TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

June 24, 2010

Tea book review: Gift basket books

Filed under: books,food,friends,tea books,tea gifts,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 1:30 pm
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Gift basket

Stock photo

I enjoy giving “gift basket” gifts. By this I mean that instead of giving one single item as a gift, I assemble a group of related smaller gifts, although I don’t always wrap them in an actual basket. For example, a Tea Time gift that we gave recently included a teapot with built-in filter, matching tea cozy, four small tins of loose-leaf tea, decorated sugar cubes, a package of scone mix, and a jar of jam, all packed in a pretty box. A Movie Time gift comprised a tote bag filled with popcorn, other assorted munchies, and of course several classic DVD films.

Whenever possible when putting together these basket gifts, I like to tuck in a related book. For the New Puppy gift of double bowl, a leash, treats, a photo frame, and a play ball, we added a book on dog training. Recently I came across several unusual books that I think would be perfect as part of a tea basket gift. I particularly like these because, although they are not the usual books you find in every store, I think recipients will enjoy reading them as they sip their cuppas.

Book cover photo courtesy of Nelda Powell

Grand Mother’s Teapots by Nelda Powell is the largest in size of the bunch, although its paperback format makes it easy to slip into a gift basket or box. If you enjoy collecting — or just looking at — unusual teapots, this book illustrating one woman’s lifetime collection is for you.

The collection is described by the author as “the pride of Georgia Mae Gasperson Wright.” Seventy pages of beautiful photographs lovingly showcase hundreds of teapots of every shape, size, and origin, from the easily-recognizable and commonplace to the highly unusual. Many of these were mementos of her children’s worldwide travels. Amongst the multitude of styles, I have to admit to a special fondness for her several stacked tea sets of teapot, sugar, and creamer. Given the number of these sets in the collection, I imagine she enjoyed them too.

This book is not only a celebration of a seemingly unlimited variety of teapots and the imaginative souls who created them, but of the special lady who cherished them — and who was, in turn, so very cherished by her grandchildren.

Grand Mother’s Teapots is available direct from the author, and at nationwide bookstores.

A spot of tea

Book cover photo courtesy of Brenda Williams and A Spot of Tea

Brenda Williams may be living the sunbird’s life in Arizona these days, but you’d better believe that she’s British through and through. A former tea room owner, Brenda offers teas, accessories, British gourmet treats, and tea party packages for adults and children via her current business, Brenda’s English Teas. She is also the author of the next gift basket book on my list: A Spot of Tea ~ Brenda’s Afternoon Tea Primer.

This delightful little book clearly and concisely tells you everything you need to know to serve or partake of this most English of tea rituals. Each of the 25 pages is packed with etiquette, tips, and how-to’s, from preparing a proper pot of English tea and the required equipage, to how to hold a teacup and how to stir your tea (yes, there is a correct way to do each of these!). You’ll also find an outline of the basic types of teas, as well as the origins of tea and of afternoon tea itself. Brenda provides an afternoon tea menu and recipes for an array of tempting teatime tidbits.

Every copy of A Spot of Tea is presented charmingly with a teabag tucked inside the front cover — mine was Harrison & Crossfield’s Scottish Breakfast tea — to enjoy at your next English tea time. But what I appreciate most is that after you’ve finished reading this primer, you will never again be tempted to refer to afternoon tea as “high tea!”

A Spot of Tea is available direct from the author’s website.

I picked up the next two little tea books — gift basket books — last weekend when we visited Biltmore Estate for our fifteenth wedding anniversary. They were stocked in the Confectionery shop along with several types of packaged teas (most notably a selection from the not-so-distant Bigelow tea estate), a few teapots, mugs, and teaspoons, and some very yummy tea-flavoured hard candies.

