Monday, October 28, 2013

The Tea Spot: Sereni-tea Now!

Yesterday, my tea group and I headed out to the sweet town of Guelph in Ontario for high tea at The Boathouse. This is a really pretty and picturesque area. The Boathouse is situated along the Speed River with trees that had turned beautiful shades of oranges and reds. There was even a covered bridge nearby that added to the ambiance. I found it very serene.  It's something I really needed at this time in my life…a moment alone to calm the chatter in my head.

The Boathouse signage

View along the river

Covered bridge

The Boathouse served up a traditional high tea. Some items included:

Finger Sandwiches
Cucumber with cream cheese
Egg Salad
Tuna Salad

Finger sandwiches

Plain scone 
Strawberry jam

Plain scone

Tiramisu cake
Brownie with crunchy nuts
Lemon cake
Chocolate coffee cake


The sandwiches weren't anything special. They were simple fillings between slices of multigrain bread. I thought the scone was the best! It was moist inside and just enough for me to finish off. I was a little disappointed with the whipped-cream though. It was too runny and soupy. Whipped-cream has to stand on its own. Another bowl was requested later-on which was perfect, but I had already devoured my scone by then. For dessert I went for the lighter items like the éclair as well as the nutty brownie I had my eye on. It was really good! 

For tea, I had the Boathouse Private Blend which was a Ceylon tea and their “secret” flavour blend with hints of almond and orange. Not sure what the “secret” part was, but obviously something that could not be shared! It was a loose-leaf tea served in a filter bag. The liquor was a lovely golden-orange colour. The fragrant was sweet and fruity. The flavour was a smooth, 
sweet orange without any bitter aftertaste. I drank several cups of it straight without milk or sugar. It was lovely.

Boathouse blend

As always, the dialogue around the table was the best. Put a group of women together and discussions always turn to dating horror stories and about men with strange quirks and habits. Always a hoot! It was a perfect Sunday to head out of town for good conversation and food. I would definitely venture back out this way in the future.

Colours of fall!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Steeping Beauty: Pillows for puffy eyes!

Went out on the town one evening and drank away in merriment 'til the wee hours of the night?  Or perhaps you pulled another all-nighter working on that assignment due in two hours?  Maybe you were watching some cheesy, rom-com that had you in rivers of tears. Whatever the reason for the puffy red eyes, tea can help diminish the appearance. Before getting rid of your tea bags and tossing them into your compost bin – that is where you’re putting them, right? – place them in the refrigerator for an hour or so to cool down. Once they've become cold enough, lay back someplace comfortable and place a tea bag on each of your eyelids for about 30 minutes. Drift off into dreamland and let the magic begin. The puffiness will reduce helping you look refreshed and ready to hit the town again!

Red eye reducers!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Steeped In History: The Accidental Teabagger!

Did you know that the tea bag was invented quite by accident?  In 1908, a tea merchant in New York named Thomas Sullivan began supplying his customers with samples of his tea in hand-sewn silk bags instead of tin canisters which were costly to ship out.  The customers were supposed to remove the tea leaves from the silk bags and then brew them.  Instead, confused by what they had received, they infused the tea leaves along with the bags into hot water.  When the customers re-ordered their tea, they requested that Thomas supply them with the silk bags as well.  Sensing opportunity, Thomas got one of those Oprah “aha” moments and began shipping the tea in the silk bags.  Over time, these hand-sewn silk tea bags became costly and rather time-consuming to produce. As well, the fabric was far too fine for proper extraction to occur. So, Thomas began producing tea bags using a gauze material instead. 

Baggies from the oldies!

Unfortunately for Thomas, he never patented his tea bag invention. This oversight opened the doors for other tea merchants to create their own versions of tea bags, experimenting with various types of materials to get the best results, and most importantly, patenting their devices.  There are some historians that claim a patent for a fabric-made tea leaf container was already granted in 1903.  Either way, since then, the stage was set in the ever-evolving design of the tea bag. 

Not much information is available as to what ever became of Thomas Sullivan after his discovery. He seems to have disappeared along with the good quality tea that was initially supplied in these baggies.  This raises an interesting point.  Back then, tea was offered as whole leaves.  Somewhere along the line, this changed to what is now being sold as fannings in much smaller tea bags. Really, the tea bag itself is nothing more than a device like an infuser ball used to extract the tea.  It’s what’s inside the tea bag that could make or break a good tea experience.

Lipton Pyramid

It appears that bags of whole leaf tea are making a comeback. Today, tea companies are re-designing tea bags by producing larger-sized packets, experimenting with various shapes, and using different materials in order to offer whole tea leaves, that allow for better expansion and extraction without affecting the flavour. Consumers demand convenience in their busy lives today, but they shouldn't have to sacrifice quality.  This is where tea companies are listening and are continuously re-creating the perfect tea bag for whole leaves.  I think this Tea Forté infuser is pretty impressive:


Just a note: I've done my best to find additional material on Thomas Sullivan with no luck.  If anyone has further information on him, please forward it over.  Would love to read about it!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teaology 101: Tea bag or not tea bag. That is the question!

Since I’m a dedicated tea drinker, I am open to trying all teas offered in various formats.  I do have favourites and methods of preparing teas most of the time, but I’m not one of those aficionados who are so adamant about taking my tea the one and only way and rejecting all other techniques.  Rejoice teabaggers! (Uh, ahem).  I think the market is big and diverse enough for all of us.  Yes, tea leaves are far more superior to what’s in tea bags, but there are pros and cons for both. 

Tetley Tea varieties!

Loose Leaf Tea 
  • Takes time to prepare
  • Whole leaves are higher quality
  • Subtle flavours and aromas are released as the leaves unfurl with each infusion allowing for a unique experience with each cup
  • Multiple infusions, so it stretches your dollar
  • Costly
  • Cleaning brewing vessels can take a moment

Tea Bags
  • Quick to prepare, convenient
  • Leaves are pulverized into dust and fannings
  • Flavour profile is homogeneous since all leaves are cut and mixed together
  • Only one steeping per tea bag 
  • Affordable 
  • Quick clean-up, just remove the bag and throw it in the composter 

So, obviously from the comparison, loose leaf is fresh, good quality tea, whereas tea bags are more about affordability and convenience.  Although I don’t think they will replace loose leaves, tea bags are making big strides in design.  They now come in various shapes and sizes to allow for better expansion of whole loose leaves: square, round, pyramid.  Some tea specialty shops even offer large-sized, rectangular tea bags you can use to filter loose leaf tea.  I've tried them, and they aren't bad.  The point is to provide adequate room for the leaves to unfurl.

Strawberry Tea Kettle!

Again, the market is big enough for both.  There is nothing wrong with tea bags, but do understand that you won’t get the same quality in flavour and aroma as you would with loose leaves.  So, to answer the question – go for it!  Even I enjoy tea bagging it now and then.  (I really am talking about tea here, you know!  Try to stay focused).