TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

September 24, 2007

Product review: Scone mixes

Filed under: baking mixes,food,scone mixes,scones,tea,tea gifts,teapots — by teaguide @ 4:49 pm

Victorian House Scones
Retail and wholesale
Photo courtesy of Victorian House Scones

I think the world is divided into two kinds of English-style tea drinkers: the ones who like tea and crumpets, and the ones who prefer their tea with scones. Crumpets — what we here in the USA know as “English muffins” — are tasty little treats, especially with buttery spreads or jams. But the fact is that scones — those fat, crispy/fluffy, high-calorie treats — are far more fun!

While I’m a big fan of crumpets, a lot of the tea drinkers I know could take them or leave them. But no one can resist warm, freshly-baked, sweet-smelling scones. And who can resist baking their own scones from delicious, easy-to-use mixes? (Crumpets are definitely not this easy to bake.)

My favourite scone mixes are from Victorian House Scones. I’ve already sampled three of their eight flavours — plus a few variations on the basics.

Original is a traditional scone, yummy as is, even better with a handful of finely chopped nuts mixed in. The Oatmeal — wow, it’s so delicious that we couldn’t stop eating them. Seriously, we had a fight over who would get the last one! They’re especially good with a generous smear of chestnut/rum spread.

Both mixes have just the right amount of sweetener — you know you’re eating a scone and not a cupcake. If you’d like to, though, “dessertify” either mix by tossing in fresh or dried fruit, nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, or whatever else you can dream up.

The unusual — but very apropos — Indian Chai flavour appeals to anyone who enjoys a little sweet and spicy in their life (and their tea time treats). These are wonderful spread with apple butter — the plain kind, without all the cloves and other spices, which I think would be overdoing it. And I bet they’d be really good accompanied by the season’s fresh apple cider.

Ground up black tea and Indian spices are mixed into the mix, giving the finished product a somewhat speckled appearance. I served these to someone who expected them to be lemon poppyseed, and they took a bite before I could tell them otherwise. After their initial surprise (okay, closer to shock — they were not expecting it to be spicy!), they quite liked these unusual treats. Me too. I wouldn’t mind if the tea and spices were ground up just a little finer so the scones weren’t quite as crunchy, but you do get used to the texture, and the flavour is spot on. (Victorian House offers a Lemon Poppyseed flavour for those who prefer it.)

Each package of mix makes a dozen generously-sized scones. Although you can freeze half the dough and bake it another time — the method works quite well — more often I bake all of them at once and freeze in an airtight sack any that I won’t be using right away. Then when I’m in the mood for “a little something” with my afternoon tea, I just take a baked scone out of the freezer, pop it in the micro on low for about 45 seconds, and my delectable afternoon snack is ready (if not quite as crispy as it was when fresh-baked).

I should mention that I prepared all of my scones using the vegan alternative method outlined on the Victorian House website. None of my guests ever guessed — they were all rich and flavourful (I mean the scones, of course!).

Order direct from Victorian House Scones. In addition to the one-dozen size consumer packages, they are also available in larger quantity packaging for commercial service. Online ordering is not yet available so you’ll need to give them a call, but all the information you need — including flavours, nutritional stats, and detailed preparation instructions — is right on their website. (Update: Wholesalers can now order online — see website for details.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to my iced second-flush Darjeeling and my Indian Chai scone!

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September 13, 2007

Book Review: And Then It Was Teatime

Filed under: books,food,tea,tea books,tea gifts — by teaguide @ 4:50 pm

And Then It Was Teatime
Compiled by Laurie Nienhaus
Retail and wholesale
Photo courtesy of Gilded Lily Publishing

Do I like this book? Well, within a week of opening up my copy I had already ordered another, to be sent as a gift to a friend. Who, by the way, loves it.

Imagine sharing teatime with dozens of literature’s most eloquent authors and captivating characters! And Then It Was TeaTimeAnd Then It Was Teatime is a thoughtful — and comprehensive — anthology of both well-known and obscure writings about that wonderful custom of taking tea.

Nearly 100 pages are filled with the most fascinating passages in literature and poetry, dating from late 18th century to late 20th. Text is complemented by charming old black-and-white prints (and a couple of modern photos). Format is paperback, so it’s small enough to carry with you if you’re headed out to your favourite tea room.

While a few excerpts are from “tea books,” most have their source in tales where tea is just a bit player — and the origins of some of these may surprise you. (Quick! Do you remember a teatime scene in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo?)

Should you read it from start to finish in one sitting? Maybe. But I’d rather find a cozy nook, curl up with a good cuppa, then let it open to any page and begin. Then on to another page, and another … It’s pure pampering for the soul.

I’m already looking forward to Volume 2, but there is one feature I’d like to see in future editions: an index of authors and book titles. While I enjoy the random format when I’m simply reading and contemplating, I’d also like to be able to quickly locate and reference a particular entry from time to time.

Laurie Nienhaus is founder and director of The Ladies’ Tea Guild, as well as a playwright, author, and designer. Visit The Gilded Lily to order individual copies, or to order wholesale for your tea room or shop.

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September 8, 2007

Product review: Journals for tea lovers

Filed under: books,food,tea,tea accessories,tea gifts,tea journals,teapots — by teaguide @ 8:19 pm

Tea anyone?I admit it: I’m not a diarist. I don’t keep journals. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m probably the last person over the age of nine to set up a blog — and I don’t really blog, I use the format for product and book reviews in conjunction with the TeaGuide website. I much prefer function over form.

And I also admit that I envy people who have the patience and organization to keep journals of their travels through the world of tea, even if they travel no further than their own kitchen.

