Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tea Review--Chrysanthemum Tea

Today I went to Global Food, an international market near my home.  I've only been a couple of times, but it is definitely an edifying experience.  The store has all sorts of things I've never seen in any "normal" grocery store, including foods from Asia, the Middle East, and South America.  During this trip, I walked by the tea row and found a box of chrysanthemum tea with ginseng.  I've read about chrysanthemum tea on the internet and it piqued my interest (what do chrysanthemums taste like?).  I also liked the idea of ginseng--anything that helps my memory improve is a good thing.

This is what I imagine when I think of chrysanthemum tea:

(picture from the internet)
Chrysanthemum tea is a tisane known for healing properties in some East Asian countries.  It is made by drying chrysanthemums and pouring hot water over the flowers.  The tea is supposedly good for the liver and eyes.  The tea box explains that the "Chrysanthemum was considered in China as one of the 'noble plants.'  It was so highly regarded that only the nobles were allowed to grow it in their gardens."
Unfortunately, the tea I bought is not dried flowers ready to bloom in my teacup.  Instead it is just a plain boring tea bag. 

The tea has a medicinal smell (which goes well with it being a part of Chinese medicine) and is a dark amber color.

The tea tastes like chamomile tea to me, which is funny since Koreans use chrysanthemum tea for alertness while chamomile is known for its relaxing properties.  I did not like it plain, but it was good with a large dollop of honey and some sweetener.  I like my tea extra sweet, especially if it doesn't have much flavor of its own.

This teacup and saucer is Charnwood by Wedgewood and is my only Wedgewood set.  It is a pattern of roses and butterflies with an Asian flair.  I thought it was an appropriate match for the chrysanthemum tea because it looks like a Chinese watercolor painting.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tea Apron

I just realized I never shared my surprise find from a couple of weeks ago.  I was at one of the local consignment stores digging around in the very back where they had some old linens in a box.  I saw a pretty blue apron with some blue flowers but when I opened it up, I knew I had to get it.

It was tea themed of course!  I couldn't just leave it there neglected.  I see myself "accidently" forgetting to take it off when guests arrive for tea and wearing it the whole time like a dress.  Of course, I would just so happen to be wearing blue to match.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tea scents & memories

I briefly stopped into Walmart today and saw this warmer scent I had never seen before:

I had to buy it because I love the scent of chai (and it only cost $2).  It reminds me of stopping at the coffee (and tea!) shop on my college campus called the Daily Grind.  Sometimes in the fall and winter I would stop before going back to my dorm room and get a tall vanilla chai latte.  It was the best chai I have ever had, and now when I think of chai I always imagine a walk through campus at night with a warm cup of wonderfully smelling tea in my hand.
As soon as I got home I broke off a block and put it in my plug-in warmer, which is really a nightlight with a little bowl in the top to hold the melted wax.

Unfortunately, the scent isn't as strong as these blocks usually are when you first put them in.  It smells really nice up close, but you can't even smell it in the rest of the kitchen.  I'm hoping that my new warmer just takes longer to melt the block, but its been a couple of hours and the scent still hasn't spread, so at this point I think it is just not a very strong scent.

I love these warmers, I now have one for each season (plus one for Christmas).   I have never seen a teapot warmer--I think it would be adorable though!  There is always hope :).  I used to burn candles, but having the open flame makes me nervous and these are a much safer option.

By the way, this also takes me back to my Russian entry from Sunday.  Chai is what the Russians call tea (tea in India is also called chai).  So when something is called chai tea, it is like you are saying tea tea!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Coincidences and Wanderings

Yesterday was a day of wayfaring.  It started with a phone call to my parents to ask if they wanted to go on a road trip to Warrenton, Virginia.  Warrenton has a small "old town" area with fun restaurants and stores.  We inevitably end up going there on Sundays when most of the stores are closed, but yesterday was such a nice day, we didn't even care.  Warrenton will definitely show up in a post at a later isn't that far from my house and has a tea room I have never been to :). 

But I digress.  Warrenton also has an antique mall where I have found some really great finds.  And here is where the coincidence of the day mom called the below to my attention:
A Russian samovar!  I walked right by it without seeing it even though I had written about it just a couple of hours before.  It was pretty big!  This one was listed for $795, so it was expensive, too.  Isn't it fun when happenstance happens :)?
We were on our way back to my house when we passed an odd sight in the parking lot of a bank.  It was a tiny brick building that turned out to be a drive-thru cheesecake bakery!  We'd never seen a cheesecake drive-thru before and had to stop. 