Book cover photo courtesy of Bear Wallow Books, Publishers

A Dish of Tea came about, according to the introduction, “from a program on tea, coffee, and chocolate” presented by staff at Conner Prairie Museum in Indiana. Its thirty pages describe customs, etiquette, and table settings as they were practiced in nineteenth-century America. There are scads of teatime recipes gathered from nineteenth-century cookbooks, including Mrs. Beeton’s and the White House’s. You’ll find sweets and savouries of all types within this little book’s pages, with each recipe more tempting than the last.

A Dish of Tea is one of a series of small books on a variety of historical “house and garden” titles. They are sold in gift shops and farm markets. If you can’t find this title locally, visit the publisher’s website, Bear Wallow Books, for links to online sellers.

Tea & Conversation

Book cover photo courtesy of Copper Beech Publishing.

The final title on my gift-basket book list is Tea & Conversation. As you might guess, the focus of these sixty pages is what many consider a lost art: pleasant conversation, otherwise known as “small talk.” Now, don’t dismiss this out of hand. In these days, when so many people feel a need to get right to the “nitty gritty” in any situation, and are only too eager to speak their minds regardless of the consequences, this book is both a guide and a gentle plea for civilized social discourse.

Along with timeless admonishments and advice to the hostess for making her guests feel welcome and comfortable, there are also guidelines for guests on what types of conversations and behaviours to avoid at an afternoon tea gathering. Crowing about one’s accomplishments, or the accomplishments of one’s children, and loud voice or boisterous behaviour are all on the taboo list. While some of the suggested topics for conversation may seem outdated, most really do still apply today in polite circles. One timely piece of advice, for example, is directed at young gentlemen: “Never lower the intellectual standard of your conversation in addressing ladies.” Now who can argue with that?

Tea and Conversation is also one of a series of tiny books that also features several other tea titles. Published in Great Britain, you can browse their catalogue and purchase (retail and wholesale) at Copper Beech Publishing.

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November 30, 2008

Reviews and ramblings: Gifts for tea lovers

Filed under: tea gifts,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 6:03 pm
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Gifts for tea loversIt’s that time of year again for heavy-duty gift shopping. Just about everyone has a lengthy Christmas or Chanukah gift list of family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and maybe a “secret Santa” or two. If you’ve been invited to parties, dinners, teas, or (lucky you!) a weekend visit, you’ll need to bring something for the host and hostess. And there are, of course, plenty of birthdays and anniversaries during this season as well.

Kitty teacupIf your recipient is a tea lover, you’re in luck because there are soooo many beautiful tea gifts to choose from. You could take the simple — but always much appreciated — route and choose a tea or two, a pretty teapot, an unusual teacup and saucer. These can be purchased in many places, both online and at brick-and-mortar shops. (Antique shops and eBay are terrific sources for some truly unique buys, and if you need referrals to good tea and teapot vendors just drop us a line and we’ll send you our recommendations.)

Prefer something a little different? Here’s are our top picks of gifts for tea lovers, ranging from charming little stocking stuffers to the sky’s the limit!

For the tea-loving bookworm, And Then It Was Teatime is an exhaustive compendium of descriptive teas plucked from some of the world’s greatest literature. It’s the kind of book you browse while sipping a good cuppa. Tea connoisseurs in-the-making will appreciate Mike Harney’s new The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. And for the cook looking for tea recipes, choose from any (or all!) of five tea room cookbooks from An Afternoon to Remember Tea Room.

Display teaSign ’em up for a subscription to a tea magazine or newsletter, and they’ll think of you every time a new issue arrives. Our faves: Newsletters Tea and Roses Quarterly and The Tea House Times; The Tea Room News, a journal geared to tea business owners and those aspiring to a tea business; and the mass-media Southern Lady Tea Time, which is just simply delicious. Each of these publications offers a different perspective on the art and enjoyment of tea, and as far as we’re concerned they’re all must-reads.

How about a tea-shirt for a tea-loving clotheshorse? There’s a wide selection of designs at Hot Teas Gift Shop, along with an array of aprons, earth-friendly cloth shopping bags, and lots of other tea-ish goodies and gear for every member of the family. For something completely different, find truly unique, one-of-a-kind tea-dyed tea shirts, embroidered blouses, scarves, and lace pillow covers at TeaDyedTees, where they give new meaning to the adage that “tea is good for your body.” Don’t miss the beautiful gifts from this brand new shop where they’ve updated and perfected the centuries-old art of tea dyeing for today’s discriminating tea lover.

