Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Moment with the Artiste

Some days you just need a little time in an oasis. Some days you crave food with soul. On days like those, I am grateful for a place like Coffee, Tea and Tulips in Mission Viejo, where the chef known as The Artiste, Michael Samawi and his gracious wife, Lina, provide food and hospitality like no other.



A pot of tea, a divine scone with preserves and cream, and a plate of tea sandweeches that are unforgettable . This time around I opted for the Mediterranean Veg that assembles flavors and textures that I literally dream about for days afterward. (What is this creamy, feta sauce magnificence beneath the cucumbers??? Sheer Genius!)

A quick chat, a sneak peek at the updated menu, that literally left my mouth watering, and an extra sachet of Midnight in Paris tea to enjoy at home, and I am refreshed and ready to get back to the real world.

All you who are hungry and weary, find your way to Coffee, Tea and Tulips, and let Michael and Lina do the rest.

Coffee, Tea and Tulips
25280 Marguerite Pkwy, Mission Viejo, CA 92692
(949) 587-9988
Hours: Wed - Sun 9 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Moment of Pause

There's a subtle shift in the air this week. An ongoing disturbance in the force has changed direction or is operating on a lower frequency. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but my sense is that it is a good thing.

Resolutions are slowly creeping in on a variety of fronts. Most noticeably, I saw one of the giant spiders during my run yesterday morning. As a rule, I hate those things, because every fall they build these giant, Halloween-sized webs - typically across a sidewalk - and walking into one of those is, well, I can't really talk about it. Too soon.

In any case, usually they arrive in late summer, mid August or so. But I haven't seen them this year. And the ridiculous population of flies is a testament to that fact! With their arrival, while in some ways is unwelcome, in other ways it is a relief. Small resolutions, tiny developments, subtle shifts.

Sitting in the cooler morning air, I'm soaking it all in with a Chinese Oolong from Kedocay. Wuyi Yancha Da Hong Pao Oolong has its own subtleties and shifts. As a dry, long, twisted leaf, it smells of drying hay, which feels appropriate for this harvest time of year. As the hot water is added, the scent transforms into a nutty, toasty fragrance that hints of cooler weather to come. The flavor is robust and has a toasted rice flavor, leaning toward a genmaicha profile, which is an unexpected, but pleasant twist.

I'm grateful for the noticeable reduction in flies today, I'm also grateful for the awareness that sometimes the answer that we thought was, "No," might actually just be, "Wait."




Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Moment of Firsts

My oldest daughter starts 1st grade today. I'm excited to hear what she thinks of her teacher, her classmates and her new adventure. I loved my 1st grade teacher, Miss Enderlin, who loved frogs and always had a ready laugh. She opened up the world in a new way for me through reading and writing and numbers.


I feel like it was about that age that I also began spending more time with my Great-Grandma Olive. She was another one who opened up the world for me. While my parents and grandparents attended church every Sunday, used the word, "Rats!" to express displeasure and whose vices ran along the lines of perpetual home improvement projects, Grandma Olive smoked cigarettes incessantly and sprinkled "Damn!" and "Hell!" liberally into her vocabulary. She never attended church, although she would always ask me what I had learned in Sunday school. Her idea of indulgence included a bucket of KFC original recipe and a frozen Mrs. Smith chocolate cream pie. She let me play for hours in her gigantic back yard and in her guest room (the "red room," I called it with its red velvet bedspread and hanging lamps). She also drank a fair share of tea and would occasionally serve me some. Lipton tea bags in the winter and instant peach-flavored Nestea in the summer.

Great Grandma Olive, as always,
in an impeccable pants suit
A little over 30 years later, I was in New York City when I received the phone call that Great-Grandma Olive's son, my Grandpa Don, had passed away. It was not unexpected, but it was heart-wrenching all the same. It was on that difficult day that I met yet another person who would open up my world in a new way. In a moment of darkness, here was a calming and gentle light. Her name was Jo, and she had not only recommended a tea venue for me to explore in the city, she suggested meeting me there.

See Related: A Moment In Pursuit of Tea


Jo is one of those "hubs." She knows everyone and takes great pleasure in connecting them. Through her, I've not only met an incredible and diverse community of tea experts, I've been given the opportunity to participate in her brainchild, the Tea Blogger Roundtable at the World Tea Expo, and gain access to proprietary tea tastings.

