16 April 2014

Stray Observations, Mostly Tea-Related

In the name of completion, I'd like to go through a few more snaps from my trip to Texas last month, along with a little commentary.

A very notable location...

The River House Tearoom, in Gruene, s quick drive from San Antonio.  The town itself was perfectly lovely; apparently it had its name from its German population.  The best wurst I've ever had!  Of very course we had to visit its tearoom.  I was disappointed that Afternoon Tea was only available in reservation form, but it was a cozy place with wonderful muffins.  I felt at home - basically because I have the same teapot - that one, top shelf, fourth item from the left.  

Brackenridge Park, San Antonio.  There was a small tea shop by the Japanese Tea Garden, but I was left confused as to why it was called The Chinese Tea Garden.  Mysteries abound!

Austin - a fun, funky capital - the day before its South by Southwest Festival was to begin.  An influx of hipsters, as a result.  Sadly, this includes, well, this:
I shall say no more on this subject.

At a gathering, I was interested in the iced Hibiscus that I almost mistook for Sangria.  Actually, during my entire trip to Texas I didn't imbibe once.  Usually on vacation I'll drink at least once or twice, but this trip was an exception, which is just fine. I didn't have coffee either, but tea is always on the menu for me! I'd had Hibiscus tea before, mostly in herbal/fruit blends, and it's a good source of Vitamin C, or something healthy like that.  Iced tea, particularly Sweet Tea, is all over the South, but I didn't realize that iced Hibiscus tea was so common, until I also saw it on the menu of the cafe in Book People.  And of course, not long after I'd returned home I saw it in a menu of a New York spot - isn't that always how things go?

Oh, and Book People was worth the unnecessary Crazy Long Walk on Austin's 6th Street.  Sadly we had precious little time to browse, but it's a large, excellent independent bookstore that I'd love to return to someday.  Check out what was written in one of the bathroom stalls:

More on Texas whenever I get a chance to return - who knows when that will be?

06 April 2014

Tea Gallery: Trust Me, John Everett Millais, 1862

Looks like someone's having a tense moment among the tea things.

31 March 2014

Bigger in Texas

It seems strange to go looking for tea spots in a place like San Antonio, Texas.  Shouldn't one search out barbecue joints instead?  Well, of course I did that as well.  Still, I would be remiss if I neglected my duties as Tea Queen of Astoria, no matter where I was on the globe.  And thankfully, my efforts were rewarded.  This was evident especially in the oversized Mad Hatter Tea House & Cafe.


I always thought Alice's Tea Cup was large, and none of its 3 locations are tiny, but Mad Hatter's is the overgrown version of its New York counterpart.  There's multiple rooms, and the building itself takes up most of the street.  Real estate prices alone would keep you from doing that in Manhattan!  

You make your order at the counter, then wait for the staff to bring it to your table.  You select your own teacups, which I kind of liked.

However, though the staff were friendly enough, it was a little off-putting when the man who brought our teapots to the table stuck in nose in the pots to see which was which.  Ew.  Even so, he got our teas mixed up.  Doesn't everyone know Bonnie gets the rooibos?  I'm the Darjeeling girl!  I mean, that might change in the evening, but still..

One thing I love is a cafe of any kind with bookshelves.  It's why I love a good cuppa in my home library, and why I'll take the bus from Port Authority to Van Gogh's ear in Union, New Jersey.  There's just something about being near books.  I can't articulate what it does for me.  Also, you'll have something to occupy yourself with if you're along, nevermind the phone.

But I digress...OUTSIDE SPACE!!!!

We ordered the Afternoon Tea, which was $18 for two.  Pricewise that's quite satisfying.  However, there were only two choices of sandwich in this deal: smoked salmon and cucumber cream cheese.  I don't like smoked salmon, and cucumber sandwiches are all well and good, but one gets bored of it after a while.  There were other tea sandwiches, but they could be ordered separately.  I'd do that next time.

The scones were fine: bear with me, I didn't take notes and it's been nearly a month, but I think they were cinnamon and blueberry.  They were fine on their own, and I wouldn't recommend the cream/jam conglomeration.  They were mixed together and looked like things I wouldn't speak of here.  The petit four were really sweet, another reason why I always say you don't need to add anything to your tea!

Look at the size of this place!  Bonnie went to a Bridal shower lunch not long after I'd returned to New York, and she had good things to say about the turkey sandwich.  I am glad such a place exists near Bonnie's new home.  Definitely drop by if you're around, though with the state heating up already I might recommend some iced tea.  More on that in my next post!

03 February 2014

All Grown Up

I expect to see the ladies of Downton Abbey taking Afternoon Tea, but not the ladies of The Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon might offer a hot beverage, but it took a mild identity crisis to bring Penny, Amy and Bernadette to the table.

The idea of Afternoon Tea comes as a way to be more "grown-up", which they find to be misdirected: they get dressed ladylike, and Amy wears her legendary tiara, and find themselves surrounded by mothers and their little daughters.  Well, I could have told you it's a little girl thing.  I've been trying to market Afternoon Tea as an all-gender, all-culture, and certainly all-age group encompassing activity, but one step into Alice's Tea Cup might convince you otherwise.  Still, I was disappointed to see how quickly they abandoned the tea and ended up at the bar.  I'm no teetotaler, but enjoy one thing at a time!  Also, in case you want to feel a little adult, there's usually such a thing as Champagne Tea in hotels.

