Friday, July 31, 2009

Why I'll miss Fortnum & Mason Magazine

About a year ago, I discovered that London's famous Fortnum & Mason department store had just launched its own magazine. As a fan of a) London b) F&M and c) magazines, I soon subscribed. Every single issue has included articles on tea, so while I was delighted when the Summer 2009 issue arrived, I was quite sad to learn this is the last issue. I'm sure it was a purely economic decision just like so many other companies have had to make, but oh, I am going to miss this thrice-yearly arrival in my mailbox!

As a little girl, I was often told by my mother that I had "champagne taste and a beer pocketbook." Well, champagne taste was certainly what this magazine was all about! Why else would I open this new issue and immediately be lusting for a pair of F&M Hunter Boots in their signature blue-green "eau de nil" ("water of the Nile") color? (They'd be about $124, and where would I even wear them if I had them? To water the houseplants?)

Eau de nil is also featured on this Fortnum and Mason wedding cake, and isn't it lovely! If I were a British bride, I would want this very cake!

Eau de nil is the color of this tray in one of the food articles, which includes a feature on "Summer Ices" and a recipe for Green Tea with Earl Grey summer sorbet. I'd like to try it, but first I have to figure out what "liquid glucose" is (and it's not quite the same as our corn syrup, apparently).

Sugar is also the subject of this artwork next to a "books" column. Clever!

But of course it's the tea features I have enjoyed most, such as this article on British teacups and "biscuits" which features the "Royal Doulton 100 Years of Royal Albert Collection" of teacups and saucers.

The magazine also notes that a special exhibit of Herend porcelain was recently held at the store, including an exhibition of 301 handpainted teapots created just for F&M by Herend -- one for each year of the 301-year-old store's life!

I have very fond memories of taking tea in the St. James Restaurant, and it turns out the bone china used in the restaurant is now available for purchase -- for those with champagne taste *and* pocketbooks!

Can you see why I'm going to miss this magazine?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Signs of summer's end

In my town, school starts a week from tomorrow, and that is surely one of the signs that summer is slipping away. Another? I'm sipping what is probably going to be my last box of powdered tea drink mixes for the year, because those hot-hot-hot days seem to be behind us and I won't be drinking as much iced tea. This Arizona Pomegranate Green Tea, which is sweetened with Splenda, was a new one for me. I like the bottled Arizona teas I've tried, and I liked this drink mix as well. Not surprisingly, it has a very tart and fruity taste, which I enjoy as an occasional treat.

Another sign that summer is advancing? My husband's tomatoes are at long last turning red!

This is a huge deal at our house, where he has been tending these tomatoes for months now. He actually broke down and bought some at the grocery store the other day, but I am going to wait and have a tomato sandwich with the ones he grew as a fitting tribute to the end of summer!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A vintage "tea library" -- at a great price!

Today is one of the happiest days of the year for me. It's the day *after* our magazine's annual newcomers' guide goes to press, and I am one relieved gal. That mag is our largest publication of the year, and we somehow manage to produce it in between two regular issues of the magazine. Today, I am at home recovering, catching up on tea blogs (what wonderful things have I missed?), reading and otherwise chilling. Among the books I'm reading will be numerous tea books from the 1800s and early 1900s. You see, last week on eBay I ordered 40 vintage tea books from England for just $10.95. They arrived Monday, and I couldn't be more pleased. There are titles like "The Ceylon Tea-Makers' Hand-book" by George Thornton Pett from 1899. Not bad for 27 cents, eh?

Or how about this one, Okakura Kakuzo's "The Book of Tea," from 1919. I've always meant to read that but never got around to buying one of the modern editions. I'm so glad I waited and found this vintage one!

"Tea: From Grower to Consumer" by A. Ibbetson (1912) is part of the "Common Commodities and Industries" series. It's a book I had never heard of, but it certainly has some wonderful information about how tea is produced.

And while my inner tea geek is indeed interested in reading "Tea Cultivation" by Lieut. Col. Edward Money (1883), you have to be at least a little amused that this book could be sending a certain message on the cover: Tea cultivation = Money!