See Related: World Tea Expo Day 2 Eventful Moments

One of those tastings was of her own creation, Rose Thé Macaron Blanc. Being the hopeless francophile that I am, the name alone captured my attention. A French name MUST be an indication of bon goût in every sense of the word. My sole misgiving was that it was a white tea. I love white teas, but I often find them too delicate to be my daily pleasure. This tea, however, gently removed its kid glove and slapped me across the face. In the nicest possible way.

My Tweet moments after tasting this for the 1st time
The white teas in this blend find the unique balance of being delicately robust. White in this case doesn't equal "light." This white tea blend creates a textured backdrop onto which vanilla and rose are layered with soft brush strokes. The overall effect is that of being transported to hidden Parisian courtyard surrounded by lush, sculpted gardens. My kingdom for a croissant! Or better yet, an eclair. This tea can handle it.



As the end of my daughter's first day of school approaches, all of these thoughts and more swirl through my head. In the meantime, I'll brew up a pot of this extraordinary tea, lay out some of my Great-Grandma's sunny linen napkins and wait to hear how my baby's world is opening up this year.

Pre-order this limited production tea blend from Jo by contacting her at: agiftoftea@gmail.com
Rose Thé Macaron Blanc will be in 2 oz packages for $12 plus shipping. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Moment at Le Salon

New Orleans! The name conjures up images of dancing, jazz music, brass bands, raucous crowds and the oft-requested go-cup. However, upon entering Le Salon at Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, calm and serenity was there to greet us in cool blues and greens. Here is where we found our oasis.


Kristin welcomed us with warmth and a sparkling smile as she led us to a plush sofa and chair looking over the hotel courtyard. I was delighted to find the enthusiasm and hospitality she conveyed over the phone to be matched perfectly in person.


The low table was ready and waiting for us, a single pink rose in a vase and Wedgewood China in Wild Strawberry at the ready. Eduardo, our server in his 17th year of service at Le Salon, started off our afternoon tea with a cocktail of choice. As it was a celebration for the end of a successful conference, Lia and I opted for sparkling wine.

What an incredible luxury to be served by a true master of service. Eduardo told beautiful stories of the tea events he's witnessed at Le Salon; shared fun snippets of history of the Coleman family who opened the Windsor Court Hotel 30 years ago; and allowed us to set our own pace of dining and visiting while somehow keeping the momentum gently rolling.

The Tea List
The tea list was extensive, with options for every taste. Black, green, white, herbal... even rooibos and puerh!


The variety of sandwiches that arrived as our first course reinforced New Orleans as a foodie's paradise.


The lobster salad canape was so savory and delicious, and the truffle egg salad is now in my TOP 3  list of iterations of this staple tea sandwich!

Truffle egg salad? Yes, please. 

Scones! With all the perfect fixin's! Vanilla bean cream, Devonshire cream, lemon curd, raspberry preserves - I sampled them all. And the fact that the scones are seasonal make me very happy. For summer, currant scones and walnut scones.


But wait... Just when you think you can't possibly handle one more bite, the desserts arrive.


Chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate truffles, tartlets and... a coconut cream swan???!!!

Seriously. How amazing is this?
Lia and I found ourselves absolutely transported to a place of culinary decadence and creative inspiration, which for us is the greatest gift we could ever receive. You see, Lia is not only my good friend, she is my work counterpart. And while we speak nearly every day via phone, we haven't actually seen each other since last December. After a successful and productive conference this week, we thoroughly enjoyed having a couple of hours to relax, debrief, brainstorm and re-energize before catching flights to our respective coasts.

Double trouble
A fine afternoon tea service always does my heart good, but add Southern hospitality and a good friend, and you've just fed my soul.

If your travels take you to New Orleans, give your soul a break from the Beads and Beverages of Bourbon Street. Indulge in Afternoon Tea at Le Salon, and please give my kindest regards to Kristin and Eduardo.

Kristin, Me, Eduardo

To visit Le Salon at Windsor Court Hotel:

300 Gravier Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Reservations: 504.596.4773 or Book Online
Afternoon Tea Seatings:
Thursday & Friday at 2:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday at 11:00 am & 2:00 pm 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Dare to Dream Moment

Rajiv Lochan is a man with a vision. And as that vision is realized today in India's Bihar state, that region is growing in new and exciting ways because of his family's new and exciting teas.

