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Monday, April 13, 2009

A Cup of Big Apple Tea

At the end of last weekend, I received a call from a dear friend whom I had not spoken to in a few months. I was very glad to hear her voice, but she was on a mission and had called with one very specific and important question:

"Do you remember what street Alice's Tea Cup is on?"

Back in 2004, while we were both in school studying theatre, we had the bright idea to do go and explore New York City's theatre world for about a month as an independent study. Our professor loved the idea, so off we went. Since both of us like tea (she, too, is a youthful Tea Time subscriber!), part of our explorations led us to Alice's Tea Cup.
This is one of my absolute favorite tea rooms. As the name suggests, everything in the restaurant centers around the theme of the mad tea party in "Alice in Wonderland". The tables are a mismatched collection of dark wood pieces. I use the term "tables" loosley because one of them is actually an old converted sewing table, complete with a foot pedal. The china is also a hodge podge of different patterns and shapes. The walls are painted with bright colors, and are also adorned with photographs of real people posed in scenes depicting the mad tea party. The words from the book make up a border that travles all around the restaurant. TeaMuse.com put it best by saying, "The d├ęcor welcomes females and males of all ages, as it's neither frilly nor consciously upscale...Haley and Lauren have provided a center for enjoying tea and friends without pretension."
They serve breakfast, lunch, a variety of tea options, and dinner. The scones are to die for. They are, hands down, the best scones I have ever had, and I have yet figure out how to replicate them in my own kitchen. They have an extensive menu of well over 100 teas, all of which you can purchase from their gift shop area to take home with you.

Once my friend and I discovered Alice's Tea Cup, we made a second visit before returning home. I was so excited to learn that she had made it back to New York this past week and had some time to catch the train to Alice's for a cup. Once I looked up the address for her, I was also excited to discover that, not only has Alice's has branched out and now has three locations across NYC, but they have also made available franchising opportunities. I must say, my mind reeled with thoughts of opening my very own Alice's Tea Cup here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

Like I said, this is one of my absolute favorite tea rooms. I have been back to NYC twice since then, and made a point to have tea at Alice's both times. Since I haven't visited since 2005, I don't think it's fair to do an official review, but be on the look out for one as soon as I make my next trip up north. For now, I'll just say that if you're in New York City, it's definitely worth stopping by. And if you happen to visit one of the newer locations, I'd love to hear about it.

Alice's Tea Cup Chapter 1
102 West 73rd Street
New York, New York 10023


Alice's Tea Cup Chapter 2
156 East 64th Street

Alice's Tea Cup Chapter 3
220 East 81st Street

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Madeline's Tea Room - Palestine, T.X.

Before I begin this review, I would like to say a special thanks to my husband, who is so generous in being my partner in tea room exploration, even if a particular location may not be his "cup of tea". His manners are well enough that I can be seen with him in public, and he makes me laugh when he licks the spread off of his crackers or slurps his soup when he thinks no one is paying attention. :-)