Of course, I'm arguing with a fictional TV show, one that has no problem if women are interested in science,but apparently they can't be bothered to get into sci-fi or comic books. It's still one of my favorite shows, but nothing is perfect.

I do wish 'taking tea' appealed to more demographics, but then again, who wants it to get too popular?  Personally, I like the combination of the childlike enjoyment of sweets, with a slightly refined edge without being overly formal.  Tiaras optional.

02 February 2014

A few updates...

A recent walk in the park...

which inspired a poem...

27 January 2014

Tea Gallery: Tea & Sonnets by Michael Shane Neal

If I'm being honest (and I do try), this looks more like a coffee pot to me - it's too tall to be a proper teapot. Perhaps it's just the angle.  Otherwise, I have no criticism for this picture.  Tea pairs perfectly with poetry!  Both are timeless...as is this portrait!

17 January 2014

Sick Day Pairing

Nobody likes getting sick; certainly not me!  I had much to do at work, and plans that I would've loved to keep.  Still, I suppose a wicked head cold is tolerable, under the right circumstances.  Once you get past that gross first half hour of the morning, and the occasional sneeze-fests, the best thing to do on a day (or two) on the couch is to take advantage of the situation.  This I do by catching up on some reading, and on some tea drinking.

My favorite tea ritual on a sick day is to throw a few older loose teas together, maybe sweeten with some honey, and see how it goes.  I haven't lost my sense of taste, but it does diminish, so instead of wasting my new packets from Upton and David's Tea, I finished off a Darjeeling, combined with an ancient vanilla rooibos, tossed a bit of herb sin, and voila!  A mildly caffeinated, still tasty and comforting blend. I've had some failures in the past, but this is where the honey comes in.  Either way, it's a perfect soothing answer to my dulled senses - and a good use of teas I'd never serve to company.

With this extra time, once I'd grown tired of napping,  I finished something else off: a good book!  This was by no means stale, though I have to admit I was glad to see the end of it.  My selection was Elizabeth of York, by Alison Weir.  I loved Weir's biographies of Eleanor of Acquitaine and Elizabeth I, and some of her historical novels.  Some recent biographies I wasn't so crazy about, as they were too speculative, as is necessary perhaps when writing lives of women in Medieval/Renaissance times. Women weren't considered as worthy of note by their contemporary writers, and few kept writings of their own unless they were of the nobility, and even then it was usually formal letters and accounting records (as is evident in Elizabeth of York.)  Still, this was an intriguing time to read about.

In case you're not sure, Elizabeth of York is the daughter of Edward IV, the dashing Yorkist king who made an unpopular marriage to someone considered beneath him.  This same wife (Elizabeth Wydeville) did a good job providing him with heirs - two sons and an even more daughters, of whom Elizabeth was the eldest.  She did a really good job getting high positions for her relatives, which did not help matters.  When Edward IV died after a short sickness, his son, Edward V-ish, was taken into 'protective' custody by his uncle Richard, and his maternal relatives were either executed or exiled or in sanctuary.  Elizabeth spent many anxious months in sanctuary with her mother and sisters, though her other brother Richard joined Edward V in the Towe.  They disappeared, possibly killed at the order of their uncle, who was now Richard III.  Of course, that's a famous controversy, and Weir is firmly of the belief that he was responsible for their murders.  He was certainly guilty of claiming Elizabeth and her sisters were illegitimate, since Edward IV had been betrothed to another woman - doubtful, but it stuck for the moment.   So her future was uncertain until Henry Tudor made his way over to England, gained victory over Richard III at Bosworth, and became Henry VII.  His claim to the throne was a bit shaky, and his marriage to Elizabeth helped to solidify his new-founded dynasty - which was kind of a sticking point for him.  Even so, their marriage was actually the most successful of all the Tudors.  Weir's theme, it seems to me, is that Elizabeth wasn't tragically undermined by her husband or mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, as many writers have implied.  However, she must have been uneasy at times, what with all the young men coming forward pretending to be her brothers or someone else close to the throne.

It's not a bad subject.  So much has been written about Elizabeth's son and his wives (I'm sure you can figure out who I'm talking about - eight guesses!), and it's good to have a little light shed on this transitory period.  Being that I'm bleary-eyed (back to the head cold again), it helped that it was a large-print book.  I see just fine with my glasses, but I'd checked this book out from the library, not realizing which edition I'd selected.  My only real issue is that there were too many details that were unnecessary.  How many times do I need to know everybody's salary, and every bit of garment and wall hanging of the period?  Also, in her book, The Princes in the Tower, she made clear her belief was that Richard III was the guilty party, so in Elizabeth of York there's no room for argument.  Don't know why I want Richard to be innocent in this - he's not even the Richard that David Tennant's been playing, so what's my problem?

