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.

© my tea diary
Maira Gall