The store is called Cheesecake Heaven and it is definitely aptly named.  The cheesecake was to die for!  We got three pieces and shared them so we could try the different flavors.  When I got back to my house, I made a pot of vanilla Earl Grey and we had a dessert tea of Irish Cream, White Chocolate Raspberry, and Key Lime cheesecake bites.  

It was a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Olympic Weekend--Part 2, Join me for Chai in Russia

Russians don't brew tea (or chai as it is called in Russia) the same way we do here in the U.S., which follows the British mode.  Traditionally in Russia, tea was brewed using a samovar.  This is a samovar with a teapot on top:
The samovar is a kettle-like urn that includes its own heating element inside.  Antique samovars may use coal to heat the water.  While modern Russians more commonly heat water just in an electric kettle, the samovar remains an iconic image of Russian hospitality and culture.  Below is a painting by Russian painter Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev (Бори́с Миха́йлович Кусто́диев) (1878-1927) painted in 1920 called the Merchant's Wife on Balcony, with the samovar:

In the teapot on top of the samovar is a tea concentrate called zavarka (заварка).  This tea may be green or black, but is typically black.  The zavarka is poured into cups, but is then diluted with the water from the samovar, and would be available for use all day.

Tea blends that are considered quintessentially Russian have a smoked taste, reminiscent of the early days of Russian tea trade, when caravans would travel over 11,000 miles to bring tea from China and the smoke from the caravan fires would seep into the tea.  These teas are often called "Russian Caravan" teas.  Tea was first introduced to Russia in the mid-1600s, when a Mongolian ruler made a gift of several chests of tea to Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov (the first Romanov tsar).  At first tea was a luxury for the very rich, but prices started to come down in the 1700s as treaties were made with the Chinese.   By 1900, when the Trans-Siberian Railroad was complete, tea could travel by train, eventually reducing prices even further and making tea readily available during the Soviet years.

After diluting the zavarka with water from the samovar, Russians may sweeten it with sugar, or by stirring a spoonful of jam in the tea.  It also may also be served with lemon.  It is less common for tea to be served with milk in Russia.  Tea is served all day long, and tea is one of the top beverages in Russia (with vodka being the other). 

So join me in a cup of Russian Caravan tea!  (I actually do not like Russian Caravan tea blends because I am not fond of the smoke taste.  We will pretend that this black tea I brewed is Russian Caravan though).

Before my visit to Hillwood, I had never even considered Russian porcelain.  After that visit, however, I began seeing it everywhere on the internet as well as in the Blue and White edition of Tea Time Magazine from last June 2013.  A couple of months later, I walked into a local consignment store and finally saw in person a collection of five different patterns of Lomonosov china.  According to Wikipedia, Lomonosov china is the modern descendent of the Imperial Porcelain Factory!  I decided on the pattern in the picture below, Russian Domes.  I loved it over even the more well known Blue Net Lomonosov pattern, because it reminds me of St. Basil's domes. 

Because I am inviting you over for tea, I must serve you some kind of snack because you wouldn't invite someone over and just serve them tea in Russia.
These are pryaniki (honey cakes in English) and are a Russian spice cookie.  See here for the recipe and a bit of history about these cookies.  They reminded me of a Gingersnap but were rock hard (though it is very possible that I over cooked them because they are the only cookie I have ever made without butter and with loads of honey).  They were delicious if you dipped them in your tea first to make them a little softer, but I would not recommend taking a bite without doing so!   
I hope you've enjoyed our little journey into tea in Russia.  There are tea plantations in the area around Sochi, which are the northern most tea plantations in the world, so remember that when they are showing scenes of the surrounding area during the closing ceremonies tonight!
Sources:  Podreka, Tomislav, Serendipitea:  A guide to the varies, origins, and rituals of tea, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York (1998).
And please let me know if I got anything wrong!
I shared this post with for Friends Sharing Tea.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Olympic Weekend

To celebrate the end of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, this weekend the blog will focus on Russian tea traditions and porcelain.  To start us off, I want to share the beauty of Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Garden, located in Washington, D.C. This estate was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, who owned the Post Cereal Company, which became General Foods.  Hillwood Estate became Marjorie's showcase for entertaining in the second half of her life.  After she died, she left Hillwood to become a museum and her legacy. 

Marjorie's third husband was an ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.  While Marjorie was living there with her husband, she fell in love with Russian art and porcelain.  The Hillwood website says that she went on to assemble the largest collection of Russian Imperial Art outside of Russia.  See here for more information on the Russian Collection.

