Sunday, February 16, 2020

Camellia Forest Nursery Visits Asheville's Dobra Tea

Christine Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery, Chapel Hill, NC

"Did you know you can grow and make your own tea from Camellia Sinensis in Western North Carolina...?" This morning I learned that yes, indeed, you can.

Bright and early at Asheville's downtown Dobra Tea I had the pleasure of listening to a talk entitled "Growing Your Own Tea" given by Christine Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery and Tea Gardens (Chapel Hill, NC). This talk was one in a series of tea classes sponsored and hosted by Asheville's Dobra Tea.

Christine covered all the basics of growing tea from evaluation and preparation of your site to growth and pruning of the plants.  She then talked a bit about processing your home grown tea leaves.  Dobra's sitting room was packed full for this talk, but don't worry if you were not one of the lucky Asheville-ites to have been there. This information will soon be available to all.  Christine has a forthcoming book entitled Grow Your Own Tea: The Complete Guide to Cultivating, Harvesting, and Preparing being published by Timber Press.  The book will be available in June of this year (and is already available for pre-order on Amazon). I know that I, for one, will be snapping up a copy as soon as I can.

As we listened to Christine's talk and responses to our questions, we sampled a roster of six delicious teas. The first of these teas was the "Camellia Forest White" prepared with leaves grown and processed at Christine's Camellia Forest Nursery. The remaining five of the teas served were some of those available on Dobra's extensive menu of teas. All of the teas were prepared and served by Miles Cramer, Dobra's in-house tea educator and organizer of the "Tea Class Series."

Christine Parks and Miles Cramer

I feel fortunate to have Dobra Tea and its "Tea Class Series" available to me right here in Asheville, North Carolina.  But those of you in other areas can also learn about growing tea from Christine as well as enjoying the large selection of teas sourced by Dobra. Christine includes basic growing information on her nursery website as well as on her tea garden website. And Dobra ships fresh, loose leaf tea to anywhere in the United States. So enjoy!  Tea plants and tea tasting are just a keystroke away.

Friday, February 7, 2020

My Mosaic Teapot

Most people think of mosaics as being made up of flat tiles or pieces of glass.  But thanks to my friend, Debra Mager, I have learned that there exists a huge world of mosaic types to be discovered. I have taken a couple of classes with Debra at her Debra Mager Mosaics studio in Asheville. This mosaic teapot is the result of techniques I learned in those two classes.

I wanted to create a three-dimensional decorative mosaic teapot, so I took Debra's "Birds and Other Creatures" workshop after taking the "Jeweled Mosaic Mirrors" workshop. (The "Jeweled Mosaic Mirrors" is also available as an online course.)  You can see the tea-themed details that I incorporated into the mosaic here below. One side of the teapot features a camellia sinensis style flower as its focal piece. The other side features a medallion reflecting the amber colored brew of a black tea. And the lid carries tea leaves surrounded by green tea colored beading.

I cannot resist including a couple of "location" shots of my creation here in the house. So bear with me as I include Huck, the trusty guard dog and then my mosaic teapot perched in front of the cozy fireplace.

I will not use this teapot to brew tea.  The lid is glued shut and the teapot is attached to its pedestal.  But this creation will stand as a small sculptural homage to my love of tea.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn

Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America
By Jan Whitaker
St. Martin’s Press, 2002

I am a bit late to the game in reading and reviewing Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America.  The book has been languishing on my bookshelf for a number of years now.  But I recently got the urge to pull it out and read it.

I enjoyed this book. But, Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn has very little to do with tea. In fact, as I read along in the book it slowly dawned on me that American tea rooms of that period (1890’s – 1950’s) were not much like what I call “tea rooms of today.”   The tea rooms of this early twentieth century “Tea Room Craze” were more vessels for bringing women out of the home into the public sphere than they were institutions dedicated to the ceremony of afternoon tea or to the enjoyment of fine specialty teas.  I nodded in agreement upon reaching page 134 of Whitaker’s book and reading this quote by early twentieth century essayist, Agnes Repplier:

“The only thing which doesn’t seem to count in a tea-room is tea.”

I enjoyed reading Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn because I am interested in Whitaker’s point that tea rooms “did play a role in bringing women out into society and into the business world.” (page 1) It was interesting to read about the various ways in which the “Tea Room Craze” left its mark on twentieth century America.  But if you want to read more specifically about tea (the beverage or the event) and its place in American history, I would look elsewhere.

For a couple of reviews by fellow tea bloggers, go here
and here

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Tea Podcast Episodes on A Taste of the Past

As I have said here before, I enjoy podcasts.  I listen to them while walking, driving, cleaning, or even while puttering around the house. My new favorite podcast series is A Taste of the Past which is put out by the Heritage Radio Network.  I am enjoying this podcast series because it focuses on history and culture as seen through the lens of food.  So imagine my delight when I discovered two episodes of this podcast focusing on the topic of tea. 

The earlier of the two episodes, EPISODE 267, which aired in April of 2017, features an interview with famous tea sommelier Elizabeth Knight.  In this podcast episode, Ms. Knight talks about the development of afternoon tea as a custom - and distinguishes it from the different custom called "high tea."  She shares an entertaining story of how she became tea sommelier for the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. And she gives an interesting take on the three-tiered server so ubiquitous at American afternoon teas.  In Britain, using this three-tiered server is considered a "commercial" presentation.

The next episode of this podcast series focusing primarily on tea is EPISODE 282.  This episode aired in October of 2017.   Episode 282 features an interview with Dr. Erika Rappaport, author of the 2017 book,  A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World. I have not yet read this book, but based on this fascinating podcast interview I have added it to my book wish list. Dr. Rappaport is an academic historian, but the podcast interview is anything but dry. One interesting tidbit I came away with is that people in Britain did not initially have a taste for Indian-grown tea.  Drinking this tea produced in the British colony was initially promoted as being patriotic. Eventually, as history shows, the populace developed a taste for Indian-grown tea.

