Parisian Tea Adventure (Part 1)

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Jetlag Shmetlag.

I didn’t care that I had to fly from DC to Toronto to finally land in Paris only to make my way to the Airbnb I booked that presented itself as “Close to the Le Marais.” 

(Side bar: It’s never a good sign when the word “close” is used in an Airbnb listing. I should have known better.)

Upon arrival at the door of this “Le Marais” flat, the host took my bags and stored them so I could begin the day. When I asked how far we were from Le Marais he said, “At least 26 minutes on foot. But it’s better to take the Metro.”

I immediately heard a voice in my head says, “Oh hell no. You didn’t come to Paris to Metro. You only have 2 days.”  The voice in my head was right. I came to walk and wander New York City Style. So, while standing on the side of a busy road I called my old standby hotel which had originally been booked online (and why I booked an Airbnb) with the hope that “par chance” a room would be available.  When I heard the voice on the other end say: “Oui” – I hung up, got my bags and tried to find a taxi. Not so easy as you may know if you have ever tried to find a taxi in Paris. There are rules.

Rolling my bag along the bumpy sidewalk, I walked up to a waiter at one of the cafes and asked him if he knew where the closest taxi stop was. He was only too happy to help me and literally ran out into the busy road looking for one to make stop. He then made a joke and said, “Just stand here looking beautiful and they will stop.” Ah Paris. Whomever said the French weren’t friendly must have been a mighty miserable curmudgeon.

My drive to the Latin Quarter was narrated ever so perfectly by an older French driver with his gorgeous old school thick accent. He pointed out all the different buildings telling me a story of each one. It was brilliant and full of passion. I didn’t have the heart to tell him this wasn’t my first time in Paris, so I listened and savored each moment until we rolled up to my favorite, quaint little hotel – and pretty much the only one I’ve ever stayed at in Paris: Hotel Claude Bernard. Three stars, nothing fancy or over the top, slightly old Paris in feel and my favorite.

The man at the front desk was someone I recognized from my last stay many, many, many years ago. While he checked me in I told him how when I used to stay I always got the room on the top floor facing the street.

He said, “Ah yes, I remember! #62! I am going to make some re-arrangements and you will have your old room again. Plus a nice breakfast in the morning. D’accord?” D’accord! 

He handed me my key and as I turned to make my way to my room I faced my old friend:  the funniest, littlest elevator maybe ever created, and only large enough to fit 1 suitcase and a person. A memory came flooding back of the time when a friend and I tried to fit in it together and it got stuck between floors well after midnight. The evening desk clerk came running to our aid to try to pry open the metal doors. When I asked him if this had ever happened before, his reply was, “Uh, basically never.” Basically. Never.  The sound of spontaneous roaring laughter from all three of us echoed through the hotel as he braced himself with his feet against the metal door and pulled me by the arms to get me out of the elevator. Both of us laying on the carpet laughing for a good long while.

But this time it was just me and my cute suitcase rolling into the lift to the 5th floor, then climbing the rounded staircase to the 6th floor to my beloved room #62 with its tiny balcony, deep long tub and wrought iron bed frame. I felt that kind of joy one feels when you can relax into something that feels safe and familiar, like home. With sun shining, cars honking below and a deep blue sky, I trotted down all 6 flights and set out on foot to the first reason I was in Paris: Research/Tea at Mariage Freres.

Leaving my hotel and wandering the winding streets of the touristy Latin Quarter making my way across the river with a quick stop at Notres Dames, I paused. Just to take in the beauty of the day that had started out so many hours ago with a long flight on Air Canada that delivered me exactly where I wanted to be. Living. Felt. Good.

The winding continued into the Marais until I arrived at 35 Rue du Bourg Tibourg – the original location of Mariage Freres, and perhaps my favorite. Located on sleepy old road, you enter the teahouse and are greeted with its old weathered dark wood, tea tins placed perfectly on shelves and an intoxicating aroma. The dark lighting from small strands of light that find its way in adds an air of Harry Potter-like magic… and like you just stepped through a worm hole and went back in time. It’s simply delightful.

It wasn’t crowded so I was able to linger and review the tea menu, smelling different selections generously presented by the gentleman behind the counter. Christian was dressed in an impeccable blue suit, his English was impressive and his knowledge of tea even better. I started with Yunnan black teas which are some of my absolute favorites and ended up selecting Yunnan D’Or (Gold).  Then on to Oolongs, and Puers and the best Dragonwell I’ve had this year… it went on and on and on… with questions and comments and stories and opinions. Tea Happiness Level: 100.

I had another moment similar to the one just an hour or so earlier that made me pause once again: Along with good health, the luxury of time and travel is like winning the lottery. And I made sure to savor every minute I spent researching, smelling and talking tea in this foreign city.

