Monday, November 7, 2011

Silver Spring Plum - A China Green

Normally, I start my day with a strong black tea. But today, my glucometer strongly indicated I would need something to drink without any sweetener. Since I usually sweeten my morning cup of Irish Breakfast, that was out of the question. So I rummaged around my shelf and found this lovely China Green I had forgotten about ... purchased a little over a year ago from SpeacialTeas and stored in an air tight, light tight container after sampling a few cups. As you can see, it comes in a tightly wound ball of tiny olive green and yellow green leaves ... the label calls it a rosette but ball is a much more accurate description. One ball to a 6 oz cup of water that has just begun to steam, steeped for a counter-intuitive 5 minutes and good for multiple infusions. The liquor is a medium gold, the aroma dry is mildly fruity and steeped is mildly vegetal and the flavor is delightfully smooth, a touch of fruit with an undertone of honey. I tried the multiple infusions and the second and third cups were even smoother than the first. Now that I have rediscovered this treasure I shall have to brew it again in the very near future. Unfortunately, I only have seven rosettes/balls left and the supplier is no longer in business.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The last of the Catskill Purchases

Like a child, I have "saved the best for last". First, a very pretty Wedgewood creamer. I have also photographed the maker's mark since it identifies the pattern. One of these days I am going to gather all my photographs, print them out and start researching the value/collectibility of the various pieces I have acquired over the years. Secondly, this hob-nailed bowl of emerald green Depression glass was a real find. Depression glass is a "first love", something I have been collecting since my husband introduced me to the wonderful shops in Boothbay Harbor very early in our 40+ year marriage. I love the shape of this dimunitive little bowl, the fluting along the sides and the bands of hobnail along the top and bottom. I have a few other emerald green pieces and I can see this bowl holding clotted cream or jam at tea time. A perfect size for tea for two.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Another Addition or Two To My Tea Ware Collection

I am not sure whether I'd classify the shops I visited on my recent mini-vacation in the Catskills as low-end antique shops or high-end junk shops. But I did find some rather unusual tea cups and saucers. This cup and saucer was quite a surprise when I unwrapped it at home. While in the rather dark shop, I had taken note of the footed cup and the rather detailed medallion on the side. What I didn't notice until I got home was that the saucer had an openwork pattern ... the shop was very dark, indeed, probably not a very good sign. "Caveat emptor" should have been reverberating through my brain, no doubt. This set has a maker's mark indicating this is made by a company called Royal Hansley. I couldn't get a very good picture of the mark since, even viewed the a magnifying glass, it looks out-of-focus. A few days later, at another shop, I saw a cup with the very same medallion detail, though the cup had a differnt base treatment and the saucer it was paired with didn't seem to match. Needless to say, I didn't buy the second ... but found the identical medallion image to be quite the suspiscious coincidence. This is the only vacation purchase I regret now that I am home. I think I got caught up in the thrill of the chase, rummaging around the shops looking for lovlies to add to my collection of tea cups. But it will mix well with other black background teacups I have. The cup has a nice enough balance and feels light in the hand. While it will never be my favorite, I will use it with pleasure.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Rose Pink Ware from Staffordshire

This post will show just how much of a magpie I really am. If it's a pretty bauble, I'll buy it whether it is a true teaware collectible or not. This lovely little Johnson Brothers demitasse cup and saucer is an example ... a very modern piece since the manufacturer's mark clearly states that it is dishwasher and microwave safe ... probably not particularly collectible [yet] but quite sweet with it's pastoral cottage design. The other piece, a lovely creamer bearing the mark of Jonroth England, does seem to be a bit more venerable. Though made in England, it was clearly made for the American market since it depicts Plymouth Rock and John and Priscilla Alden. I forsee some pleasant hours browsing the Internet to research this piece to gauge it's age and value. But I am already quite fond of it. I did my graduate work in early American literature, so much of my studies concerned early journals, letters and documents written by the early European settlers on these shores. I rather like the notion of John and Priscilla keeping me company at tea time. The only thing these pieces have in common is Staffordshire as the place of origin and the lovely rose pink color. I shall have to find a few other pieces to blend into my own eclectic tea set: a sugar bowl, a few cake plates and cups and saucers. I can see this sort of collecting growing into an obsession of sorts. I have already built up several tea sets in Depression Glass and now I am moving on to china. I suppose I could have worse vices.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

An October Cup and Saucer

While vacationing in Greene County earlier this month, I did my usual round of the "antique" shops in the area. We are not talking gallery type shops with museum quality antiques but rather indoor flea markets. Even so, some small treasures may be found in such places. I will be showing photos of my finds over the next week or so.