Madeline's Tea Room
Corner of 287 South and FM 2419
Palestine, TX

Madeline's Tea Room is located about a mile or two headed out of town, so you're probably not likely to just happen upon it if you were visiting this area. But, with the help of my handy-dandy GPS, we found it without a problem. As we got out of the car, I smiled as I took in the exterior of the building, which had a very welcoming country cottage appearance accented with beautiful flower beds and white fencing and latticework.
As we walked across the porch and in through the screen door, I began to wonder if we had come at the wrong time. There was no one to be seen inside (well, there was only one other car in the parking lot), and the place was dark. Reservations were not required, so we were arriving unannounced, but I checked the sign again, and they were open according to their schedule. We stood in the doorway for a moment looking around. At last, a cheery voice from the back welcomed us in, and we were seated by the proprietor who went about explaining to us that Saturdays were usually very show days when she gets a head start on her baking - as she hastily plugged in and turned on the lights and music.
A quick glance around the room reveals a heavy floral and pastel Country/Victorian decor that is geared more towards a feminine taste. It was at once elegant and cozy, which is a nice combination. The tables are covered with solid pastel tablecloths which are again topped with smaller lace cloths. Each table holds a small candle "lamp", a fairy figurine, a sweet little bouquet of flowers, a glass containing Sweet 'N Low packets, and is already set with your silver and napkin.
After we were seated, our hostess asked us what tea we would like, and then proceeded to list the three options they had for that day. I was a little confused by this. They have nine different teas listed on their menu: three decaf, three black (two of which are variations of Earl Grey), and three green. But, I just ordered the decaf Apricot and didn't ask. After our iced tea arrived, suddenly the limited selection made sense to me. After perusing the tea menu, my husband ordered the chicken crepes lunch plate, and I ordered the La-Tea-Da afternoon tea, which, in addition to the standard finger sandwiches, scones, savories and sweets, comes with a small cup of the soup of the day. Our hostess noted that the La-Tea-Da would take a little longer to prepare, but that was not a problem since we were in no hurry.
The food was presented beautifully. My three tier set-up was topped with ivy and a beautiful bow, and each plate was garnished with fresh fruit. A particularly nice touch was the devonshire cream served in the tiny pink tea cup and the lemon curd in the little martini glass. When our hostess brought the food to our table, I giggled on the inside when she asked me if I knew what a scone was. On the subject of scones, these were not my favorite at all. They were more of the texture of a roll than a scone, and not particularly flavorful. With that said, however, the rest of the food was wonderful, and Madeline's does live up to it's slogan "Best Chicken Salad in Town". The potato soup had caraway seeds in it, which is a new take on potato soup for me, but I liked it so much, I think I'll have to try it the next time I make potato soup. I was not able to finish all of the food, but I did at least get to taste everything. Oh, and I did get around to ordering a pot of hot Mango tea which, much to my relief, came with a sugar bowl on request. I just can not take Sweet 'N Low.

*A side note: I did make a trip to the ladies room during our visit - which was very clean - and was surprised to find a sigh over the toilet paper that read, "Please do not put paper in pot." Right next to this sign was another that read, "Please put paper in trash can." I was a bit shocked by this and thought, "Surely they mean paper towels or something like that," but since the sign was over the toilet paper roll, and I feared what might happen if the toilet stopped up, I followed the directions. Ewww.*

We were the only patrons at Madeline's Tea Room during our time there, which puzzled me a little. Palestine is a very small town, and since the goal of our two hour road trip was to go exploring in a town we had never been to before, I do not anticipate a return trip in the near future. However, if you are ever in that area, a stop over at Madeline's Tea Room will offer you some very nice food. Just wait to use the restroom elsewhere.

I give this tea room:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Taking a Step Back

Well, "To Tea or Not to Tea" has been up and running for a little over a month now. In that time, I have discovered a nice handful of other tea related blogs, written by some very friendly, knowledgeable, and well written people, that I follow daily. I have learned quite a few things from these new connections, and look forward to seeing what new things there are yet to be discovered.

I feel that now is a good time to take a step back and do an inventory of my own little space here as well, and get some feedback from you, the reader. Take a look at the Tea Time Tunes at the top of the page. It contains a short list of songs that go well with a nice cup of tea - for me. However, those songs are up there for you! What songs go best with your favorite cuppa? Please send along any requests and I'll do my best to get them plugged into the rotation. Also, are there any tea topics in particular you would like to see addressed in this blog? Any other comments/constructive criticisms in general that you would like to share? Send them my way!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hey, There Are Old Country Roses In My Cabinet...

At different points during my childhood, when holidays would roll around, or we would have family gatherings that were more significant than our every-day events, we would have the special occasion to bring out the china. If company were coming, my mother would pull out the Japanese china set that was left to her by my great-grandmother. Easter dinner at my grandparents' house always called for my grandmother's pastel floral Mikasa set. I loved these times, and eating from these dishes always made me feel quite grown up and ladylike. I looked forward with eagerness to the time when I would get married and pick out my formal dinnerware.
I had always assumed that I would go to college, graduate, and get married. Of course, things usually don't go exactly as planned. Towards the end of my college days, with no marriage prospects on the horizon, I began to see that my life's schedule was not going to be as on target as I had planned. No getting married right out of college, no setting up house for my new family unit, no picking out a beautiful china pattern....

