Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

Oops. You Did It Again.

I remember watching an episode of Man About The House as a kid in the 1970s. If you’ve never heard of this show, it possibly means you are either young or American, neither of which are probably your fault. (There was an American version of the show called “Three’s Company” that starred the late actor John Ritter, but it was terrible).You have one teahole and two ears. The more tea you drink, the more you can listen and the smarter you will become.

Anyway, in the episode I remember, Robin, who is a student chef, is convinced to cook a meal that Jo (that’s the dumb sex bomb) can pass off as her own to impress her new beau. Having cooked a superb meal of pork, Robin discovers too late that the young man in question is a certain young Mr Cohen, from an orthodox Jewish family. As I recall it, the poor dinner guest is too polite to complain, but ends up stashing the meal somewhere – in a light fitting, I think.

The point is, it wouldn’t have happened if Robin had asked a few basic questions.

In another pertinent memory (which assumes that last anecdote was also pertinent, and it is), a guy demonstrating that he could make a cup of tea in 90 seconds with a new machine (it took him 20 minutes to demonstrate this, bizarrely) assured me that I would be impressed with the taste of the tea he had selected for me to try: green tea with hibiscus and orange peel. If he’d asked me what tea he could make for me, I personally would not have picked the only one from the six next to him that had a substance I am massively allergic to in it.

If he’d shut his teahole for just a few seconds, I could have made a suggestion: “Ask questions, don’t assume”.

A few weeks ago, I got a nice message from a very polite tea merchant, asking if I would accept a sample of tea to review. At the time our own tea store was inactive in Australia, and so I agreed. (I didn’t realise he was actually in the US, where our store was and is active throughout the temporary closure in Australia).

A few days later I got an email, advising me that a sample was to be shipped, and naming the sample. Since I was curious about the name, I sought out the website concerned, and immediately noticed the presence of citrus peels in the blend.

Perhaps there are more self-obsessed people on the internet than me, but really, I doubt that anyone who has ever read more than six of my 250+ blogs has not become aware of my all-consuming citrus allergy.

Duh!

I sent him an email, hoping to forestall the shipment, but it was too late. However, he was delighted to respond, and voila!: he has immediately shipped me something else to try- yerba mate.

I have only mentioned this hideous substance a few times on my blog, the last about two months ago when I suggested that instead of colour coding it, David’s Tea should have flung it in the bin.

Given the experience that people have suffered when sending me tea I actually like, this is pretty dumb. I’m known for biting the hand that feeds me tea anyway.

When we send tea off to a reviewer, it’s after carefully reading at least a few dozen of their reviews, selecting a tea we believe they will love and creating a personal chain of correspondence that will let them know about our ethos and what the tea represents.

We’re also lucky enough to have a slew of great reviews on Steepster, where the first we hear about it is when it is posted, but even so, I take the time to engage with the reviewer and tell them a little about the tea.

So, when this stuff arrives, I’m in a quandary. I ethically want to fulfil an obligation to review.

I’m not sure what to do, but time will tell.

 

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Tea and Life

Margin For Error

My tea consumption has changed a bit lately.

As I am now working in an office for some of the week, I find I am a bit restricted:

  • I have about 500mls of tea when I get up, of course.
  • I have about 500mls of tea when I arrive in the office.
  • I have about 500mls of tea mid afternoon.
  • I have one or two 150-300ml cups of tea each evening.

The key here is that my consumption is about 2 litres or so, which is about right, but it is being made up of bigger, less frequent cups. In previous times, I mighty have 12 150-250ml cups of tea.

This has two side effects:

  1. I have fewer varieties of tea in a day
  2. If I get a cup wrong, I pretty well just have to drink it anyway.

Too strong? Too weak? Wrong temperature? Tough, it’s drink it or miss out.

It has led me to the conclusion than some teas work better in large cups than others.

Why? I have no idea.

