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A lady’s musings about all things tea

Join me as I explore tea rooms, savor afternoon tea, ponder about the importance of tea in different eras, discover the uses of tea ware, and rejoice in the beauty of all things tea!

Huzzah for Dads!

June 2022

I am getting ready for Dad's Day at the Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, VA  where we will be serving afternoon tea to some truly awesome men.  But what do you get men who have everything they want & need? You get them humor! One of the things we will be passing out as prizes for our Father's Day Trivia Contest will be a dad joke book (come on guys, you all know you want one -- some of you could write your own). This one is hilariously compiled by Jack Duncan and is a perfect paring with a big ol' mug of tea. Tea, scones, family, and clean jokes -- is there a better way to spend an afternoon? I think not! Happy Father's Day you wonderful dads!

Mom's deserve a break

May  2022

According to stay-at-home-moms should make (based on all the tasks they do at home -- i.e. cleaning, childcare, personal assistant, tutoring, accounting, etc.) $162,581 dollars a year.   While I am not a SAHM, I decided to treat myself this year. So I took myself to England to visit some wonderful tearooms. It cost me a lot less than $162,000+ but as a mom, I think I deserve it. ANd you other moms do too!!! Treat yourself, not just on Mother's Day but everyday. One of the simplest ways to treat yourself is with a really good tea. Just one good cup of tea (not that mass produced, bagged stuff -- I mean the GOOD stuff) will cost you between $1-3 dollars per cup. But remember, those really good loose leaf teas can be steeped 3-4 times so you are really getting a bargain with loose leaf tea. Some of my favorites from the U.S.A. are from Elmwood Inn Fine Teas and Skirted Soldier So get yourself a nice teacup (there are some gorgeous ones at your local charity shop) and brew some truly good tea, treat yourself with the best. You deserve it! Happy Mother's Day!

Spring is for tea

April  2022

Welcome spring! We love spring becuase it is the time of year when tea (Camellia Sinensis) is first plucked in plantations in China, Japan, India, Kenya, and even the United States. This first plucking is called "first flush" and produces some of the best, young tea. One of my favorites is the First Flush Darjeeling. I found a wonderful version of this on my recent trip to England. This First Flush Darjeeling by True Tea Company is a lovely fresh and light tea perfect to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee in June -- but I won't wait until then to drink it!

Royal tea for Mardi Gras

March 2022

Mardi Gras is this month and what better way to celebrate than with King Cake and a special tea. Get out your festive cups (like this FIestaware one here) and indulge in a big Slice of King Cake. Remember, if you find the little plastic baby in your slice, you are supposed to buy the cake next year. 

Valentine's Day Chocolate -- thanks to a failed tea company

February 2022

I give talks during a local historic plantation's afternoon tea. I try to make my talks focused around tea and not just the holiday they are held on. So, when the historic house hosted a Valentine's Day tea this month, I went to work finding something associated with the holiday but also tea-themed. 

Enter the Cadbury Confectionary Company. This is the worlds second largest confectionary company (Mars is the first) and it got its humble beginnings in 1824 as the company of John Cadbury -- tea, coffee, and cocoa merchant. John Cadbury was a Quaker and didn't indulge in luxuries, but he sold them (ironic isn't it?). John was apparently not a very good businessman because whe his sons, Richard and George took it over in the 1860s it was all but defunct (this is hard to believe especially since the company had a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1854). 

Anyway, Richard and George (John's sons) started focusing on the chocolate part of the biz and in a few short years, they were making bank! Richard was an artist and created the painted chocolate boxes. He eventually created the heart-shaped box. 

It is kind of scary to think that the world might have never known heart shaped boxes or Cadbury chocolate if the Cadbury sons had not taken over thier father's failing tea business. Thank you Richard and George, there are many tea merchants but only ONE Cadbury Chocolate biz!

Don't judge a tea by its cover

January 2022

I grew up on Lipton black tea and it was mostly used as iced tea with lots of sugar. So, who am I to be a tea snob? Well, I have taken tea sommelier courses with World Tea Academy and etiquette classes through The English Manner so I thought I was too good for cheap bagged tea. 

But when I tasted the Taylor's of harrogate Yorkshire Tea Malty Biscuit tea, I quickly ditched my nose-in-the-air attitude about cheap, bagged tea. This tea really does taste like tea and biscuits (cookies if you are in the USA) so much so that it doesn't even need sugar. 

Yes, I bought 6 boxes in December. It is January and I am almost out. Lesson learned: don't judge a tea by its cost or name alone. You might miss out on something really special if you try to be a tea snob. 