Lots of tea books and articles I've read have referred to Robert Fortune's famous books on tea, but I never dreamed I'd be able to own one, such as this 1852 tome, "Journey to the Tea Countries of China."

OK, so you know there's a catch, don't you? My books are on a CD titled "The Story of Tea," compiled by the eBay seller surrey_trader, who has a real fondness for old books, which he shares in PDF format. With the exchange rate it was $10.95, including shipping, which I thought was a great buy for so much tea information. I like the fact these "40 books" take up so little space, although if I could get the real things for 27 cents each, I'd certainly *make* room. And now, since I have the day off, I'll be reading about tea!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Breaking news: Nancy Lindemeyer has a blog!

Those of you who share my passion for all things written by Victoria magazine founder Nancy Lindemeyer will want to check out her new blog:

She will, of course, be added to my "Blogroll" within moments! This is great news!

Some delightful new artwork

Blog friend Gerri recently told me about some new tea-themed artwork she'd seen, and I was prompted to look for some similar new artwork for myself!

So last night after work, I headed to a local gallery where I suspected some of this new artwork might be on display.

And I was right! The soft, watercolor effect was even prettier than I'd imagined! The teapot and teacups on a pretty cafe table made such a lovely, soothing scene.

If only the artist had titled it "Teatime" instead of "Espresso."

But then when you go to the "Publix" gallery for your artwork, I suppose that's just a risk you take!

Monday, July 27, 2009

P.S. to today's post

Always glad to provide more info when requested!

Bright ideas for ... tea parties!

Recently there was a 1905 book I was interested in on eBay. The bidding soon went to $23, which I wasn't willing to pay, so I never even got in the game on that one. To my delight, however, the same book was available on for $3.99, and although it's not in the best shape, I wanted this book primarily for the information it contains. The book is "Bright Ideas for Entertaining" by Mrs. Herbert B. Linscott, and it offers "two hundred forms of amusement or entertainment for social gatherings of all kinds: large or small parties, clubs, sociables, church entertainments, etc., with special suggestions for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Hallowe'en, All Fools' Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and other holidays."

Several of the parties are specifically designated as tea parties, although I think most of these could probably be adapted to a tea party format. The ones specifically named as tea parties include:

-- Children's Sweet Pea Tea, a flower-themed tea party for children.

-- Conundrum Tea, where food descriptions are written as riddles.

-- Spinster Tea, for girls who "wish to have an evening all to themselves" and where the activities include a time where "each spinster in turn may exhibit the picture of her wooer, and relate her story." (If I'd had to do that during *my* spinster days, I think I'd have slit my wrists.)

-- And the one I thought sounded most fun, a George and Martha Tea. To wit:

"The walls should be hung with red, white and blue bunting, relieved at regular intervals with shields and small hatchets made of flowers in the national colors. Have George and Martha receive the guests, and there may be also a number of men and women attired in colonial costumes to introduce strangers and see that all have a good time. Behind a bower of foliage an orchestra might play the national airs, and as the object of the evening should be to promote sociability, it would be well to have a number of interesting games in which all can join."

(Note to self: Book orchestra *now* before everyone else does.)

There are several Bible-themed parties in the book which I think would actually be useful for ladies' luncheons, and when I read about the Box Party idea, where box lunches for two are auctioned off, I wondered why that couldn't be done with tea party foods. Wouldn't you *love* to receive a pretty box (hat box, fabric covered box, etc.) filled with tea sandwiches and maybe even a cup and saucer? It wouldn't even have to be an auction if you rounded up enough ladies who wanted to do this just for fun. Hmmm ... something to think about!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tea Tasting Saturday #30 - Formosa Oolong

Finally, I got to find out if Formosa Oolong differed very much from Fanciest Formosa Oolong!

Category: Oolong Tea

Purveyor: Harney and Sons

Dry leaf appearance: Tightly rolled dark tea leaves, with some lighter brown and whitish gray bits scattered about.

Wet leaf appearance: Dark (almost black), small tea leaves.

Steeping temperature and time: 1 teaspoon of tea, 205 degrees, 3 minutes.