For come reason, I cannot get Craigmore (Nilgiri) right in a large cup. Doke Silver Needle is better the bigger the cup. Of the two go-to Darjeelings that we keep next to our tea making station, Margaret’s Hope is consistent at any volume whereas Giddephar is much better in a tiny cup. Jasmine tea demands a small, handle-less cup.

It’s the same with our own blends. There are some obvious differences. If we brew up 1910, Lord Petersham or Queen Adelaide, they work great in a huge cup. But 1001 Nights is always in a  small cup – I serve it in Moroccan-style the glass which is a fixed, small size.

I love delicate china cups, glass cups, tall tea glasses, off-the-shelf mugs and my whopper 600ml ” I love Tea” mug. It’s not that I’m not fussy: I am. I hate thick walled, boring coffee cups. I hate polystyrene and melamine.

What is it that makes some teas brilliant in small doses but found wanting in a large mug? Why do some just work in a huge mug?

I don’t really know. That’s why I’m asking.

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Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

Some You Win…

Each of us has a set of personal rules and standards that govern what we do with regards to the teas we will drink: the when and why.Never be too timid to try a new tea. You should be more afraid of missing out on what might become your new favourite tea.

For example; I do not drink tea made from teab*gs. A quick summation of why:

  1. On average, tea in teab*gs is of vastly inferior quality
  2. Operations growing this inferior tea tend to have far more exploitative work practices
  3. Paper teab*gs adversely affect the taste of tea
  4. Teab*gs sold as “silky” or “silken” are a con

Another common dislike amongst the tea drinking fraternity is a hatred of ready-to-drink iced teas, often called RTDs. These tend to have little actual tea in them, but a whole lot of sugar and various chemicals you would not necessarily choose to add to your cuppa.

When out and about, my preference is for a cup of fresh brewed loose leaf tea. Or possibly freshly brewed iced tea.

If I find a place that has neither, the usual response is to go elsewhere. If I find a place that has loose leaf tea, I will tend to order a cuppa even of I actually want a cold drink, because loose leaf needs to be encouraged everywhere.

But sometimes it gets tricky.

Yesterday we visited a little hipster deli/lunch bar we have visited before. The place has about 20 large jars, each with a capacity of about a kilo of tea. They are clearly sourced from multiple vendors.

I was a little uncomfortable. In the year or more that has elapsed, I don’t think the tea jars had appreciably declined in contents. In such a coffee-centred culture that’s not a huge surprise.

As it was warm and we had been strolling for hours, I had a look at the cold drinks fridge. There was a new kind of RTD, one of the more “authentic” iced tea products made with brewed tea. Rather than risk the stale jars, I could try this.

But no!  A check of ingredients shows lemon juice in all flavours. I was foiled by my allergy.

So I reverted to plan ‘A’ and ordered a silver needle. It was very poor. Not enough tea was used, and the tea was indeed quite stale.

I could have had a teab*g at any of a dozen other venues on that street. Or a Coke. Or a hot chocolate.

But no, I let principle guide me, and I did not enjoy it.

It might sound like I lost out.

But on the other hand, three hours earlier we lunched at a bakery that offered 10 loose leaf teas. I chose “Scottish Caramel Tea” at random, because it was such an unlikely combination of words. Turned out to be a pu-er infused with vanilla and caramel.

And it was delicious.

You win some, you lose some, and whilst I’d prefer to win, you have to be prepared to lose sometimes.

 

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Tea and Life, Tea Stories

Fusion

Our personal circumstances changed rapidly over the last few months.Life changes. Needs change. That is why there are different teas, to match your every circumstance.

We didn’t like what we were doing in the UK for all sorts of reasons, and we wrestled with whether to stay on in the UK and do something else, or leave and come back to Australia.

The decision was made in the middle of a Wednesday; we flew to Calgary on that Sunday. We spent two weeks in Calgary; then flew back to our hometown of Adelaide. We stayed in a serviced apartment for just over a week and have now moved into a house.

