Tea in the Garden. You’re Invited.

Orchard Nursery and Florist are sponsoring a tea event, Tea in the Garden, this Thursday, September 26 in the Lazy K House, their oh-so-distinctive gift shop.   The program is split into two sittings, a morning session at 11:30 a.m. and an afternoon session at 2:30 p.m.

Garden designer Laurie Callaway speaks in the morning and will share stories from her private garden tours in Great Britain.

I will be speaking in the afternoon and talk about exploring tea plantations in India, something I did in the last year. I’m thrilled to have been asked to speak especially since I love all things tea related.

The event requires registration and tickets are $40. Learn more about Tea in the Garden and Orchard Nursery here.

 

 

Functionality, Flexibility, and Fun – brewing tea for yourself or your guest

In 2006,  I purchased my first electric tea kettle and never looked back.  The kettle was a Breville SK500XL Ikon Cordless 1.7-Liter Stainless-Steel Electric Kettle,  a fabulous basic kettle that heats water to 212 degrees, a rolling boil, and then shuts off automatically.  Since I was mostly into black tea at the time, the kettle was more than sufficient.  I have recommended that kettle to many a friend and family member.

Recently I have been branching out to oolong, green, and white teas, each of which is best if brewed at a specific temperature for a specific length of time.  Very often the tea purveyor will indicate both the recommended temperature and length of time that is optimal for the tea you are purchasing.

FORLIFE Stackable Red Teapot and Cuisinart Electric Water Kettle

FORLIFE Stackable Red Teapot and Cuisinart Electric Water Kettle

  • Green tea – 175 degrees
  • White tea – 185 degrees
  • Oolong tea – 190 degrees
  • Black or Herbal – 212 degrees

Since I was also doing some tea tastings in my home, it was time to shop for a new kettle.  My choice was the Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle.   It’s easy to use – simply select the temperature you want, push the button, and the water heats to the selected temperature and gently beeps when ready.  This kettle has a ‘keep warm’ feature that automatically keeps your water at the selected (actually slightly under your temperature) for 30 minutes.

Either the Breville or the Cuisinart is a good choice depending on your needs.  If you want an incredibly simple device that strictly boils water and shuts off, the Breville is a great way to go.  If you need more gradation in water temperature, go for the Cuisinart.  If you have an older parent or grandparent, these devices are particularly good as you simply cannot boil the kettle dry.   For overall simplicity, go with the Breville.

FORLIFE 18 ounce stackable red teapot with infuser

FORLIFE 18 ounce stackable red teapot with infuser

My next really cool tea accoutrement is the FORLIFE Stump 18-Ounce Teapot with SLS Lid and Infuser, Red.  This little 18-ounce pot is modern, makes about 3 teacups or 2 large mugs of tea, has its own infuser, and comes in a myriad of wonderful colors – white, red, marine, lime, carrot, turquoise, grey, black and yellow.  Best of all the pots can stack on top of each other – saving space.  I have gifted many of these little pots to friends.  I always include one or two teas I think they will like and often some special tea treats like shortbread or tea chocolates.  My bright red pot sits on my counter all the time and, although I only have the one, I would love to have at 3 or 4 of these little pots in varying colors.  They are great for house guests, allowing you to make smallish pots of the tea.  Your guests can choose the color of the pot and the type of tea for an extra touch of personal service and fun – decaf, green, black, herbal, oolong, etc.  Your electric kettle will let you easily fill two or possibly even three of the little pots.   FORLIFE stump teapots are readily available at Amazon, Peets Coffee and Tea, Harney and Sons and many other places.

2nd Annual San Francisco Tea Festival – Educational and Fun

Roy Fong, James Norwood Pratt, Michael Spillane, and Rona Tison - Speakers at the Second Annual San Francisco Tea Festival

Roy Fong, James Norwood Pratt, Michael Spillane, and Rona Tison – Speakers at the Second Annual San Francisco Tea Festival

The Second Annual San Francisco Tea Festival was held on Sunday, March 10th at the Ferry Building by the Bay Bridge.  What a delightful, educational and special day.  I attended 3 wonderful talks by long-standing San Franciscan tea veterans – Michael Spillane, Rona Tison, and Roy Fong. James Norwood Pratt, whom I had heard just a few weeks ago at the Heather Gardens fundraiser introduced all three speakers. (His excellent “Tea Dictionary” is now my ‘go to’ book for tea information and research.)

