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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.