Phew!

As we were packing all our stuff in the UK, it was obvious we had way too much. We were allowed the usual meagre amount of baggage, and we budgeted for an additional giant suitcase as excess baggage, However, we were told that the airline could not carry a second excess baggage item, and that item was a duffel bag stuffed full of tea.

I realised I could only get a few kilos of tea in amongst our luggage; and so I had to think: what to take, and what to leave.

There was no point taking our own blends. We can create them again.

I threw in five kilos, all from Lochan teas who we are pleased to represent in Australia and the US.

  • A kilo of Rolling Thunder as our Canada-based son loves it – we actually forgot to give to to him.
  • Three kilos of Doke Black Fusion, as I knew we had no stocks of it in Australia
  • And a kilo of Margaret’s Hope, because… it’s Margaret’s Hope.

I had a small quantity of Persian Princess for the flight to Canada, duly consumed.

We arrived in Calgary at the home of Devotea Junior The Elder and his lovely partner, and we were immediately pleased with the fact there was a teapot, but less pleased as there was no tea.

One kilo of Doke Black Fusion to the rescue.

Over the next two weeks, there were a few other teas here and there, but we drank Black Fusion morning, noon and night. When we opened the packet, we filled a glass jar from the bag. The glass jar was filled again during our visit, and again with the remainder of the bag not long before we left. I’m therefore quite sure we drank about 5/6ths of a kilo of Black Fusion between us. I was most likely the biggest contributor to that consumption.

When Lady D and I arrived back in Australia and spent a week or so in self-contained accommodation, we opened another one kilo bag of Doke Black Fusion and apart from a couple of excellent teas whilst out and about, it was all I drank. The first night here in our new home we had a bed, a kettle and a toaster: and our bag of Black Fusion.

Over the past week or so, we have filled our new home will all the stuff you need to live and cook and sit on and wash clothes and entertain and watch. Over that time: Lots of Doke Black Fusion.

Yesterday, we picked up about 40 kilos of tea we had in storage. Now we have a huge selection to choose from, which is our usual state of affairs. As I write this, it’s now 6.30 a.m. and I’ve had my 650ml mega-mug filed twice: once with 1910 and once with Craigmore Estate.

But for just over a month, day in, day out, we drank Black Fusion.

This leads me to two observations.

One: I really like this tea.

Two: There is value on exploring a tea in such a deep way.

There’s no doubting it’s a lovely, deep, fresh tasting black. It’s got a vague Darjeeling thing going on, but to me is for more aligned to a good quality Keemun with a nod to Assam. It’s rich and vibrant.

The truly great thing about drinking the same tea all day every day for a month is that I never make it the same way twice, and of course it is sometimes made by others. So it tastes a little different every time.

I’ve gone on single tea benders before. A day or two, here and there. Sikkim Temi. Doke Silver Needle. Lord Petersham. Various others.

It really does not compare.

The only thing I can compare it to, sadly, is people who buy the same brand of tea for years on end, because ‘they like it’. I have previously found this a bit of a cop out – a bit lazy – and a pointer to sadly missed opportunities to explore the world of tea.

Now, I get it a bit more. There is validity in drinking the same tea all the time – if it is good tea – and enjoying the nuanced variations.

After oversteeping Black Fusion a few times, I’ve actually started making it a bit stronger to enjoy some of the tones I found accidentally. If I make it too light, I just enjoy its nod to traditional Darjeelings.

More than anything, the feeling of knowing one tea so intimately is a little new.

So, as all these teas come back into easy reach, Doke Black Fusion is sure to remain a favourite.

I’ll have to have a little Doke Silver Needle next to avoid sibling rivalry.

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Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Of Calgary

Two weeks and two days in Calgary.

Snow!

Snow!

It’s not like us to visit a country and not hop from place to place. Three days here, five days there: Two weeks and two days would normally be three to five locations.