The first talk, History of Tea in the US, was given by Michael Spillane.  Mr. Spillane’s family has been in the San Francisco tea business since prior to the Great Depression.  As the gateway to the Pacific, it is no surprise that San Francisco dominated the US Tea business up until WWII, when it moved east to NYC – my other favorite North American metropolis.  A couple factoids that surprised me:

  • 85-90% of the tea consumed in the US is iced
  • 85% of tea purchased continues is in tea bag form, not loose tea
  • Snapple, introduced in 1987, drove much of the tea growth in the US
  • In 1987 tea was a $1.2 Billion dollar business: in 2012 it was a $12 Billion business and is expected to grow another 25% in the next 3 years
  • Pre-WWII, most tea consumed in the US was green tea; During WWII and thereafter, it has been black tea.
  • The tea thrown overboard in the Boston Tea Party was green tea

The next talk was by Rona Tison, Sr VP of Corporate Relations for ITO EN (NA) Inc.  She spoke about Japanese tea history, processing, and culture.  I learned that Japanese teas are ‘steamed’ to stop oxidation vs. the pan firing or roasting that is done for Chinese teas. That steaming step is what creates the significant flavor difference between Chinese and Japanese green tea.  I’m used to keeping teas for a long time but she stressed that green tea is best consumed within 4-6 months of purchase.  I’m looking forward to tasting ITO EN’s  Ginger Tangerine Green Tea that can be purchased online.

Roy Fong and yours truly  - am I happy or what?  Great Talk!

Roy Fong and yours truly – am I happy or what? Great Talk!

Perhaps my favorite speaker of the day was Roy Fong, owner of The Imperial Tea Court (ITC) in the Ferry Building and in Berkeley.  Mr. Fong opened his first store on July 4th, 1993 in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  I lunched at the ITC in the Ferry Building -  a lovely Beijing pork stew accompanied by an even more lovely Jasmine Pearl Tea.  The fragrance was wonderful.  His talk was later in the day and when I learned about the commitment and hard work that goes into making a good Jasmine Pearl tea, I was even more in love with the tea and came home with a small pouch.  I purchased Mr. Fong’s book Great Teas of China and found that he takes a tour to China every few years.  If you are in the Bay Area and are interested in Chinese tea, Mr. Fong is speaking at the Commonwealth Club on March 11th.  Hopefully that will make it into a podcast for those who are interested.

Alex Harney at the Harney & Sons exhibit

Alex Harney at the Harney & Sons exhibit

Finally, I have to comment on the wonderful exhibition.  I got to meat Alex Harney, John Harney’s grandson, who had recently returned from India where he coaches ice hockey (you’ll have to ask him, not me).  IMG_0436I tried and purchased a delicious Soba Roasted Buckwheat tea – caffeine free and, yes, it tastes like buckwheat.  And also finally got one of the Ambessa teas – the Earl of Harlem – which I am looking forward to savoring at home.

Another delight was purchasing Glenburn Darjeeling Tea – bringing great memories of my trip to India with Dan Roberston’s World Tea Tours in 2008.  All in all, it was a most remarkable day and I am looking forward to the third annual festival next year.  These festivals are popping up in major cities around the country and well worth your time if you are interested in learning about tea history, culture, and trends as well as sampling wonderful teas from around the world.

 

February Teas: Gardens at Heather Farms Fundraiser and Downton Abbey Valentines Day

In mid February I enjoyed two delightful teas – a fund raiser for the Gardens at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek and a most delightful afternoon at my long-time friend, Laurie Callaway’s home.

At the fundraiser, the Garden Club members made the tea sandwiches and used their own china tea services making it a wonderful, personal, and charmingly eclectic event. The highlight of the afternoon was the speaker – James Norwood Pratt.  I thought Mr. Pratt’s gentle suggestion to the Garden Club that they plant Camellia sinensis – the tea bush from which all tea is harvested (green, black, white) – at the Gardens at Heather Farms was spot-on. I already knew of the tea plantation in South Carolina and had recently learned about the tea plantations in Hawaii, but was interested to know that tea is now also being grown in Oregon and Washington states.  Hear, Hear.

James Norwood Pratt signing autographs

James Norwood Pratt signing autographs

In his talk, Mr. Pratt mentioned that his first published book about tea was Tea Lover’s Treasury (101 production series) first published in 1982.  Coincidentally it was the first book that I purchased about tea.  He mentioned that over the years he has updated the book multiple times as his knowledge and experience has broadened and deepened. At the event I purchased his newest book, James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary, and am so glad that I did.  Today we think we can find everything on the internet but the information, maps, timelines, history, and terminology contained in this book is both useful and delightful to inquisitive or serious tea lovers.

Laurie's signature sandwiches - chicken salad, egg salad, and, of course, cucumber

Laurie’s signature sandwiches – chicken salad, egg salad, and, of course, cucumber

My second tea was the very next day, a ‘Valentines Day at Downton Abbey’ themed party, at Laurie’s lovely home.  We all dressed in Downton Abbey outfits (of sorts), drank wonderful champagne, and dined on Ms. Callaway’s  signature chicken salad, egg salad, a cucumber tea sandwiches,  chocolate covered strawberries, and her superbly delicious heart-shaped coconut cake (Ina Garten’s recipe from Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You’ll Make Over and Over Again) colored a lovely pink for Valentines Day.