First up is this beautiful cup and saucer from Royal Chelsea. What caught my eye at first was the autumnal leaf pattern, the pretty shape of the shallow bowl of the cup. Turning it over to look for a mark, I noted that it was a "limited" edition, 470 of Lord knows how many. I'll have to spend a little time on the Internet. I have a lot to learn yet about the various china manufacturers and really don't know how much of a find this cup and saucer might be. But that's okay since I really bought it because I liked the pattern. In fact, I am enjoying a cup of Chun Mee organic green tea in this cup as I type this post. The colors are among my favorites and seem so appropriate this fine October morning.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Buy, Buy, Miss America ... Tea?

I have long been curious about the South Carolina tea plantation and have finally gotten around to purchasing a sampler pack of their teas from Bigelow. They come in attractive little black tins with little stickers touting the fact that the tea was grown here in the States. Today, I sampled the Charleston Breakfast tea and found it very pleasant though a little less robust than my customary Irish Breakfast tea. It's the sort of tea that I privately classify as a very good "mug" tea ... well-suited to the work-a-day routines of ordinary life. It's not the sort of tea one needs to sip from a fine porcelain cup, with serene music playing softly in the background and flowers, dainty biscuits and silverware on the tea tray. This is the sort of thing you put in your to-go cup for the daily commute or make up at the office using an electric tea kettle and one-mug filtration deal. A good strong mug-on-the-desk sort of tea. I expect this little tin is going to find its way into the tea stash in my desk's second left drawer. I will be tasting the other teas in this sampler pack over the next few days and will report on them as well.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Learning Curve

I am delighted to have discovered the world of tea bloggers. I have been a tea-drinker since childhood. I have always been something of a tea cup collecter as well. But I have gotten serious about tea in the last decade. First, it was a matter of graduating from Lipton's tea bags to Barry's. Then, it was a matter of discovering Twinings loose teas. From there it was a major step forward to ordering loose teas from an on-line vendor, SpecialTeas. The world of black, green, white and oolong teas just exploded around me. I bought and tasted a wide variety of teas, inspired by the on-line descriptions and limited only by what I was willing or able to spend. Phrases like "first flush", "broken leaf", "whole leaf" and "single estate" entered my vernacular. I discovered teas that were tightly wrapped to unfold into lotus blossums and other shapes when exposed to hot water. I began to think myself quite knowledgeable, even became a bit of a tea snob. I started buying lovely little Japanese and Chinese tea pots. And I began planning my vacations around tea rooms, in addition to needlework shops. Well, not quite: but I always googled the availability of tea shops and needlework shops in the areas I would be visiting. I have started collecting quite a library of books about the history of tea, the preparation of tea, tea ware and cookbooks focusing on tea-time.

I have heard it said many times that true wisdom comes when you finally realize how much you have yet to learn. Well, I have only been reading tea blogs about a month and have discovered that I am a rank amateur, a mere novice, an acolyte. Oh well, think of all the delights still to come. Thanks in advance to all you tea bloggers out there who will contribute to my education.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Thoroughly Silly Post

Like most tea lovers, I fix a large enough pot of tea each morning to fill a to-go thermos to sip while commuting. I leave it on the entryway table so I won't forget it. Half the time I do forget it ... my discreet little to-go thermos is so bland it just seems to blend right into the background. The other half the time, I end up sipping a luke warm brew because very often an hour will elapse between breakfast and departure for the office. My to-go thermos' thermal capacity is only so good. But, I think I have found a solution for both problems. I still put the thermos on the entryway table but I cover it with an oven mitt. Voila, instant tea cosy!!! And one so thoroughly ridiculous looking that I can't help but noticing and grab my tea as I rush out the door. Of course, my husband is probably wondering why there is an oven mitt in the entryhall. But after 40 some odd years of marriage he knows better than to ask foolish questions.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nilgiri Nonsuch BOP