Scent: The dry tea smelled like tree bark. The wet leaves smelled of something woodsy and vegetal.

Color: Golden brown.

Flavor: I have been looking forward to rediscovering the black teas I'm most familiar with, and this one, though an oolong, was pure delight! It reminded me not of a *weak* black tea but what I'd call a *light* black tea. A very smooth taste, very nice mouth feel, only slight astringency afterward. And I cannot *wait* to cold brew these leaves overnight!

Additional notes: Michael Harney notes that this tea "was once considered the Champagne of teas and the standard for oolongs in the United States." Interestingly, he also notes it is used mostly as a base in Harney's Earl Grey tea and other blends that call for "a mild, dark oolong."

Next week's tea: Jun Shan Yin Zhen

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mighty Leaf White Orchard Tea

Mighty Leaf has been kind enough to send me a few more samples of tea, and this was a new one that sounded yummy: White Orchard White Tea with melon and peach. I opened the package and inhaled. Ahhh! This tea smells terrific!

So I brewed up a cup. Three minutes, just like it said. The tea was OK, but it had that funky and almost bitter aftertaste I have found in many flavored *green* teas. It wasn't terrible, but I can't say it would be a favorite. So, I did what I've been doing with all my teas this summer ...

I put the teabag in a glass of filtered water in the fridge and allowed it to cold brew for a few hours. This time, I thought the tea was quite good! I should have mentioned this before now, but with most of my "Tea Tasting Saturday" teas this summer, I have poured water on the spent leaves and allowed them to steep in the fridge overnight. I have yet to find one I did not like cold brewed. So, if at first you don't succeed with a tea ... toss it in the fridge!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happy 4th Birthday, Princess Amelia!

Sometime in the past year, I found this vintage postcard which I got in honor of the (then) upcoming fourth birthday of my sweet niece Amelia, who is 4 years old on this day, which is "July twentyfird" if you ask her. She is this many (1+1+1+1) fingers. The cute little ringlet-headed girl on the postcard kind of reminds me of Amelia! (I scanned this high-res in case you want to see details.)

I'll bet you didn't know I was related to royalty, did you? But indeed, "Princess Amelia" (whose name was actually inspired by "The Princess Diaries") was feted with a birthday party over the weekend. It was actually a two-party day for her, as she had just attended a "Princess Birthday Party" of another little friend and decided to remain in princess mode for the family party.

My sister Rhonda said that Amelia requested "some of that black ice cream" (i.e., chocolate) to go with her M&M birthday cake my dad made, so I thought you might enjoy seeing her eating homemade ice cream and practicing her royal wave with a little assistance from her sister, Princess Carolyn. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMELIA!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Tea on the Terrace" by Sam Coslow

You know how I found that old sheet music for "I'm a Little Teapot" a few weeks back? Well, that set me on an eBay scavenger hunt to unearth other old songs related to teatime, so hopefully I'll be acquiring more.

"Tea on the Terrace" (1936) with words and music by Sam Coslow, was intriguing to me for the graphic design on the cover (pretty except for that cigarette! yikes!) and the song itself, which I'd never heard of. Have any of you? It begins like this: "Other lovers need starlight, Or an ev'ning in June. Rippling waters reflecting the light of the moon. I'm romantic by daylight, All the world is in tune, Let me give you my idea of a perfect afternoon. Tea on the terrace, service for two. Me on the terrace looking at you. I'll be too busy to notice the view, While having tea on the terrace with you ..."

I got so excited over discovering all this old tea-themed sheet music, I told my husband I had what I thought was a great idea: How about a "tea musical" where all the songs pertain to tea? Wouldn't that be fun to go to the theatre to see? DH just looked at me and said, very deliberately, "I think you'll be lonely." But *you* would want to come to my tea musical, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Doris Day's "Tea for Two"

It's been a few years since I've watched the 1950 film "Tea for Two" with Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, so I dug up the video and watched it this weekend while doing some needlework. Sometimes I forget just how much I love these old musicals! The songs are delightful, and the colorful costumes alone are reason enough to watch. I really love the forties and fifties fashions anyway, with all the big, swishy skirts, bolero jackets, cap sleeves, bow-tie collars, and pearls at neck and wrist.