Personalized table setting including the charming engagement cup and saucer - think demitasse size.

Personalized table setting including the charming engagement cup and saucer – think demitasse size.

Laurie’s tea parties are always delightful but I must say this one was all the more special for her Valentine’s Day theme, decorations, and the thoughtful favors she made for each of us  – large personalized heart shaped cookies, hand-made note cards for each of us, and gifts of engagement cups and saucers, each one carefully selected from her personal collection, for its recipient.

 

My outfit for the tea - yes the cape is real but from the 30s, not the 20s.  Hat is from Hats on Post.  Dress is ebay

My outfit for the tea – yes the cape is real but from the 30s, not the 20s. Hat is from Hats on Post. Dress is ebay

Each of us wore something to pay homage to Downton Abbey.  My outfit was from ebay, collectible stores, and my closet.  As I shopped for my dress and gloves, I was stunned at how ebay and the collectible stores have Downton Abbey sections making it easy and fun to create one’s costume.  We discussed the series (the last episode of Season 3 had not yet been shown) and, like so many others, were amazed at how much we love the drama and care so deeply for the characters.

February was a stellar month for tea in my life – including redoing my displays, sorting through my teas on hand, visiting with friends, and visiting the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park (my first time there).  As March unfolds and spring slowly arrives in northern California, wishing all of you a warm and delicious pot of your favorite brew by yourself as well as with your friends and family.

Jane Pettigrew and Henrietta Lovell – Passion and Courage

This week has been quite an eye opener for me.  I find myself inspired by two women, both of whom had the courage and passion to move from an assured lucrative career to another less assured career but one that resonated with their values, interests, and quest to learn, explore, and communicate about the world of tea.  Jane Pettigrew, the renowned tea shop owner, writer, lecturer, tea historian, and world traveler, and Henrietta Lovell, the Rare Tea-Lady, and owner of The Rare Tea Company.

I have many of Jane Pettigrew’s books.  They are among my ‘go to’ for tea history, recipes, and style. Before I knew anything about her, I stumbled on to her first book, “Tea Time”, published in 1986 which details the basics of traditional English tea and tea parties, with wonderful English recipes (alas, in English metrics).  (“Tea Time” is out of print but you might be able to find it on Alibris, the used book site) or at Amazon.  Just reading the ingredients of the recipes will make your mouth water and you will hunger for a lovely tea setting, hot tea, wonderful tea treats, and terrific conversation.  It’s a very English book, which makes it all the more charming and delectable.

Tea Time (Out of Print) and A Social History of Tea, both by Jane Pettigrew

Tea Time (Out of Print) and A Social History of Tea, both by Jane Pettigrew

Ms. Pettigrew is a prolific writer (I have four of her books) and she clearly thrives on discovery, history, and adventure.  If you are looking for a history of British tea, her book, A Social History of Tea will educate and delight you with the history and social evolution of tea in Britain and beyond.  The lady rocks!

What got me on this today?  I’m still reading Katrina Avila Munichiello’s A Tea Reader and there is a wonderful writeup by Ms. Pettigrew entitled ‘Around the World with a Cup of Tea’ in which she details her career evolution from communications professional to tea shop partner and owner to tea writer.  When they say, ‘follow your bliss’, she has!

And, as I mentioned in my earlier blog this week, Henrietta Lovell, the Rare Tea-Lady is equally inspiring with her Rare Tea Company.  Another heavy hitter in the corporate world who stumbled on a new passion and had the courage to follow that path.  Both these women are wonderful role models and remind me that there is so much adventure still to have in life and with hard work, courage, passion, discipline and the willingness to push another door and another door and another door, there is lots of adventure, learning, and community ahead.

 

 

The Rare Tea Company and the Business of Kindness

RAF Tea, Oolong, and Lost Malawi Teas from the Rare Tea Company

RAF Tea, Oolong, and Lost Malawi Teas from the Rare Tea Company

Recently, a good friend recommended listening to a BBC Business Services radio broadcast, “The Business of Kindness” literally about incorporating kindness into your marketing and business strategy.  Fascinating series of interviews with various business leaders but at the center of the article is the story of Henrietta Lovell, the Rare Tea-Lady who founded the Rare Tea Company in England almost a decade ago.  Introduced to an extraordinary oolong tea while on a business trip, Ms. Lovell developed a passion for high-end tea and opened a niche business to bring these extraordinary teas to England.  She works directly with the tea growers to source her teas from small mountain tea gardens in Nepal, India,China, Japan, and Africa.

