Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tea & Chocolate

Last Saturday we held another favorite shop event: Tea and Chocolate Pairing.  What could be better than that?!
We tasted 6 different teas along side 6 scrumptious chocolates.  I had paired tea and chocolates which I thought would coordinate best, and from previous experience expected to find how each chocolate enhanced each tea.  We were delightfully surprised to find the tea enhanced the chocolate as much as the reverse! 
One of the pairings, an intense orange infused dark was mated with our orange blossom oolong.  The oolong is not exactly a flavored tea, but has subtle hints of orange from orange peel.  When we sipped and nipped these side by side--WOW!  The orange in the tea was so beautifully enhanced that we were all amazed.  And then, upon tasting the chocolate again, the orange flavors positively resonated with each other.  What an eye opener!
I'd experienced a similar reaction at the previous tasting where an intense dark was paired with a Keemun. I tasted the Keemun--yes, the familiar hint of ripe red grape with backrgound hints of cocao.  But after the chocolate, with my next sip of Keemun, it was as if a whole bunch of grapes burst in my mouth!  Simply put: scrumptious. 
If you have never realized what wonderful mates tea and chocolate can be, you simply must try this enlightening experience for yourself.  General rule of thumb: pair lighter chocolates with lighter teas, such as white chocolate with white tea, light milk chocolates with light greens, and darker chocolates with heavier black teas.  You are sure to be pleasantly surprised.
I have to admit, we were all sporting a bit of caffeine buzz after all that chocolate and tea, supporting the idea that it was an eye opening experience in more ways than one!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kimono Event with Japanese Sencha, and Fruit Sushi

Kimono Event with Kimono Expert Kerry Porter
October 3rd was a special day at the shop with our much anticipated kimono event guided by Kimono expert Kerry Porter.  She has studied Kimono and Japanese culture for many years, and shared with us lots of interesting details on both.  She showed off the many beautiful kimonos in her collection, most of which are made of high quality silks.  As gorgeous as the kimonos themselves, were the exquisite obis or the thick sash that ties elaborately at the waist of every kimono.  Guests also enjoyed 3 different Japanese teas: traditional Japanese Sencha, Genmaicha, aka Popcorn Tea because of the toasted rice blended in with sencha, which when it pops open looks like baby popcorns, and Kyoto Cherry Rose Sencha, and Fruit Sushi, aka Fruishi.
Photos below:  Some of our guests enjoying the fruishi and other dessert goodies served with their tea.  Next, Elaine with stunning Japanese fan.  Third photo, this was an opportunity for other ladies to show off their Kimonos.  Fourth photo, Karen modelling a lovely patterned green silk kimono with coordinating orange obi.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Cheers of Tea

I walked into the shop today and almost every table was filled with old familiar faces.  I was struck by the moment, and couldn't help saying, "Well!  I see the gang's all here!", which brought a chuckle from the crowd.  Carolyn was there, as she is every day or quite nearly so. And as a testament to her addiction to having lunch with us, she'd broken her finger the night before, and had yet to go to the emergency room to have it looked at!  When we said she should get there right away, she looked at us like we were crazy and said, "Well, I have to have lunch first, don't I?!"  And there was Suzanne who comes about twice a week to escape the dull assisted living lunch menu and swap stories about what's happened lately.  Then there's Barb, who lost her husband recently.  She comes in for relaxation, the camaraderie, and of course, good tea and food.   And last but not least were our favorite mother/daughter duo enjoying one of their frequent summer lunches together since mom's a snow bird and heads south for the winter. 
It really does feel like Cheers sometimes.  We know many customers by name and they each have their own distinct personalities.  They come in and share what's going on in their lives.  On occasion, one of our young college student regulars won't have much money on her, and we let her run a tab.  Another will bring in the new dress to show us that she's just bought for the class reunion.  Where else can you go and be regularly surrounded by supportive friends?  We really are like the Cheers of Tea!  And we love it!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A New Tea Snob is Born

We held the first class of our Fall Tea Tasting Series today. I always look forward to teaching the series which we hold in the spring and fall, as it's an opportunity for me to get folks really turned on to tea.

This class was all about black teas. We tasted 8 teas in all. Gingia Estate Assam, Mim Estate Darjeeling, Estate Courtlodge Ceylon, Keemun Panda Gr. 1, Organic Royal Golden Yunnan, Temi Estate Sikkim, Woodlands Estate Nilgiri, and Smoky Lapsang Souchong. Even though participants may have tasted other examples of some of these teas in the past, it is always an eye opening experience to taste these straight basic black teas side-by-side. The subtle character of each stands out and by the end of class, palates are hightened and more educated.

24 teas in all compose the course, and when completed, the participant becomes a certified 'Tea Snob'--our tongue-in-cheek way of saying that they now know lots about tea. One of the participants had already completed the other two classes in the series last spring, Green Teas and Whites & Oolongs. So, today, she became our latest Tea Snob with certificate to prove it! It was a fun and relaxing way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kindness Abounds

Yet another act of kindness was bestowed upon us today!
Our chef was making a batch of yummy chocolaty something for one of our favorite customers, Betty, who we knew would be celebrating her birthday with us today.

All of a sudden, she realized that she was out of condensed milk which the recipe called for. Being quite the self-talker when she's in her kitchen she exclaimed out loud something to the effect, "Oh no, I don't have any evaporated milk! What am I going to do?"

Well, a nice, pierced and tattooed young man happened to be in the shop searching for a new tea to drink and he overheard her. He asked what the problem was, and she explained about the birthday surprise she wanted to make for Betty. He promptly offered to go get some for her. She said that that was too much, he insisted explainig that he had plenty of time and absolutely didn't mind.