Pairing: if you're healthy, I'd recommend Tower of London tea by Harney and Sons (ha) or a Rose blend - for the York and Lancaster factions, of course.  Since Henry VII had a reputation for being a miser (and Alison Weir had points against that, too), my old-tea Sick Day blend is just the thing for those stuffy days.

03 January 2014

Looking Back...and Forward

I started keeping a diary when I was seven.  It was one of those books with a page for each day.  It didn't suit me; why face the pressure of having to write or face an eternally empty page?  In the years to follow I bought diaries that weren't so strict - I could start in May for all it mattered.  Of course, eventually I reached the end of the volume.  When I had only a few sheets of paper left, I'd do an end-of-book retrospective.  This was especially a big deal in my formative years.  Within the space of one book I'd grow an inch or two, or a bra size, and wrote through at least one painful crush that, come to think of it, might deserve a bit of redacting treatment.  Things got even more intense when we had one or two major family crises.  Shame I stopped this practice by 2001 as that would have been interesting, although the last page did mention taking Duforth and Moofer to the vet at the same time, so there's that bit of nostalgia.

In some ways looking from back to front appealed to the natural historian in me, and also my ever-present need for self-examination.  I wanted to know if I was a indeed better person than when I'd started, or if something about myself or my circumstances should be addressed.  Most blank books are less costly than therapy!

I don't do this on the blog, because, well, it seems to be infinite.  Sometimes I think I should put an end to it, since frankly I don't seem to have the readership of past times, but at this point I'm determined to make the ten year mark.  That'll be in 2015, by the way.  Still, I could combine the annual diary concept with the free journals and do a year end look-back.  It's already January, so I'd better get on with it.

As I've said before, I don't like to get too personal here.  It's not the place for it.  This'll cover my blogging activity for the most part.

In January I attempted to start a 'favorite book of the month' feature, but this fizzled out by the spring.  So I think from now on I'll stick to an occasional book review with its tea pairing.  I was also still covering my December 2012 trip to London, which was good because I hardly made it out of town for the rest of 2013.  I intend to change this, and certainly will, since I already have solid plans to visit San Antonio soon. I found out in the spring that my sister and her husband were moving there in October.  Though I never intended to see Texas, I've heard good things about San Antonio, and frankly, on this frigid snowy day, I could use some of that sunshine.

What disappoints me the most is the dearth of tearoom reviews.  PressTea is all well and good, but it doesn't make up for the lack of new spots.  As it is, I did manage a few visits to Tea and Sympathy as well as Alice's Tea Cup.  I went to a lovely outdoor garden tea party, but failed to give it proper coverage here.  Having a dying laptop was my excuse at the time, but now that I've got a perfectly functioning one, I have to get it going again!  Posting an occasional shot of a teapot on Instagram just doesn't do it for me.

Probably my most constant feature here was The Tea Gallery, and I plan to keep this coming.  Eventually I can open a Tea Museum.

The main distraction and tragedy for me in 2013 was the sickness and death of Moofer.  I spent a great amount of time trying to keep him in stable health, but renal failure is no joke.  I still miss him, but Zenobia and I are doing all right.  I have no immediate need for another cat, which is probably good for my allergies.  I guess I'm not a Crazy Cat Person after all.

So, not one of my best years, but not a total disaster.  See you again soon!  I hope,.

05 December 2013

The Doctor Likes His Tea

It's been well over a week since the first screening of The Day of the Doctor, so these pictures shouldn't prove to be spoilers to anyone by now.  If ever - all we have here is all three Doctors and Clara stopping for some tea together.
This is not an episode review; like I said before, I tend to leave that to other people while I concentrate on occasionally posting book or tea reviews here.  I just thought I'd share one of my favorite parts of the episode.  Actually, it kind of sums up what I love about the Doctor: save the day, then stop for a cuppa.
It's what I would do!
I mean, I'm a sucker for a scene in any show or film, or even book, where the characters share teatime together.  It's relatable, although I suppose taking tea with my selves would be kind of odd. But this stuck out even more, because once again, the Doctor is the hero of the day using brains as the best weapon in his (their) arsenal, and then, without feeling girly or ironic at all, having tea in little pretty teacups.
I've probably said this here in the past, but it kind of irks me that guys don't like to be seen doing what they think are frilly feminine things, particularly when it comes to the realm of tea.  How is it unmanly to have tea in little china cups?  Personally, I respect a man who can handle delicate items as well as screwdrivers.  Sure, china tea cups are easily shattered, but they also present tea in probably the best way.  I assert to the end that tea of all kinds taste better in china, just as wine is better from a glass.  Breakfast teas are nice in mugs with milk, of course.  Ice cream's good in everything, but that's another discussion.
Perhaps I'm straying into metaphorical territory here, but let's just round it down to this.  I have no problem going to a 'guy' spots, like, I don't know, a sports bar, for instance:  I certainly don't think it makes me less feminine.  What's so unmanly about taking tea?
Is this just a problem in America?
I don't like to talk about gender politics; it's not in my nature.  I just like seeing a balance, and perhaps a curbing of the insecurity associated with 'being seen' doing things that males have done for centuries.  I suppose, literally centuries for The Doctor.
In the end, taking tea with someone, to me, means sharing life together, and being comfortable with your company.  Hopefully that says it all.

