I am a consumer who likes to know as much about the products I purchase as possible, including the origin of the item. Name brands are my preference, in particular for a quick purchase, as inherently, there is a built-in trust factor for me that the company has processes in place which does most of the scrutiny about the quality of the ingredient for me. I suppose this trust has been ingrained in me from my years of working for a global company whose guiding principle was focused on “quality.”
This “trust” principle holds true for me about how I feel about where I shop too. Dean & Deluca is a food, wine, and kitchen store that simply offers fabulous products, and an array that is stunning. Whether cheeses, chocolates, sugars, salts, olive oils, spices, or teas….when they offer a product, you get choice! Lots of choices to choose from. Rarely does one find a wide selection of brands of quality teas to choose from in one location. You may find 75 different flavors of one brand of tea in a shop…but usually not many brands with a nice variety of flavors. On my recent trip to the Napa Valley, this is the tea selection offered at Dean & Deluca in St. Helena. It was double of what I saw last time there. Many were French brands, all were high quality. I did take a few home with me to try. One brand I hadn’t tried before was TWG…they had a New York City Breakfast Tea that I purchased to send to a dear friend who has just gotten into tea and loves NYC…
The Kusmi display was expansive, the most Kusmi I’ve seen anywhere. I’ve recently gotten into their teas through the variety my sister-in-law brought to me from her recent trip to Paris…seems their U.S. marketing is in full gear 🙂
An expansive tea selection at Dean and Deluca…plus a Betty teapot … ahhh
Dean & Deluca is not only serious about their tea selection…right next to those racks is the most interesting plethora of tea cookies and biscuits too. I love a good oat cookie and they had several.
As I was leaving, my heart tugged as I saw they carried the exact “Betty” teapot which I used as the model for my book cover…which has the double meaning of reminding me of my Mom, Betty… a heartwarming shopping experience this day.
Wine tastings and tea tastings parallel each other in several ways. Last week, while visiting the Napa Valley…we explored a few wineries. I got to choose which ones this time. Rudd Oakville Estate Winery was on my list. I had heard wonderful things about their wines; however, the main reason I wanted to go was because Rudd also owns Dean & Deluca Gourmet Food Stores, as well as, Oakville Grocers and Press Restaurant in St. Helena. I love visiting each of these fine food locales, thus was interested in going to the “source” and tasting their wines. The tasting was consistent with the rest of this sumptuous empire – offering truly quality service and products. It was fun, interesting, peaceful, and private. A nice combination. After perusing the Rudd Estate grounds and tranquil gardens, we sat down to a tasting which included this well-thoughtout line-up of flavorful morsels to try with sips of their wines.
While pairing perfectly with the wines, this platter reminded me how much I enjoy a charcuterie platter paired with tea. I first experienced this type of tea time menu some years ago on a business trip to the Chateau Whistler, Whistler Canada. One day I had afternoon tea by myself, while the rest of our large party was off doing other things. The Chateau called this tea an Alpine Tea…it included bits of meats, cheeses, fruits, and black tea served with a slice of apple strudel. My mind was “opened” as I had primarily had English tea menus before this experience.
This tea turned out to be the inspiration for the format of my book. It got me thinking about the global reach of tea and tea time and realizing that many tea customs are deeply rooted in the history, foods, teas and practices of that culture. This Alpine Tea motivated me to research tea customs from a global perspective and sent me on a seven year journey resulting in Tea With Betty, the tea manual.
Charcuterie board for two…at my house with what was in my pantry and fridge
My version of this Alpine Tea (or charcuterie board) was a result of me raiding my refrigerator one afternoon before my weekly writing meeting. I came up with several savory bites. What I love about this type of tea time is it’s simplicity … you can make it as complex or easy as you like…this one was primarily “assembly only, right out the the fridge.”
Many of my afternoon teas are as simple as assembling a small platter like this. Often I have a petite brownie, cupcake, or cookie to include that I’ve held back from a prior baking and frozen.
For a “drop in” tea with friends…this is a satisfying offering and nice to converse over. Use your imagination as to what to combine from what you have on hand.
Years ago, a brilliant friend expressed concern to me about the dumbing down of humankind. Advertising was getting more and more crass, news more sensational versus serious, products mass produced. Retailers became more price focused versus quality focused, primarily because consumers seemed to only care about the price. Well, she was right. Except that in the midst of this mass of mediocrity being spewed at us, the rise of the niche marketer, the niche manufacturer, and the artisan has emerged…and they have emerged strong! Many of them achieving almost rock star status in their field.
The internet and ability to quickly search for whatever it is you desire has been an incredible boon to most of us, (it’s how I’ve discovered much of the tea I prefer.) Where brick and mortar mass merchandisers used to scare me because they offer so little choice in many categories, I am now comforted to know that for most things, I can still find variety via a bit of searching. This week, in Dean & Deluca (fine food, wine, and kitchen store), I came across stunning, artistic chocolates which identify their makers/chocolatier’s names on each tag. Have you heard of Christopher Elbow? How about Chris Kollar? These are two of the handmade, artisanal chocolatier’s products I was so impressed by this week, and since have seen their names and products in other fine stores.
