Thursday, January 9, 2014

Home Coffee and Tea Bar

After seeing a picture of an adorable coffee bar set up on The Vintage Wren (which I found via Pinterest), I wanted one for my kitchen.  Our coffee maker, tea kettle, and their accessories were taking up quite a bit of space on the countertop and in the cabinets.  Having a special space for these items was the perfect solution.

Carrie, creator of The Vintage Wren, mentioned that she found the top shelf at Hobby Lobby, so, I was elated when I found the exact same shelf at our local store.  I already had the cups and saucers that are inside the metal baskets.  I bought the wooden “W” and the coffee house clock at Hobby Lobby and got the white teapot and the “I will not be seen without my caffeine” sign at Kirklands.

The actual cabinet was the hardest part to obtain.  I wasn’t satisfied with the cabinets (or the prices) at Hobby Lobby.  Alas, I came up empty handed after searching other local stores for the ideal cabinet, as well.  I finally found the perfect cabinet with the right height, color, price, and storage space on Amazon.

Three hours of assembly later, the coffee and tea bar is complete!  I have only used it for a few days now, but I love it… in both design and functionality!  Thanks, Carrie, for the inspiration.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Tea Tray Magic

My husband bought me this beautiful new tea tray for Christmas. 

I loved my old tea tray, but it had one ultimately fatal flaw: a wooden base.  I didn’t realize this would be an issue until the day I found water/tea all over the table and the floor.  After years of use, the wooden base that held excess water/tea had eroded along the cracks and finally broke completely through.  I didn’t leave water in the base for too long after each tea session, so I was rather surprised this happened.

I spent months thinking I was going to fix my beloved tea tray, but that never happened.  I couldn’t find a wood glue that would sustain boiling water temperatures without giving off a horrible aroma.  Without the use of a tea tray, making tea, especially with a gaiwan, was a bit of a hassle.  Therefore, almost without realizing it, I had stopped using gaiwans and yixing pots altogether.  My tea sessions were not as fun as they used to be and I started to lose interest.

All of these realizations came to light when I set up my new tea tray, dusted off all of my tea ware, and made a delicious cup of sencha using my favorite gaiwan and tasting cups.  Not only does this tea tray have a plastic bottom base for catching the water (which won’t erode), but it is slightly bigger that my old tea tray (which means more room for my tea ware).

I can’t wait to make more tea, take more pictures, and write more about this previously neglected hobby.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

New Tea Review Method

It has been a long time since I have sat down to do a tea review... and there is a reason for that.  I have finally changed a significant part of this blog that I have wanted to change for a while: my tea review method.

I made my previous review method in a hurry and simply took into account what other tea review blogs were doing.  I was new to the tea blogging world and thought "this must be the way it is done."   However, after writing for this blog for over four years, I have learned a lot about what is really important when describing a tea and what isn't.

I did some research by reading other tea review blogs and paying attention to the sections that I read, sections I skimmed over, and sections that I felt were missing and I wanted to know more about.  Additionally, I polled a few tea-drinking, non-tea-drinking, blogging, and non-blogging friends to incorporate their thoughts; We ended up coming to the same conclusion.  Thus, I took my previous review method, scrubbed it clean of unnecessary information, added some new essential categories, and prepared it for it's debut.

Here we go...

The categories that I have migrated from the previous review method are the type, origin, price, vendor, and brewing method.  I believe this is still essential information when getting to know the ins and outs of the tea.

The type is a given.  It is important to know the oxidation level as well as a little of the expectancy of what this tea will taste like.

The origin is very important.  If a vendor has neglected to give the origin of a tea (or at least the base tea for flavored teas), then I must look at them with suspicious, squinty eyes.  The overall flavor of a tea is effected by so many factors such as climate, evaluation, rainfall, shade/sun, harvest time, storage, drying, oxidation, firing, processing, shipping, and everything in between.  A vendor who shares origin information and even estate information most likely (but no always) is a vendor who cares about the quality and reputation of their tea.

The price category stays because, well, that is what everyone wants to know, right?  Yeah, yeah, this tea is good, but how much is it going to cost me?  If you have shopped for anything while on a budget you know that can make or break a sale in seconds.  The price is something I have listed for all of my reviews, but something I didn't talk a lot about.  I think this is something I need to improve on with my reviews; I need to talk about the perceived value of the tea versus the vendor's asking price.