11 November 2013

Tea Gallery: Teatotalism by Edward Bird

Proving once again that tea and cats are eternally linked.  Possibly because of the spinster implications?   Well, the lady (?) in this painting looks like she's abstained from more than just liquor.  And she probably won't have anyone showing her a night out on the town, not with that freaky kitty warning any suitors away.  At least she's got milk in her tea, and a slight flush on her cheeks - perhaps she's just warming up after a bit of fun in the snow?  I have almost no information behind this painting, so the story behind it is anyone's guess.  

28 October 2013

What Do You Call It?

I've succumbed again to subscribing to real-paper magazines.  I still get Victoria on my Nook, but I have to admit, it's not an enjoyable reading experience.  Someday I'll get to the whole comparison between e- vs. paper reading post, but now's not that time.  The magazines I get in my actual mailbox are Tea Magazine and Tea Time.  This shouldn't surprise anyone.  Though I tend to skip many of the articles in the holiday-heavy issues, there's always something that attracts my interest.

 I noticed that in each of the recent issues of these magazines, there was at least one article that covered herbal tea.  Of course, they qualify the expression 'tea' by letting you choose between herbal tea, tisanes, or infusions.  And I agree: tea, as a word that really means the drink derived from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant.  Technically, infused peppermint leaves should not be called 'tea'.

When I bring up the subject of tea (and you know I do at least once a week), I often hear people say they love tea, and then list a bunch of not-actually-tea teas.  Then I feel the tea geek in me want to point out the error in their expression.  But you know what?  Maybe I'm a little off there.

Think about it.  Have you ever asked an English person what they'll be having for tea?  They may mention a full meal that doesn't include a hot drink at all.  In some parts of that country (I think mostly in the North) 'tea' just means dinner.  They aren't wrong or right.  It's the nature of the language.   Let's not forgot what we learned on Seinfeld: sometimes coffee doesn't mean coffee, either.

....I know High Tea is what people call Afternoon Tea sometimes, and that's technically incorrect too.  I'm still a little peeved on that score, but I won't bit your head off.....

So I've decided to ease up a bit on the technicalities. Or should I say techicaliteas?  People say 'Chai tea', which is a tautology, and if you have rooibos chai is it really chai?  You could really run around in circles debating these things.  And I've tired of being on edge about things.  Maybe it's because I've lowered my actual tea intake, and am now quite the herbal/fruit tea drinker.  If the word is good enough for most people, maybe it's just the way the English language itself changes almost organically.  Like I said, the nature of the language.  So, in this case, let's go with the flow!

So what kinds of "teas" do I like? Well, let's go back to the basics.  I had a cold this week, a bad one, and I couldn't miss work so I had to do whatever it took to get going.  In the afternoon I'd have Lemon Zinger tea from Celestial Seasonings.  Its scent takes me right back to afternoons in college, particularly when I was taking Oral Communications.  In autumn I also go for the apple cinnamon-y blends - and that happens to be one of the few non-rooibos that could stand adding milk.  It doesn't need it, though.

I've got famously bad digestive issues, so chamomile is a part of my life.  Chamomile-lavender is wonderful, and so soothing.  Peppermint is good too, but with all the Altoids I eat I'm pretty covered there.

I have tons of herbs in my tea cabinet. What - doesn't everyone have a tea cabinet?  Though sometimes I'll buy blends - Simpson and Vail has some wonderful blends - I'll also try my hand at blending my own concoctions.  I get good use out of my teapots, especially in the winter!  Having good fruit teas around helps, too, because you can sneak in some of the less tasty herbs and it'll still be a pleasant drink.  I particularly recommend this method with Valerian.  It's relaxing, but terribly bitter on its own, and its smell could clear a subway car.

Herbal articles always come with a warning, so I will too: if you're taking medications, make sure they don't clash with the herbs.  Ask your doctor and all that.  Also, for my gluten-free friends, look out: some herbal teas have barley or other ingredients that might make you sick.  Always do your homework!

So curl up and sip: winter is coming!

Bought this one last year in London...really helped me through the inconvenient 'stomach' troubles in the early part of my trip.  It still helps me on my off days.  Tastes good too!

03 October 2013

Not Taking Coffee with Catherine

I don't get stalked by people too often (thankfully), but I feel as if objects, or ideas, follow closely at my heels whether I want them to or not.  One example of this is scaffolding.  Everywhere I go, it seems, there's construction or maintenance work to be done, from the area around my workplace to my own apartment building.  Sometimes I think I can walk out on a rainy day without needing an umbrella! 

Math stalked me forever.  I'm obsessively literate, and can be buried in words quite happily for hours.  Math is a means to an end.  I'm okay at arithmetic and a little light algebra, but am not thrilled by formulas and a chalkboard full of x's and y's.  The powers that be, however, decided to push me for decades towards the maths, and wouldn't let me go until I shoved the F's in their faces.  Even then, I still find the shadows of math and scientific calculators along my path. 