Not this time. Lady Devotea and I had but two aims: to spend some time with our eldest son and his lovely girlfriend for the first time in over a year, and to not be where we were immediately beforehand.

R&R: Rest. Recreation. Relaxation. Recuperation. Recharging. Obviously I mean R&R&R&R&R. Not so much of the tourist thing. No tea conferences to speak at. No business, no booked tours.

How cold was it? Take a close look at the background.

How cold was it? Take a close look at the background.

We arrived more exhausted than a nine-hour flight should leave us, because we were exhausted when we got on the plane.

It has always struck me that the last place you want to be when you arrive in a country is at an airport.

Calgary Airport is different. The first person we saw was some sort of usher, like you used to get in cinemas, only without a torch and bathed in the bright sunshine coming in from the mainly glass walls. She said “Welcome to Calgary” and pointed us in the right direction.

The second person we saw was a gentlemen who did the same.

How happy were we to be on a day trip to Banff? Judge for yourself!

How happy were we to be on a day trip to Banff? Judge for yourself!

We collected our bags and went through passport control, which was outstandingly friendly. Ditto customs.

We had yet to enter the public part of the terminals when Lady D turned to me and said “Wow, Canadians are sooo friendly”.

That might sound like a snap judgement based on a small sample, but as I write this after leaving Canada, I can say we had nothing but corroborating evidence. The data was amazingly homogenous.

We were duly picked up, there may have been some tears, but soon we were rewriting the record books for amount of luggage you can cram into a small car with four people, and heading off toward the abode of our hosts.

Wall of The Oolong Tea House in Kensington. One of two great tea shops we found.

Wall of The Oolong Tea House in Kensington. One of two great tea shops we found.

The first item of business was to present them with a kilo of Doke Black Fusion and the second was to get stuck into that. When we left, I think there was about 10% of it left. Many wonderful times were had over this tea.

Obviously, we drank a few samples and other teas we picked up along the way. Blacks, rooibos, greens, flavoured and plains. We had tea out at a dozen places; in everything from delicate china to glass tumblers to waxy takeaway cups.

We saw some tourist towns, some tourist attractions. The zoo. We shopped. We ate out and ate in, cooked and were cooked for.

We arrived on a summer’s day: it was 25 degrees Celsius. The next day, it was winter, for it snowed. Then a few days later came the spring thaw, with clear skies and melting snow. Then all the trees turned golden and red. Autumn had arrived by about day nine. A year’s worth of weather in nine days.

Calgarians seem to like "Quick Fixin's" as this supermarket photo shows.

Calgarians seem to like “Quick Fixin’s” as this supermarket photo shows.

All the abovementioned R’s.

It’s maybe unfair to judge a whole country by one city.  And there are many unsettling things about Canada that I could point to, like the parts that deliberately speak French for no good reason* or the fact that they clearly know how to spell but choose not to: I went past places marked “tire center” and others marked “tire centre” and can only assume they have something to do with sleep deprivation. I never once went past a “tyre centre”. And unlike Britain where they spell “doughnut” the way adults should and the USA where they substitute the troublesome “donut”, Canadians seem to accept both.

They also seem light on fresh food and cooking, big on greasy spoons and microwaving prepared meals, but at least most of their supermarkets have a few loose leaf teas, sadly unlike a lot of UK ones and a growing number of Australian ones.

If even "Quick Fixin's" seems like too much trouble, why not just have a huge cake for breakfast, as recommended by Safeways

If even “Quick Fixin’s” seems like too much trouble, why not just have a huge cake for breakfast, as recommended by Safeways

But Calgary, and by extension, all of Canada, is now very close to our hearts. We would have been glad to go there, just to see our son. We would have been glad to go there, just to not be where we were prior to going there. But now, we love Calgary for its own sake.