Loosely based on the Broadway musical "No, No, Nanette," the gist of the film is this: Socialite Nan Carter wants to be on Broadway, but producers say they need $25,000 to put on the show. Big-spending Nan - who is known to throw money at any good cause that comes her way - bets her rich uncle she can go 48 hours saying "no" to everything and everyone if he'll cough up $25,000. Unbeknownst to Nan, however, the family's fortune has been wiped out in the stock market crash of '29.

Early in the film, Nan is called to the theatre to preview the musical she is being asked to sponsor. When it's suggested that Nan be treated to "Tea for Two," one of the theatre gentlemen says "What for? It's the only weak number in the show. I'm thinking of tossing it out." I'd never thought about it before, but wasn't that a bit of a play on words? "Weak" number? "Tossing it out," like a teabag? Perhaps I'm just slow to catch on! At any rate, you can get a taste of the film by watching the tea-riffic "Tea for Two" trailer here if you like.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A drink with jam and bread

Do you remember the Do-Re-Mi song from "The Sound of Music" where they refer to "Tea, a drink with jam and bread"? That was on my mind this weekend when I decided it was time to use up some of the zucchini my friend Deberah has been supplying me with this summer. So, I made Zucchini Bread and had it with some very special tea and jam!

My recipe for Zucchini Bread is just a simple, basic recipe from the "Taste of Georgia" cookbook published by Newnan's Junior Service League. This hugely popular book has been in print since 1977, and my copy, which I've had for years, is a real "go-to" cookbook for me.

The Zucchini Bread turned out beautifully. I leave the zucchini unpeeled when I shred it, as I like to see the little flecks of green in the bread. And for a special treat, I enjoyed mine with a cup of Ti Guan Yin (from Harney) and some delicious Berry Berry Ti Kuan Yin Jam (from Marmalady's). The recipe I used made two loaves of Zucchini Bread, and I love that I now have an extra loaf in the freezer for when I want a treat but don't feel like baking!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tea Tasting Saturday #29 - Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe)

The sample tin of this tea was so lightweight when I picked it up, I was briefly worried that I had received an empty tin by mistake! Mercifully, that wasn't the case, and I had another quite tasty tea experience.

Category: Oolong Tea

Purveyor: Harney and Sons

Dry leaf appearance: Extra long, mostly dark (green-black dark) leaves. I don't always get a distinct scent from the dry leaf, but this one had a very vanilla/camarel/sweet thing going on.

Wet leaf appearance: Dark, whole leaves scattered with bits of brown, resembling cooked spinach.

Steeping temperature and time: 1 teaspoon of tea, 205 degrees, 3 minutes.

Scent: The steeped tea's scent reminded me of some of those earlier toasted/roasted Japanese greens.

Color: Deep amber (even though my photo turned out lighter than that).

Flavor: This tea was very tasty and struck me as quite different from, and stronger than, the other oolongs. It had a nice mouth feel and only the tiniest bit of astringency afterward. The tea had a nearly sweet and almost nutty taste that made me think of fall. (Or maybe it's just the hot, sticky Georgia weather that has me longing for fall!)

Additional notes: "Fans of the smoky Chinese black tea Lapsang Souchong or the charcoal-tinged Chinese green tea Gunpowder will find much to love in Da Hong Pao," says Michael Harney. Now I don't care for Lapsang Souchong myself, but I still enjoyed this tea. Indispensable as always, the Harney book also has a nice account of the myth behind the tea's name.

Next week's tea: Formosa Oolong

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Estate Sale "Preview"

One of the things I have enjoyed about working and writing for a small-town newspaper (and now magazine) for so many years is that you have a lot of opportunities to meet readers, and so very many of them have become friends. One of them, Dora, has been a real encouragement to both me and my husband over the years, so when I had a message to call her on my voicemail one day last week, I was curious what she wanted. Turns out Dora was assisting with a local estate sale scheduled for this Saturday and wanted to invite me to a "preview" night because she knew there were some vintage goodies I might be interested in. I've never been invited to browse an estate sale early, so this was a real treat for me, and off I went after work last night! My first treasure was this pinback button from Newnan's sesquicentennial in 1978. Had to have that for history reasons.