Now the one I find hardest to let go of, because frankly it's something I like, is coffee.  Mainly I grew up with tea, and was content with a taste of coffee here and there, and to this day I'm (glaringly) a tea girl.  Nevertheless, I've gone through periods of time, ever since I started working in offices actually, where coffee was my morning pick-me-up.  Eventually my digestive illnesses and wracked nerves would force me to give up coffee, or at least cut down.  I mean, never mind, right?  At least I can have tea!  But somehow, I'd always pick up the coffee habit.  Sometimes this came as a result of either being away from good tea, like if I'm travelling.  As I've said too many times, you can usually find a halfway decent cup of coffee out of town, but it's rare you can find even a tolerable cup of tea.  Then there's the times where I suddenly had access to interesting coffee, like when my office first got K-cups in all kinds of flavors.  Sadly, the coffee taste comes through the machine even when you're making tea, so it made sense to reach for the coffee instead.

These cycles went on, but I think at this part of my life I have to abstain from coffee entirely.  Besides the acid reflux and other 'stomach' problems, the caffeine seems to affect me even more than it used to.  I always thought I might build up a tolerance, but nope, I'm hyper-sensitive.  To be honest, I can't even drink much tea - one cup of black tea is usually the most I can take now.  If I'm really tired I might pull off a cup of green tea in the afternoon. On a daily basis, though, my second cup is an herbal infusion.

So why does coffee keep asserting itself into my life?  I entered a contest (long story), and last week I won the consolation prize - you guessed it - coffee!!!  I hear it's good, but I can't try it for myself.  Oh, and this is not the first time I'd won coffee.  Then there was the National Coffee Day a few days ago, which didn't matter too much, but it just made me aware that this drink is never far away.  I can't help seeing ads for all the autumn flavors at Starbucks - oh I used to love the pumpkin lattes.  Plus, the area of Midtown where I work is surrounded, seriously, surrounded! - by coffee places - branches of Italian, Pacific Northwest, even Australian specialty coffee stores wherever I walk.  Some of them offer tea, but only as an afterthought.  There are areas of the City that have a good amount of tea shops, but not near me, sadly.

It's been good to whine a bit about problems that don't really keep me up at night (unless I gave in....)

08 September 2013

Moofer, 2001-2013

This one is difficult. I had to bring Moofer to be put down on Thursday.  The choice was a horrible one, but my final decision was based on the fact that he wasn't going to get better.  I saw one of my cats waste away with kidney disease (Duforth, nine years ago), and didn't want Moofer to get any further down that road.  I fought to keep him going, but he was finally through with the treatments two weeks ago.

I miss him more than I can express.  I don't want to make light of anyone's death in the past seven years, but this has been the biggest grief for me since losing my Dad.  Moofer was my cat for five years.  He was my sister's cat for seven years - at the time he was the middle child of three cats and one dog.  I love all of my sisters' pets, but Moofer was The One. He was also well liked by everyone that met him.  He greeted everyone he encountered as a friend - something I haven't quite pulled off, and displayed both a cuddly and a playful personality.  His favorite sport was chasing light beams, and his worst habit was begging for human food - something he did til the very end.

I'm not going to go into what his last moments were like, because I can't relive them myself at this point, but they were peaceful, and I'm thankful for that.

Here's a few images of the life of Moof:

With the Boys, and Sheba
The Selfie.
As a purring lap cat, with my Aunt Anita
Being part of the action at one of my tea parties
With Zenobia, just the right distance apart...sweet dreams, my lovely.

You don't find many like him. 
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01 September 2013

Tea Pressing

Tea places are constantly popping up in New York.  The West Village gets the bulk of them, which makes it slightly difficult for me.  You see, when I want tea in that area, my go-to place is Tea and Sympathy.  I've been there three times this summer already - might be going for a record there!  Still, I like to keep up with other places, and I've done pretty well with this over the years.  I tend to lose track of spots that close down - only recently I found out The Tea Set is gone.  It's a shame, of course, but it makes sense - I mean it was just up the block from Tea and Sympathy - take a page from Bosie Tea Parlor if you're going to be an Afternoon Tea spot with a French flair and put a tiny bit of distance in there!  Maybe it was another case of the Groupon curse - many of those restaurants that started giving online coupons were doomed to deal with the fallout when people actually tried to cash in on them.

I'm going off on a Tea Tangent...

I'd heard of Press Tea, and knew I'd have to see it for myself.  There's a big to-do about their New Way of making tea, and it sparked my curiosity.

Now this is mainly a positive review, because I did not give them a fair chance: in fact, the odds were out of their favor on the day I picked to visit.  It was one of the hotter days in early summer, which means I was only in the mood for iced tea.  Unless that's the specialty, I prefer to try hot tea first, as it's what I generally drink, but it just wasn't happening.  Also, my visit came right after I'd sworn off coffee, as well as any drink that's caffeinated beyond English Breakfast tea.  My system is so sensitive - anyone who's seen me overdose on caffeine (which in my case consists of popping one Excedrin) knows that you don't want to take me past a certain level.  Just ask Bonnie, or Cathy B.  So there's me going to Press Tea, which boasts the ability to make a really strong brew out of the innocent Camellia Sinensis, and I pick late afternoon to go. The menu shrunk to a microscopic level for me...iced Rooibos it is!