At the end or our tea exploration,  I asked Christian for his recommendation on a tea he thought I should not leave without having. He brought me a black tea from Colombia. Totally unexpected and currently on deck for me to try in the coming days.

With my giant bag of “research” in hand, I was then handed off and escorted to a perfect table situated under a skylight. The juxtaposition of the dark romantic teashop next to the light white tearoom looking up at a blue sky was a gorgeous jolt to my senses. White linens, actual silver ware and the most beautiful bowl of sugar I had ever seen sat on the table. The menu itself was beautifully designed, and the finely curated cuisine seemed to go on for forever. I wanted it all.

After a review of the 600 teas on the tea menu, my decision was to take the waiters suggestion and try their popular Opera Blue Tea. “Why blue? What is it made of?” I had questions.

When the perfect porcelain pot of tea nestled inside a silver pot landed on the table, I poured its liquid into the fine bone china teacup.  The liquid was blue – just like he said. I had to allow it to open up and then cool a bit before the first sip. Interesting. I took another sip trying to figure out what this unusual tea tasted like. Another few sips were required. Ah ha.

Waffles. That’s exactly what it reminded me of: slightly nutty, almost bread-y with notes of grain and a very, very slight hint of sweetness.  I had heard that the longer you let it brew the more complex and flavorful it becomes. So I allowed it to steep longer as I sat and read the book on the table, stared up at the blue sky and slowly but purposefully began to eat the most interesting green tea guacamole I have ever had. (And I’ve had a lot.) Here is how Opera Blue tea is described on their website:

 

“The charm and pure emotions of the opera are intensely echoed in OPÉRA BLUE, an irresistible velvety and caressing blue tea. In the seductive indigo blue-coloured cup are singing notes of vanilla and red berries highlighted by the milky gourmandise of a blue tea in a perfectly balanced symphony. A tea as fascinating and sensual as an opera aria.”

Blue tea paired with Matcha guacamole was a truly interesting cacophony of flavors that crashed into each other. The grain-like flavor of the tea against the fresh vegetal creaminess of the guac was worth the experiment. I did my best to eat slowly and as humanly as possible, but it was not easy given the level of deliciousness in that green glob of goodness. In the end, while there is no denying how interesting the Opera Blue tea was, it turned out not to be my preferred cup. So I moved on.

Hello Darjeeling D’or. I’ve been waiting for you.

Part of their Darjeeling Haute Couture Collection, this tea is brilliant elegance. It might send a Darjeeling lover into full orbit. Here is how they describe the leaf and infusion on the the website:

Dried leaves : The buds with ardent golden nuances exhale delicious notes of tamarind and ylang-ylang honey. 

Infused leaves : Shimmering umber. Tender and flavourful on the palate, the buds are just as delightful to the nose. Syrupy notes of hawthorn dance amongst the aroma of roasted tea tree nut. 

Liquor : Pastel gold. Soft like cotton flower, and as fragrant as a magnolia bouquet, the liquor is seductive. Carnation and pink lavender compose an aroma punctuated by hints of suave lemon balm. 

A jewel of a tea. 

I do not disagree. One of the most delightful Darjeeling teas I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. The complexity of floral notes is exactly how its described and it was a wise choice on my part to pair with the second gastronomic creation I chose: Matcha Creme Brulee.

Assuming you take any of this advice and try what I have suggested, you must know in advance that Matcha Creme Brulee, dusted with a single line of powdered sugar and topped with 3 perfect berries is a perfect way to end a long day of travel to Paris. The thick, slightly tinted green cream against the burnt sugar top layer? All I can say is this: If you are a Creme Brulee lover, you must order this if you are ever in Paris at Mariage Freres. You can send me a thank you e-mail afterwards!

Sadly, my research ended there. And what a truly flavorful conclusion it was. I made sure to sit a little longer before leaving, knowing that this would be my only opportunity during this short trip to enjoy the salon. Mariage Freres is always a destination for me when I stop in Paris. I hope every tea lover has the opportunity to enjoy a truly French Tea experience like this. Perhaps add it to your Tea Bucket List?

Happy Sipping! (Bonne fête!)

~The Chief Leaf (La feuille en chef)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Parisian Tea Adventure (Part 1)

Yellow Tea?

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Yellow tea – huang ya – has been around and beloved since the days of the Tang Dynasty (617-907 AD). Though some consider it be a variation of green tea – it is in fact its own class of tea – and is most treasured. 

The Huang Shan Mountains of Anhui is home to around 75 separate mountain peaks spread across Province. It is nothing short of a visual feast with its steep jagged mountains at an elevation of approximately 1200 meters. Lush rich forests, thick rich bamboo groves and rushing water springs all contribute to the terroir of the region and the tea itself.  The high elevations and dense rich soil partnered with handmade/ traditional tea farming practices brings this wonderful yellow tea alive for us to enjoy when its first picked typically around April of each year.