December 2021

I love historic hotels. I love historic hotels that serve afternoon tea even better! The Henley Park Hotel is a beautiful old hotel with a fabulous chef (who must have been having a bit of an off day when I had tea there). Don't get me wrong, most of the items on the afternoon tea tray were sumptuous. But some were not. 

Let's start with the really, really good .. homemade clotted cream. What?! Yes, you read that correctly, clotted cream made by hand and not from a jar. It was a miracle. The cranberry scone was lovely as was the egg salad sandwich. The service was absolutely top notch (my waiters were Rachel and Michael -- so wonderful).

Now let's talk about the "meh" mediocre items. The tea, bagged and non-descript. The salmon sandwich, slightly gummy. All the sandwiches were served on white bread (no rye or wheat) and had the consistency of Wonder Bread. I can tolerate this if it weren't for the fact they charged $38 for a cream tea.

Here is where it gets a bit ugly. You had to pay an extra $10 for the third tier of the afternoon tea (the desserts). And they were food service, pre-made, pre-frozen. A few of them were still frozen inside. This was something I brought up to the management. I mean, I don't mind paying $10 extra (a total of $48 for a full, proper afternoon tea is not unreasonable at a nice hotel like the Henley Park) but not if it just fell off the food truck, so to speak. 

After speaking with the manager (he was incredibly nice and genuinely wanted to learn more about offering a perfect afternoon tea service)  I feel like giving this place another shot. Especially if they seat me in the atrium (it is the most beautiful spot in the entire hotel). 

Afternoon tea:

Cafe Renaissance, Vienna, Virginia 

November 2021

I love it when my little local cafe tries to serve up afternoon tea. Sometimes, it is a hit, sometimes it is a miss. 

As far as afternoon tea goes at Cafe Renaissance in Vienna, Virginia, the service is amazing! The sandwhiches were super tasty, especially the cucumber sandwiches that had tarragon and walnuts (that's new). And let me tell you that the sweets were some of the best I ever had, especially the tart. 

The only negative things I can say about the experience was that the tea was just plain old Ahmed bagged tea and the scone was like a dry biscuit. Oh, and no clotted cream here either. After my last review of a tea room/tea experience, I am beginning to think there might be a clotted cream shortage in the USA. 

If you go to the Cafe Renaissance for afternoon tea (only served the last Saturday of the month mind you), skip the cherry jam and ask for the marmalade -- it is devine. However, I highly encourage you to go to the Cafe for dinner instead of afternoon tea because they have the most devine peach melba dessert (pictured here) complete with in-house made macron. YUM!

Afternoon tea:

Garden Tea Lounge, San Antonio, Texas 

October 2021

When I travel, I try to find tea rooms in the city I am staying or at least try to find hotels that offer afternoon tea. San Antonio, Texas, only had one place that still offered afternoon tea and it was in an antique mall. I called ahead to make a reservation -- common practice nowadays. And explained that I would like the full afternoon tea.

Before I tell you about the afternoon tea at Garden Tea Lounge in the Craftique Antiques Mall, I do need to mention that The Menger Hotel used to serve a fabulous afternoon tea but because of COVID, they were not serving anymore (they assured me they would be starting back up as soon as the threat of COVID was over). 

I walked into the Craftique Antique Mall and straight toward the back where the Garden Tea Lounge is located. I told them I had called a week in advance and wanted afternoon tea. They kept calling it high tea but I let it go. I had saved up all my calories for the day for this treat. 

The server asked me which scone I wanted (they did have a lovely selection of tea infused scones) and which sandwich. I am kind of used to getting a variety of sandwiches at afternoon tea but I played along ... cucumber I told her. The sandwhich was excellent as was the scone. That is, until she told me they didn't have clotted cream. I almost turned on my heel and walked out. But I stayed becuase I wanted to give them a chance. But seriously, how do you not have clotted cream when a customer calls a week in advance? 

The tea itself was nice but I am not sure what tea bag they used but it tasted like paper. Tea and paper, not a great combo. And they served half and half with the tea instead of milk. I know some people like half and half with thier tea, I do not. 

If I ever get back to San Antonio, I will probably give this place another go just for the cucumber sandwhich and Earl Gray scone. 

Afternoon tea:

Laduree, Washington DC

September 2021

I love macrons and I specifically love Laduree macarons, so it was an obvious decision to try the afternoon tea offering at the Laduree cafe in Washington D.C.  First let me explain that a French afternoon tea is a bit different than a British one. French afternoon teas do not include scones with clotted cream and jam for one. However, where the French version lacks the beloved scone, it more than makes up for with sweets (which I usually find better than the British version). 