Sure, we’d change it a bit. Get rid of the notion that Starbucks is drinkable, for example. Make them all drive on the correct side of the road.  Stop adding the tax after a purchase and just include it in the price, like they do in more sane places.

The snow we mentioned was unexpected, it was at the wrong time of the year, and I’m not 100% sure I’d care to be there at the “right” time of the year for snow. This trip, though, would give us impetus to try.

When all is said and done, Calgary is a great place to be.

And who doesn’t want to visit great places, eh?

 

 

* Maybe there IS one good reason to speak French. I’m all for “Coriandre” for “Coriander” instead of “Cilantro”, which sounds like a Marvel Comic villain.  But that’s it*

**Well, that’s it apart from poutine.

 

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Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Goodbye, David

A mini-blog today.

A week or so ago, I blogged about David’s Tea, and basically I said the jury was still out.

After a second visit, it isn’t any more.

We chose between us their Assam (Banaspaty), Oh Canada (Maple Rooibos) and a milky “Pure Chai”.

Pleasant, well meaning staff put the teas into these large paper cups.

Not one was strong enough to take that volume of water/milk.

With smaller, better cups, David’s could be worth visiting. Until then, it isn’t. Best to go elsewhere.

 

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Service, Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

Tea, Unexpectedly Naked.

If you read yesterday’s blog  (and if not, why not. What’s wrong with you?) you’ll know we left the Oolong Tea Shop very impressed. In fact, I left it believing it to be probably Calgary’s finest tea shop, and so, having business nearby, Lady Devotea and I decided to walk a few blocks and revisit the following afternoon.

We had walked for ten minutes and could see it. We were just a minute and a half away when the phone rang.

It wasn’t a dramatic phone call, not UNESCO calling to ask me to solve a tea dilemma or some world leader calling for some one-on-one tea coaching so as to not look ignorant at the G20 meeting, just a family call. But when one takes a call on a busy street, it’s often wise to duck into a quiet alley, doorway or niche in order to hear. As the call was for Lady D, I handed her the phone and we took a sideways step into a little alley that appeared beside us.

I know that diversions into unexpected alleys usually result in transportation to magical lands in fiction, so I had a quick check about for talking lions, lands of eternal winter or shops full of wizarding supplies, but failed to notice at first what Lady D was gesturing at: a large sign saying “TEA”.

I gave her the international hand signal for “I’ll check it out, and if it isn’t any good we can stick to the original plan” and sallied forth to do so.

Into The Naked Leaf.

The first thing I saw was the wall.

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The Wall

 

Well, it was kinda hard to miss.

I popped my head outside, gave Lady D the international hand signal for “We absolutely HAVE to have tea here” and returned inside.

The wall was composed of brightly coloured tins, and those magnetic spice holders that you normally see stuck to people’s refrigerator doors in clusters of 4 or 5. Here were a lot more.

I got talking to Jonathon, who owns the place, and we found we had not dissimilar tastes. In particular, I was drawn to a Taiwanese Black, Red Jade 18, which was redolent of the Ruby Red 18 which was the subject of my favourite ever of my own blog posts.

I had that, and Lady D had a Thurbo Oriental Moon from Darjeeling.

Mine was delicious, Lady D’s even more so. I then ordered a maple-flavoured Pai Mu Tan (Bai Mu Dan) for the hell of it. This is Canada, eh?

Nice descriptions and great sniffer cans.

Nice descriptions and great sniffer cans.

One of Jonathon’s brilliant innovations is he gets local artists to decorate his tins. When a picture is chosen, he prints 100 tins, no more. All the tins you see in the photo are tins that are no longer available. Needless to say, we bought a tin from his current crop and had it filled with his bizarrely titled “Too Good For A Name” blend.

The Naked Leaf does teaware, tea, and hot tea. Nothing else. Rather than sell you food, you get a little plate of biscuits with your tea. No coffee, no cake.