I like Rooibos, but I tend to prefer it with a touch of flavoring, and hot.  Looking at the ordering instructions, I suppose I could have had a flavoring, but the outside heat had made me ornery so I just took it straight   I had this with a baby cupcake which tasted just fine, but was over in such a flash I neglected to remember what kind it was.  I believe it tasted autumnal.

Clear instructions

The only available seating was at the window.  I tend to like window views - who doesn't love people watching? - but the sun was glaring right through the a/c.

Lovely, though, isn't it?  Kind of looks like cappuccino (miss you!)  It was good, and refreshing, but it did not blow me away.  Like I said, I'm not a straight Rooibos drinker, so making it even stronger was not exactly going to help it for me.

I did like the interior.  If I'd had one of the cozier spaces to sit I'd have stayed longer.  Also, I could have done with a bigger piece of cake or something.

So, I'm not about to be thoroughly up or down about Press Tea.  I want to visit again and give a more educated review, but here's what I'll say for now.  The staff was absolutely friendly, and you can't say that about everywhere so...points for that.  It's pretty, and everything tasted as it should.  However, I'm not yet convinced that there's a point to their Special Method of brewing tea.  They make it sound mysterious and patented, but it seemed to me like it was a combination of making tea like cappuccino (miss you!), and brewing a lot of strong tea with a coffee press.  I don't think it's reinventing the wheel.   But, I'm all for tea businesses making it, and though super-strong tea doesn't float my boat, it might help to convert coffee people to tea lovers.  That's always good.    So I do hope that Press Tea stays around, and I want to go back in less balmy weather, order real tea, and make the best of it.

24 August 2013

Garibaldi v. Fruit Shortcake aka What Diet?

In which I pretend to be getting my recommended fruit servings for the day...

and continue to review British/Irish products...

I found Garibaldi biscuits in Myers of Keswick, but the Fruit Shortcake was in a nearby Astoria Key Food.  Score one point for Fruit Shortcake!

Still, Garibaldi is less crumby.  One for Garibaldi!

Hold up.  I hate competitions.  It's bad enough I've been choosing favorite books of the month; why should I subject my biscuits to such scrutiny?

Anyway, it's not really a matter of comparison.  Some items are better on a given day, depending on mood or craving.  These two types of biscuits are similar enough: they've both both curranty middles that are slightly sticky but not really messy.  The main difference is the Fruit Shortcake seems little more buttery in taste and Garibaldi is more oatey and crispy.  The Garibaldi gets nicknames like 'squashed fly biscuits', obviously because of its look, so if you're squeamish about that sort of thing, I'd go for the Fruit Shortcake instead.  But Garibaldi has an excellent dunkability, particularly in tea.  Not everyone goes in for dunking, I know.  I get grossed out when bits of biscuit break off and make a soggy mess at the bottom of a mug - blorging just thinking about it - but I love the dunked taste once in a while.  So, architecturally I know which to choose when I'm hankerin' for a dunkin'.

Either one will only be good if you like raisins.  If you don't I'd go with Jammie Dodgers.

23 August 2013

An Update is in Order...

So it's been a month since my last post, and in the past year or so my posts have been erratic. I thought I'd explain why, and maybe do a brief rundown of what I've been up to.

Don't worry, it won't get too personal!!!

In fact, the biggest problem has been technical.  I had a poor excuse for a laptop - actually it was a netbook - which became a test of patience to work with.  It was so slow!  At first I thought I just had a bad Internet connection at home, then I thought I needed to clean up my computer, but any steps I took in these directions did little or nothing to improve the speed.  It was just a bad computer to work with, plain and simple.  There were few alternatives, though.  My tablet, and my phone, are not ideal for writing more than a paragraph.  So I kept the posting to a minimum, or when I knew I could do little things around the house while pictures were loading.  Finally, the netbook got to a point where it took twenty minutes simply to open a document, and I knew it was beyond time for a replacement.  Having taken care of that, I hope to make a better showing from now on.

Then there's the organizational bit.  When I first started this blog - waaaaay back in 2005 - it was more of a mixed bag.  Then a few years ago I thought I'd narrow it down, mainly to a tea blog.  I started to compartmentalize, started other blogs, relegated certain things to other social media, and so on.  This was, and is, fine up to a point.  But then I started to over-think, I think.  When I wanted to write about something, I'd stress over whether it was appropriate to put it here, especially if it had nothing to do with tea.  Then I thought, well, when I have tea with friends do I spend the entire hour or so talking about tea?  Of course not!  So why can't Taking Tea With Catherine be about other things, once in a while?  After all, there's nobody paying me to write Only About Tea.  So maybe I'll lighten up a little.

Speaking of money - ugh - when you're paid to write, you tend to have deadlines.  Well, I don't have that problem, do I?  Consequently, sometimes I need to push myself.  I write for pleasure, and even if I did get paid, I hope I'd enjoy doing so, but as I'm my own boss on this site it's easy to procrastinate.  I have drafts that go back months, and someday I'll get to all of them.  (hopefully before they're completely out of date!)

