What’s Been Going On? Relaxing, Reading, & Drinking Tea (of course)…

The past month just flew by for me… so, while my posts are normally singularly focused on a specific topic…this one will be a “mish-mosh” of sharing and catching up…and yes, we will end up with some tea talk too.

What’s been going on? Relaxing on the beach, reading food history books, and consuming plenty of tea…

Life's A Beach...in Carlsbad Ca. this summer...my spot is the one on the far left...

Life’s A Beach…in Carlsbad Ca. this summer…my spot is the one on the far left…

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We just returned from our annual family vacation to the beach in North San Diego County.  It’s just sooooo enjoyable having sustained time with the family. This was our tenth year with lots of sun, sand, boogie boarding, Uno Mod ( the new favorite game for us), and Auntie V. bought the boys their own Monopoly game.  Each morning, just a short walk from our condo, my favorite French pressed tea latte from It’s A Grind, the local’s coffee shop, was waiting for me.

My French Press Latte...ready to be "plunged" by one of my grandsons (they liked pushing down the leaves with the press button).  This is a comfortable, cool, local coffee / tea shop...lots of locals...we are locals for one week a year :-)

My French Press Latte…ready to be “plunged” by one of my grandsons (they liked pushing down the leaves with the press button). This is a comfortable, cool, local coffee / tea shop…lots of locals…we are locals for one week a year 🙂

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On the literary front…I’ve been fully engaged and enlightened by reading two books on the history of food.  They are literally changing my view of eating…both books were purchased from the famous, city-block sized Powell’s Books from our Portland trip last spring.  Am so glad that I have the actual books (not e-book format) so I can go back and forth and easily re-read portions.  Check these out!  The question of “what’s for dinner?” will never be the same (or simple) after finishing these well-crafted and researched books.

Outstanding food books...Reading Empires of Food is truly enlightening as the authors chronicle the fate of people and societies for the past 12,000 years through foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate...and offers devastating insights as to what's to come... Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, a James Beard award winning book, is engrossing and makes you think about the politics, perils and pleasures of eating...both make the question "what's for dinner" not such a simple answer ...

Outstanding food books…Reading Empires of Food is truly enlightening as the authors chronicle the fate of people and societies for the past 12,000 years through foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate…and offers devastating insights as to what’s to come… Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, a James Beard award winning book, is engrossing and makes you think about the politics, perils and pleasures of eating…both make the question “what’s for dinner” not such a simple answer …

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A gift from a friend…sometimes, friends surprise you with their thoughtfulness…as my exercise buddy did last month.  She knows I love tea, and she loves Tea With Betty, so when she and her husband were downsizing, they  decided that this beautiful Chinese tea set should come to me.  I am looking forward to serving tea from it and inviting her over…a dim sum tea with some of our mutual friends…when the weather cools a bit.

I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious looking, Chinese box...

I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious looking, Chinese box…

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I was handed this beautiful, somewhat mysterious Chinese box...lifting the lid exposed this stunning tea set...finely painted with a story I will attempt to figure out on the pot and cups...each are meticulously and finely detailed...the cups are double walled so easy to handle...just lovely.

Lifting the lid exposed this stunning tea set…finely painted with a story I will attempt to figure out on the pot and cups…each are meticulously and finely detailed…the cups are double walled so easy to handle…just lovely.

 

Lastly, exciting news? Tea Classes are coming.  I will be teaching Tea 101 classes at the Spice Merchants in Laguna Beach in October.  Next week I will share  information on Spice Merchants.  We plan to do several tea classes – specific to various tea types, countries of origin and brewing methods.  Watch for the details coming soon!

Leaf & Kettle…Fine Tea Delivered with Finesse!

Leaf & Kettle Tea Shop...Beautiful, contemporary, over 100 teas waiting for you to taste...well, maybe just three at a time...excellent and knowledgeable staff too.

Leaf & Kettle Tea Shop…Beautiful, contemporary, over 100 teas waiting for you to taste…we tasted four and will be going back soon.  It is an excellent experience with a knowledgeable, engaging staff, displays of gorgeous tea ware set in a clean, fresh, upscale, yet accessible, environment.  Located in Del Mar, California

Occasionally I literally “run into” a fine tea shop. Such was the case with Leaf & Kettle Fine Teas and Teaware in Del Mar, Ca.