Wait a minute...

Who was is that decided that you couldn't begin collecting your china until you got married? Really, it is just the way things are done, it's the traditional way. I didn't have any clue if I'd ever get married, but I decided that didn't need to stand in the way of having a formal china set of my own.
And, of course, it all started with a tea set.
In my quest to choose the perfect pattern, after leafing through tons of glossy sales magazines and scouring the internet, I landed on Royal Doulton's Old Country Roses. I know, I know, not very original, but keep in mind that, in the beginning, my search was for a tea set, and they make anything you could possibly want for a tea set in this pattern. The variety of pieces available, and the fact that I felt pretty confident that the pattern wouldn't be discontinued in the near future, really helped make the decision easy for me.
That Christmas, my grandfather gifted me with my very first china tea pot.
From there, the collection has grown modestly. In the beginning, I had concluded that I would choose a different pattern for my dinnerware and leave the OCR to the tea set, but my aunt convinced me that it made more sense to stick with the same pattern.
The last time I pulled out my china was for a Christmas Tea for a small group of family and friends. Oh, what wonderful memories center around a beautiful place setting, a steaming cup of tea, and warm conversation with those you love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Little Hot Water Reveals a Whole Lotta Truth

"A woman is like a tea bag. You can not tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."

I'm not completely sure who said this - I've seen it attributed to Nancy Regan, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even Carl Sandburg. Regardless of who said it first, I would like to expand this idea a little further to say that not only does hot water reveal the strength, but also the true character. A dried tea may have the most wonderfully fragrant aroma, but that aroma may or may not be a precise indicator of the flavor. Case in point:

A few weekends ago, I signed up to be an extra - excuse me, "background actor" - in a feature film. Now I've been an ext-. . . background actor. . . in short films before, but not a feature, so I thought it would be a neat experience. Keep in mind, this being a low-budget film, it was a volunteer job. We were told to be on the set at 7am, and that we could possibly be needed up until 8pm. That would make for a long day, and I knew that there could be some downtime, so I brought my MP3 player freshly stocked with a new selection of audio books and pod casts.
I have always been a little prideful about my capacity for patience. In situations when others may loose their patience, I can keep my cool. I arrived at the school auditorium at 7am, signed in, found my seat, got my wardrobe approved, and began to patiently wait to be called

By 1pm, I was frantically looking for a way out.

I had been sitting in the same auditorium seat for six hours doing nothing. In an attempt to assuage my boredom, I had foolishly used my MP3 player to play some games about three hours earlier, and killed the battery. The room was a toasty 46 degrees because no one could figure out how to turn on the heat, and we were all dressed for summer. The production company had provided enough food for two dozen volunteers, but there were over 120 of us. I was freezing, frustrated, annoyed, and yes, I had lost my patience. My mind began to whirl with excuses I could make up to get the heck out of there and stop wasting my Saturday.
Along with those excuses, another familiar phrase was also flickering in my brain: "Thou shalt not lie." Granted, it would be a little-white-lie, but a lie is a lie. This commandment, and the fact that I had given my word to be there that day, were my only hurdle.
We were called in to lunch, and I stood in line for my pizza slice. In my head, however, I was standing at the precipice of truth, peering over the cliff into the valley of lies. I could see the extras handler standing just a few feet away. All I had to do was walk over to her, mention something about a family emergency or something of that nature, and I would be out the door and into the glorious warm sunshine. What an internal battle I had!
In the end, I kept my mouth shut, ate my pizza, and returned to the frosty auditorium. At 3pm, eight hours after I had arrived, I was finally called back to shoot a few scenes.