When I look at The Naked Leaf, I realise that it combines elements of all the tea shops we’ve been in over the last few days. It has the uncluttered layout of Communitea, the size of range of David’s tea and the expertise of the Banff Tea Co, the commitment to serving you a fine cup of tea that The Oolong Tea House has. The level of friendliness and service has been pretty universal in Canada, and it’s the same here, but it’s all wrapped up with some quirky individual features, such as the exquisite leaf design tea cups your tea is served in.

As an industry, we need chintzy tea rooms where you get scones and a choice of five teas. We need cafe-style eateries where tea is done well. We need places where you can pay way too much for a shiny china teapot and a bag of forty-seven fruits in a tea-free infusion.

We most definitely need places like Oolong Tea House where earnest young men with earnestly trimmed beards and earnest young ladies inexplicably wearing earnestly crocheted berets can converse earnestly over a cup of earnestly prepared pumpkin and pomegranate green tea.

But I need this. The treasure trove of teas, the familiar names, the intelligent discussion, the joy of new tea friends.

It comes down to two tea shops; a half a block apart. Both of them are class acts who any town should be proud to have. One of them is the best tea shop in Calgary (so far).

Which one is the best? It depends on who you are, and where you are on your tea journey. Our international circle of friends, I suspect, would favour The Naked Leaf. Our kids, who are in their 20s, would favour Oolong Tea House.

It’s tempting to suggest that Oolong Tea House is a Tea High School, and that The Naked Leaf is a Tea College. but that’s not quite the right analogy. Neither is it a schism, like Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader. There is no dark side here -you’ll find that in supermarkets.

Perhaps here’s what’s important: if we only get one more hour to spend in a tea shop before we leave Calgary, my preference would be to spend it in The Naked Leaf.

Unless we have a tea drinking companion in a crochet beret.

 

 

 

 

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Tea with The Black Dragon

After a day in Banff and Canmore, there was an expectation that the next day might be quiet. The plan was a visit to the Downtown area for a look at where our son worked, a spot of lunch and then some river fishing.

Visiting downtown when it’s empty and easy to get around in, on a Sunday morning, was a masterful plan, slightly let down by the the fact that it was choked with cars and about 73 roadworks. This combined with an intriguingly random one-way system to create an impressively recursive gridlock. You could virtually spot your own car five cars back and ten in front.

Lunchtime found us in the Kensington area and eating at a specialty poutinerie. Yes, poutine, the Canadian speciality of french fries, cheese curds and gravy. This place had about 30 variations: I had the peppercorn beef poutine which was the best one of our group, so I declared myself the winner of lunch and we moved on via Shanks’ pony.

Our guide, Devotea Junior The Elder(hereafter DJTE)* then took us to  “Oolong Tea House”

And a fine place it is.

I like to see jars, and they had jars. Lots of jars. Lots of flavours and a few single origins, along one wall of a decidedly hip establishment.

They have a notice on a blackboard thanking customers for 10 years of loyal patronage.

Based on the crowd in there, anyone with ten years patronage had started not long after puberty.The place was entirely packed with 20-somethings. Myself and Lady D were the only over 30s there.

I feel pretty good about that. I’ve been in too many tea rooms where I’m the youngest person in the room, and everyone’s sipping English Breakfast or Earl  Grey. This place is vibrant and alive.

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Dragonfly Kiss!

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Hipster in training: Green Tea, Beard, all the evidence you need.

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Leopard Snow tea in the foreground, Green Jasmine/Lychee to the rear

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Through the windscreen shot as the excitement built

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After some serious perusal, I opted for a Leopard Snow white tea . Lady Devotea chose something called “Dragonfly Kiss”. Brillant name. It’s a silky milky chai-style concoction with mint and I think liquorice in it. Quite lovely. DJTE asked for an iced Green Jasmine & Lychee but received it hot.

All of these teas were excellent. I spent a further $1 on a small sample of blueberry black which was quite good when we had it later. No tea problems at all.