Several weeks ago,  we trekked down to a  restaurant/bar in Del Mar, North San Diego area, to   hear live music from one of my husband’s favorite up and coming artists. Upon leaving the restaurant, I spotted this cool looking tea shop.  As it was late, the shop was closed, so we put it on our agenda to check it out soon.  We did, and what a treat. This contemporary tea shop…with tasting bar and over 100 fine teas was certainly my kind of tea house.  Sometimes I get in my own little world of tea and forget that there is this vast population of tea fanatics like me out there.  This shop was the epitome of what I enjoy about going to a tea shop.  We got to sit at this beautiful wooden bar and try four teas of our choosing while engaging in a lively, dynamic and informative dialogue with Leaf & Kettle’s tea smart manager.  The tea preparation was precise, ritual-like using Gaiwan lidded steeping cups, and an invigorating experience.  It was also fun.

Leaf & Kettle tasting using a gaiwan lidded cup and tiny tasting bowls made for a special experience

Leaf & Kettle tasting using a Gaiwan lidded cup and tiny tasting bowls made for a special experience – o.k., and yes I did go home with some of those darling little tasting cups and the wooden tray/saucer

 

About LEAF & KETTLE – they state:
“We are dedicated to providing our customers with a wide selection of high quality teas and tisanes backed by superior customer care and a passion for excellent service. We purchase in limited quantities to ensure all stocks are sold through and remain fresh. Season-specific teas, especially white and green teas, are always from the current harvest year unless otherwise noted.

One of our favorite aspects of tea is that it can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. We don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong” way to enjoy it. Some people would not dream of adding milk or sugar to their tea, while others have formed entire tea drinking rituals around the addition of these items. We believe you should enjoy tea in any way you see fit. We love it all and usually prepare our style of tea based on our mood, the weather, time of day, or how much time we have. On cold winter mornings, piping hot tea steeped in a pot is such a treat. For others, they may prefer a nice Wuyi Oolong with its dark, sweet roasted character best coaxed from a traditional Gaiwan (lidded cup). On a hot day, a freshly shaken glass of iced tea always hits the spot. Consider all of the different tea cultures around the world: tea taken with milk and sugar throughout the UK, the spicy sweet Masala Chai of India, the refreshing sweetened mint green tea from Morocco. And these are just a few! There are countless other ways tea is enjoyed around the world, all of them valid. So, establish your own favorite rituals and take your tea however you most enjoy it. That’s what we do!”

And I will say, they do it well and we came home with superior teas that I hadn’t tried before.

Photos also depict Casey, our tea barista, pouring my tasting of two Japanese green teas and, my favorite of the day,  Iron Goddess Reserve Oolong…I went home with 4 ounces of this well-balanced tea which was perfect after the lunch we came from.  It tasted warm, sweet, creamy with a slight hint of maple (one of my favorite flavors)…fresh, light and yummy at the same time.  My husband went for a large iced tea to go also…and the freshly steeped tea, shaken in ice and poured over ice is just stunning.  I now do it that way at home with a martini shaker that I hadn’t used in years.  The inside of the shop has beautiful tea ware.  Will share more of the tea ware later as I did pick up my new favorite everyday cup from them that day too.  All in all, a great tea day!!!  Thanks Casey and Leaf & Kettle!  We’ll be back.

We tasted and purchased several teas.  My favorite was No. 49 Iron Goddess Reserve Oolong...we also took home a fruity tisane I would be infusing for an  iced tea tasting class...it was called Island Tradewinds - a blend of coconut, kiwi and ripe cherries.  Light and refreshing...

We tasted and purchased several teas. My favorite was No. 49 Iron Goddess Reserve Oolong (pictured above)…we also took home a fruity tisane (pictured below) which I would be infusing for an iced tea tasting class the following week…it was called Island Tradewinds – a blend of coconut, kiwi and ripe cherries. Light and refreshing…everyone in the class loved it for its mild, yet distinctively fresh fruit flavor and it’s simply beautiful pink blush color.  My husband tried a handful of the dried fruit – which prompted a few of the students to do the same, they claimed it tasted similar to a trail mix.

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The Jasmine Pearl Tea Shop…more of Portland, Oregon

While in Portland, we tasted tea in several tea shops.  Each was unique.  While we just loved the Steven Smith Teas and Tasting as posted here, The Jasmine Pearl, an eclectic, very “Portlandish” feeling shop was another find.  The proprietors were quite free with their tastings…literally…they suggested we choose a few teas, then steeped them up for us, gong fu style…no charge.  The Jasmine Pearl is a bit tricky to find…but they have cute little signs along the roadsides pointing you in the right direction.