After plucking and initial drying, and just before firing, the leaves are given an additional step called “men huan.”  That extra step is referred to as “sealing the yellow” and is the defining step which creates: Yellow Tea. The tea leaves are steamed lightly and then covered with cloth to allow the leaves to absorb additional fragrances/flavors and allowed to rest for up to a day. At the discretion of the Tea Master, the smothering of the leaves may be repeated in order to bring it to the desired finish.  

Huo Shan Huang Ya is smooth. Really smooth. And floral. And completely lacking in bitterness or astringency – which is a defining characteristic of most Yellow Teas. Our lot is naturally sweet and vegetal, but not overly grassy. The straw-colored liquor from the sword shaped leaves yields a surprisingly bright, clear and clean cup of tea reminiscent of fresh hay.  The floral notes linger… and linger some more on the palate.

When we first introduced Yellow Tea / Huo Shan Huang Ya to our die hard Green Tea lovers/customers, the reaction was always the same: “I’ve never heard of Yellow Tea.”  That’s because it’s not as common in the West. But once our tea people were nudged to try this gorgeous leaf, there was no turning back: love at first sip!

The Health Benefits of Yellow Tea are similar to the benefits of Green Tea with an additional advantage: it is easier on the stomach. People sensitive to Green Tea have had great luck with the mellowness, yet flavorful Yellow Tea.

Should you be up for a new tea adventure, you can find our Huo Shan Huang Ya on the Pearl Fine Teas website!

Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

 

 

 

Yellow Tea?

4,015 days

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Pearl Fine Teas turns 11 years old today!

11 years.

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11 years of fulfilling a simple dream to travel and sip tea with strangers.
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11 years of glorious blunders (also know as learning and growth.)
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11 years of meeting some pretty cool humans in an industry filled with passionate nerds.
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11 years of support from loved ones and strangers (many of whom are now friends.)
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11 years of change and navigating uncharted (boiled) water.
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11 years covered in tea leaves and tea stains and a regular supply of Crest White Strips.
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11 years on a mission. Committed to the TeaLife and spreading TeaLove to anyone that crosses my path.
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Here’s to endless cups of tea on Day 1 of the 11th year of Pearl Fine Teas – and all the TEAdventure still to come. Hope you will stay for the rest of this ride…

Please enjoy a site wide Anniversary Sale celebrating a decade + 1 in the wonderful world of tea.

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I wouldn’t be the Chief Leaf without all the good people who supported me over the last 4,015 days.  Thank you and Happy Sipping!
4,015 days

Healing Heart Tonic

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Say Hello to District Blend #02: Brookland!

Welcome to the little hamlet where Pearl Fine Teas was born almost 11 years ago. To honor this lovely part of Washington DC, I’m finally introducing the newest member to the Pearl Fine Teas family: Healing Heart Tonic.


But first, a little about Brookland:

“Brookland evolved in the early 1870s, when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad ran its western branch line through this area. The rail line was situated alongside a fine 1840 Greek Revival farmhouse known as the Brooks Mansion, home of Colonel Jehiel Brooks. In the late 1880s, Catholic University was established just north of Colonel Brooks’ farm. Developers quickly responded, creating a new Washington neighborhood beyond the central city and taking its name from Colonel Brooks. The university provided a centerpiece for a large number of Catholic institutions.

In the early days, Brookland, with its single-family, wood-frame houses in styles ranging from Queen Anne to Craftsman – attracted government workers, Smithsonian Institution scientists, and people of many ethnic backgrounds who shared the Catholic faith. In the 1930s, Brookland attracted affluent African Americans looking for an area that was not restricted to whites only. Of particular note are 13 International style houses designed by Hilyard Robinson and Howard H. Mackey, two of Washington’s most prominent African American architects of the era. Robinson was responsible for the Ralph Bunche house, 1510 Jackson Street, NE, built for the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Many other prominent black Washingtonians made their home here, including the entertainer Pearl Bailey, the poet Sterling Brown, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Robert Weaver, Senator Edward Brooke, and historian Rayford Logan. Brookland enjoys an interesting history of civic activism. Most recently it rescued the Brooks Mansion, which still stands near the Brookland Metro station, a symbol of this community and its heritage.”


This neighborhood is located in the Northeast section of DC and is known informally as “Little Rome” due to the influence of the Catholic Church and home to Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

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Rose garden at the Franciscan Monestery

I first discovered this little enclave back in 2003 – a hidden gem, devoid of trend and pretension. I loved the diversity of people, the loving warm-hearted neighbors, the chirping birds, the stunning green spaces with gardens galore – and the gorgeous refuge of the Franciscan Monastery where you often see a Monk or Nun strolling in deep contemplation and reflection. A quiet walk through the rose garden instantly infuses a sense of peace and puts all things in perfect perspective. As a member of the Franciscan Garden Guild, I’ve spent time in the greenhouse, helping with the famous yearly Plant Sale and even learned how to extract honey from the bees they keep.