This hot water has taught me a few things about myself. I am not the Queen of Patience, as I had presumed myself to be. I was also surprised by how much I was tempted to lie to get out of the situation - I thought I had that taken care of too. But, in the end, what matters is what you do in response to a situation.
So, the next time you sit down for a cup, I encourage you to pause for a moment, as the hot water brings out the flavor from the leaves, and reflect on how the truth about you has been revealed in tough situations, and how you have learned and grown from it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tea Trash Turned To Treasure

About a week ago, it was recommended to me to make a visit over to Steph's Cup of Tea by Angela who blogs at Tea With Friends. So, of course, I headed that way, and enjoyed reading the post for the day entitled "She's CrafTEA!" I love to try my hand at all types of crafts, so that prompted me to begin a search for new crafts having to do with tea. My search lead me to many wonderful craft ideas that I had already come across in the past, but I was looking for something that was new to me. I was almost ready to give up when I finally discovered something new.

Tea bag folding.

In my research into the origins of this pastime, many sources agreed that tea bag folding was created by Tiny van der Plaas in Holland, however, I was unable to find any information as to the dates of its origin. The traditional story says that van der Plaas was sitting at her kitchen table thinking about needing a birthday card for her sister, and absentmindedly began folding the leftover envelopes that once held her tea bags - so while it is called tea bag folding, it's really tea envelope folding. It is also known as miniature kaleidoscope origami.
I wanted to try my hand at this new craft idea, and my continued search brought me to this Craft Site Directory for Tea Bag Folding. From here, I snooped around and found some folding instructions and free tile templates. All of the crafts are made from paper "tiles" that are square and equal in size. These tiles are folded and then pieced together. Depending on the craft, the folded tiles can be fitted together in such a way as the finished product holds itself together, or they are glued together or on some sort of backing. I tried one of the basic medallions, which kind of holds itself together, and a cross, which is glued together.

I just loved the results! The patterns are so pretty, and the projects are really very simple, but look quite intricate. These crafts would go great in a scrapbook, on a card, or even framed in a collage.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Library at The Inn on Biltmore Estate - Asheville, N.C.

The Library at The Inn on Biltmore Estate
1 Antler Hill Road
Asheville, NC 28803

Without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite vacation destinations is The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. With the beautiful house, thousands of acres of gardens and woods to explore, winery and working farm community, I like to call it my "big kid's Disney World". I first visited during the Christmas season of my seventh grade year, and was hooked from the start. Biltmore has been the site of quite a few fun filled girls weekends, but my favorite trip was during the Festival of Flowers, when my husband proposed while we were on a horseback ride overlooking the deer park and back side of the house.
I have taken tea in the Library at the Inn on Biltmore Estate twice, and on both occasions, I was accompanied by my husband, who will attest that he enjoyed himself as much as I did. The Library is a circularly shaped room situated off of the main lobby. Half of the room is open to the lobby, while the other half is lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the gorgeous landscape. On a clear day you can see the top of the house in the distance. All of the window seats are tables for two, and while there are no bad seats in this tea room, they are without a doubt, the best places to sit.
Upon entering the Library, you are greeted with the beautiful sounds of a live pianist, and by your hostess who shows you to your table. Your server arrives next with the menus, from which you can order the standard afternoon tea, like I did, or a royal tea, if you plan on doing a little more exploring before driving to your next destination. He or she also presents you with a "sniffing box", for lack of a better term. This box contains small jars filled with each of their Mighty Leaf Tea options, so you can base your tea choice off of scent as well as description. Now, reservations are required, as is the case with so many tea rooms, so be sure to call ahead.
The food is served on the classic Biltmore china, and varies depending on the season. The chefs at Biltmore use ingredients produced on the estate or in the local area for many of their creations. This is also the place to come if you're looking for some more unusual offerings, like quail egg. Honey, lemon, and sugar are at your disposal for your tea, and lemon curd, devonshire cream, and raspberry jam are staple condiments.
Both of my experiences taking tea at Biltmore have been without complaint. The food, tea, service, and atmosphere are superb. They serve tea from 2:30 - 4:30, which is good, otherwise I would be tempted to remain, sipping tea and gazing out of the window until the sun sets. As it stands, this is my favorite tea room to date, and the next time I make a visit to the Biltmore Estate, an afternoon of tea in the Library is at the top of my list.