This is one of the teas recently purchased from Culinary Teas. There was a lovely fragrance when I opened the package to see this tightly curled broken leaf tea. I brewed it as directed at 212 degrees, for four minutes. [The recommendation was for three to five minutes] Next time I will brew it for only three minutes. My second cup, having cooled a bit, had a somewhat bitter taste even though I had removed the tea ball from the pot at the end of the brewing time. I tried it both straight and with milk and agave nectar. I definitely prefer it straight. It will make a very nice everyday tea and I will probably use it for afternoon tea. It isn't quite brisk enough to get me started moving in the morning ... need my Irish Breakfast or some other nice strong Assam for that. I recently read, on another tea blog, about Welsh Breakfast tea blends. I'd never heard of them before but will have to search them out to compare with my Irish.

I have come to the conclusion that Culinary Teas, though pleasant enough, will not be replacing SpecialTeas in my tea-loving heart. I'll be making a list of some of the other tea vendors listed in the blogs I have been reading and continue my search for a reliable source of quality teas. I have also ordered a copy of Teatime magazine to see if I might want to subscribe. Blogs and magazines will be my focus as I continue my self-education.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Darn that Cardiologist

My cardiologist has asked me to start drinking decaf tea. When he saw the horrified, not to mention stubbornly negative, expression on my face, he amended that to one cup of caffeinated tea a day and the rest decaf. I dutifully started checking the internet for decaf teas. Most decaf teas I have come across ... and my search has not been particularly extensive and certainly not exhaustive as yet ... have tended to be flavored teas. Now I suspect flavored teas often have,as their base, teas I wouldn't buy on a bet. I know, that statement is sheer snobbery. But I have discovered so many lovely teas in the recent years, especially among green and white teas, that I am loathe to lower my standards. In deference to my doctor, I have recently purchased one decaf black tea, flavored with peach and apricot bits. As flavorings go, peach and apricot are the ones I find least offensive ... even at times, actually pleasant. This tea, from Culinary Teas, is an unspecified black tea flavored with bits of dried apricot and peach. This is my very first cup. I have done everything I can to elevate the experience, psyching myself up with a beautiful cup and saucer, a dainty little teaspoon, some buttered toast as an accompaniment. And still my verdict is a grudging "Okay, this is acceptable." As I expected, the strongest note is peach and the underlying tea has a slightly astringent but not unpleasant taste. It is pictured here in one of my depression glass tea and biscuit cup and saucers. I have a set of four that I found in a not- quite-antique-shop-but-not-exactly-junk-shop ... a sort of indoor flea market.

Tea drinking has been a pleasure in the past. It feels rather flat to demote it to a merely acceptable experience. And, damn it, I like the taste of tea. When I want the flavor of fruit, I'll drink juice or eat fruit. When I lift a teacup, I want to taste tea. I suspect I'll follow my doctor's regimen in other ways: loose more weight, exercise more frequently, practice my Tai Chi more assiduously, learn deep-breathing exercises to slow my heart rate, take my medicine faithfully. Maybe even reduce my caffeinated tea intake from six to eight cups a day down to three or four. But there I draw the line! At least until I find more enjoyable decaf teas. Being a sensible soul, I will keep looking.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Pretty Cup on a Dreary Morning

I enjoy checking out antique shops, thrift stores and flea markets for tea cups and other tea accessories. I found a pair of these pretty hand-painted tea cups and saucers from A.C. Schmidt & Sons [New York] in a shop on the western shore of the Cheasapeake Bay in Maryland. Rather odd, for a native New Yorker to have to travel to Maryland to find tea things originally manufactured in New York. I especially enjoy using a pretty cup like this on a morning when the weather is not particularly cheery. It starts the day with a bit of a lift, a touch of beauty to cheer the heart. The tea is my last bit of Assam Golden Rain from Teavana, a workmanlike morning brew, brisk, with a clean taste and a slightly vegetal aftertaste. Not spectacular and not something I would purchase again. It seems to me that I get the same level of quality in an Assam tea for a lower price whenever I purchase a basic Irish Breakfast Blend, which is, admittedly, my most frequently brewed morning tea. For my morning tea I like to use a bit of agave nectar as a sweetener and, heresy of all heresies, a small splash of half & half. I find Irish Breakfast teas not only stand up to that kind of treatment but taste delicious when served that way.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Search of the Elusive Tea Biscuit