My neighborhood has inspired me in so many ways – mostly notably with the profound friendships I’ve made living here that have touched and warmed my heart – specifically my good friend Bill. He is no longer with us, but I had the privilege of being his next door neighbor for 14 years.  We had a lot of fun during those years and he taught me a thing or 10 about everything from how to install a light fixture to how to navigate some of life’s steeper slopes. It was a joyful friendship and one I deeply cherish. It’s also why I wanted to create a blend that reflected and honored that special friendship – which was born right here in Brookland.

Bill was a Deacon in his Church; He loved roses, and chewing on lemon grass and good ole’ fashioned ginger root. The Brookland Healing Heart Tonic is a blend of  those 3 ingredients and is totally caffeine free, healing, and heart warming. Besides the emotional healing benefits of this tisane, there are also many actual health benefits to this wellness tonic:


herbal rose tea.

Rose: 
• Naturally uplifting (especially for those prone to feeling down or depressed)
• Regulates hormone levels (how the neurotransmitters in our brain are regulated)
• Can help to improve liver function and increase urination (natural diuretic)
• Releases toxins from the body
• Good source of Vitamin C (improves immunity)
• May also help treat arthritis, menstrual cramps, cold/flu, digestive issues, and insomnia


Lemon Grass. Cymbopogon citratus. Capim Limao, Santo.Lemon grass:
• Traditionally used to help control and normalize heart rate and for high blood pressure.
• Used for the treatment of depression and anxiety
• Anti-bacterial and Anti-fungal
• Loaded with Vitamin C (improves immunity)
• Citral is the active constituent and lemon grass has the highest concentration of it compared to any other plant in the world. Citral has antioxidant and anti-tumor properties that both benefit the brain.


Isolated gingerGinger:
• Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Fungal
• Boots Immunity
• Aids digestion and relief from nausea
• Improves heart disease risk factors
• May lower Cholesterol
• May have powerful anti-diabetic properties
• Can lead to significant reductions in LDL cholesterol and blood triglyceride level (similar extent as the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin)
• Studies show its effective at reducing symptoms of osteoarthritis
• Can protect against age-related damage to the brain (Alzheimers) and can also improve brain function in elderly women



Healing Heart Tonic (District Blend #02: Brookland)
will debut at markets on:

• Saturday, May 5th: Falls Church Farmers Market, VA  (8am – Noon)
• Saturday, May 5th:  Monroe Street Farmers Market, Brookland DC  (9am – 1:00 pm)
• Sunday, May 6th:  Central Farm Market in Bethesda, MD (9am – 1:30pm)
• You can also purchase online in the Tea Shop here.

“There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart.” ~ Charles Dickens
“Happy Sipping!” ~The Chief Leaf

 

Healing Heart Tonic

Energy Medicine (in a bowl)

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The Chinese tea bowl.
A perfectly crafted cylinder made to hold the worlds most perfect liquid and affect the chemicals in the body and brain to promote healing and relaxation.
Ceramic tea bowls are mentioned in the first major text on tea, The Classic of Tea. Compiled between 758-60CE by Lu Yu (733–804) of the Tang dynasty.

Tibetian singing bowl isolatedThe Tibetan signing bowl.
A perfectly crafted cylinder made to emit vibration and frequencies to affect the chemicals in the body and brain to promote healing and relaxation.
Dates back to the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni between 560 – 480 B.C. when the Tibetan Singing Bowl is said to have originated.

 


Liquid energy in a bowl. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We all know about how the chemical properties in tea leaves like flavonoid anti-oxidants and catechins, but have you heard of the powerful affect of the amino acid L-Theanine?

It’s a water soluble amino acid that’s found in tea leaves and when you drink tea,  it passes through the blood-brain barrier and affects the brain directly. It shares similar chemical structures to neurotransmitter glutamate – which is a transmitter involved in learning and memory, and, it increases the production of GABA and dopamine. It also helps reduce stress and anxiety and induces what is called alert/relaxed states of thinking and reduces the fight-or-flight response during high stress situations. In case you’re thinking that this is all a bunch of hooey, according to clinical studies by NIH:

Evidence from human electroencephalograph (EEG) studies show that it has a direct effect on the brain. L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness.”

So basically, tea is liquid energy medicine (healing) in a bowl. We tea drinkers already knew that. But what about the Tibetan Singing bowl and its magical healing abilities?

Sound energy from a bowl . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The tradition of using a singing bowl was brought from India to Tibet, along with the teachings of the Buddha, by the great tantric master Padmasambhava in the 8th century A.D. It is said that the sounds generated by Tibetan Singing Bowls are a type of energy medicine” that promote healing many forms of dis-ease.