The Jasmine Pearl, in Old Portland...on the fringe of a residential area ...follow the signs and you will get there

The Jasmine Pearl, in Old Portland…on the fringe of a residential area …follow the signs and you will get there

They offer a significant variety of teas…the ambiance leans towards Asian, yet is very “Portlandlike”, meaning eclectic and relaxed.  We tried two of their featured, single estate, rare Japanese Green teas…the preparation was meticulous and enjoyable…the teas really high quality.   I am not a huge fan of highly vegetal tasting Japanese teas; however, we found the Tsuyuhikari Sencha to be to our liking.

Tasting two Japanese rare green teas...gong fu tasting style...a beautiful service...we chose the Tsuyukikari Sencha...really green but not overpoweringly vegetal

Tasting two Japanese rare green teas…gong fu tasting style…a beautiful service…we chose the Tsuyukikari Sencha…really green but not overpoweringly vegetal

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The Jasmine Pearl has a huge variety of Puerh’s…the  fermented tea cake.  We didn’t taste Puerh’s on this visit, yet their selection was stunning.  In future posts, I plan on exploring this interesting tea…cake…a truly old method of handling the tea leaf.

Puerh Cakes at The Jasmine Pearl, Portland, Orego...a gorgeous selection

Puerh Cakes at The Jasmine Pearl, Portland, Orego…a gorgeous selection

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Their website showed they have a large selection of hand-made tea cups/pots…they did not disappoint.  I could have brought home several but decided to come home to order and not lug them home (I am getting a bit lazy about that…love to come home and order, have them shipped to my door).

Hand-made tea cups...artisanal, beautiful

Hand-made tea pots and cups…artisanal, beautiful

offering an enormous tea selection, this photo depicts less than half of what was available.

Half the tea selection at The Jasmine Pearl

Half the tea selection at The Jasmine Pearl

Located in Old Portland,next to the coolest antique hardware store…

Old Portland...hardware store, sits next door to The Jasmine Pearl...

Old Portland…hardware store, sits next door to The Jasmine Pearl…

I did bring home a small tasting cup from The Jasmine Pearl…am getting ready to steep my own cup of Tsuyuhikari Sencha after finishing this post…something about drinking Japanese green tea seems sooooo healthy.  And from petite cups makes me feel ritualistic and serene while doing so.

My tasting cup...and favorite Bodum, silicon striped petite cup.

My tasting cup…and favorite Bodum, silicon striped petite cup.

 

Drink tea…It’s really good for you.

Time to Celebrate “Tea Gone Cold”

I don’t know who comes up with these designations; however, tomorrow, June 10, is National Iced Tea Day in the U.S. and parts of Canada; therefore, I decided to celebrate by pulling out my brand new iced tea pitcher. For the past 30 years, I’ve pretty much used the same Princess house clear pitcher for my iced teas. But now I’ve gotten myself a fancy infuser model :-).   Spice Merchants in Laguna Beach carries a nice variety of iced tea infusers and tea pots.  I love it and it works well for hot tea too.  It’s a good size, holds 68 ounces of fluid, which makes plenty for a gathering.  When making iced tea, use double the amount of tea leaves as you would for a hot cup.  Once steeped, remove the leaves, let the strong tea cool, add equal parts pure, fresh water.  Chill. Add ice as you serve the tea.  This makes for the best iced tea.

For Life Brand Iced Tea Jug with a basket infuser that easily lifts out once tea has steeped.  Lid fits tight and it can be refrigerated...

For Life Brand Iced Tea Jug with a basket infuser that easily lifts out once tea has steeped. Lid fits tight and it can be refrigerated…

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In sunny So. Cal., iced tea in consumed in massive quantities.  In fact, over 90% of tea consumed in the United States is the iced variety.  It is said that iced tea was discovered at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair when on a very hot day, a tea merchant (Richard Blechynden), found that no one wanted his hot tea.  He borrowed ice from another vendor, poured his tea over it and there you have it, iced tea discovered.  While I believe this story to be true, and this certainly may have created the tipping point in exposing a broad population to the concept of iced tea, it seems that sweet iced tea existed in the American South long before 1904.   I read many civil war books and there’s definitely sweet iced tea being consumed and that was the middle 1800’s.  In any case, a freshly brewed jug of iced tea is my favorite thirst quencher…unsweetened for me.  Our Southern relatives call that “yankee style iced tea.”   If you are sweetening your tea, make a simple syrup by bring equal parts cane sugar and fresh water to a boil in  a saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Cool it and you now have a sugar that is already dissolved as it hits your iced tea.