Our local bakery stopped making a favorite of mine: a tea biscuit. I realize that in the British Isles, a biscuit is what we in the States call a cookie. Not so, with this biscuit. This Tea Biscuit is a yeast-raised bun similar to a Hot Cross Bun, with a slightly less cake like texture and raisins rather than candied citron. Oh, and the Tea Biscuits are round rather than square like Hot Cross Buns and haven't any icing or glaze. And the tops are probably brushed with water before baking to give them a bit of a shine.

Since I don't want to do without such a treat, I am currently casting about to find a recipe that is close [exact would be better]. My first stop was my go-to book for all tea time treats: The Afternoon Tea Book by Michael Smith. Copyrighted 1986. Hailing from the north of England, Mr. Smith wrote of childhood teas, afternoon tea with just the family and teatimes of a more lavish sort, tea at the Ritz. His book is part memoir, part history of tea lore and part cookbook. But alas, nothing like a tea biscuit was in his recipe section. His recipe for Plain Christmas Cake may be adaptable. I shall have to try it out: first as directed and then as modified by me. At least, I shall have to give it a go if I don't find anything else better suited to my needs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Culinary Tea Order Arrived ...

... a day later than advertised but intact. It is too early to tell, since I have only tasted the Irish Breakfast Blend, but my quest to find a replacement for the now defunct SpecialTeas may have to continue. I will withhold judgement till I have tasted the Assam and Nilgiri. The Irish Breakfast Blend is a decent, workmanlike tea ... a good wake-up tea. Culinary's version is a coarse, granular powder. I filled an infuser and brewed a large cup in my oversized ceramic "cup", sweetened with a bit of agave nectar and lightened with a splash of milk. Enjoyable, though not quite the equal of my old love. This tea stood up well to a second infusion: a real plus on a busy weekday morning. I find myself wondering if I am just being nostalgic for my previous vendor ... I don't handle change real well, especially when it comes to food and beverages ... with each sip, I am enjoying this strong, fragrant tea just a little bit more.

I am still waiting for my sampler package from Carolina Plantation Teas [Bigelow]. I am very curious to see if I will detect a difference between an American grown tea and the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Sri Lankan teas I have enjoyed in the past.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Silver Needle White

I have been choosing more delicate teas for my daily cuppa in recent days. Today, I filled this lovely Limoges teacup with a pale gold Silver Needle White, a Chinese white tea. There is something about a really fine cup, with its thin porcelain lip, that complements a delicate beverage like Silver Needle. If I were more knowledgeable, I could talk of finishes and aromas but all I am competent to say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this slightly sweet tea. Again, the steeping recommendations involved steaming but not boiling water and a steeping time of 3 to 4 minutes. I settled on 3 minutes and then decanted the tea to a second warmed pot. I find over-steeping tends to spoil white teas, bringing out a very nasty bitter edge. This is the first time I actually used the Limoges cup and saucer since I found it in an antique shop on the Western Shore [Md] of the Cheasapeake Bay. I must say I could easily become addicted to such fine things. It may be silly to think this tea tasted better when sipped from a dainty cup rather than from a sturdy mug ... but that is my take on it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chun Mee

I thought I would start today with a green tea: Chun Mee Organic, a Chinese Green Tea. The steeping directions state to use water from a kettle that has begun to steam nicely but hasn't yet come to a boil and to steep for two minutes. I find it best to follow these directions carefully and if I am making more than one cup, to decant this tea into a second pot at the end of the steeping time. This particular tea is not very forgiving if over-steeped, acquiring a bitter and overly vegetal edge. But properly prepared, it has a light, bright, clean taste without any vegetal undertones. Perhaps it is best served as an afternoon tea. It is not exactly a brisk, wake-me-up sort of brew. But, as I said, I was in the mood for something light. I have shown it here with one of my favorite teapots, a blue green Japanese pot in a lotus blossom design. The cup, a light green depression glass, does not show the pale gold liquor properly ... I should have used a china cup with a white interior for the photo. Live and learn. I am new to blogging about and photographing tea.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Origins of Tea-Reg

My secretary once warned a colleague who offerred to make me a cup of tea, "withdraw the offer immediately and avoid injury." She was overstating the case, of course, but I am known to be rather particular about my tea. I prefer properly brewed tea made with quality leaves and not the floor sweepings normally found in grocery store tea bags. I stand revealed as an unapologetic tea snob! Hence, the ferocity: a veritable Tea-Reg!