I give this tea room:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Green" Tea for St. Patrick's Day

"Going Green" is probably one of the most overused phrases of the past year, but of all days to use the phrase, what day could be more perfect than St. Patrick's Day? So, I would like to turn our attention, not to green tea, but to going green with tea.

Celestial Seasonings has partnered with Trees of the Future, a nonprofit organization that helps poor villages in Asia, Africa, and Latin America by planting trees. I learned about this partnership from Lisa over at Stop and Smell the Chocolates, and had to check out what was going on for myself.
From now until March 31, Celestial Seasonings is making a donation to Trees of the Future for every box of tea purchased. If you can't make it to the store, you can visit their website, http://www.celestialseasonings.com/trees/index.html, and plant a virtual tree. For each virtual tree that is planted, Trees of the Future will plant a real tree. And, as a bonus, you are automatically entered into a drawing to win Celestial Seasonings tea for a year at one box per week. I've already planted my virtual tree, and they tell me that it will remove approximately 50lbs of carbon dioxide from the air each year.
Doing something good for the environment and economy couldn't be any easier, so head on over to Celestial Seasonings and do your part.
An opportunity to help the environment and win a year of free tea - what could be better?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Too early for tea?

About every eight weeks or so I begin to approach my mailbox with a heightened sense of anticipation. I am expecting my new issue of Tea Time magazine. I have been reading this magazine for around three years now, and I absolutely love it. It's filled with wonderful recipes, great themed tea ideas, and creative gift ideas. The articles highlight various tea rooms and their owners, tea producers, and tea enthusiasts. They always include a schedule of tea events from across the nation, and usually have an etiquette Q&A which has been helpful in answering some tricky questions.
As I said, I love this magazine, but around the middle of last year, I began to notice something I found rather strange. It wasn't so much in the articles as it was in the advertising. As I paged through issue after issue, I saw ads for things like the the First Street Walk-In Tub, the Jitterbug cell phone, and The Happy Hatters Boutique. Now, in actuality, there is nothing strange at all about these ads, but they made me curious about the average Tea Time reader.
I figured the best place to start in an investigation is the beginning, so I visited the magazine's website and took a look at their media kit to get a better idea. The average Tea Time magazine reader is a 53 year old female, with an average annual household income of just under $100,000. Well, now the advertising made more sense to me, but I was then led to ponder another question.

Am I an anomaly?

I am still in my 20s, years away from being able to don a red hat (although I know I could go with pink or lavender), and don't come near the 100K mark. Obviously, I'm not your average reader. And, I know that most tea events are not generation specific, but I do pay attention to the clientele when I visit various tea establishments. Again, I usually tend to be on the younger end of the spectrum. I do have a few friends my age who enjoy going out to take tea with me, and at least one that I know also reads Tea Time, but is anyone else out there?

I'm sending out a call to find other tea enthusiasts that also fall on the younger end of the spectrum. Please leave me a comment, your story, or just drop me a line so I know I'm not the only one in my generation who enjoys this wonderful pastime.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Not Your Mother's Tea

Have you ever heard of bubble tea? I discovered this tea-latte-type concoction about a week ago while I was publishing my review of the Rose Garden Tea Room on TeaGuide.com. One of the required fields on this particular site was a drop down box labeled, "What type of tea were you served or did you purchase?" I recognized all of the options, except one. Bubble Tea? Never heard of that one, so of course I had to find out exactly what it was and where I could go to try it out.
After just a little investigation I came upon a shop not too far away called Fat Straws Bubble Tea. Here's a little description of bubble tea straight from their website:

"In its simplest form, ultratrendy bubble tea is a mixture of Chinese black tea, creamer, and sugar served over giant black tapioca balls. 'Bubbles' do not refer to carbonation but to both the foam on top and the chewy prizes resting at the bottom of the drink."