The Hillwood Mansion is magnificent and the grounds, beautiful.

As we start our tour, we enter through this door at the Motor Entrance.  For this blog, I'm focusing on the Russian porcelain displayed inside the house.  One of the first rooms we saw was the dining room, which is set with some of the Russian collection.
  Here is a close up of a place setting:

It was the breakfast room off of the dining room that really caught my fancy, however.  I could imagine having a lovely garden tea party in that room and the table was set and ready to cater to my fantasy:

After looking at the Hillwood website regarding the Russian Collection, I learned that it was very appropriate for the table to be set in this beautiful Russian service.  The chandelier that is at the very top of the picture was once in a palace belonging to Catherine the Great.  The service are pieces from the Orlov Service made by the Imperial Porcelian Factory in St. Petersburg between 1762-1765, which was during Catherine's reign.  I googled the set and found on Christie's website that the service has in the center the Cyrillic monogram 'GGO' of Count Grigorii Grigorievich Orlov.  If you follow the link, it will tell you what one plate from this service sold for in 2010.
As you continue the tour, you will eventually come to what would be one of the most exciting rooms in the house if you love beautiful dishes as much as I do, the Russian Porcelain Room.  
You can see the Russian influence in this beautiful inlay in the center of the floor.  The room was vaguely circular with the inlay the focal point and the porcelain in built in displays all around.

Before we leave the house, I should probably explain that I just touched on a very small few of the rooms and the collection.  I didn't even mention the artwork or the French services on display in other parts of the estate.

As we leave the house and travel the gardens, we soon learn that there are different themes in the gardens itself.  French gardens, walks, rose trellises, a putting green, and maybe even Some Greek or Roman influence at times

And gorgeous Japanese gardens

As you circle the gardens to the back of the house, you are greeted with this vista:

You might even come across a hothouse catering to beautiful orchids.  As you complete your circuit around the estate, you come across this little house

This is a Dacha, a Russian Country house.  Inside, Hillwood holds special exhibits on Russian culture.  During my visit, the house had an exhibit on the Romanovs.  I can just imagine guests to Hillwood during Marjorie's life, which would have been during the Cold War, coming here to see a bit of Russian culture that would otherwise have been a complete mystery.
One last thing, have I mentioned that they serve afternoon tea here on Sundays?  My family took my mother here (or she took us) for Mother's Day last year and we ended our day at the Hillwood Café having tea. 
This was actually the one disappointing thing about the trip.  We each got one of the plate above, but the food was really not that good.  They did serve Harney and Sons teas, however, including Russian country and lapsang souchong, which I did not get, which we will discuss more tomorrow.  Overall, the experience was wonderful and I would definitely recommend it.  You don't visit Hillwood to have tea, the tea is a nice way to end your visit to this beautiful museum.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Steeping ... hair?

This week I've managed to blog about non-tea "tea" things so I thought I would continue that trend with my post today about...shampoo!

I was in the grocery store looking for a new bottle and I saw this:

Mint white tea shampoo!  I usually use Herbal Essences because it smells pretty, so I decided that I had to try this shampoo.  The bottle described the "naked experiences" as follows:
"Lather up this light and refreshing formula that cleans to reveal luscious natural shine, while you delight in the rejuvenating scent of white tea and mint."

The shampoo has a very light scent of mint with, for lack of a better description, a sweet "fresh" smell.  Looking at the back of the bottle, the shampoo includes camellia sinensis leaf extract, which is the plant that is used to make tea.  So I think it is a good bet that the fresh smell really is white tea leaves! 

Overall, the shampoo cleaned my hair, left a subtle sweet scent, and was not harsh, which is all I ask for in a shampoo!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Flowers & Tea Tins

I've been wanting to try a tip I read in a magazine last month on how to use old tea tins as a vase, and have Valentine's day flowers that are starting to wilt, so today is the day!  The magazine is a special edition issue called Tea Pleasures:

I actually just saw the magazine in Barnes and Noble today, so you can still get a copy if you haven't yet.  Anyway, I've tried to use tea tins in the past as a flower centerpiece.  I used oasis the last time and poured water directly in the tin.  I had problems with leaking and the florist tape not holding the oasis down and it floating out of the tin.  But now after reading the magazine:

Ta-da!  And the secret is just putting a small cup or vase inside the tin.  This is common sense, I know, but it never occurred to me!  I used a small sour cream cup I had kept.