Tea gift basketEvery tea drinker needs at least one good tea cozy. Thistledown Cozies really do “keep your tea warm for hours.” They have nifty little wallets for carrying tea, filters, and sweetener too — the perfect stocking stuffer for a tea-loving traveler.

Tea “foodies” will thank you for a package or two of scrumptious Victorian House Scones, especially if they’re arranged in a festive gift basket with a jar of Marmalady’s wonderful tea jams and jellies. Add a beribboned box of Sugars by Sharon in seasonal shapes and colours, then tuck in a charming tea wheel from Linen and Tea for an elegant and thoughtful gift of tea time cheer.

2009 Tea Time CalendarMore gift possibiliteas: Exquisite mosaic tea trivets and glass teapot suncatchers at Tea-and-Roses; beautiful teacup design stationery from Kimberly Shaw Graphics; tea Christmas cards and tea party invitations suitable for women, men, and children, plus the 2009 “It’s 4 O’Clock Somewhere” tea time calendar from Hot Teas; Teago, a fun Bingo-like game for tea lovers and friends.

For the jewelry lovers on your list, there’s sterling silver teapot jewelry from Dee Sharp Designs, or bead- and crystal-based tiny teapot jewelry from Shiny Stuff.

Tea garden in IndiaWhen money is no object, tea travel is the answer! Take your sweet-tea on a tea tour of Sri Lanka, India, or China. A little closer to home, there’s the First Flush Festival at the Charleston (South Carolina) Tea Plantation and the Victoria Tea Festival in British Columbia, two beautiful tourist destinations. Plan a week-long trip and see the other local attractions. Or maybe you’d rather take an oolong-la-la tour of tea rooms in Paris?

The holidays are coming up quickly, so visit these websites or your local shop today before all the tea goodies are gone.

Wishing you and yours a Joyous Christmas, a Chappy Chanukah, and a healthy, successful, tea-filled 2009! ~ The folks at TeaGuide.net

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November 23, 2008

Product review: Tea-themed stationery

an electronic worldThere’s a lot to be said for the speed and convenience of electronic contact: telephone or cell phone calls, texting, email, instant messaging, and all the other bits ‘n’ bytes methods that once were considered high-tech but are now part of our daily agenda. We’ve grown accustomed to sending our words and pictures through wires or airwaves. We rely on the comforting, near-instantaneous contact we can have with family and friends. Needless to say, we’re not likely to give it all up.

And yet …

I have never met anyone who doesn’t look forward to the daily arrival of their mail carrier, nor anyone who doesn’t hope that, along with the bills and catalogues, there will be an actual piece of mail for us — that someone took the time to write a card or letter, seal it up, put a stamp on it, and send it our way.

So what does this have to do with tea?

Pleasures of teaFor many a “tea person,” one of the great joys of a good cuppa is that it is a respite from the speed-of-light craziness that can be our everyday reality. We depend on tea to provide us with the purpose, and the process, to step back, to slow down and smell the tea leaves.

Preparing a proper cup of tea requires us to pay attention to, and follow, a specific protocol: rinse out the teapot with warm water to “hot” it, select a tea that suits the mood or the moment, choose a complementary teacup, carefully pour hot water over the leaves, steep for just the right amount of time, find a comfy spot to curl up by ourselves or with friends (or with a kitty cat or two). Even cleaning up and putting everything away when tea time is over requires one’s full and considered attention. I’ve heard many times that “tea is about slowing down,” and indeed a good cup of tea cannot be rushed, neither in preparation nor enjoyment. Savouring good tea is the polar opposite of grabbing a bottle of soda and downing it as quickly as possible — and it’s far more pleasurable.