They had lots of nice-looking cakes and snacks, but we were poutine-stuffed. Perhaps next time. They were also very friendly, but so run off their feet I didn’t manage to have a chat with anyone. It was clear that everyone on shift enjoyed working there, and that really showed.

I had a look at their logo, which I have “borrowed” from their website. I assume they won’t mind, but if it’s missing, you can assume I assumed wrongly.

logo oolong

 

 

 

The circular black dragon, and I’m sure they had a version on the wall where it was totally enclosed in a further circle, reminded me of the book “Tea With The Black Dragon”, by RA McAvoy, which I read probably twenty years ago. I am sure my cover had a similar motif, though internet searches have found about 7 different covers, none of them similar. Perhaps there was some graphic elements at the start of each chapter, or some such device.

Anyway, it’s all circular.  A book I read at about the age of the current crop of tea hipsters, oolong means black dragon, black dragon means oolong, and a new generation are drinking tea. Gridlock and roadworks and you can find yourself where you were once and where you can be again.

I left there believing Oolong Tea House to be the finest tea outlet in Calgary, and definitely the best we had been in for many months. And yet within 24 hours, that view was challenged.

 

* go back a couple of blogs for an explanation. Or don’t.

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Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

Mountain Tea

My self imposed rule about not reviewing tea places in countries where our own teas are available has meant not much action in the review arena for some time, and now here’s two at once!

Whilst the title of this post may briefly excite @lahikmajoe, @lazy_literatus and other Greek Mountain Tea enthusiasts, this post is not about GMT at all, so as you were, gentlemen.

Instead, it’s about yesterday’s day out, where we sat in a car, aimed it at the big lumpy things on the horizon, and drove.

They are called the Canadian Rockies and based on my limited experience of actual mountains, (coming from a country that basically doesn’t have them) these are in the class of “quite big ones”.

Of course, I had to remember that Calgary is a kilometre above sea level, so we are already quite high up.

Anyway, a day of mountains, food and tea was promised, so we duly set off at the crack of dawn. Let’s say 8a.m. I guess 9a.m. will be fine, we are in no hurry.

We set off at 10.20. I was already keen on getting some tea in.

We drove through quite a bit of snow by my standards i.e. I am used to none. Plenty of snow covered fields still.

Past some lovely lakes and fir tree covered hills, all the while the mountains got bigger.

Being English, Lady Devotea has some experience of snow and mountains. Being Canadian and pre-Canadian, our hosts have quite a bit as well. I have very little. I dressed for snow once on an excursion up the Pyrenees and it was 26 degrees Celsius. Today I took no chances and donned several layers. First stop: Canmore

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View from a bridge:Banff

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Main Street, Canmore

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French Press of Lavender Cream Earl Grey, Maple Black, Snowflake Black at Comminitea

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Communitea, Canmore

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Clouds through a window is not a new experience, but it is when it’s not an aeroplane.

Canmore is lovely. See!

Nice little alpine village, and a stop at Communitea Cafe.

Our experience at Communitea was patchy. The tea list is extensive, and numbered, Chinese menu style, so they actually want you to order that way: “a 120 and a 106, please”. Sadly, while they have numbers, they have no explanations or description..

Service was patchy, they seemed to have a lot of staff who were all quite busy on what was a fairly quiet service. Neither of the staff I spoke to had much idea of what ingredients were in the tea, and the canisters were inconsistent: some had ingredients listed, some didn’t.

I went for Maple black, and others had a Lavender Earl Grey and a Snowflake black (with milk & sugar). I did not try the Earl Grey (allergies) but it smelt over-lavendered, the other two were quite good, the snowflake (which seemed to have nuts and coconut in it ) was the better of them.

I also bought three little sample bags, enough to do one big pot each, and really quite expensive. So far at home base we’ve had the After 8 Rooibos (an impressive choc-mint blend) and Himalayan Chai (fear of ginger has reduced this blend to quite bland).