As I listen to podcasts regularly, one leads to another. I am always discovering a new podcast or podcast series - and sometimes have the good fortune of finding a show or series focused on tea and its history.  Do you have a favorite tea-related podcast?  If so, share it with us in the comments here!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Celebrating National Hot Tea Month at Twenty Six Divine

Another recommended way to celebrate National Hot Tea Month is to take tea with those you love.

Yesterday, my family and I visited Charleston, South Carolina's charming establishment, Twenty Six Divine. We have been here a few times before and always enjoy the experience. 

As always, the food was true to name, divine.  We sampled tomato soup, shepherd's pie, and savory tea sandwiches in addition to the usual delicious scones and sweets.  The tea that proprietress, Jennifer Parezo, serves is sourced from the Charleston Tea Plantation as is fitting for a Charleston-based tea room.

Decorative touches enlivening the tea room, such as the palmetto roses on the tables and Spanish moss hanging from a bunting across the ceiling remind us that we are indeed taking tea in romantic Charleston for a temporary escape from our routine lives.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Russian Earl Grey Tea by TeaLeaves

January is National Hot Tea Month in the United States and Canada. So, what better time is there to try a hot tea blend that is new to me? Today I discovered a new-to-me blend from luxury purveyor of tea, TeaLeaves, at a patisserie adjoining the Hotel Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina. When I picked up a tin of this loose-leaf blend called Russian Earl Grey, I did not know what to expect.  Would the flavor be smoky like that of a Russian Caravan blend?

Now back on Folly Beach and having sampled a cup of the tea, I would describe this blend as an Earl Grey that carries a stronger than usual note of citrus.  No smoke detected.  This smooth, black tea is enjoyable plain, which is how I usually take my tea.  But I am thinking I will try the next cup with honey since I love the combination of honey with citrus.

If you find yourself in Charleston you may want to sample a tea at this establishment,  La Patisserie, which is found at 404 King Street.  If this one TeaLeaves blend is any indication, I am thinking that none of the teas at La Patisserie would disappoint.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What Does 2020 Hold in Store for Us?

What does the new year hold in store for us?  We can’t know.  Or can we?  The ancient art of tasseography, or tea leaf reading, might offer a clue.

Griffith & Griffith (ca. 1897) Telling Fortunes by Tea Leaves, ca. 1897. Philadelphia, PA: Griffith & Griffith [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

For an interesting overview of the origins of tea leaf reading in the English-speaking world, see an article entitled “For Centuries, People Have Searched for Answers in the Bottom of aTeacup.” This article came out on National Public Radio in 2015 as a part of the Tea Tuesdays series.

If you want to read the full text of the oldest English language book about tasseography, visit Project Guttenberg where you can read Tea Cup Reading andthe Art of Fortune-Telling by Tea Leaves which is attributed to an author called “A Highland Seer.”

Some people take divination tools like reading tea leaves very seriously, while others regard them skeptically.  Whether you fall into one camp or the other, a quick reading of your tea leaves can be, at the very least, an entertaining diversion.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Re-Visiting My 2019 Tea Activities

2019 will soon draw to a close, so I am going to re-visit some of my tea activities that I neglected to  write about on this blog.

1) In March 2019 I gave a lecture about tea and its' spread around the world for World Awareness Day at my son's high school.  The students sampled teas while I spoke.

 2) I helped to create an exhibit for Asheville's Smith McDowell House Museum called Infused in History: A Tea Exhibit.  This exhibit ran from April through September 2019 at the museum.

3) I donated a tea-themed gift basket to the 2019 Jane Austen Summer Program silent auction at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The silent auction raises money for scholarships to attend the annual four-day symposium. The gift basket included one pound of Congou black tea from Elmwood Inn Fine teas.  

These activities kept me busy in 2019.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Infused by Henrietta Lovell

Infused: Adventures in Tea
By Henrietta Lovell
Faber & Faber, 2019

I adore this book.  Henrietta Lovell's Infused: Adventures in Tea, which came out earlier this year, is supremely entertaining - and all the more so for a tea lover like myself.  I have not enjoyed a tea book this much since I read Helen Gustafson's The Agony of the Leaves: The Ecstasy of My Life with Tea around twenty years ago.  Lovell's book is part memoir, part travel story, and part primer on the world of tea.  For me, this book was a page turner that I devoured from cover to cover.

If you love this book as much as I do, you may want to listen to some recent podcast interviews with Henrietta Lovell.  I found the podcasts listed here to be engaging, each giving more insight into the life and personality of this author.

My next step is to order some of the teas mentioned in Lovell's book.  I believe my first purchase will be the Infused gift set  which includes six of the tea discussed in the book along with a copy of the book itself.  I want to support Lovell's company, The Rare Tea Company, with my purchase not only because I trust in  the quality of the teas she makes available, but also because her choice of teas supports farmers who use sustainable growing methods.  In my mind, this is a win-win.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Tea Themed Tabletop Christmas Tree

I always enjoy decorating for the Christmas holidays!  Here above is a new addition to my usual Christmas decor: a tea-themed tabletop Christmas tree. I have collected the ornaments over the years.  And a few I have made myself, as I love crafting.  In addition to teapots and cups, the tree features faux macaroon ornaments! For instructions on how to make the macaroon ornaments, see my post HERE from two years ago.  I purchased the tree at a hardware store and then found the mini tree skirt at my local Target.