For all you patient, organized journal-keepers, I’ve come across three tea journals that you may find to be of interest. I did — in fact, they’re so tempting they may even turn me into a tea diarist!

. . . . . .

Tea Taster’s Journal — A Primer for Those New to the Journey Into Tea
by Elaine E. Terman
Retail and wholesale
Photo courtesy of Wild Orchid Teas

I think a more appropriate tag line would have been “For each new journey into tea.” After all, why should tea newcomers be the only ones enjoying this tasting journal? Each new tea one samples is in itself a journey.

Tea Taster's JournalOkay, semantic quibbling aside, this is a very well-done journal. Terman starts by outlining a brief history of tea, describes some common estate and blend teas in her Tea Basics 101 section, touches on health benefits, presents preparation guidelines, suggests appropriate vessels, and provides a comprehensive section on tasting and describing teas. (The tasting part is easy — it’s expressing what you’re tasting in actual words that makes tea-tasting more art than science.)

Following these introductory pages, the rest of the journal is simplicity itself. Each double page is dedicated to documenting exhaustive details about each particular tea you choose to sample. There’s plenty of room to enter the type of tea, source, preparation factors, and extensive tasting notes. No extra doodads, just wide open spaces beckoning you to fill them up!

There are sufficient pages for about a hundred teas. How quickly you fill it up depends on how frequently you sample new teas — and how frequently you keep notes on them in your Journal.

Visually the Journal is appealing, with an elegant cup and saucer on the soft cover, protected from errant tea stains by a clear overleaf. The spiral binding allows it to lay flat on tabletop, or to fold back if you’re inclined to lean it on your knee while writing. The size is just right for popping into your purse, tote, or briefcase if you’re doing your tasting away from home.

In addition to running her popular tea room in Ohio, the author is proprietor of Wild Orchid Teas, where she creates unique blends of teas and tisanes for tea lovers anywhere. Visit her website to purchase her Tea Taster’s Journal for yourself, for a gift, or wholesale for your tea shop.

. . . . . .

Tea Journal for Tea Room Enthusiasts
by Archana Pyatt
Retail and wholesale
Photo courtesy of Gable Wing Press

Unlike the previous Journal, this diary is designed to keep track of your visits to tea rooms and teahouses. A graceful tea set adorns the cover, and visually stunning photographs are interspersed throughout the journal pages. Introductory pages provide spots to record your favourite tea memories, keepsakes, and tea merchants, along with a general outline of steeping instructions. There’s also a list of translations for saying “tea” in various languages, helpful if you’re planning to travel abroad (although I was disappointed to see that if you visit Romania or Israel you’re on your own; Romanian and Hebrew languages are not included).

Tea Journal for Tea Room EnthusiastsTwo facing pages are allotted to each tea room visit. One page provides space to record information about the tea room, with entries ranging from the tea room’s name and date of visit, to menu details, your companions, and finally your ratings of the various aspects of your experience. The opposite page, labeled Scrapbook, can be used to attach photos, menu clips, or tea tags, or to write additional notes. There are sufficient pages to chronicle about fifty tea room visits.

Adding to the charm of this Journal are the memories contributed by a dozen or so tea lovers, including a number whose names you’ll recognize instantly if you keep up with the world of tea. As much as I like the author’s reproduction of the handwritten reminiscences, I found a few of them to be a tad difficult to read (clear evidence that tea, with its many positive attributes, does not improve one’s penmanship!). On the other hand, the writings and signatures are of particular interest to me. Most people don’t know that I’ve studied two schools of handwriting analysis, and received multiple certifications in this field. So I’m particularly enjoying these glimpses into some very interesting personalities.

Sized just right to slip into your purse, but unlike the Tea Journal above, this (paperback) book is perfect-bound, so it opens only so far, making it somewhat awkward to write in it. The journal-entry page is on the left, adding to the awkwardness for right-handers (perhaps — like so many creative people — the author is left-handed?). Maybe the next printing will take this into account.

All in all, if you keep up this Journal it will surely become a treasured keepsake.

Ms. Pyatt owns and operates a successful tea room in Texas. Visit her Serenitea Tea Room website to purchase online and for a list of walk-in shops that carry the Journal (contact the author direct if you’d like to carry the book in your retail shop).

. . . . . .

Linen and Tea Journal
by Bonnie L. Line
Retail and wholesale
Photo courtesy of Linen and Tea

Linen and Tea JournalThis too is a diary for recording tea room visits. I like the simple, homey quality of this Journal — it’s not as polished-looking as the two previous books, but there is an inviting warmth about it.

Included is the obligatory basic tea information — steeping chart, tasting terms, a brief history — and even a scone recipe. (Be sure to ignore the instructions for the urban-legend method for “decaf-ing” your tea.)

The Journal comprises about thirty double-page spreads: tea room details to be entered on the left, and a Photos page on the right — although, of course, you can use this space for additional notes if you prefer.Spiral binding, along with the book’s size and slimness, make it easy to carry and to write in.

Order online at Linen and Tea, or look through the list of retail outlets to see if there’s one near you. Contact the author — a tea speaker, teacher, and consultant — direct for wholesale information.

. . . . . .

I know I said three, but here’s one more for those of you who prefer to organize your tea diary yourself: Visit Hot Teas Gift Shop for a selection of journals in a variety of tea designs: whimsical teapots, elegant tea flowers, and several more charming designs. Choose your design, then select the page format: blank, lined, dot grid, or agenda. A custom gift for your favourite tea (or tea room) lover!

Now, fellow tea lovers, go out there with the journal of your choice and enjoy some tea!

Contact us about reviewing your tea-related product or service.

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