Hmmm. Chewy prizes?

Bubbleteasupply.com elaborates a little on the origins of this puzzling drink, stating that, "Bubble Tea originated in Taiwan in the early 1980's at a small tea stand."

I am almost always up for trying something new, and thankfully I have a wonderful husband who usually doesn't mind sharing in my adventurous undertakings. So, on our way home from church this past Sunday afternoon, we made a little detour to Fat Straws.
This small store is located at 5301 Alpha Road #38, in Dallas, TX. It has a very minimalistic design with a little bit of an asian influence. Their menu is comprised mostly of bubble teas, regular teas and smoothies. Fat Straws does not serve food, so I won't be doing a tea room review here, but I did want to give you a little info on my bubble tea experience.
We were helped by Mae, who was very helpful and knowledgeable. She explained that the tapioca balls in the bubble tea are black in color because they contain maple syrup. We were also able to sample one of their teas of the day. It was a melon and mango flavored white tea that was so light and refreshing, I almost opted for a tall glass of that and abandoned my quest to try this bubble tea. But, I was on a mission, and after explaining to Mae that we were here to be initiated into the ranks of bubble tea drinkers, ordered a medium "Classic Tea".
When the bartender placed my drink on the counter, I picked out my favorite colored straw. Fat Straws is named literally for its fat straws. They are about one half inch in diameter, large enough to suck up the tapioca balls, and have a pointed bottom end that you use to pierce the thin plastic top that covers your cup. As I took my first sip, I enjoyed the creamy sweetened tea mixture - and then I got my first taste of the tapioca balls.
I am not usually a person who cares too much about the texture of my food, but one thing I absolutely do not like is any kind of gummy candy. Gummy bears, gummy worms, peach rings - I do not like the way they feel in my mouth and how long it takes to chew them up. Not only was this my first experience with bubble tea, but, can you believe it, it was my first experience with tapioca as well, and unfortunately, the consistency of a tapioca ball is much like that of a gummy bear. Don't get me wrong, the flavor of the tapioca was very nice and was a good match with the tea, but I just couldn't get past the texture.
Sip and chew, sip and chew. That's the motto at Fat Straws, and if you don't like tapioca, you can do like my husband, and get a tropical smoothie - with or without fruit flavored jellies.
Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera with me, but if you visit Fat Straws' website and watch the slide show on the home page, you can get an idea of what bubble tea actually looks like.
As for me, I don't think I'll be trying bubble tea again any time soon. However, if I'm back in that area again, I just might have to drop by Fat Straws and give that melon and mango white tea another go.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tea for Two

Ahhh, Saturday mornings. As Norah Jones so aptly put it, "The sun just slipped its glow below my door, and I can't hide beneath my sheets." The weather is a sunny fourty degrees, but the weather man says it feels like thirty, and I would be inclined to agree with him. This morning desperately calls for a steaming bowl of cheese grits and a sweet cup of Peach and Ginger Tea from the Olde English Tea Room & Gift Shoppe in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
This past September, as a surprise during my visit, my best friend took me for tea at the Olde English Tea Room after a fun morning of exploring the quaint downtown area of Wake Forest. There is nothing like a hearty afternoon tea after a morning of strenuous window shopping.
I am currently working on a counted cross stitch that reads, "While the pot boils...friendship blossoms." How true is this statement? Tea for one is a good thing, but tea for two is even better, especially when you are with a friend you haven't seen for some time. My friend and I have know each other a little over ten years now. We have gone from being roommates to living in different countries, and now just different states. Of course, we talk on the telephone and email each other, but nothing beats sitting across the table from one another and talking face-to-face. Not to mention that comfort, a relaxed atmosphere, a full belly and beautiful surroundings also do wonders for conversation.
The room in which we were seated was decorated in a Victorian style with dark woods and a dark green wall paper. It had a semi-private feel, and there were windows that flanked the doorway that allowed a view into the adjacent room. A classic afternoon tea is offered daily, along with lunch and dessert options as well, and there are a variety of special occasion teas that are available with reservations, and when party size requirements are met. If you are looking for a bit of a fancy affair, hats, gloves, and strings of beads are available on-site and are at your disposal. The gift shop carries a small collection of china pieces, and if you enjoyed the tea you were served in the dining room, you can pick up some to take home with you, as I did with my Peach and Ginger tea.
Now, I don't feel that I can fairly review this tea room for a few reasons. For one, I have only visited once, and at the time of my visit, my attention was not focused on my perception of the tea room itself. Also, since my visit was in September, I have forgotten details pertinent in writing a review. And finally, whatever my opinion of this tea room, it only improves based on the fact that I was there catching up with an old friend. Can any of you relate?
All in all, I can say that I would go back for another visit. If you feel the same, here's their info:

Olde English Tea Room & Gift Shoppe
219 South White Street
Wake Forest, NC

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Earl Grey. Not.

As I have said before, I do not claim to be an expert on tea. With that in mind, I will try to approach my posts with the assumption that some of my readers may not be experts either. For those who are, skip over the parts you know and get to the good stuff!

Earl Grey is a black tea that is flavored with oil of bergamot. It was named after the second Earl Charles Grey of Britain, who, as legend has it, was given the recipe as a gift by a Chinese nobleman. It is also one of the most popular teas in the world.

Believe it, or not, I am a Star Trek: TNG fan. For all you non-fans, that's The Next Generation, not the original. And, as any good Star Trek fan knows, tea played quite a frequent featured role in that series as the preferred beverage of Captain Picard, who always ordered it hot. I can't even look at a box of Earl Grey tea without his famous line running across my brain: "Earl Grey. Hot." The good Captain's passion for this tea was the primary reason for my desire to give it a try.
And so I did.
Tea has had an influence on many things throughout history. Remember the Boston Tea Party? So, is it possible that tea could also have an influence on the way you view one of your favorite television programs? In the beginning, when I would see the Captain order his Earl Grey, it gave me the impression of strength, comfort, and a certain unattainable level of class.
Now, all I think is, "How can he drink that?!"
I confess, I hate Earl Grey. No offense to the man himself, but his tea leaves a lot to be desired. I know, I am in the minority, and am probably committing tea community suicide with that statement, but I have to get it off of my chest.
I thought I saw a ray of hope when Starbucks introduced their Tea Lattes. The nice man at the window explained the "London Fog Latte" to me, and raved about it, saying he now even drank it in place of his morning coffee. Earl Grey tea with milk and vanilla syrup. That's about as far away form being a tea purist as one can get, but I thought I'd give old Earl a second chance. Strike two.
I don't think I'll be offering another chance for that third strike. From now on, when I hear that familiar line in my head, I'll have to reply, "Earl Grey. Not."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How many cups is enough?

The time has come to take care of a few "housekeeping" items. Since this blog is still in the development stage, updates and changes are happening at a fairly rapid pace. Over time, hopefully I'll find a design and layout that I'm comfortable with, and the majority of changes will then come in the form of new posts.
To start with, please take note of the "Tea Time Tunes" that now resides at the top of the page. I love music and believe that there is a song for every moment in life. These are just a few that I think go very well with a relaxing cup of tea, so enjoy a listen!
Also notice, over in the left-hand column, that you now have the option to subscribe to the blog and receive a notification every time its updated.
I'd also like to take some time for a little clarification of the tea room review scoring system. Each tea room is scored 1-5 "cups" (points) individually on food, service, cleanliness, tea selection, tea quality, atmosphere, staff knowledge, and the variety of tea services available (IE: cream tea, dessert tea, afternoon tea, royal tea, or high tea). The scores from each category are then added together and averaged, resulting in the overall "cup" rating. So, a tea room that scores four or five cups overall is worth another visit by me.
How many cups is enough for you?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Rose Garden Tea Room - Newberry, S.C.