The tea sounded interesting as did the packaging.  As a marketing person myself, the extra touches she included with her packaging including short vignettes some written by Alexander McCall, that are inserted into the tea tins.  Another interesting detail is that after Ms. Lovell met Terry Clark, a RAF WWII veteran, she created a special blend to honor the Royal Air Force Tea for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  Seven percent of the revenue from this tea goes to the RAF Association Wings Appeal and to the RAF museum.

Royal Air Force Tea from the Rare Tea Company

Royal Air Force Tea from the Rare Tea Company

I was hooked and quickly found myself online at rareteacompany.com purchasing tea from England.  To my delight, my tea arrived this weekend.  I ordered three teas – an oolong since that was the tea that inspired Ms. Lovell, an African tea, Lost Malawi, and the RAF tea.  The packaging is charming with each tin having its own colors and graphical design.  More than than, it included a hand-written thank you note and a small thank you gift package of the RAF Tea in tea bag form.  Charming.

Gotta love handwritten thank you notes!

Gotta love handwritten thank you notes!

I started with the RAF tea, a blend of Makaibari Estate in Darjeeling (which I visited in 2008 when I participated in Dan Robertson’s World Tea Tour to Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal) and Satemwa Estate black tea from Malawi.  It’s a strong brew, with a tag line “Calming in times of national peril, fortifying when courage is required”, an homage to the courage and sacrifices of RAF pilots during those dark days.  I followed the instructions, pouring the not quite boiling water over the tea leaves and steeping for 3 minutes.  It made a wonderful cup of strong invigorating tea – perfect for the unusually cold northern California day.

Discovery is so much fun and I am indebted to my friend for passing on the story of the Rare Tea Company.  I’ve not only found a new tea that I enjoy, but also a company I admire!

 

T-Bag Designs from South Africa

Innovative use of used tea bags in craft and art design

One of my girlfriends is in South Africa visiting her family and sent me this cool link to Original Tea Bag Designs in Hout Bay, South Africa.  This innovative craft and design company creates some amazing items – stationary, tableware, fabric and gifts.  I especially like the 4 Bag T-Pot Stand.

So here’s why this is so cool. These folks take used tea bags and use them as the base for all of their designs.  They have built this business giving local people a opportunity to start and build their own business and clientele – folks who need opportunity and a chance to make a better life for themselves.  Combine that with the ingenious idea of taking used tea bags, emptying them and then re-purposing them into useful and beautiful items for sale.  Sustainable, reusable, artistic, and a financial success.  It’s a wonderful story.

A group of us are planning to visit South Africa in 2014 and this shop is on our list.  In the meantime, I will just have to purchase a couple items.  BTW, if you use tea bags, please consider saving them, breaking them down, and sending them over.  Instructions.

Let’s help them out and spread the word.

 

Welcome to Tea4Friends

 

I simply love tea – everything about tea.  A baby boomer, I grew up with Lipton tea bags – didn’t almost everyone in the US after WWII?  I didn’t know there was such a thing as loose tea until a friend of my mother’s, Martha Page, introduced us to Jackson of Piccadilly Earl Grey.  And that was it.

Our after dinner routine at home was a pot of Earl Grey and Nabisco gingersnaps. (Sadly, my mom threw all of her tea tins away and although I have many wonderful tea tins, the square blue Jackson of Piccadilly tin from the 50s and early 60s continues to elude me.)  We drank our tea in white Bavarian china tea cups and saucers, a gift from our German friends. They were very plain but very elegant and that simple pleasure shared with my mom and dad started my love of tea and my love of china and beautiful dishes.

My first tea set, Japanese with bamboo handles and traditional handle-less cups, was an essential part of my college experience.  Many an all-nighter was spent with pots of whatever tea called to me to help me study.  Teas of choice for me then were Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong, and still that pesky Earl Grey. After college, in NYC, I discovered many more teas and enjoyed them, but moved to coffee.  My college tea set disappeared somewhere in my mom’s house, never to be found again.

A few years lager in California, a girlfriend had a lovely tea party in her rose garden in Palo Alto.  It was elegant, fun, and delicious – a chance to sip, talk and share – a very special afternoon. This was some time before the current tea craze.  That lovely party triggered something in me. I became interested first in tea pots and tea accoutrements, in recipes, and table settings. That wonderful garden party started a new journey for me – one that pushed me to discover new teas, travel, books, history, gardens, entertainment, table settings, recipes, and all the other wonderful windows and doors that enjoying tea has opened for me.

Today, tea is one of the great pleasures of my life.  Having tea alone in my garden or with my friends lifts my spirits, bringing me both joy and comfort.   I also love to write and to travel and have wanted to share my thoughts, discoveries, and the many pleasures that come my way over a cup of tea.  I hope you’ll join me and I also hope you’ll share some of your own tea joys and pleasures along the way.   And now – off to celebrate the joys of tea!