My absolute favorite iced tea away from home is Starbucks unsweetened black iced tea…shaken over ice.  It is just sooooo good.

Starbucks iced tea...shaken...delicious, unsweetened for me.

Starbucks iced tea…shaken…delicious, unsweetened for me.

Drink freshly prepared, whole-leaf steeped iced teas.  They are good for you.  And if you order iced tea in a restaurant and get something that tastes “off putting”…send it back.  It’s probably old.  Iced tea should be made fresh daily!

 

Steven Smith Teamaker…Quality, Whimsy & The Most Excellent Tasting Room

I’ve been noticing Steven Smith Teas the past couple years and had recently received their sampler as a gift from a friend…every time I steeped a variety, I was impressed with the beautiful quality and flavor of whatever I tried.  So, this tasting room was on my list of “must see” stops on our Portland, Oregon trip.  Awesome quality teas, cool packaging, and an excellent tasting room is what we found…Smith Teas was my kind of place…”just my cup of tea” (pun intended)…as well as, was my husband and nephew’s favorite tea stop too…it’s contemporary, yet exudes and acknowledges the historic Asian and Indian world view roots of where great teas reside.  Steven Smith, tea maker, wonderfully crafts small batches of tea in his Portland, Oregon tea atelier using fine ingredients picked at their peak.

Steven Smith Teamaker, Tasting Room, Portland, Oregon...on a quiet little street

Steven Smith Teamaker, Teaworks & Tasting Room, Portland, Oregon…located on a quiet little street

 

Steven Smith Teamaker Tasting Room...small brick building located on a tree lined small side street

Steven Smith Teamaker Tasting Room and Tea Atelier…small brick building located on a tree lined small side street

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The tasting room is inviting with a small tea bar, as well as, a few tables for tasting.  There was a clear view of the manufacturing equipment and product displayed in an accessible and not overwhelming way (as some tea rooms almost offer too much variety and product for my taste).  Not here, everything was just perfect. And why not, Steven Smith is no newbie to the tea world…his resume includes starting another small tea company with friends in the the 70’s…called Stash Tea…sold it, then later started another small tea company you might have heard of called Tazo Tea (yes, the one Starbucks bought from him)…then after going to France to live the good life for a few years…he came back to Portland and his love for tea and voila…we now have potentially the coolest tea company around…Steven Smith …this guy knows what he is doing.

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Inside the tasting room...a small tea bar, a hallway leading to the tea maker's workroom

Inside the tasting room…a small tea bar and a hallway leading to the tea maker’s workroom

Our tasting…

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Our tasting...we chose four teas to taste.  Their preparation and presentation was the really nice.  We tried a light green (Dragon well), an Oolong and two black yes...they have cards for each to explain what they are, their nuances and origin...just beautifully done.  The guys in running the tasting were knowledgable, friendly, and efficient too...well trained and loved their tea.

Our tasting…we chose four teas to taste. Their preparation and presentation was excellent. We tried a light green (Dragon well), an Oolong and two black tea varietals…they have cards for each to explain what they are, their nuances and origin…just beautifully done. The guys running the tasting were knowledgable, friendly, and efficient too…well trained and loved their tea.

Not only are the teas of the most excellent quality, their packaging is really neat.  If you go to their site, you will get the sense of whimsy and lighthearted fun Steven Smith and his team of tea makers has in numbering their products and creating descriptions of why the number and best way to consume.  They openly disclose their rationale for each box style and state that you are paying more for the packaging…which we bought as the boxes are so cool 🙂

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Steven Smith Packaging...string boxes hold 15 whole leaf individual bags..

Steven Smith Packaging…string boxes hold 15 whole leaf individual sachets as do the Tip Top boxes inspired by the Crayola Box..

They offer just a small display of  tea equipment and I loved it all…particularly the glass teapot…everything is tastefully merchandised

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Tea making accessories display tastefully...I love the clear pot with stainless steel infuser basket...clean ...and the tasting cup was perfect

Tea making accessories are tastefully displayed…I love the clear pot with stainless steel infuser basket…clean looking and easy to keep clean …and the tasting cup was perfect.  Their merchandising area also had tins and bags for sale with whole leaf varieties…they would pack up whatever amount you desired too

Every single eating establishment we went to in Portland proudly offered two things…Stumptown Coffee and Steven Smith Teas.  We loved every cup, along with the whimsical sayings on each package ..such as No. 39 Fez…says “best when shared with friends while lounging on pillows”

Each number has a rationale (go to their site where each is explained).  It’s worth the read. I would have liked to have been in the room as each tea description was developed, that must have been fun.  Again, these guys know what they are doing!   We’ll be back to Steven Smith … and my teapot is in the mail.