I am thankful for artisanal master crafters of products who have such a passion for what they do. I am grateful that they take a risk and give product development their all. Hurray for the artisan – bread makers, cheese makers, farmers, grist millers, wine makers, single estate tea growers….and on and on. In this global society, we need the mass produced and the handmade artisanal goods to survive and to thrive. In a way, it’s just one huge circle of a production cycle going from big to small, meeting the needs of all.
Tied to the rise of the artisan is the advent of the fresh, local market and shops that are popping up. San Francisco’s Ferry Building inspired many of these markets. The Mix in Costa Mesa, California is one such place (mentioned in last week’s blog). This week, we were told to check out Oxbow Public Market in Napa, Ca. I will post about it soon, they had quality artisan shops featuring Tillerman Teas, artisan coffees, Hog Island Oysters and much much more…all individual “mini” shops featuring single maker, high quality, artisanal items. While internet shopping is a good thing, there is nothing like being there, touching, smelling, experiencing the products. These new shopping experiences actually feel like a “throwback” to the days of old when you walked on Main street to the butcher shop, then to tea shop, then the cheese shop…it’s kind of like going “back to the future.”
This week…in light of Valentine’s Day…the featured artisan category from me is the chocolate maker…check these photos out…the product is even better than they look – I did some quality control checking while scoping out these guys 🙂 and I know from recent experience attempting to learn how to make beautiful chocolates that this is a true art, skill, and craft – with a bit of science involved too.
From the Vintage Inn, Yountville, Napa Valley, California – afternoon tea
Dean & Deluca – fine foods, wines, and kitchen wares – St. Helena, California
We got a tip from a pastry chef we met to check out the fabulous chocolates at Kollar Chocolates, Yountville…Chef and Chocolatier, Chris Kollar and Naomi Pasztor own this gorgeous, tantalizing chocolate shop which boasts a demonstration window.
O.K…. I promise, this is the last post about chocolate for awhile…next I’m taking you to the Bale Grist Mill in St. Helena, Ca…where artisanal organic grains are ground in front of you. I will be trying out some new recipes for quick breads and scones with the grains I purchased…buckwheat, polenta, spelt and more.
In the meantime, I am enjoying a cup of assam tea with one of those little rectangular dark chocolate ganache tarts right now… mmmmm
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Guess I’ve been on a bit of a chocolate roll the past two weeks. I now have my sister completely ‘hooked’ on Kusmi’s spicy chocolate tea…and she liked my darling little one-touch teapot so much that I lent it to her (but am surprising her with one of her own in green that I’m picking up next week). My handmade chocolates from Chef Katie Averill’s class were well received and disappeared in a hurry. Now I am on the hunt to buy my own baking and decorating chocolates for a couple very special cakes I’ve been recruited to make in early April.
A few months ago I wrote about Surfas, a gourmet food and culinary supply store located near Los Angeles. It is a food lover’s delight. They recently opened a location in Orange County…much much closer to where I live (hurray).
Surfas carries an abundant supply of baking accessories and ingredients including dozens of types of baking chocolates, much of it the coveted Valrhona brand (oh, here I go again, going on about chocolate). There are chocolates in every shape and size…large blocks to tiny little pearls and several curled offerings. You can purchase 100% dark, bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk, and white chocolates. I know where I’ll be going to pick up what I need next month.
Surfas is located in a design, furnishing, and contemporary food shopping center.
Surfas…Surfas sidewalk…nearby…the Mix with the Seventh Tea Bar
My girlfriends and I were done shopping and eating and going to head our separate ways when Jean said…”oh, let’s run into The Mix and check out what’s going on.” She had heard they had an interesting coffee bar called Portola Coffee Lab. The first thing I saw upon entering was this cool tea shop called The Seventh Tea Bar. “The Seventh Tea Bar design can best be described as Victorian Punk, where old-school tea has a modern edge.” We will most definitely be making a trip there soon to partake of their tea menu…they do a Gongfu tea tasting and offer tea menu items for individuals and groups that fulfill the most commonly followed tea times from around the world. The teas I sampled were perfectly prepared and their baristas knew what they were talking about. The quality was superb.
My friend Jean offered to buy us each a dark chocolate truffle while I was sampling teas from the “tap”… I had to say “yes”…these were velvety smooth, decadently dark, and as the tea barista said as she sold them to us…”watch out for the explosion of cocoa as you take you first bite”…she was right. We each had cocoa powder all over us and thoroughly relished every morsel as we wiped away the residue.
I can’t wait to go back and experience a full, piping hot tea experience with tea foods. This contemporary tea bar is just the kind of place where tea is the star.
12 Week Challenge Final Update: Well the numbers are in and…..drum roll …. they are inconclusive. “Bummer,” I say. Actually, I made good progress, but am still not where I need to be. My doctor and I decided that I was doing so well though, that I should keep doing what I’m doing for another 12 weeks. We anticipate hitting the target at that point if all goes in the direction it is currently heading. So. I am extending my 12 week challenge another 12 weeks. Will update you occasionally as this has really helped to keep me on track (as my husband pointed out to me when I told him I was tempted to just say “everything was fine and I was done w/ the challenge.”) So whether you like it or not, you are inspiring me and are my accountability team. I will update now and then at the end of my posts. Thanks for your continued support with this ongoing challenge. New habits are formed and progress is made!