So there's my reasons and excuses.  Now, the brief update.

There's not much happening worth remarking on.  I've been on Staycation this week, and had a scare when an upstairs apartment had a fire.  Thankfully my place wasn't damaged, but I feel for the neighbors, and it made the threat of fire real to me.  I still have the two cats, though Moofer is sick with kidney disease and I have to give him subcutaneous fluids on a daily basis.  That's a needle in his skin, by the way.  At first, he didn't seem to notice the needle, only the inconvenience of me holding him down for a few minutes.  Now he seems to feel it, so it's more of a struggle, but it's worth it if it keeps him alive and relatively healthy.  I don't have any travel plans, as I'm broke between a root canal, Moofer bills and the laptop.  Though I get the travel bug from time to time, I remind myself that some people never get to go away, and this is only a temporary setback.  Plus, and for me this is a big plus, I always have my books to take me away!

Now I'll leave you with some shots of the adventures of Moofer, Zenobia and the Bookshelves:

/Can I join you?

No. Go Away.
Who asked you?
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19 July 2013

Teatime Treats (aka What Diet?) Part One: Mr. Kipling

Like most people who go in for the whole tea experience, particularly the British kind, I have an incurable sweet tooth.  When I am drinking tea with an especially sugary accompaniment, I try, for the sake of my teeth, to keep my tea unsweetened.  Seriously, two root canals in the space of one decade!  Even with dental insurance the costs of both could have gone to the next visit across the pond.  Don't feel sorry for me - it's been less than a year since I was in London. And here's one of the sweetest memories of that week.

I'm a huge fan of grocery stores in other countries.  It's the closest you can get to actually going into people's homes - unless you're actually staying with them, and this time I was at a hotel.  Even though I live in Queens, New York, where you can find groceries of nearly every ethnicity, there's always going to be something you don't remember seeing in Key Food.  This time around, I saw these boxes of Mr Kipling in Sainsbury's and thought, well that's new. New to me, anyway.  The stomach being as it was, I opted for only one box of little treats: the Apple and Blackcurrant pies.  It sounded different enough, but not bizarre or too sugary.  There is a limit.  These little pies ended up being my sort-of breakfast in my hotel room, my telly-watching day-planning morning tea ritual.  Some days it was the only thing I'd have for hours.  And they were good.  Not a-MAZ-ing, but what I needed to start the day.  Plus, you don't see much blackcurrant in American treats, so it's a novelty.  

I was aware of the variety of Mr. Kipling at Sainsbury's and Tesco - there was a huge Tesco in Earl's Court, which was great for the locals but not at all charming to me - but I didn't want to overdo it.  I know I'm going in for the 'charming' London rather than its Shard-new reality, but I like little shops better than super-suburbian-market.  I had had plenty of sweet things after two afternoon teas, and miscellaneous cakes things I'd rather not admit to.  But once I was home for a number of months, the thought of all the possibilities kept occurring to me.  Fortunately, though you can't find Mr. Kipling just anywhere, Carry On Tea and Sympathy did not disappoint.  I bought the three boxes shown above, among other things.  This has inspired me to get moving on this new feature.  Now I can have an excuse/mission to try all the lovely cakes, cookies, whatever and treat it (pun) like a science.  Sort of.  Here's my thoughts on these items:

The jam tarts were my favorite.  Like Jammie Dodgers (which I will discuss in the near future), the jam portion is just sweet enough, and so English you can't help but sit down for a brief tea break.  I think for this reason the jam-filled items will be my preference.  The crust was just right too.

I'd heard of Battenberg cakes before, and can't say I've tried the genuine article so I won't compare these minis to them.  Honestly, the first one I tried was not entirely pleasant.  It was cloyingly sweet.  The icing has an almondy flavor, which actually improved after it was refrigerated.  I can't see buying this one again anytime soon.

Good dipped in tea, though - hi Freddie!

I can say the same for the French Fancies.  They just hurt my teeth.  The icing was not just sweet, it was too hard.  The little bit of cake inside was not worth it, and neither was the poor excuse for cream filling. 

Now, this brand tends to not be as processed as some I've come across in the U.S., but there's no reason to go into denial.  These are all better as small treats, almost candy.  I've decided to enjoy these in moderation, but it helps to be able to narrow them down to the ones I know I'll like.  And I can't do that unless I try them! 

28 June 2013

Favorite Book + Pairing: June 2013

It seems I've skipped a few months.  I thought about backtracking, but no, let's just start up here.

This was a difficult pick. I've only completed three books this month, and I loved all of them. So I'm going to do an honorable mention to the runners-up:

Shakespeare's Pub: A Barstool History of…
Shakespeare's Pub: A Barstool History of London As Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub - The George Inn by Pete Brown
Its title is a grab, even though it's a trick: nobody knows for sure if Shakespeare visited The George.  He could have, and so could Dickens.  Most of the pubs, or coaching inns as they were in Southwark have closed down, but even though it's been burned down and faced troubles, The George still stands.  Brown traces its origins, and how it has managed to survive, while including a history of inns and Southwark that I appreciate even more after wandering around the area in December.  You can't really pair tea with this book, so if you like ale, I guess I'd recommend that.  I don't like beer, period, but I have grown fond of pubs (and pub food.)