The vendor is obviously important.  I will continue to provide a link back to the tea's particular page on the vendor's website as I have done in the past.  Please note, I have removed all affiliations with tea vendors (or any vendors for that matter).  I am not trying to sell any of the teas I review; the reviews are my honest opinions and I do not get paid to write them.  I provide the link simply for your, the reader's, convenience in case you would like to know more about a the particular tea and/or how to get it.

The brewing method is essential in order show exactly how I prepared the tea.  I try to use the methods provided or suggested by the vendor because those are the instructions given to average consumers.  How one prepares the tea can effect the taste just as much as the climate, rainfall, etc., that I mentioned above.  Some teas are very picky about their water temperature and steep time... and the wrong times and temperatures can result in a completely different cup of tea.

Now for the new stuff...

I have nixed the overall score section as I don't think it provided anything to the review.  Even when writing out a scale for the numbers, I still picture the reader asking, "what the hell is a 4.3?"  Then I asked myself, "what does it mean?"  I couldn't answer.  My point is, I think numbering scales don't provide enough information.  Plus, I always hated writing that section during the review.... I never knew what to put!  One might argue that the numbered scales are a quick reference to the quality of the tea.  However, after looking over my past reviews, most of them are 4's.  How does that help anyone if most teas get this B rating?  How do you compare one tea to the next if they are all "good" teas, just not "perfect" teas?  Thus, the overall score section is gone and I couldn't be happier.

I added an ingredients section.  I always listed the ingredients - if the vendor provided them - in the body of the review, but I think they deserve a section up top as a quick reference.  Again, I lose respect for any vendors who do not list the ingredients in their blends.  I want to know exactly what is in the tea I am drinking and just how much of the so called "natural flavors" are in it.

Furthermore, I have added a summary section.  In this section I will give a quick summary of what I think are  the "good" parts to the tea and what I think are the "bad" parts to the tea.  I realized that others may have a difference in opinion of what they think is good and what they think is bad... some people might actually enjoy the overwhelming flavor of bergamot (and I think you are weird!)... but this is my review and, even though I will give as much information about the tea as possible, I will still give my honest opinion on what I consider "good" and "bad."

After all of this, of course, I will write my thoughts in paragraph form about the dry leaf, steeping aroma, wet leaf, served aroma, taste, and overall thoughts and impressions. Meanwhile, I will still provide photos of the dry leaf and liquor.  I believe photos are an essential part of my reviews because it shows I actually had the tea in my hands, this is what I used to make it, these are what the leaves actually look like, etc.  The photos provide a little something extra that just can't be described in words.

Your comments, thoughts, and criticisms about this new method are welcome.  I will start reviews again soon and should have a new one up shortly.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Butiki's Raspberry Truffle Review

Type:  Black
Origin:  India
Price:  Free sample (regular price – $5.00 for 1oz)
Vendor:  Butiki Tea
Brewing Method:  Per Instructed - 1.5 teaspoon of leaves, 1 cup of filtered water, heated to 210°F, steeped for 4 minutes
Overall Score:   4.4 out of 5

Raspberry Truffle is a Kundaly Indian black tea base mixed with chocolate chips and raspberries; all organic ingredients.  The huge raspberry and chocolate chips stand out amongst the tiny black tea leaves.  I am tempted to pluck out and eat one of the chocolate chips from the blend just to see if it has been infused with the black tea and raspberry flavors... but I won't. 

The aroma of the dry blend is super sweet.  I can smell the fruity raspberry with a hint of earthiness in the background... not sure if that is coming from the chocolate chips or the black tea. 

The subtle aroma of the steeped blend is a mix of sweet, tart, and earthy.  I can smell the raspberries up front with the earthy and hearty black tea aroma in the back ground.  The liquor is a light brown color.

The taste is quite tart at first.  After each sip the tartness gives way to sweetness.  I can't really detect the chocolate by itself, but I believe the chocolate is what is helping the black tea flavor move more towards the front.  What I mean is, usually with flavored teas you just taste the flavoring.  However with this, I can taste the raspberry flavor AND the earthy tones of black tea.  I think the chocolate makes the actual tea flavor richer so it does not become hidden by the raspberries.

When it comes to adding milk, cream, or sweeteners to this tea... I like it the way it is.  I believe adding cream would mask the flavors too much while sugar might bring out the raspberry flavor more than it needs to be - unless you really like raspberries.

If given the choice, I would pick an actual raspberry truffle over this tea - mostly because of the lack of chocolate flavor.  However, this is a flavored tea that I wouldn't mind keeping in my stash.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tea During Disney Honeymoon

I planned the wedding while the husband had the fun job of planning the honeymoon.  However, we both helped each other out at times as we are both organized people who love making plans and schedules anyways.