Until it closed up shop, I purchased my tea from When they sold their client list to Teavana, I did try the new vendor site but found it to be rather limited in scope. So I cast about the Internet for a new source as I was rapidly running out of my favorite black teas although I have a healthy supply of green and white teas. Indeed, this morning, I brewed a pot of a lovely delicate white tea flavored with peach pieces. The deep coral color comes from the dried pieces of peach [with skin]. As you pour the tea, it seems quite a pale gold but deepens to coral as the cup fills. The aroma is redolent of peach. A perfect tea for a summer Sunday.

I found and placed an order for 1lb of Assam, 1lb of Irish Breakfast blend and 1/2lb of Nilgiri as well as a sampler of the berry flavored teas favored by my husband. The new order should arrive on Wednesday and we shall see if I have found a reliable new source or need to keep looking. I wanted to check out some everyday teas before I invested in some Keemun or Pu-erh. If the quality of the basic stuff is good, I'll order some of the more expensive and exotic favorites. While I was in an ordering mood and because I was curious, I ordered a tea sampler from the oldest tea plantation here in the States: Plantation Teas in South Carolina. So the coming week should be interesting as the new-to-me teas arrive to be tasted.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Jumping Right In

I thought I'd start as I mean to go on: discussing teas, tea accessories, tea ware, tea books and tea recipes.

So today it will be a recipe. Inspired by the latest Laura Childs tea shop mystery, Scones and Bones, I decided to look in the larder and see what I had on hand to create a tea luncheon for my husband and myself today. [Aside: I realize the teashop series is hardly high literature but the books are great fun and certainly all I can handle when the temps climb into the 90s]. Anyway, what I ferreted out of fridge and pantry was: two boneless chicken breast halves, a bag of slivered almonds, a bottle of cold pressed olive oil, a sweet onion, some mayonnaise and a jar of apricot preserves.

Apricot Glazed Chicken Salad

Step One: In a teflon coated saute pan, dry toast 1/3 c slivered almonds, tossing frequently. Remove from pan and set aside.

Step Two: Add 2T olive oil to pan, tilt to coat the pan evenly. Gently lay the chicken breast halves in the pan. Cook on each side for three minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop about 1/3 c of sweet onion. Add to pan and saute till slightly softened.

Step Three: Add just enough water to deglaze the pan.

Step Four: Place a heaping tablespoon of apricot preserves on the top of each chicken breast, letting it melt down into the pan juices. Stir pan juices to incorporate melted apricot preserves. Add just enough water to keep preserves from burning [a Tbs. at a time]. Turn chicken breasts to coat both sides. Reduce to simmer. Cover pan. Simmer for another 20 minutes, checking, from time to time, to make sure glaze is not getting too thick [it'll burn] and turning the chicken.

Step Five: Remove chicken. Set aside to cool. Reduce the onion/glaze mixture, stirring constantly. Once it is nice and thick, remove from heat and set it aside in a bowl to cool.

Step Six: In a bowl combine 2T mayonnaise with enough of the glaze mixture to give it a nice sweet flavor [this is a matter of taste]. If mixture is too thick, thin with a bit of orange juice. Meanwhile, cube the cooled chicken. Fold chicken cubes into the mayo mixture. Stir in toasted slivered almonds.

Serving suggestions:

Line mini-croissants with a small leaf of Boston lettuce and fill with chicken salad to make a dainty sandwich

Fill lettuce cups with chicken salad, garnish with crumbled blue cheese or mandarin orange sections

Top toast rounds with chicken salad for an open faced tea sandwich, garnish as above