So, he went to the grocery store a mile down the road, brought back the milk, and wouldn't take a penny for it! I had a doctor's appointment this morning, or I would have been there to run to the store while the cook went to the store. It seems these things always happen when there's only one of us in the shop--Murphy's Law of small business, I guess. But thanks to the generosity of that kind-hearted young man, everything has turned out OK.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random Acts Part 2

Today we witnessed another of those Random Acts of Kindness. It was just an ordinary day otherwise. Moderately busy, where everyone came in for lunch at the same time. Murphy's Law of tea rooms, I guess. Challenging, but we just love it when the tea room is full of lovely lunchtime chatter. And today it was.

Of course, among the lunchers was our most loyal customer, Carolyn the Elder. And across the room was another woman eating by herself. We often get women who are by themselves. They are comfortable at our place. It's quiet, and no one stares or cares that they are by themselves. While we do get some male clientele, it's mostly women, and that makes for a comfortable lunch spot for the single diner. I often see customers at different tables chatting with each other--something you rarely, if ever, see at other restaurants.

At any rate, the other single lady pulled me aside as I served her apricot scones. She explained that she wanted to buy lunch for Carolyn the Elder, even though she could tell that Carolyn didn't need anyone to buy lunch for her. It was just something she was moved to do. And we were not to tell Carolyn until after she had paid and left the shop.

So, this got me to thinking. What random act of kindness can I do for someone else. Who might really need a bit of cheering up? And I thought of this guy in my Monday morning yoga class at the Victory Center. Not only has he survived cancer, but he was recently in a serious bicycle accident that left him with many months of recovery. I can't even imagine experiencing two such intense traumas back-to-back. At first we sent cards from the class, and the instructor who knew him the best went to see him several times. But now, in those long and lingering months of physical therapy, pain, and frustration (how long would it be before he might be able to return to our yoga class he loved so much?), he probably really needed a boost.

I decided a cheery basket of goodies would be just the ticket. So, next Monday I will take a big basket, started off with a few tea goodies, into the yoga class. I will invite others to add some goodies of their own until it is filled to the brink. Then, our instructor can take it to him just to let him know we are still thinking of him and are encouraging him through this most difficult journey.

That's what life is really all about. One of my favorite quotes, which we set at each place in the tea room as 'food for thought', is from Jewel, the singer/songwriter. "Only kindness matters." I must remember to do these things more often. We get so busy with the day-to-day in these crazy times where everyone is experiencing some sort of overload, and forget these random acts of kindness or think that we do not have time for them. I believe they enrich our own souls as much as they bring joy to the receiver of our acts. So, take a moment and think: who can I bring some joy to today?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pamper Thyself

I'm a firm believer that every now and then, we must pamper ourselves. When I first started working--way back when--and I started to get my first regular paychecks ever, I would go out on every pay day and find some little treat for myself. Something that I perhaps didn't exactly need but something that I could now afford to buy. Something that just made me feel good.

One of our regular customers, Carolyn the younger (as opposed to Carolyn the elder, our most regular patron who comes in for lunch every day), has been going through one of those rough patches that life often hands us, and decided that she needed just exactly one of those frivolous pampers. She'd been eyeing this beautiful bone china tea set for some time. Teapot, sugar and creamer, 2 cups and saucers, 2 gold demi spoons with rose design, and a silver tray upon which to display the lovely set. I admit it was my all time favorite set and had a notion that if it didn't sell, I'd be able to take it home for myself some day, but I was glad when she decided that it would go home with her.

She couldn't afford to pay for it all at once, so for the last few months she'd been making installments that I have kept for her in an envelope at my desk. And I put a SOLD sign on it so that no one else could walk off with her treasure. I would not be able to get this tea set again. The sad thing about bone china is, that it may soon be a thing of the past. Many of the factories in England are closing because of the economy and the reduced popularity of such pretties. Fine china used to be a must for every bride to begin to collect for the china cabinet. Now, there are many who know of nothing but clunky, practical stoneware dishes. But, I digress.

Today Carolyn made the last installment. I carefully packed her treasured pieces to make sure they made it home safely. She lingered over lunch, and I could sense a joy that would perhaps overcome the troubles of her recent past. She described to me the decor of her home and the room where her new china would be lovingly displayed on an old sawn oak buffet and how the contrast would make her treasured tea set stand out all the more.

She was happy. Happier than we've seen her in quite a while. And that made us happy. Food for thought: Every once in awhile, Pamper Thyself!

Friday, July 17, 2009

This isn't your Grandmother's Tea Room!

Well, here it is--July already! It has been a beautiful summer with moderate temperatures and lots of sunshine--a much needed commodity in this neck of the woods. And the graces above have smiled on us in several ways.
First, with all the economic upheaval, our business is doing better than ever! Our customers just love our Chef's culinary creations. Besides a healthy, mostly organic, some gluten free, and low-fat menu, each plate created is also a delight for the eyes. Our customers have lots of fun and frivolity, and so we've come up with our new advertising slogan: This isn't your Grandmother's Tea Room! My take on the tea biz has always been tea first, good food, great customer relations, and lots of fun stuff to shop for. I've never wanted anything stuffy or formal, so we thought that the new slogan and graphic fit us quite well.

We also think that with the economic downturn, more people are staying close to home, travelling less, looking for local pleasures and treasures to explore. We seem to fit right into that category and we are so thankful for the increased business. We're so grateful to be able to share our healthy teas and food and our new relaxing picket-fenced garden spot right outside our front door. Photos to follow as soon as I get them downloaded from the camera.

Hope you're having as good a summer as we are, and don't forget to ice down all your favorite teas for some thirst-quenching summertime treats.