After much discussion we decided to honeymoon in Orlando, Florida visiting Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World.  Since I discovered my fear of flying when we flew to Miami, Florida in 2011, I thought it best to pick a destination within reasonable driving distance.  From Indiana to Florida was about 17 hours, but, even though I did all of the driving, I found that much more relaxing than having to spend three hours on a plane.

I could go on and on about our amazing trip to the magical world of Disney, but since this is a tea blog I will keep the event topics strictly to those that involve tea.

I have drunk from many teacups, but this is the first time I got to ride in one.  The Mad Tea Party ride in Magic Kingdom is incredibly cute with all of the bright colors, the giant tea pot in the middle, and the whimsical spinning teacups.  After boarding our teacup and spinning around for about 10 to 15 seconds, the ride slowed and stopped.  We knew something was wrong since we had watched a few sessions of the ride before it was our turn and saw that it normally lasted longer.  We were instructed to stay in our teacups for a moment while the crew worked out an issue.  So, we took this opportunity to snap a few pictures of each other chilling in our cup.  After a few minutes the crew instructed us to exit our teacups as the ride needed further maintenance.  Thus, our ride was cut short, but I really didn’t mind because of the pictures we were able to take while on the ride and the new perceptive I gained from inside a teacup.  Although, I can’t help but to wonder how much tea would fit into one of those cups!

I spotted several tea items/locations while in EPCOT.  We checked out the Twinnings store in the England area.  I didn’t buy anything, but it was an adorable store.  We sniffed around the Joy of Tea booth, but it seemed like an Americanized version of tea with all of their fruit flavored mixes.  Finally, we made it into the beautiful China and gorgeous Japan areas.  I think I may have spent a little too much time (and maybe a little too much money) in those two places, but the tea and tea ware displays were so pretty!

The husband, knowing my love for tea, made reservations to the Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian resort.  Although we had kind of a flighty waitress who tried to serve us the same course twice and kept forgetting things, the overall experience was elegant.  I had a pot of a basic green tea and the husband sipped on a citrus flavored green tea.  We were served five small finger sandwiches, a tiny tart, and two small dessert pastries.  The manager brought out a special dessert for it being our honeymoon.  The tea was average, but the food was full of flavor.

While at Hollywood studios, we had a few minutes before we needed to head to the Fantasia light show so we ducked into a café to have a look.  It was a cute little coffee and tea shop that had comfortable seating and shelves of books, tea, coffee, and drink ware.  I ended up buying a big box of Alice in Wonderland themed teas, plus we both bought a cup of freshly made tea to go to take with us to the light show.  It was about eighty degrees outside, but the hot English breakfast tea I ordered was still refreshing.

During our shopping spree in Downtown Disney, we visited a tea and spices store.  The whole place had kind of a homey kitchen feel to it.  There were rows and rows of teas and even more spices along with utensils, plates, drink ware, aprons, etc.  At that particular time the store was quite busy so we didn’t stay long, but I bought some chocolate flavored tea and a black and white Disney mug.

Almost all of the restaurants that we went to had some sort of tea menu.  Some menus were larger and more sophisticated than others, but the overall selection was far greater than any restaurant in our home town. 

At Jiko in the Animal Kingdom resort we had a dessert that featured green tea ice cream.  Additionally, while at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge resort, we had a pot of a delicious gong fu style tea along side a bowl of mixed berry cobbler.  Feeling bold, I asked our waiter how much they are required to know about tea.  Being the friendly gentleman that he was, he stopped and told us all about how they have a professional tea taster come in to train them on different types of tea, the brewing process, steep times, temperatures, etc.; He sounded very knowledgeable on the subject.

Neither of us were previously into the whole Disney propaganda… until our trip.  In fact, I have never seen Alice in Wonderland or Snow White (among other movies, though I do know the plots).  However, by the time we got back into town we were already planning a return trip.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Tea-Themed Wedding

The hours and hours (and oh my goodness the hours!) of preparation paid off.  Everything went smoothly.  Despite all of the fun this past year, I am glad it is over.

The “Soon-To-Be Tea-Themed Wedding” post discusses my ideas mid-planning.  Please enjoy pictures of the final result.

It was a little difficult to find true tea items for decoration, so I had to stretch the theme and use leaves and vines.  One detail I was very pleased about is that the carpet of the venue in which we had our ceremony was dark green with gold leaves/vines.  Additionally, our wedding colors were black, white, and green.  Notice my dress?  Yes, I couldn't help but to add my favorite color to it.