Although I had seen and heard his name for years in tea industry publications and on tea conference agendas, I finally met Rajiv Lochan for the first time at the World Tea Expo in Long Beach in May 2014. I saw him taking a rare moment of rest, sitting at the Tealet booth, and I made my move to very quickly say hello. I was delighted at his gracious invitation to sit down and talk tea. As he described the teas and people of the Darjeeling region, his passion to preserve the history and traditions, I understood instantly his clout and ability to bring people and ideas together in a productive way. One of those ways is through his own tea estate, Doke Tea Garden.

Doke Tea Garden. Photo courtesy of Vivek Lochan
Not long after meeting him, I received a beautiful gift of teas from Lochan Tea Ltd.. And now, as life has calmed a bit, I've taken the luxury of brewing and exploring one tea each day. Each companion has revealed a unique character, some very bold, some surprisingly sunny. Hints of fruit in one, honey in another, some with a refreshing green back drop. All beautiful. All intriguing...

Photo courtesy of Vivek Lochan
...Just like the Lochan family. Doke Tea Garden is made possible by the work of many of the Lochan family members, each with their own role. Rajiv, visionary and CEO, providing direction to the operation; Neha, his daughter, managing the garden from plucking to finishing, tasting and continuously improving the process and product; Manisha, his wife, tasting and providing feedback on product quality; and Vivek, his son, taking care of design, packaging, sales, logistics and customer relationships. In addition to running the day-to-day business, the Lochan family also participates in the good of the community, sponsoring Don Bosco Catholic High School in Mirik, and hosting French business students who are studying the tea business sector.

As I've discovered more and more about Lochan Tea and Doke Tea Garden, I came across this glimpse of their journey:
The lush garden rests in an area called Pothia, Kishanganj. The area is very poor, with high unemployment and a lot of civil unrest. In 1998 Mr. Rajiv Lochan, a lifelong tea garden manager and now tea business expert, decided to plant new tea bushes on small plot of land. Many said that the land was 'useless', but Rajiv persisted, with the help of the garden workers and local farmers the garden began to surprise everyone, including Rajiv. 

Photo courtesy of Vivek Lochan

Oh.  Did I mention? They produce beautiful teas.

Of the eight I was given (all of which I am now in love with), there are three that I seem to have consumed more quickly than the others.

Doke Black Fusion - Described as bitter-sweet, I found this to be a solid, robust companion through my day. The aroma and flavor are malty with a hint of roasted nuttiness. This could easily become a daily habit. 

Doke Diamond Green - The dry, fluffy green leaves have a sweet, almost vanilla scent, and the brew is a robust summer of scents that sometimes even hinted at genmaicha. I found myself sipping and sipping, again and again, trying to identify the perfectly balanced layers. It's a bewitching mystery that I'm happy to continue to investigate. 

Doke Silver Needle in the Crisp California Air

Doke Silver Needle - For me, this was a tea that stopped me in my tracks. Actually, it made me want to take a moment, and so I allowed it to escort me outside to enjoy the slightly crisp morning air after a week of waking to hot, muggy, grey clouds.  This brew is velvety smooth and hits every point on the palette, making it incredibly satisfying. It has somehow achieved both complete lightness and fullness at the same time. There is the tiniest hint of peach on a backdrop of hay. It is the essence of early summer. It is enchanting.

It is experiences like these that I love so much. Yes, there are the teas themselves, but it is often the people, the families, the passion that I find behind the teas that compel me to keep exploring and tasting and writing. 

Some day, I hope to have the opportunity to see for myself the land and people who make these teas possible. Doke Tea Garden will be at the top of my list.

Me, Rajiv Lochan, Elyse Petersen of Tealet Tea

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Dog Days of Summer Moment

It's hot out there. Really hot. It has made me a bit more of a morning person lately because it feels so refreshing to throw open the windows and the back door and let the cool morning air drift in.

As the sun rises into the clear, blue sky, the temperature rises with it. It makes it more challenging to figure out what to cook for dinner or even what to have for lunch, because it's just too hot to cook.