Overall, it’s the sort of tea shop where, if you lived nearby, you’d quickly get to grips with the 40 or 50 teas and get on well with the friendly staff, but as a one off, it was a bit lacking. Had I struck a real tea enthusiast behind the counter, all would have been much, much better.

There’s a bit of a pattern developing based on David’s and this one: perhaps Canadians would prefer a bunch of flavourings in most of their teas, as I am seeing very little single gardens or even single region.

Anyway,a quick walk around the lovely town and then off to Banff.

Banff! It’s a bit legendary, isn’t it?

We had a great pizza, and a fantastic stroll. Also something called a “Beaver Tail”, which is basically a fried lump of flat doughnut dough covered in confectionary. It conforms to the general rule of Canadian Traditional Cuisine I’ve seen here, which is fry the hell out of something and then cover it with something even more unhealthy. Needless to say, I’m loving it.

I had in mind the Banff tea Co for a final destination in Banff, but when we got there, it was no tables, no chairs, just a retail store front. I was disappointed in that – not their fault.

And it was stacked with people.

I asked for 100 grams of the tea I had been planning to drink (Moroccan Liquorice) and found an amusing infuser, and headed to the counter. During my purchase, I expressed my disappointment I  couldn’t get a hot cup of tea. “Of course you can” said the server. “What would you like”?

As I already had the tea I wanted dry style, I had to think fast

“Didn’t I see a ‘Canadian Breakfast” on your site?

“Yes”

“What’s in that”?

“I don’t know, this is my second day”

“Can I have a sniff of it”

The canister was duly produced. I had a sniff.

“African, Indian and Chinese tea blend” I pronounced.

“No, that’s not right”, she said, “the ingredients are on the back. It’s tea from China, Tanzania and India”.

Faced with providing a geography lesson or just ordering the tea, I chose the latter.

It turned out to taste like cheap English Breakfast tea.

I think Banff Tea Co are a wonderful tea shop, but one I didn’t get the best out of. If I’d arrived at a quiet moment, I would have had a ball talking tea.

I am yet to try the Moroccan Liquorice.

Anyway, a splendid day out and two tea experiences that  were encouraging, rather than spectacular.

But never fear, because my next post IS about a spectacular tea experience. Stay tuned.

 

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Tea Retail

A Small Brass Band, Surely?

When we head off to try a new tea room in a place we are visiting, the chances are we might never visit that place again.

So, I wonder, should we warn them of our impending visit?

On one hand, it’s a more authentic experience if we don’t.

But really, is that fair?

In Thaxted, UK, two weeks ago, we found a wonderful tea shop. After we asked “What tea do you have” the answer started with an apologetic “Well, we only serve loose leaf tea…” .

That wouldn’t happen if we planned ahead.

Also we have often missed out on meeting the owner who is having a day off/undergoing a quadruple bypass/ being knighted/ fighting a wildfire / addressing Congress etc: i.e. all stuff that they would have put off had they known we were coming.

There is a downside, though, of signalling our intentions.

It’s not the bonfires out the back burning all the teab*gs and the cancellation of all staff leave so the silverware can be extra well polished. Those things are perfectly sensible.

It’s that I don’t like too much of a fuss being made.

So, here’s my list of what I think is a reasonable, low-key reaction to a visit by myself and Lady Devotea, if you have notice.

  • Make sure you have excellent tea in hand, of course, and a selection of pastries and cakes. I’d expect that to be a normal state of affairs anywhere we care to visit.
  • Limit the press to just a couple of hand-picked local journalists
  • Go for a small brass band, not a large one. Let’s not overdo it.
  • A red carpet is not essential, but if you insist…
  • Any plaque you have made to commemorate the occasion should be tasteful, not overly large and showy.
  • Some form of crowd control if the visit is well publicised.

So, just a few simple suggestions, to be helpful. I’m like that.

Is that a brass band I can hear?

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