After working with the cake decorator we came up with a design for the cake to have a smooth white background with dark brown piped vines decorated with protruding fondant leaves.  The leaves are actually lemon leaves, but they were the closest thing to tea leaves that I could find.  There was no way I was putting a topper on this cake because 1) I think toppers are stupid and 2) they take away from the overall design of the cake.

I wasn't going to get custom made napkins but the husband surprised me with these.

I designed the guest tables to have a black table clover with a white table runner in the center.  On the white runner is glass teapots with green LEDs on the bottom with rocks on top of the LEDs to hide the light source but still show the light (they looked a lot better when the overhead lights were off).  I took the lid off the teapots, sat them next to the teapots, and filled the teapots with flowers.  On each side of the teapots I had glass teacups filled with green rocks with a tea light candle in the center.  At each seat sat custom made coasters (another surprise from the husband), wedding favors filled with custom made tea, bells to ring us in as we came into the reception hall, and custom made pens.  I put white covers on the chairs with a green tulle bow on each one.

These were the custom teas that were available to the guests during the reception.  These same blends were in the favor boxes on the guest tables.  I couldn't find a picture of them at the reception so I took a quick picture to show off the design of containers... which were also custom made.

A few more tea-themed items from the wedding were my necklace and earrings that had leaves/vines on them, my tiara that had flowers and leaves, and the cake knife, server, and toasting flutes that sported leaves and vines.  Furthermore, since this was a secular ceremony, I printed the ceremony wording landscape style then wrapped the printed pages around a few of the pages from "The Book of Tea" so the officiant looked like she was reading out of the book.

Now that everything is over, I have over 20 glass teapots and over 40 glass teacups that I might sell or give away soon!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tea-Themed Bridal Shower

Amongst planning the layout of the reception tables, the order of the processional, my overall survival of the wedding day, etc., there was one wedding related event that I didn't have to plan – my bridal shower.

My bridesmaids graciously hosted an elegant tea-themed bridal shower in honor of my – at the time - upcoming nuptials.  No detail was spared; Pastel green table cloths covered five long tables – three tables for guests, one for gifts, and one for cake and punch.  Upon each guest table sat two vintage teacups with saucers, each holding a bouquet of fresh purple flowers.  Placed on the saucer were teabags filled with green tea adorning custom made tags that said “Brittiny and Kevin” one side and “The Perfect Blend” on the other side.  Additionally, each place setting had its own set of materials needed for each game.  The cake table held not only the beautiful cake, but also the delicious green punch, nuts, and handmade mints.  There were color coordinating cups, napkins, and forks for the occasion, as well. 

The games we played were surprisingly fun and resulted in loads of laughs.  Here is what the bridesmaids’ planned:

The first game lasted the entire time of the bridal shower.  Each girl started out with one clothes pin that they clipped to their shirt.  The only rule was that you could not say the groom’s name and if someone caught you saying the groom’s name then they got to steal your clothes pin.  The object was to be the person with the most clothes pins at the end of the party.

The second game was bride bingo.  Each person had a custom made bingo board that had a question about the soon-to-be wedded couple in each box.  Examples of some of the questions are, “Where did the groom propose,” “How long has the couple been dating,” and “How many dresses did the bride try on before she found the one?”  The guests were allowed time to answer each question to the best of their knowledge.  
Next, the bridesmaids read the questions and I answered them.  If the guest wrote down the correct answer, then they can mark that square.  The object was the get five squares in a row like a regular bingo card (across, up and down, or diagonal).

The third and final game involved matching each guest with their celebrity husband.  Each guest secretly wrote down their celebrity husband on a small piece of paper, folded it, and put it in a collective basket.  The bridesmaids then pulled out each name, read it aloud, and each guest had to match the celebrity with the guest whom they thought wrote it down.  To make this easier, the bridesmaids had given each guest a list of names of all of the guests at the party.  The object was to have the most correct matches.

The bridesmaids also had each guest write their name and address on a small envelope which ended up being the envelopes used for the thank you cards that I filled out later.  So thoughtful!

The prizes for the games were the beautiful teacup center pieces.  I didn't win any of the games, but I received a teacup just for being the bride!  After the games we loaded up on cake and punch while oohing, aahing, and chuckling as I unwrapped the gifts.

I am not the girly-est of girls and I only have a few girlfriends whom I hang out with on occasion, so being in a room full of the coolest ladies I know ended up being more fun than I had originally thought.