“If we accept that sound is vibration and we know that vibration touches every part of our physical being, then we understand that sound is heard not only through our ears but through every cell in our bodies. One reason sound heals on a physical level is because it so deeply touches and transforms us on the emotional and spiritual planes. Sound can redress imbalances on every level of physiologic functioning and can play a positive role in the treatment of virtually any medical disorder.” – Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine, the Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York.

Duke University and the University of North Carolina have realized the power of alternative healing and have taken big steps to add new body, mind and spirit programs specifically sound therapy– to cancer treatments. In fact the medical director at the Chopra Institute, Dr. David Simon, found that by chanting and using a Tibetan Singing bowl, it activates chemicals in the brain that act as internal painkillers and aid in healing.

How it works . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It’s all about vibration. And since illness is said to be a manifestation of dis-ease, dis-harmony and imbalance in cell matter, and all matter is vibrating energy, than altering a vibration should change the structure of cellular matter. Sound vibrations directly affect our nervous system, and often sets off a relaxation reflex which may lower stress and pain. Similar to acupuncture where needles allow energy (chi) to flow and assist the body in healing and rebalancing; so does sound vibration and sound frequencies–which enables the flow of energy to reach different parts of the body. The pulsating tone immediately feels good and kick-starts relaxation along with the following:

• Reduction in stress, anxiety + anger
• Lower blood pressure
• Improved circulation + increased blood flow
• Deep relaxation + pain relief
• Increased mental + emotional clarity
• Stillness, happiness + well being.
• Stimulated immune system
• Balanced left/right brain

When you are in the presence of someone (or yourself) playing a signing bowl you not only hear the pure sonic waves,you actually feel the sound enter the body. You can listen and watch a short Tibetan Singing Bowl video here on YouTube and see if you feel any different after listening. Or you can buy one and try it at home yourself. It’s really easy and you will be amazed at how good you feel afterwards.

The connection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ritual. Aside from the actual chemical properties in tea, and the actual sound waves emitted from a singing bowl (both proven to aid in healing and wellness) there is the ritual of making tea or drinking tea out of a special cup or bowl. The ritual of sitting at the same time to play a singing bowl, or the ritual using a sound to evoke a sense of calm. And before you head down that “this is hooey” road again, there is scientific research around the benefits of rituals and its affect on overall wellness which can be extremely effective in reducing anxiety, increasing confidence and having an impact on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Rituals help bring a sense of structure and order to an otherwise chaotic world. They are in fact a type of shield that helps protect us from uncertainty.

“The very act of engaging in a scripted sequence of ritualistic movements tricks the brain into thinking that it’s experiencing the pleasant state of predictability and stability. The crux of the argument says that in times when uncertainty is beyond our control, the brain will subconsciously lead us to engage in ritualized movements as a compensatory mechanism to bring about a sense of personal control. This, the argument goes, is the starting point for all of life’s little (and big) rituals.” – Psychology Today

The every day stresses of today surely didn’t exist during ancient times (and vice versa) but in the end, regardless of what causes stress and dis-ease, we’re all seeking the same exact thing: a way to stay healthy, survive and enjoy life.

Just a simple ceramic bowl for sipping.
Just a simple metal bowl for listening.
Two simple rituals for healing.

 
Happy Relaxation…
Happy Sipping…
~The Chief Leaf

 

Energy Medicine (in a bowl)

Tea by the Sea

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The Little Green Giant Tea Kettle and a cuppa tea by the sea

I’ve been romping around in oversized pajama pants, a sweatshirt and soft wool socks holding a mug of tea every day since I arrived.

I’ve wanted to stay at Addy Sea for years but there was never an open opportunity until now. It was random, as many things are, and yet it arrived right on time when I clicked their website to see about winter rates and discovered a writing retreat listed for the first week of March. It didn’t take much convincing after that to find out more and book it along with my room.

A mere 2.5 hour drive from Washington DC on a late Sunday afternoon had me arriving at the Inn when it was dusk. I had the prearranged code to get into the main parlor and the code to unlock my room was waiting for me on the welcome piece of paper at the arrival desk. That little handwritten note with check-in information ended with this: “There are cupcakes in the fridge.” 

Up I went… two flights of wonderful creaky stairs to the 3rd floor and room #10. I opened the door and the view of 3 large windows facing the ocean and the sound of crashing waves started a chemical reaction that I’m vaguely familiar with. I think it’s called relaxation. I dropped my bag, opened the window and stared for a very, very long time.

“Tea!”