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
How have I never heard of this writer?  Then again, as the protagonist notes early in the story, there's tons of books being published every day.  You can't know all of them.

It's a detective story, with most of the work done from a hospital bed.  Alan Grant, an Inspector from Scotland Yard is laid up and extremely bored following some injuries on the job.  When an actress friend brings him pictures of faces from history (he's good at reading faces), he focuses on one that's supposed to be of Richard III.  The picture just doesn't seem to reflect one of a murderer of nephews.  So, with the help of a young American researcher, he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Princes of the Tower.  Loved it!  I'd pair either with a milky black tea (perhaps with some Lapsang Souchong, which seems to fit with any male detective-centered story for me,) or Harney & Sons' lovely Tower of London tea.  The author's last name is a pairing in itself....

and the winner is....

The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter 
The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter 
I've entered the realm of Whovians who read Doctor Who novels.  It was inevitable, I guess.  This is especially true now that I'm all caught up with the newest episodes (what's up with John Hurt?), and have to wait till November for the next chapter.  I'm sure it's worth the wait; still, I was surprisingly pleased with The Wheel of Ice.  You see, I'm not entirely familiar with the Second Doctor.  A good deal of his television episodes are lost, and frankly I don't like Doctor Who as much in black and white.  I've seen a few of his stories, but only one from the 60s - the rest were multiple Doctor stories.  Patrick Troughton was good, but not in my top five, but I did like Jamie, his companion, because, well, he runs around in a kilt and that's enough for me.  In the Wheel of Ice they spell out his Scottish accent, which can get annoying, but I went with it.  The other companion, Zoe, I knew nothing about before, and though I won't go to great efforts, I'm curious to see her as she was originally portrayed.  As it is, The Wheel of Ice was written recently, so the reader can see the characters portrayed in a better light technologically speaking.  Using the imagination to visualize a futuristic human colony on Saturn is a lot less shaky than what the BBC was working with nearly half a century ago. 

I'm not sure if I could recommend this book to non-Whovians, but it's my favorite of the month.  As for tea pairings, well, there's 'Blue People', so how about an iced blueberry green tea? 

Happy reading everyone! 

20 June 2013

Tea Gallery: Madame Ranson au Chat, Maurice Denis

This has all the makings of a Tea Gallery favorite: its very coloring is tea-like (black tea, no milk), and there's an affectionate kitty cat that bears a slight resemblance to Moofer giving his or her human a little nudge.  Madame's hair borders on O'Brien from Downton Abbey, though the sleeves of her dress make her seem like she might enjoy appearing on posters for Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.  I'm sure I'm stepping on all kinds of toes on that, but the styles do blend somewhat to the only slightly trained eye.

I am trying to increase my knowledge of Art History, beyond the Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists and Dutch Masters.  I wouldn't put myself in the category of Expert for these either.  Anyway, I read up on these things and visit museums for my own pleasure, so I can move at my own pace.  It's the most serene type of learning.

Why yes, Madame, I will have another.

07 June 2013


Here is another discovery found at a routine visit to a nearby grocery store.  I guess the makers of this brand needed us to know it's a tea product.  Well, they saw me coming.  There were 4 or 5 different flavors available, but I stayed true to form and picked the one that had 'London' in it.  

Now it's not like I've never had tea-flavored ice cream before.  Green tea ice cream, something that in the past I could only find in Asian shops (and Thai Pavilion), is now part of the Haagen
Dazs line, as well as the Chai varieties that are popping up everywhere.  But who can resist the adorable teabag logo - certainly not this failed dieter!  Yeah, I promised myself I'd lay off ice cream for a while.  The problem is, though, there's just so many things I can avoid.  At this point I have to stay off coffee, as its effects are truly unhealthy to my nerves (I'm not being a melodramatic Mrs. Bennett, I promise you.)  So asking me to lay off ice cream as well is just unfair. 

It might have been kinder to my wallet: this pint came in at a whopping $5.99.  That's madness.  Talenti Gelato, which is unbelievable and my go-to for what to bring to gatherings, is at least a dollar less in the same store.  Tea-rrific(!) had better live up to its name!

So, it did but it didn't.  It was good, of course it was.  Still, it wasn't as Earl Grey-ish as it could have been.  I've had Earl Grey ice cream before, so I do have something to measure it up to.  Also, for all its calories, it wasn't nearly as creamy as it should have been.  Again, it wasn't horrible, but I'd lop off at least 2 bucks before making the promise of its name.  I managed to polish off half a pint before I came to this conclusion.  What bathing suit weather? 

It is my duty as Tea Queen of Astoria to try each flavor, but I'll take my time.  Six dollars doesn't grow on trees, and it's summer movie season.  Also, I should not try this tea in the evening.  My stomach was okay but the caffeine kept me up.  Oh the perils of living the Tea Life!