I thought it only fitting to open with a review of the tea room from my hometown.

The Rose Garden Tea Room
1104 Caldwell Street
Newberry, SC 29108

As you enter through the old wooden doors of The Lamplighter Gallery and Rose Garden Tea Room, you are immediately greeted with the faint sounds of piano music and a sense of peace and tranquility. This is the only tea room in the city of Newberry, and is situated just off of Main Street in the historic part of town. It is owned and operated by Donny and Beverley Ringer, a couple who embody southern hospitality.
The Rose Garden Tea Room is located in the back of the building, and you have to travel through The Lamplighter Gallery store to get there. This is not a bother, however, since I love to linger among the beautiful linens, tea accessories, stationary, and other wares they have to offer. Upon reaching the tea room, you take your seat and hear about the specials of the day. The tables are elegantly and simply set, with each tea cup individual in its pattern. The cups, plates, and silverware are set upon a glass tabletop which protects the lovely white linen and lace table cloths. As you look over the menu, you quickly note the extensive selection of teas.
Now, if you have come to the Rose Garden to have a traditional tea, I am afraid that you will be disappointed. Their food offerings fall into the lunch category of soups, salads, and sandwiches, and your meal can be made up of varying combinations of the three - with or without dessert. A personal pot of loose leaf tea comes with each meal, and honey and raw sugar are both available.
Every time I have dined at the Rose Garden, the food has been absolutely wonderful, and the tea just as delightful. I particularly like their chicken salad and date-walnut pie. The service is warm and friendly, and the atmosphere so calm and serene, it makes you want to stay all day. Every tea on their menu is also available for purchase, as well as many different varieties of bagged and pre-made teas.
The Lamplighter Gallery and Rose Garden Tea Room is one of my favorite places to visit in Newberry. Unfortunately, the last time I visited, I was told that they were changing their Tea Room hours to Saturdays only, and only with the reservation of a group of 12 or more. Pity. Everyone I knew that visited there once always went back again.

I give this tea room:

Monday, February 23, 2009

The First Cup

To begin, please know that I do not claim to be an expert on tea.

Tea has always been a part of my life. Growing up in the deep south, sweet iced tea is unavoidable. It is a staple at every function at which food is served. Up until my teenage years, this was the only tea I had ever tried. In an effort to branch out, and much to the amusement of my family, I ordered hot tea at a restaurant one Sunday at lunch. I also asked the waitress to bring the accompanying lemon and milk and proceeded to add both to the wonderfully fragrant cup that steamed before me. Puzzled by what occurred in my cup, I quickly asked the waitress to bring me another, assuming that the milk had gone bad. Unfortunately, this second cup yielded the same result when the lemon and milk were both added, so I set the cup to the side and kept to my water for the rest of the meal. Of course, I have since learned that tea may take lemon or milk, but never both.

Again, I do not claim to be an expert on tea.

The notion of a tea party never appealed to me as a child. This was something that grew over time, with the aid of volumes of classical literature depicting women in their parlors taking tea with friends. It seemed to be such a relaxing ritual; a time to refresh, retreat to a simpler time, connect with friends or oneself, or enjoy the beauty that comes from one's surroundings, be it in the great outdoors or around an elegantly set table. My grandmother also inspired me with her knack for being a great hostess and ability to design and create beautiful events, from parties and showers, to simple family dinners. My father called this "putting on the dog." He has accused me of such a thing now and then, but it is an accusation I gladly claim to be true.
I visited my first tea room my sophomore year in college. It was a wonderful experience, and one that would have to be repeated again in many different locations all across the country. Now, any time I visit a new city, one of the first things I look for is a new tea room to explore. At the urging of my best friend, I have decided to put my thoughts - good and bad - together in a collection of reviews here in this blog. I also hope to have some good tea stories to share as well.
I hope you'll find the reviews helpful and the stories entertaining. Thanks for reading.