Here is a different shaped tin:
Too cool!  I know what I'm going to have on the table the next time I have a tea.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

T(ea). V.--Doctor Who

British T.V. shows are really great for wonderful tea moments.  I was watching the "Day of the Doctor" again which aired on November 23, 2013 around the world.  This episode was special--it celebrated the 50th anniversary of this long running British sci-fi show.

Doctor Who is about an alien who travels around the universe and time (he is a time traveler) and he often ends up being called upon to stop wrongs.  His vehicle of choice is the TARDIS, which looks like a bright blue 1960s Police Telephone box (see second picture below).  He is a genius and often saves the day (though he isn't always able to save everyone) through his intellect.  He is the Doctor.  The show is rather ingenious.  The Doctor has regenerations--i.e., it is built into the show that new actors will take over the role!  The Doctor doesn't die, he is like a cat with 13+ lives.

In "The Day of the Doctor," the Doctor realizes that he might not have destroyed his people and his native planet as he has long believed.  The Doctor's people, the Time Lords, fought with the Daleks, one of the Doctor's earliest enemies and the war was causing a lot of other species to be harmed.  This is a Dalek.  Serving tea, because this is a tea blog ;).

After all the Doctors that have ever been (all 13 of them over the past 50 years because they are time travelers) save their home planet together in the episode, what do the three incarnations of the Doctor actually featured in this episode do...
Stop for celebratory tea!  Here is a close up of David Tennant having tea, just because.
Good job Doctors!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Diamond Candles

Have you ever heard of Diamond Candles?  The company sells candles in all different scents, many seasonal offerings, and has one line of candles called "ring candles" that have a ring inside.  You're probably wondering what this has to do with tea.  Well, some of the fragrances are tea inspired!  The website today includes a candle that is cinnamon tea scented, and on this blog I am featuring this candle:

Pumpkin Chai!  The scent is wonderful and is just like some of the pumpkin spiced teas that I had last autumn.  The scent really spreads throughout the whole room.  I will admit, however, that I am cheating--the pumpkin chai candle is my sister's, she said I could borrow it for blogging purposes.  I actually got the candle below:

As I mentioned, each candle comes with a ring inside that is valued between $10 and $5,000.  So, for about $25.00 you get a wonderful smelling candle and a ring worth at least $10.  The gold sticker shown in the picture above tells you where the ring is in the candle and the candle has to be burned until the wax is melted to the point where the ring is.  So how is the ring in the candle?  Well, this
baggy has the ring inside and the whole thing is wrapped in gold foil.  I might have gotten impatient and went fishing for it with scissors when the wax was soft enough for me to pull it out.  Here is the ring I got:
 Beautiful and it's my birthstone!  The website says that the rings come in the "most common sizes" but our experience has been that the rings tend towards the bigger sizes, which is good for my family.  My sister got my mother a candle for Christmas and received a couple herself, and I think most of the rings were around a size 8.  Mine was definitely a size 8--which is good for me, just a bit big. 

I think that these candles are an extremely clever idea. The person receiving the gift gets one present, the candle, and gets a complete surprise gift inside that she has to wait for.  As I mentioned, the company even has tea fragrances for the tea lover in your life (or for you!)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Last of the Birthday spoils

My sister gave me the cute Royal Albert Old Country Roses salt and pepper shakers shown here:

Now I'm all set for a fancy dinner, or if I decide to have salt and pepper on the table during a tea party.  I haven't served anything yet where I would have them...but you never know!  Now I have an excuse to look for different recipes.  She also gave me a special candle, but we'll save that for another post.

This has been a great Birthday weekend!  Today a few of my friends took me to brunch at a local restaurant in a old church.  Having the snow storm worked in my favor to spread out the festivities extra long.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Birthday spoils

My mother really spoiled me this year with a couple of wonderful gifts--some of which involved tea!  She made the reversible tea cozy below that I am so excited to use with a pink themed party that I have been working on for awhile.  I'm planning on maybe serving different tea with different courses, and this will be perfect to let me make it ahead of time!

She also gave me the beautiful five piece set below, Cheeky Pink by Royal Albert.  I saw this for the first time in the Royal Albert/Royal Doulton Outlet in Williamsburg, Virginia last summer when I  joined my parents for a long weekend.  I stared at the set for about fifteen minutes but I didn't buy it because it was more than I wanted to pay.  My mom had apparently asked to be informed when they had a sale, and she went down special with my father to buy me it for me after the store contacted her!

Here is a close up of the teacup and saucer:

This set just looks happy and I love the name, it's so....cheeky!  Now I'm ready for spring...too bad I woke up to it snowing a bit more.  At least it didn't stick today!