That word popped into my head like an order rather than a suggestion. I rummaged through my tea travel bag – always filled with Pearl Fine Teas along with my Bodum travel water kettle, or as I call it: Little Green Giant (LGG). Certainly the best investment any tea lover can make. There is nothing worse then staying somewhere that may filter its hot water through a Keurig or coffee maker. One can never know. So one must always be prepared. If ever there was a way to kill a cuppa, it’s like that, and frankly, I’d rather drink nothing than expose my tastebuds to that chaos. I call it “Tea-PTSD” and because of that, my LGG always comes along for the ride. And isn’t also nice to have a kettle in the room to boil water on demand? Common in most Asian countries – but not here in the US.

With LGG heating up, the “make-your-own-teabag” is on deck with our Ginger Lemon Tisane. The power in this concoction seems to wipe away sore throats quickly which has been lingering for a few days now. So now its time to sit. With hot cuppa tea. In semi-darkness listening to crashing waves and looking for stars.

The next morning I’m up at 7am thanks to the eastern sunrise shining into the room, LGG is plugged in, rolling a boil and Assam is on deck awaiting to take a dip. I sip and stare at the horizon for a time and then make way down those creaky old steps to breakfast which is held in what looks like a dining room out of a Jane Austen novel. In fact, that’s what I referred to it as the entire time I was there: The Jane Austen Dining and Tea Room.

It is only then as I’m enjoying breakfast that I realize: I am the only guest in the entire Inn. Just me. I texted this phenomenon to a friend, and her text back was: “Writing. Alone in an inn? It sounds like the Shining.” My reply? “Naaaaa.” Though there are stories floating around on different websites where people have heard noises, it is a house built in 1901 out of wood and located directly on the beach. What house wouldn’t creak? And what malevolent spirit would reside in a house with this much warmth, beauty, and direct view of the sea that serves cakes and tea at 3? I’d like to think Jane herself pops in now and then to oversee the tea room and make sure the Royal Albert Country Roses china is in place, as she grabs a pen to sit and write by the fire.

The small buffet held warm eggs and bacon, freshly baked muffins, fruit, greek yogurt and a selection of cereals. As you can guess, what I was most interested in was the tea collection which was presented in a lovely classic wooden box with selections from Lipton and Twinings.  Sadly, no can do. But also, not a problem.

As I’m digging through my canvas tea travel bag to pull out a gorgeous Darjeeling 2nd flush, I meet Sarah who works at the Inn part time and is also the owner of Swell Cakery nearby.  Sarah bakes many of the tea time treats at Addy Sea. Sarah also loves tea. So I reach into my bag of tea tricks and pull out a tea for her to enjoy the rest of her day.

A lot has happened already and it’s only 1030am. The other writers have arrived, we all gather around a table closer to the fireplace in the Jane Austen dining room, and I learn that all of them are tea drinkers. I obviously offer to be the Tea Facilitator and share my personal stash with them each day. With our own hot water urn on the table for endless re-steeps, this makes it even easier to be creative and to sip tea without having to get up for a refill. Brilliant!

And this became the routine for the next 3 days: writing and tea, writing and tea, cheese and crackers, chocolate dipped macaroons, another round of tea and a walk along the ocean.  As one might say in the time of Jane Austen’s: “How heavenly.”

I have only good things to say about Addy Sea : from the rooms that felt like home with soft eco-friendly coverlets and fluffy pillows, the oversized bath towels and eco-friendly bath products, the courtesy hairdryer, the bottle of wine by the fire, the extremely friendly and respectful staff, the change of flowers on the tables every single day. Cinde’s wealth of information, humor and willingness to try a a new tea; Steve’s lightening quickness to fix a rather lazy shade in my room; Sarah’s tasty gluten-free tea treats; Tiffany’s cheery personality and gift of chocolate covered strawberries; Jason’s one-on-one chef demonstration on poaching the perfect egg… And their willingness to accommodate and treat this Chief Leaf like she was a long lost friend, as she did research and drank tea by the sea for 4 days.

Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

 

Tea by the Sea

4 Days of Afternoon Tea (in Edinburgh)

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Morning tea looking at the Castle

It’s called TR&D (Tea Research and Development).

And why I was in Scotland sipping my way through 4 days of tea in gorgeous Edinburgh. The goal: ingest as much Scottish Breakfast Blend teas as humanly possible. (And find the best Gluten Free Scone.)

It was a short trip packed with a lot of nothing but tea, and I started every single morning sitting at the glass dining table in a lovely little Airbnb Castle Apartment in the Grassmarket overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Each morning started perfectly gloomy and rainy but then turned into blue skies later in the day, or wafting clouds, or a drop in temp, or a rise in temp, or a sprinkle of rain or a dust of snow. As my taxi driver to the airport said to me: “We have 4 seasons in one day here.” Absolutely true.

The only “plan” I had was to do at least 1 afternoon tea a day.