Drink tea…it’s good for you and your being!

No. 39 Fez

No. 39 Fez

 

 

 

Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Portland, Oregon – Part One

We are back from a delightful vacation to Portland, Oregon.  Now, here is a city that not only boasts supporting local, organic, & green…they live it!  Portlanders have great pride in their weirdness, eclectic environment, and artistic nature.  Whether music, art, books, or food…serious greatness is exhibited in each area.  From the largest guitar store in the West...Apple One Music, to the largest independent book store, Powell’s, to having an incredibly thriving amount of fabulous award winning chefs, restaurants, bakeries and tea shops…Portland is THE place.  Below is a quick photo journal of our week in Portland…a preview of sorts, as I will be doing more posts about the food and teas we fell in love with up in the lush, green Pacific Northwest.  And there may be a photo or two of the cutest puppy inserted here and there too 🙂 (my nephew’s 6 month old boxer, SeeSee)…

Beautiful greenery abounds in Portland...I am envious of my nephew's Hostas' which I can't grow in our desert climate

Beautiful greenery abounds in Portland…I am envious of my nephew’s Hostas which I can’t grow in our desert climate

Greenery everywhere

 

Lots of greenery ... photo from our downtown Portland hotel window

Lots of greenery … photo from our downtown Portland hotel window

A book find from Powell’s Bookstore

Check out Powell's book store, the largest independent book store in the West...multiple stories and a block long...a fabulous section on food and food writing...my husband spotted and liked this book ... Eat Ink...

Check out Powell’s book store, the largest independent book store in the West…multiple stories and a block long…a fabulous section on food and food writing…my husband spotted and liked this book … Eat Ink…

Tea bars I wish were near me…

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Tea Shops in Portland...each offered a different feel...we tasted many stunning teas... Jasmine Pearl Tea Shop, Smith Tea (Steven Smith Teamaker), Townshend's Tea, and Stash Tea Bar...will go into detail on each in a future post

Tea Shops in Portland…each offered a different feel…we tasted many stunning teas… Jasmine Pearl Tea Shop, Smith Tea (Steven Smith Teamaker), Townshend’s Tea, and Stash Tea Bar…will go into detail on each in a future post

Sweets anyone?

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Portland & Sweets...bakeries, chocolates, donuts ... just spectacular...Blue Star donuts has been featured on the Cooking Network, Jones cupcakes are just delicious, Cacao chocolate shop offered a lovely darjeeling tea with the coolest paper steeping bag ... it's tough to be a diabetic in this town :-(     I had to pace myself...

Portland & Sweets…bakeries, chocolates, donuts … just spectacular...Blue Star donuts has been featured on the Cooking Network, Jones cupcakes are just delicious, Cacao chocolate shop offered a lovely darjeeling tea with the coolest paper steeping bag … it’s tough to be a diabetic in this town 🙁 I had to pace myself…

Fabulous food and chefs – French Bistro, Cocotte  where I had chicken confit and poached egg (mmm), next, recent James Beard award winner, chef Naomi Pomeroy at Beast, then, possibly the best meal of all was at Natural Selection where chef Aaron Woo truly wooed us with vegan and vegetarian dishes which “wowed” all and lastly, Nostrana was wonderful where chef Cathy Whim has put together a beautiful restaurant with excellent service and foods.

IMG_1864 IMG_1855 IMG_1811 IMG_1793 IMG_1516 IMG_1501 IMG_1486 IMG_1417Puppy love…Puppy love…Puppy love…

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And then there is the cutest  6 month old white boxer, named SeeSee (our nephew's new pup) who we got to go to the dog park with and for tea and pastry ...she is a "people magnet"...everyone wanted to pet her, she looks a bit like a petite pony with skinny long legs and big paws

And then there is the cutest 6 month old white boxer, named SeeSee (our nephew’s new pup) who we got to go to the dog park with and for tea and pastry …she is a “people magnet”…everyone wanted to pet her, she looks a bit like a petite pony with skinny long legs and big paws.

Portland is a delightful place to visit…we spent most of our time downtown…next time we will get out into the countryside, coast and maybe even try a little of the famous Oregon Pinot Noirs…but for me…their food and tea scene is the best I’ve found in one place…

We drank a lot of tea…and loved it all.