Similarly, sending or receiving a handwritten letter or note is the farthest thing from instant electronic contact, because it also invites us take a few moments for ourselves and our own personal enjoyment.

The joy of snailmailThe friend or family member who receives a charming letter or card can — must! — take a few minutes to open it, read it, and think about the words and the person who wrote them. Maybe while sipping a good cup of tea. And probably re-read it several times, then tuck it into a drawer or a special box to be retrieved and savoured yet again in future days, months, or years.

As the sender of such a memento, we need to think carefully about what we’re going to write, because there’s no “delete” key for this function. Then there’s the choice of pen, ink colour, and of paramount importance: the stationery itself, choosing the paper or note card that expresses our taste while at the same time gladdening the heart the recipient.

The very act of writing requires us to slow down, to become absorbed in our actions of the moment, to retrieve fond memories of a dear friend or loved one. In these electronic times, sending a handwritten card or letter is perhaps one of the most thoughtful expressions possible for leting another person know that we care.

It’s a habit I don’t want to give up, and I’m certain that’s true for a good many people. Fortunately for us, there is an unlimited variety of note cards and note paper available for every muse, including beautiful tea-themed designs. I hope these will inspire you — even if you haven’t sent a handwritten note in a while — to brighten the day of someone dear to you in this very thoughtful manner.

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Kimberly Shaw Graphics
Retail and wholesale
Image courtesy of Kimberly Shaw Graphics

Let’s be honest: tea note cards are mostly a “girl” thing. But even the toughest women like pretty things — and Kimberly Shaw’s Tea Cup Cards are about the prettiest you’re going to find.

Each note card is printed from an original watercolour, in an extensive array of colourful designs ranging from simply sweet to superbly elegant. You’re sure to find a card to please whoever you have in mind as recipient — even your Red Hatted auntie.

The extra charm, and the uniqueness, of these cards is the clever little slot in each one that holds a wrapped teabag, inviting your dear one to “share” a cup of tea with you. The top of the wrapper, in a colour coordinated to the design, peeks out to display the type of tea or infusion you’ve chosen to share. The teabags are sourced from Harney & Sons and Harrisons & Crossfield, two top-of-the-line tea suppliers.

Your words and Kimberly’s pictures: Who wouldn’t be delighted to receive (or send!) one of these? (I do hope she doesn’t mind my use of her first name, but with products this warm and friendly it feels rather stilted to refer to “Ms. Shaw.”)

Most of the note card designs are also available as greeting cards for birthdays, thank yous, holidays, and invitations. You’ll also find notepads (teabag included), a clever perpetual calendar, and sheets of tea time stickers. If you’re like me, the sticker carousel is the first place you head for in any stationery store, searching — often in vain — for anything “tea-ish.”

Additional items in the collection are teacup night lights, a variety of accessories for tea service — including several teacups that appear to have inspired the designs — and a small selection of the teas used in the cards. Order online, for yourself or for gifts, at Kimberly Shaw Graphics. Resellers can click the Wholesale link at the bottom of any page for details.

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Hot Teas Gift Shop
Retail and wholesale
Image courtesy of Ceai Frumoasa, LLC

Here’s a somewhat different approach to tea-themed stationery. Girly designs? Yes. But also plenty of images that the most manly of tea drinkers can send without any loss of macho.

Photographic and oil pastel images, from tea plants and tea-tasting accoutrements to fancy tea sets and vintage tea party art, adorn this extensive collection of note cards, invitations for both adults’ and children’s tea parties, and even a few seasonal greeting cards mixed in.

If you’d like to send a note or a card to a tea drinker who doesn’t use teabags, it’s a good bet you’ll find a design to please both you and your recipient at Hot Teas Gift Shop — perhaps the tea flower shown above, or the popular (and “girlier”) Cup of Life design.

Additional tea-themed items are available, including tea shirts, aprons, calendars, and a variety of other products. Wholesale information available by email.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to start thinking about who would be delighted to receive a beautiful handwritten note from you? It just might be the most treasured gift you give this holiday season.

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