Day 1: Arrival in Edinburgh
After dropping my bag off at the apartment, I set out on foot to find my first cuppa. I had no agenda and no map. I just turned right outside the black gate and started walking. I eventually decided to head over the National Museum of Scotland. There are 3 places to have tea inside the museum: A Brasserie on the main floor, a small cafe on the 2nd floor and the Tower Restaurant on the top floor. I sat at the small cafe with a small pot of tea as I made an online reservation for afternoon tea at the Tower Restaurant. I walked the museum until my 2pm seating which was at a table by the window with a gorgeous view of the city roof tops and architecture. They offered a gluten-free option which I ordered, a pot of Breakfast Blend and a glass of bubbles. The GF Scones were expected and nothing to write home about, but the clotted cream? So thick! So creamy! Best I ever had.

With a belly full of caffeine and carbs, I headed out to wander (again) to see where it would lead. Which to my surprise and delight it was The Elephant House – made famous by J.K. Rowling because it’s where she wrote Harry Potter. I asked for a table in the backroom, a pot of Breakfast tea and waited for the magic to find its way into my bones. Many writers have visited here and I can see why J.K. spent many days at the table in the back by the window writing and sipping.  This would be the first of 4 visits I’d make during my time in the city.

Fully tea-logged I set out on foot again and stumbled upon a wee tea shop called Cuttea Sark. I walked in to this postage stamp sized adorable and authentic treasure and met John Bowman the proprietor who’s had the shop for 21 years. This was his “after retirement project.” We had quite a long chat talking about teas and specifically Scottish Breakfast Blends. He was sure to explain the marketing gimmick of blends like Scottish, Irish and English Breakfast. I purchased his blend and after his recommendations on where to find some old antique bookshops, I continued on my way finally making it back to the Castle Apartment for yet another pot of tea to unwind from a very long day of my walking tea adventure. This time just an herbal concoction of peppermint and spearmint I brought along from my own garden.

Day 2: Tuesday
Waking to a dust of snow on the castle, I sat at the little table writing and sipping a pot of Cuttea Sark’s Breakfast Blend which was quite good! Had earthy malty notes I was looking for, but the Ceylon really came through. Very brisk and surprisingly smooth.

As I’m prone to do, I had no plan. On this day I turned left outside the black gate. First stop was Armchair Books, then another bookshop and another and yet another until I found my way to Loudon’s at the recommendation of my Airbnb Host. It was now time for lunch and I opted for the GF quiche, a GF Scone (to compare) and a pot of orange Oolong. I’m not one to typically enjoy a flavored oolong since the natural taste is so gorgeous on its own, but since it was on the menu I gave it a chance. Decent cuppa tea, but not one that would change my mind about wanting flavored Oolongs. The GF scone was actually a bit more flavorful then the Towers, but still had that dry crumbly quality we all must endure.

With my full belly (again) I headed out walking to Princes Street and along the gardens below the Castle eventually making my way to the famous Sir Walter Scott Memorial to pay a visit to (one of) my ancestors. I lost count at how many steps to the top. The climb up the stone circular steps are not for the faint of heart, those who feel claustrophobic or get dizzy easily. The higher you go the narrower the steps become until you must turn a bit sideways to make it up to the top and then… you are gifted with a spectacular view of the entire city in all directions!

After my climb down, I  headed over to Arthur’s Seat and  Calton Hill  also known as the  “disgrace of Scotland” because it was only a partial build of Greek columns since they ran out of money and couldn’t complete it. All that walking awakened my need for tea and luckily a small outpost (food truck of sorts) called Milk was ready and waiting to serve up a surprisingly good cup of Milk Oolong.  A few sips and off I went again until daylight faded and I realized I had logged 8.89 miles on my FitBit. I headed back to the flat but not before stopping at I.J. Mellis for local cheese infused with truffles and local GF crackers to have with an evening herbal infusion of mint, and watch British TV. It was that night that I was introduced to England’s most famous gardner: Monty Don.

Day 3: Wednesday
Now into my morning routine of tea, toast, writing and staring at the Castle, I contemplated the days tea-adventure. I had heard of an independent tea shop called Pekoe Tea on Levin Street and decided that would be my first destination. It was a small shop that’s been around for about 7 years and slightly more contemporary in style, selection… and price. There seemed to be a good representation of single origin teas among the many blends they offered. What I loved was the small intimate feel of the shop and how you could sit at the tiny bar in the window and people watch. Which is what I did until it was time to pop into an acupuncturist for a treatment just across the street, and then meet up with a friend for (no surprise)… Afternoon Tea.

Travel. The best invention. It not only opens your mind, expands your point of view, challenges your comfort zone and delights the tastebuds – it can even bring new friends into you life. In this case, it was Vanessa (originally from Edinburgh) who I first met in Reykjavik, Iceland two years prior. And now here we were meeting again to enjoy afternoon tea at Eteaket. We both opted for black teas:  Darjeeling 2nd Flush for me and Breakfast Blend for her. Talking and sipping and talking and sipping and snacking and sipping made the time fly and before we knew it… the sun was setting. The afternoon tea service was lovely, as was the atmosphere and company, and the GF scone was really quite good and not too dry.