On the date/time of my reservation, I was promptly sat at a lovely table with a nice server. While the eating area was small (they are more concerned with selling those fabulous macrons, as they should be), what surprised me was that no one had the WiFi password. As with any cafe, we were given silverware rolled up in paper napkins but served with silver and china — seemed odd to splurge on some things but not others. 

In all, I paid $49 for sandwiches, macrons, pastries, tea. The highlights were the beautiful edible roses, meringues, and marshmallows. I chose the 

Marie Antoinette black tea, which was delicious. The disappointments were the sandwiches which were rather bland. 

It is a bit expensive for an afternoon tea so next time I will opt for purchasing sweets individually and a cup of tea. And, I should note that the wait staff were so sweet, just like Laduree macarons 😁

August 2021

I love taking friends to be or not to be afternoon tea for their birthdays. I decided I would treat a girlfriend to afternoon tea at the gorgeous St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C. So, we made a reservation on Open Table for the “Decadence Afternoon”. Now, let me explain, this is not an ordinary afternoon tea (they don’t offer that anymore) but was basically a tray of scones and sweets so we knew we would not be getting savory sandwiches.

We dressed up and arrived at the hotel at our reservation time and were seated in the beautiful lobby in lush chairs with a low table (how afternoon tea should be served I think). The sweets and scones were very nice but something that annoyed me was that the tea was extra. Yes, you read that correctly. They charged $35 for a tray of sweets and a scone apiece. Then charged extra for a pot of tea! We paid $10 for a pot of tea with tea bags!  I admit, it did state this in the fine print so I should have read the description on Open Table a little closer. But, really?!?!

The scones, clotted cream, jam, and lemon curd were  excellent and the made-in-house desserts were yummy but, as you see in the photo above, they were not worth $35. Of course my lovely friend is worth any amount of money spent but if you are going to this establishment for a normal afternoon tea, you might want to try elsewhere. 

I will hand it to them — the service was impeccable and the china was gorgeous. 

July 2021

Saying goodbye to good friends is never easy but saying goodbye over afternoon tea makes things a bit easier. I had never had afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City (RC@PC) so I thought I would treat my two lovely friends to a farewell tea before they ventured to California for a new job.

Now, I normally have happy hour at the RC@PC and in true Ritz fashion, the service is impeccable. But lately they have been offering afternoon tea so I had to try it. SNOB ALERT: I should have given RC@PC fair warning when I made the reservations that I am a bit of an afternoon tea snob … but I didn’t. I am not sure it would have made any difference though. 

I donned a lovely dress and heels (it adds to the experience if you dress nicely for afternoon tea in a hotel)  traveled to the beautiful venue, got out of the car at the front door, and was promptly greeted by the sound of power tools and the sight of dusty construction workers. I walked to what used to be the gorgeous bar area — where tea should have been served — only to find it blocked by drywall and a little paper sign directing me to the ballroom. OK, this isn’t so bad, tea in a ballroom will be nice, I thought.

After checking in with the kind hostess, I was seated in the middle of the ballroom at a table set for three. But it wasn’t set for afternoon tea, it was set for lunch with cutlery rolled in the napkin and various plates on the table. Hmmm, well, it isn’t the Fortnum & Mason tea salon but they are trying, I optimistically said to myself. 

A few moments later, my guests join me and we start talking about the menu. The RC@PC offered 6 types of tea and an assortment of sweets and savories. That is a decent selection. I chose the Earl Grey (very impressed with its flavor although the server didn’t really know what brand it was and never offered to show me so even if I had wanted to purchase some, I wouldn’t have been able to find it … bummer) and opted for the Royal Afternoon Tea (served with a mimosa, Bellini, or sparkling wine). So, a little pet peeve of mine is when servers offer me champagne but it is really sparkling wine. Champagne can only be called champagne if it comes from the champagne region of France (let’s call a spade a spade and sparkling wine a sparkling wine). Americans try to get away with calling sparkling wine “champagne” all the time — not at my table miss server lady.

The sandwiches were yummy (curried egg salad, cranberry chicken salad, and salmon mousse)  as were the desserts (chocolate bon bon, cream puff, lemon tart, strawberry sponge, and Chocolate covered strawberry) but the scone was a bit dry (nothing a whole lot of clotted cream couldn’t fix).

