mix my own Arnold Palmers using the lemonade and sweet tea!



This year, my friend Susan, who loves to entertain, was there as well, and we happened to enter the room at the local museum where Hats and Hooves is held as the dessert table was being set up. Susan noticed that the display stand was actually two three-tiered servers with glass shelves placed across them, and I immediately said, "I'm getting pictures of this for my blog." If you look at the second photo above, you'll see the stands are just those simple stands like many of us already own. So if you've got two of these and can get three glass shelves cut to fit, you're good to go with a great new way to create additional serving space!

This is a photo of Susan and me from the evening. It was so fun to have my friend there!

And this is a photo of my husband, Alex, and me. He got lots of nice compliments on his new pink jacket. He says it is "shrimp" colored, but everyone else says "pink." 

And here are some of my other friends in their hats and fascinators, including, clockwise from left, the lady who made the evening possible, our CIS Executive Director (and my friend) Gina, as well as friends Carrie, Lynn, Candace, and Angela. Did you do anything special on Derby Day this year?