Another neat find was this patriotic beaded basket pin. If Marilyn Miller hosts her red, white and blue blog event around July 4 next year, I'll be ready. I love the sweet little vintage millinery flower on it. That's a whole lot of happy for 25 cents, don't you think?

I love the graphics on old greeting card boxes, and this one had several things going for it. A) It was pink and had roses on it. B) It was filled with old envelopes I can use for when I make handmade cards. C) The date at the top was Feb. 22, which is my dad's birthday. Neat!

But the most wonderful thing is an item I nearly overlooked until Dora asked me if I'd seen it: this pair of vintage screwback teapot earrings. I actually have a bracelet that matches them! It was quite a productive little after-work visit, and my whole bag of goodies was just $12. I wish I could always get invited to a preview sale!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mail from Darjeeling

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail that began "Dear Tea Lover ..." Now I am on so many tea vendor mailing lists I almost clicked "Delete" out of habit, but this one continued "Namaste and Greetings from Darjeeling, India!" It was actually a personal e-mail from a gentleman with Thunderbolt Tea in Darjeeling, India, wondering if I would like to receive some samples of their Second Flush Tea. Some tea samples straight from Darjeeling? You bet!

The package arrived at the office this week and I opened it in the presence of someone who would share in my joy, my tea friend (and colleague) Holly. We eagerly tore into the paper packages (she kept me from spilling tea all over my desk), poured the contents into baggies (practical Holly suggested I tape the labels to the bags) and sniffed away. Ahh! This tea smelled so fresh, and something about it reminded me of the scent of the First Flush Tea I got at the Charleston Tea Plantation last year. Interestingly, I thought, Holly found something about one of the tea scents reminiscent of crisp, perfectly-fried okra!

First, I tried the Risheehat Clonal Flowery Second Flush. It had a very full-bodied, rich taste and, perhaps my palate is overly impressed that this particular Darjeeling came straight from the tea plantation, but I absolutely adored it. At home, I prepared the Arya Ruby (Tippy) Second Flush. Again, I enjoyed everything from the appearance of the dry leaf (variegated colors ranging from gray to deepest green), to the wet leaf (full bits of tea leaf swirling in a coppery brew), and of course the delicious taste. Again, this is such an insufficient word to have to use but "fresh" is the one that comes to mind. I also enjoyed looking at the quite educational Thunderbolt Tea web site, and I love that instead of saying a tea is "Sold Out" they make it a positive statement and say "All Sold." I'm so delighted Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt stumbled across this blog and introduced me to yet another lovely new tea tasting experience!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Playing dish detective

Months ago, I was browsing items on eBay and came across a cup and saucer design I would occasionally see in the antique malls. It was called "The Old Curiosity Shop" by Royal China, and I decided I would like to have a cup and saucer in the pattern. The prices on eBay were plenty cheap, but shipping has gone up so much you have to add another $7-$10 to whatever price you find. So, I waited. And the wait was worth it, because over the weekend I found this set for $2.10 at a going-out-of-business antique mall.

The saucer features a design of a teapot, and that's why I wanted this set. I need more cups and saucers like I need a hole in the head, but I have a special affection for items with teawares in the design, so this is one of those "double duty" pieces: it both serves and celebrates tea! Besides, I like the idea of a dinnerware pattern featuring images from an old "Curiosity Shop."

Interestingly, I got home and realized my pieces were unmarked, and I could no longer remember the name of the pattern. I got on eBay and typed in "Old Antique Shop" but that wasn't it. I typed in "green cup and saucer" and came up with some pretty pieces but not my cup and saucer. I think it was when I hit on "green saucer teapot" that I came upon "The Old Curiosity Shop." I just love trying to play Nancy Drew with old pieces. I bought an unmarked oval platter at an estate sale for $1 last week and googled and eBayed until I discovered it was the Marcrest "Swiss Alpine" pattern. One day I suppose I'll actually buy a book about makers' marks and hallmarks, but until then, do you have any tips on how you investigate vintage finds?