These are just the kind of days that make Iced Tea a must. In the early afternoon, I'll take a  bit of a break and sit in the shade with good, old Eddie dog - me sipping on some iced tea, him soaking in the sun.

Edward Dog Days of Summer

I had always thought the Dog Days of Summer were an observation of how dogs will just lounge around in the hottest days of the summer with no intention of doing anything else as the mercury rises (I can relate to that!). Apparently, what it's actually referring to is the time of year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun. In this part of the world, this happens around July 3 - August 11. Either way, it's the time of year when we're looking for ways to cool down.

Growing up, my mom always had this enormous glass, screw top jar that she'd fill with water and a million tea bags and set out on the back patio to steep in the sun. "Sun tea" is what we called it. We'd drink it all day. These days, I tend to do something similar, though I'll use whatever loose leaf tea I'm craving that day. It's a waiting game. These teas need plenty of time to steep in that sun-warmed water. Today, however, I'm enjoying The des Sources from Palais des Thes, which doesn't require the hours of patience that I've honed in past summers. Chinese green tea, mint, and a hint of bergamot, I am refreshed by this Moroccan inspired blend. 30 minutes in room temperature water is all that is required by these Iced Tea Bags. Brilliant.

So here Ed and I sit, he in the sun, I in the shade with iced tea in hand. No matter how you slice it, these are indeed the Dog Days of Summer, and today I wouldn't want to share them with any other dog (or any other tea, for that matter).

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Monday Mystery Moment with Flavia de Luce

There is a special place in my heart for all things British. Part of it is that a good chunk of my heritage is British. Among my ancestors are Featherstones and Paxtons with some Scottish Cunninghams for additional flair. I love the droll humor of British romantic comedies (Love Actually or Bridget Jones' Diary are some faves), as well as their productions of all things Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice , anyone?) There's a dry humor and willingness to be downright silly that I enjoy, because so often one is not quite sure if they intended to be silly or clever or if they're just being ironic.
Family motto: "Over, fork over!"
Yes, really.
And so it should be no surprise to anyone that while the English take their tea very seriously, there are those who have to infuse their humor into that arena as well, with delightful results. TeaPigs is a British company who love their tea and loves their fun and have made it their mission to combine the two. Even their name, "Teapigs" came about from a brainstorming session where someone made the remark that they're pigs about their tea (meaning they can't get enough and just want more and more). The name stuck. And their love of fun certainly makes an impression. Teapigs Darjeeling Earl Grey   has an image of a little grey dachsund on the package, but don't let their love of fun be mistaken for lack of standards. In this case, they've taken something that is a common and well-loved classic (Earl Grey) and elevated it. Using Darjeeling as the base tea, there's something special and surprising that takes place in your cup. It's the flavor of the Earl Grey that we know and love, but it's a little bit more. Each element of the tea is raised to a new level. Tea with a twist.



Which is what I like about British mystery novels as well. They are often good, old fashioned, comfortable mysteries with a twist.

July happens to be one of those months during the year where every second feels like it is scheduled. There is no down time. There is no stopping. It is go-go-go. And so, in those moments when I finally force myself to go and eat some lunch I tend to reach for something comfortable and familiar, where I can allow someone else to have to do all the thinking and surmising. One of my go-to's is the  Flavia de Luce Novel Mystery series by Alan Bradley. It's your typical mystery series set in a quaint English village, with the usual police inspector playing his part, but the amateur sleuth here is not the usual fare. It's 11-year-old Flavia de Luce. Youngest of 3 sisters, her mother is believed to have died in a mountaineering accident when Flavia was still a baby. The girls live with their ever-grieving and stamp-collecting father in their mother's slowly deteriorating mansion, Buckshaw. Not only is Flavia 11-years old, she is also a chemistry genius who spends hours on end experimenting in her late uncle Tar's private chemistry lab where no one bothers her. Her scarily brilliant mind is evened out by her precocious antics, which are often carried out astride Gladys, her faithful bicycle. Book 1, in the series,The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, has been read so many times, its spine is showing its popularity.


A few minutes of tea and sanity, and it's back to work. Something for me to look forward to: the next novel in the series has just come out, and I can't wait to learn more secrets about Harriet, Flavia's long-lost mother.