I admitted to Vanessa that I have been on the hunt for a toast rack. After watching Ladies in Lavender, I’ve been on a mad search to own one. Not common in the US as we just put our toast on a plate. But the idea of toast, standing upright… in a rack? By God I must have one! She humored me and took me to John Lewis (love!) and low and behold: A ceramic toast rack! Made even better by the fact that it was on sale!

After a my toast rack adventure and a mini tour of the coast, I was back at the flat. I decided to step outside for some air and a brisk walk finding my way yet again back to the Elephant House. A nice chat with Jane from Ireland over the virtues of Scottish teas and her finally admitting her love and loyalty to Barry’s Tea. And then, in the blink of an eye, she was handing me slice of GF carrot cake to take home. Best I’ve ever had and not just because it was free. Elephant House magic…

Day 4: Last Day
The plan was to spend another full day wandering and find one last place for Afternoon Tea. I turned left out of the black gate and headed to Edinburgh Castle and walked up that fabulously steep hill to tour this ancient beauty which dates back to the Iron Age. I was too early for the tearoom to be open, but the mere fact that you could also have tea in a Castle delighted me. I did however enjoy my first ever Whiskey tasting. (I’ll be sticking to tea.)

My walk along the Royal Mile had me stopping at the recommended Gladstones which is one of the oldest buildings on that road. I had strict instructions by Meredith (one of my tea customers) to pick up Crystal’s Shortbread because, “it is the best and not sold outside of Scotland.”  As I continued along making my way, I had a chance to stop into the Writers’ Museum which is tucked away just off the Royal Mile. A nice look around reading up on Sir Walter Scott and other noteworthy Scottish writers.

Back on the Royal Mile and I’m not making much headway with all these tempting tiny shops to duck into. Finally, I’ve made it to the Queens’ residence when she stays in Scotland: Holyrood Palace. No photos are allowed inside – only the outside and gardens are permitted. I decided to take a tour but in retrospect I’d have been ok passing this up and saving the 17 pounds. I will say the gardens are the real show stopper and the gift shop had absolutely stunning replicas of royal tea ware and patterns. Very tempting indeed.

I realized that time was flying and I hadn’t had Afternoon tea yet. Since I was on this side of town I decided to walk over to The Dome and enjoy my last formal tea of the trip. The Dome is gorgeous. It was a former bank turned into a bar/restaurant with a Georgian Tearoom on the 2nd level. It was just as spectacular. The menu and selection was limited but covered what anyone might want. My choice was the China Green with Jasmine. Highly floral just the way I like it. Whole leaf teas in a silver teapot and a tower of treat arrived. The verdict: Best. GF. Scone. Ever. The light hint of vanilla was surprising and noteworthy. Not too dry and the apricots and raisins made it perfect. My tastebuds were singing.

My day was nearing to a close, but there was still more to do. I powered up and continued to walk back towards the Grassmarket to have a last look in Cabaret and Curiosities and her eclectic collection of antique jewelry – specifically the antique brooches. As I walked through the Princes Street Gardens and on the Mound, I saw the Scottish National Gallery and decided to go in for a look around. In one of the rooms was an older gentleman sketching a section of a painting. You can see the photo below. So much gorgeous work… don’t miss out on this one.

From there I headed back to the Diagon House / Museum of Context  also known Harry Potter Shop on Victoria Street – to see if I could find a book. I did in fact find a 1997 UK Special Edition of the first book with the original title before American publishers forced J.K. to change the name from the Philosophers Stone to the Sorcerer’s Stone. With new (old) book in hand there was only one place I was going to sit for my very last night to read: The Elephant House. I took the back room table in the corner by the window. Ordered some herbal tea, a bowl of vegetable soup and read Chapter 1. I made sure to buy a tin of their Royal Blend of black tea and say goodbye to lovely Jane from Ireland who yet again, gifted me with a slice of GF Carrot cake to take away. Off I went back to the Castle Apartment to pack and relax for the journey home on Friday.

There were many other places to have tea but some of them didn’t make the cut because there either wasn’t a Gluten-free option or I ran out of time. I have heard good things about the following (and plan to do a Part 2 trip in the near future):

I can not say enough good things about Edinburgh. It’s topped my personal list of favorite cities and if there was a way to live there and drink tea all day long, I’d do it.

So after 4 days and logging 8+ miles of walking a day:

The work now begins as I take my “research” and create a new member to add to the Pearl Fine Teas family: a Scottish heritage blend. It’s debut is TBD.

Hope you enjoyed this post, the photos and find it helpful should decide to spend 4 days drinking tea in Edinburgh!

Happy Sipping!
~The Chief Leaf

 

4 Days of Afternoon Tea (in Edinburgh)