Aside from the noise level of the construction happening next door, the only thing that irked me about the experience was that the tea came out in a teapot  without the leaves in it and I was not allowed to pour my own tea. I like to have my tea leaves in the pot and then steep them again when the tea liquid gets cooler. Nope, the server said if I wanted more hot water, she would have to brew me another pot. Well, that won’t work. Besides, how am I supposed to read my tea leaves in my teacup and find out my future if there are no leaves in the cup? Also, the server insisted on pouring refills in our cups, it felt like they didn’t trust me with the teapot. I have been successfully holding a teapot for decades and have yet to break one (well, there was that one time my anger got away from me and I threw a teapot in the general direction of a guy who just broke up with me but that doesn’t really count because it didn’t hit him).

All-in-all it was a pleasant experience but I do hope the RC@PC gives their servers a bit more instruction on how a proper afternoon tea set up is supposed to look (for example: bottom tier savories, middle tier scones, and top tier sweets) and how tea takers prefer actual tea leaves in the tea pot (maybe they didn’t have enough tea strainers?). Oh, and hands off my tea pot … I want to pour it myself.

Book review: Taking Tea With Alice, by Dawn Hylton Gottlieb & Diane Sedo

June 2021

What a sweet little book to add to my tea & etiquette library! I especially loved the foreword and first chapter that details the relationship between Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland) and Alice Pleasance Liddell (the inspiration for the book). 

This book is filled with short stories, menus, recipies, and tea party themes. From enchanted violet jelly and Frozen Charlotte cake to flamingo croquets and the white rabbit's tea sandwiches all the food and beverages are given names that are plucked straight from the pages of Carroll's fantasy-filled classic. 

Each chapter of the book is a tea party theme of its own complete with directions on how to decorate, what games to play, what to serve, and what special occassion is observed (e.g. Christmas, Valentines Day, etc.). 

Although the photos are a little dated (the book was written in 1997), in all, Taking Tea With Alice is a neat little add to any tea library. 

Ode to a tea cozy

May 2021

Oh the dependable, useful tea cozy. What did I ever do without you?

Thank god for Anna, the Duchess of Bedford for introducing afternoon tea in the 1840s. If she wouldn't have done that, we wouldn't have tea cozies. Also, thank goodness for the Victorian Era and their need to decorate everything to the extreme. 

Tea cozies began as simple towels over the tea pot to keep the liquid hot but someone (I guess we will never know who exactly) thought the teapot should be better dressed than a mere toga draped over it. And in true Victorian fashion, the tea cozy was born. Necessity really is the mother of all invention I suppose. 

It's more than just drinking tea

April 2021

When I began my tea sommelier adventure the beginning of this year (during a pandemic might I add) I really had no clue what would be needed to transform me from a Southern sweet iced tea junkie into a proper tea connoisseur.  Well, let me tell you, it is a lot! But I broke it down into a more managable bit for the purpose of this blog post (and to keep from getting confused myself).

Tea: Yes, let's start with tea. Loose tea, not bagged tea. And the more I got to researching good loose leaf tea, the more I found out about the ugly side of tea plantations in India, China, Sri Lanka, and Africa. Most tea estates pay thier workers a pitiful daily wage of about $1. So, I found a few fair trade, eco friendly loose tea companies I purchase from. 

Water: I am not talking about your run of the mill tap water here. No, tea is picky. Tea, well really good tea, must have fresh pure water with maximum oxygen. Otherwise, when the tea soaks up the water, the chemicals will change the taste of the tea. So much for making sun tea in an old pickle jar with the water from the garden hose. And each type of tea takes a different temperature to steep properly. So, I bought a water filer pitcher and an electric tea kettle that lets you program exactly the right temperature. Total cost: $100 for the kettle; $30 for the filtration pitcher. I have to say though, I am now in love with that tea kettle and don't know how I ever got along without it.

Teacup/tea tasting kit: I have learned more about the differences in coffee and teacups, fine china and bone china, and cups and mugs than I ever thought possible. Although tea cups have been around for centuries (thanks to China and Japan), the tea cup with a handle as we see today was the brilliant invention of Robert Adams in 1750 who was tired of burning his hands on tea bowls. However, to be a tea taster, you will need to purchase a tea tasting kit that includes a teacup, lid, and bowl. I will describe how to use these things in another post. I got mine from Amazon for $40 (it included four sets of tasting sets so I could do multiple tastings at once).

Other: Now if you want to be a true tea taster, you need to purchase a few more things like a timer (for steeping), a tea strainer and bowl, tea cozy, thermometer (if you don't have a kettle like mine mentioned above), and a journal to write down your thoughts on tea. I also suggest a magnifying glass to really see those tea leaves up close. All these little things cost me about $70.

So, in all (not including the cost of the tea and instruction), my journey's beginnings cost me about $240.

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